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 descriptive. PG for minor swearing.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto ans Marie!
Note: A palomino-colored horse is one with a golden body and a white mane and tail, and sometimes other white markings.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Kidnapped?
A Boy and His Dog
As Zelgadis and Amelia made their way through the forest, the chimera could not keep from glancing at the intimidating animal which trotted at the princess' side. He noted the powerful muscles under the lavender-tipped white coat, with its darker streak of purple running from the tuft on top of her head, between her long pointed ears, down her spine to the base of her bushy tail. Her glowing emerald eyes still seemed somehow...unnatural, alien. It seemed incongruous that a beast so powerful was named 'lavender orchid', but he couldn't deny that she was beautiful, too.
After a while Amelia caught him staring. "I would have thought you'd understand her better than anybody." She frowned up at him reproachfully.
"She's a chimera, just like you."
Zelgadis stopped short, a wordless sound of shock escaping his lips. Images of the vicious, brutal chimeras Rezo had created flashed through his brain. He became aware that Amelia was speaking to him. "A kindly old mage created her to be a special guardian for his flock of sheep. No one knows exactly which animals he used, but he didn't use people. They think she's mostly wolf and dragon, so they called her a dragonwolf."
"Dragon?" He could not keep the shock out of his voice. Most dragons live to kill humans-or anything else.
"Just a little bit," Amelia said defensively. "Just to make her smart enough to understand us. Sort of. Rilloban says she's not really sentient, but she's still awfully smart."
Amelia explained that the villagers had feared that Shiran had become too dangerous without her old master, and that one of the local boys had convinced her that the animal was not dangerous, just lonely. "Plus she saved my life once."
As the bemused chimera listened he developed an uneasy feeling that he could not pin down. When the princess finished, he was thoughtful for a while. "I see now why you decided to protect her. She does seem to be a worthy creature, in spite of her appearance." I must have sensed that she was a chimera, or maybe I reacted to the threatening dragon part of her.
"That's what I mean-I learned not to judge by appearances when I met you. It's not right for you to commit the same crime yourself." She stood up straighter, and he could see that she was suddenly about to launch into one of her famous justice speeches.
Hastily he interrupted her. "You're right, Amelia. I should have known better. I apologize."
She hesitated. "You should apologize to her, not me."
She crossed her arms, fixing him with a glare that would have made Lina proud.
Zelgadis opened his mouth to protest, but her fierce blue gaze and the lingering remorse from his callous treatment of her made him give in. Fine, he grouchily told himself. I don't feel like wasting any more time, and this will be faster than getting into an argument, humiliating as it may be. At least there's no one around to see this.
The stone man turned to the large animal walking on the other side of Amelia and said awkwardly, "Shiran...I'm sorry for assuming that you were an enemy before I knew all the facts."
He had been speaking mostly for Amelia's benefit, but looking into those glowing green eyes he suddenly had the odd feeling that Shiran sensed what he was trying to say. He blinked, then took a closer look into her eyes. Unlike the wolf she resembled, she did not react as if his scrutiny was a challenge. Zelgadis had the strangest feeling that somehow Shiran knew that he was trying to understand her, trying to figure out what drove her, why she had acted as she had, when all other attempts to befriend her had failed.
He thought about what she had done for Amelia. She saved her life, at the risk of her own...why? Because Amelia's a white magic sorceress? Because she had no one to take care of after the deaths of her master and the sheep she looked after? Because her of owner's decision to breed 'protectiveness' into her? Protectiveness that caused her to heed the frightened cry of an injured young girl who was all alone...
Suddenly Zelgadis suffered a flashback of Amelia as she lay dying in his arms with a look of shock in her sightless eyes during the battle with Hellmaster Phibrizzo. He had been helpless to save her then, and this time too... Another image of Amelia, this time lying bloody and helpless under the fangs of a pack of leapers, calling vainly to him for help suddenly clouded his vision. He winced, and became conscious of the sharp stab of guilt somewhere in his chest. I wasn't there to protect her. I could have lost her...
The emerald eyes he was gazing into suddenly blinked, snapping him out of his horror-state. He realized then that he had put his hands on the sides of Shiran's face, his blue fingers threaded through the thick fur. Shiran whined, as if she sensed his distress. As he released her face she shook herself, a remarkable sight of pale fur flying in all directions.
As the stone man watched her he became aware of his intense feelings of gratitude and indebtedness. Whatever her motives, this animal did me a favor I can never repay. She deserves nothing less than my friendship. I only hope Amelia's feelings about her are correct-it would break her heart if this animal turns out to be untrustworthy.
Amelia watched in surprise as Zelgadis knelt, pressing one tan-clothed knee into the rusty pine needle carpet, and continued sincerely, face to face with Shiran, "I...I want to thank you for protecting Amelia for me...and...I'd like to make peace between us. Friends?" His voice went up a little, and he unconsciously lowered his head, both signs that most animals could understand, whether or not they understood speech.
The glowing green eyes of the dragonwolf narrowed and she took a few steps closer to him, sniffing his scent deeply. Not sure whether she was about to attack him now that he was in a vulnerable position, Zelgadis froze, following her movements with his eyes. He noticed her scent-that of warm fur and a particular muskiness that came from carnivores. A vague thought passed through the back of his mind that this was a good test for Shiran. His stone skin could withstand the razor-sharp fangs better than Amelia's delicate skin.
The emerald glow flickered, a sign Zelgadis was beginning to recognize that meant Shiran was uncertain, and her purple-edged ears went down, then came back up.
He almost jumped when she whined softly, bending her head to lick him on the hand. The tension broken, he lifted his hand to look at it, then turned to Amelia with eyes as wide as dinner plates.
She was beaming at him. "Oh, Mister Zelgadis, she's accepted you! Not only that, I think she's bonded to you, the way she has to me! It's a great honor, I think. At least, she never did that with any of the other village people, no matter how hard they tried. Oh, I'm so happy!" She clasped her hand in front of her, jumping up and down in excitement like a little girl, her joyful peals of laughter singing in his ears.
He couldn't help smiling a little at her antics, ignoring the twinge of desire to join her in her undignified exuberance. He stood up, watching Shiran, who had no problem showing Amelia how she felt. The dragonwolf gave a happy whine and tried to lick the girl's face. Amelia fended her off, giggling. "Oh, yuck, Shiran! Don't make me all sticky."
When the trio arrived at the original clearing, they discovered it empty. "Are you sure this is the right one?" Amelia asked him.
"Of course I'm sure. There's the bark that I was using to carry food on-Lina made me climb through some thorn bushes to get it. Of all the times for them to wander off," he growled.
"Do you want to go look for them?"
He hesitated. "No. We'll wait for them here. I don't feel like playing catch-up with the two of them all day."
"Okay...then I'm going to let Sunshine graze."
He nodded absently, debating whether to have Amelia wait while he searched. No-the forest's too thick to see anything with Rei Wing. Besides, they've been sticking pretty close by me ever since...the Oracle, so I doubt they've gone far.
He made himself comfortable by the base of a tree, watching Amelia lead a beautiful palomino-colored mare into the clearing and turn her loose. "Are you sure that's wise, Amelia? Won't you have trouble catching her?"
"No-she always comes when I call. She likes me." Amelia sat down next to him on the grass.
"Everything likes you," he teased unexpectedly, one side of his mouth turning up, a stony eyebrow raised. She looked at him in astonishment.
Zelgadis himself was a little surprised at how rapidly his emotions kept changing, but his recent good humor was welcome, compared to the terrible morass of feelings he had plowed his way through for the past two weeks.
Amelia drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, smiling at him affectionately. Does that mean he does, too? Oh, I hope, I hope...
The chimera gazed at her, a small smile on his lips, feeling that same contentment he had experienced once on her balcony; the desire to do absolutely nothing but enjoy her company. He pushed all negative thoughts to the back of his mind, finding it somehow easier to do so in her familiar presence.
The air seemed heavy with silence, save for the chirping of insects, and the occasional birdsong...a lazy sort of day when all one's problems seem to recede, perfect for relaxing.
Shiran came up to them and lay down on Zelgadis' other side, leaning her great frame against him with a sound midway between a sigh and a groan. He looked down at her half in amusement, half with the desire to move away. A giggle from Amelia made him look up. She had her hand over her mouth, and her blue eyes were sparkling with amusement.
The stone man felt the corners of his own mouth turn up, and didn't resist. He smiled for the second time in as many minutes-a record for him.
"Oh, you two look so cute together. A boy and his dog," Amelia laughed.
"Cute?" He gave her an exaggerated look of disgust, and felt warm inside when she giggled again. Then his smile faded, and he added thoughtfully, "You don't mind that she likes me? She's your 'dog'."
She shook her head, grinning affectionately at him. "Not anymore. Now she's ours."
Ours. Zelgadis almost protested, but something inside him, something that relished the sense of connection to the little princess, kept him silent. But I wonder, whom will Shiran choose to go with when we separate at the palace?
Amelia was thinking, I wonder if Shiran accepted him so easily because they're both chimeras? Or because we smell of magic, like Mister Savari would have? Or maybe Shiran can just tell how much I love him, and it made her love him, too? She liked the last explanation best.
She decided not to mention that she had noticed Zelgadis was wearing the ward bracelet she had given him on his canteen strap. It'll remind him of the wedding and he'll probably want to give it back to me now. I kind of like seeing him wearing it, right out where people can see it. I hope that means what I think it does...
The emotional events of the afternoon had taken their toll on all of them. Gradually Zelgadis nodded off, his back against the tree, with Amelia curled up on the grass beside him. Already he was beginning to rely on Shiran's senses to warn them of distant danger.
Zelgadis awoke with the feeling that something was wrong. He looked around the clearing, listening for any danger, in spite of Shiran's slumbering form next to him. Nothing. Then he noticed the sun.
"Amelia, wake up."
She didn't stir. He reached down to place a hand on her shoulder, shaking gently. "Amelia."
"Mm?" Her eyes opened. He removed his hand as she sat up, rubbing her eyes drowsily. "What is it?"
"Look at the sun."
It took her sleep-befuddled mind a moment to realize what he was talking about. "Oh, we've slept for a long time!"
"Almost four hours. And Lina and Gourry aren't back yet."
"Do you think something's happened to them?" Amelia brought one hand up in her familiar gesture of dismay, her fist in front of her chin.
"I'm starting to think so." Inwardly he was cursing himself. I shouldn't have fallen asleep. I should have known something was wrong from the start. "We'd better start searching for them."
They got to their feet, casting about for some trace of which way to go. Abruptly Zelgadis turned to the princess. "Amelia-do you think Shiran might be able to follow their scents?"
"Oh...well, I guess so...but maybe she won't have to."
He turned to look at her. "What's that?"
"Let me try to find them. Lately...I mean, since the Barrier's fall my magic has gotten more powerful. I used a locator spell to look for Shiran, and I noticed that I could see all of you as well."
"More powerful? In what way?"
""Well...I can do spells now that I think only someone as strong as Filia or Sylphiel could do before. Some are spells I'd only heard about, but could never manage before. And my regular spells have all been enhanced."
He gave her a sharp look. "I haven't noticed any enhancement in my magic. When did you notice your powers had increased?"
He watched as she put a hand to the back of her neck, as if embarrassed. "Oh...to be honest, I didn't. I mean, I've been so busy looking for your cure that I haven't needed to use much magic lately. Someone else pointed it out to me."
"And why do you think the Barrier has something to do with it?"
"Well, Rilloban-the boy from Shiran's village-said his village's healer started getting stronger around the time the Barrier fell. He said she thinks the Barrier was somehow blocking the white mages, though she didn't know how or why. So I tried some magic, and sure enough, I can do lots more than I used to!" He tone was almost gleeful.
Hmm. Perhaps I should pay this healer a visit. She may be powerful enough to activate the Oracle's cure with no danger to herself, even without the obligation to love me. Zelgadis shook off those uncomfortable thoughts before they could drag him down again to the depths of depression and confusion. "Go ahead and try to locate our friends, Amelia."
"Okay." Amelia leaned down and picked up a forked twig from the earth and closed her eyes, standing absolutely still. Zelgadis watched her face take on a look of extreme concentration, and held his breath lest he inadvertently break it. After a few moments, her arm rose, wavering in the air in front of her, and gradually settled in a southeasterly direction. "There."
Her eyes opened. The pupils were huge, almost drowning out the blue, but they rapidly shrank back to normal even as he watched. Suddenly she blinked, and he realized that he'd been standing over her, staring into her eyes, his face just inches from hers. He backed off, both of them looking away from each other, blushing. The chimera put a hand behind his head. "Ahem, well, let's get going."
Lina woke up sluggishly. Opening her eyes, she blearily made out a stone wall in front of her. Where'd that come from? Turning her head, she realized that she was in a small stone chamber. The only light came from a tiny barred window in the heavy wooden door. Great. I'm somebody's prisoner. She became aware of Gourry's familiar snoring somewhere nearby. Correction: we're somebody's prisoners.
She also became aware that she was starvingly hungry. Rolling over, she groaned at the stiffness of her body from the hard cold floor. I don't need this. We're on a deadline... "Gourry, wake up."
Predictably, she had to shake him vigorously to bring him to full wakefulness, and explain what was going on when he did manage to wake up. Just as she finished, the door was unlocked from the outside, and several large, burly men appeared. The shortest of them spoke. "Now that you're finally awake, the boss'd like ta see ya."
"Suppose we don't want to see him?" Lina snarled, already planning what she was going to do to these guys.
"Don't ya even wanna know why you're here?"
That actually made her pause, curious. "I assume he's some bandit I defeated in the past, and now he wants to get revenge."
"Someone who thinks I owe him money?"
"Some evil overlord who wants to take over the world and/or destroy it and he wants me to cast my most powerful spell to help him?"
The men guffawed, making her mad. "Hey, what's so funny?"
"You couldn't be wronger, lady." The short one said, wiping away tears of laughter. "Now come on-we don't got all day."
Lina hesitated, then followed the man out of the cell. I might as well see what's up. Maybe it's a misunderstanding I can talk my way out of. I haven't got time for a battle right now. "Will he at least give us some food? I feel like I haven't eaten in days."
"You've been asleep for almost two days. Hey, don't look at us. You're the ones who made such pigs of yourselves with the stew."
Lina's eyes narrowed. "So the 'vendor' was in on this, too. And to think I paid him! I want a refund!"
The guards led them through what looked like an entire network of caves to a large cavern with a table in one corner. "Food!" Gourry yelled, heading toward it.
Lina grabbed the end of his hair and yanked him back. "Don't eat that, you idiot! It's probably drugged!"
"The food is quite safe." A man stepped out of the shadows. He was tall, with dark hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and steady blue eyes. "I need you awake, and I don't want you to starve to death before I can question you. Go ahead-I promise you it is neither poisoned nor drugged."
Gourry looked at her pleadingly. Lina focused an intense gaze on the dark-haired man, and slowly nodded. "Go on, Gourry."
She turned to face the man. "Okay, now what's going on?"
He gave her a measuring look, seeming to understand that she was not going to budge until she got some answers. "All right. Will you at least eat while I talk?"
Zelgadis jogged along beside Amelia's cantering horse when they came to a short stretch of open meadow, glancing the pair out of the corner of his eye. He watched as the golden mare's long white mane rippled back toward the young girl, whose own raven-black hair fluttered in the breeze. Idly, he noted that Amelia was a very good rider, using her legs and slight shifts in posture to tell the horse what was needed from her, instead of relying on the reins.
That's not a bad horse, either. He observed the mare's long legs, her sloping shoulders and deep chest. A bit lightly built for climbing through hilly mountains, but an excellent runner. The name Sunshine suits her, I suppose. He wasn't overly fond of cutesy names, but had to admit to himself that he'd never traveled with a horse that had such a friendly temperament. And her coloring-a shining golden shade with a snowy white mane, tail, socks, and a round star on her forehead-was certainly adequately described.
Maybe sometime I'll drop by Seyrune and take a look at their stock-it's always a good idea to know where to find quality horses. Even if I can't ride anymore. His mind veered off from old memories as he experienced a jolt of bitterness.
At least we're making better time than we would have, if Amelia hadn't brought her along. His thoughts switched back to the girl. I should have expected that she'd be a good rider-as the princess, she must have been trained by the best. I wonder if she's ever competed...
Too full of worry over her missing friends' plight, Amelia did not notice the stone man's many admiring glances.
Author's Note: Shiran's coat is white, but each hair has a pale purple tip, giving it a lavender appearance. She has a somewhat darker stripe of purple hair on her back and head, and her ears have darker edges.
In a review, Ukchana posed several excellent queries I'd like to answer. First of all, I'm glad for the questions-it shows my readers are thinking, which is really the point of why people write-to make you think and wonder and dream, and sometimes change the world.
The first question is which kind of Flare Arrow does Zelgadis use-as far as I know, there's only one kind-a Shamanistic one that hurt souls. I looked it up when I was trying to find a spell that makes a big flash and boom but won't hurt anything physically, and found this one. As long as Zelgadis aimed it upward, away from people, he could use it as a distraction to 'kidnap' Amelia from the music hall without damaging anything.
Second: Why is magic outside the Barrier weak? That's actually rather easy-it's cultural. Magic in the Outer World is probably regarded as unreliable, unsafe, suspected by some as being fake, or even evil, which is much the way magic is regarded in America's culture. If people regard it as something bad, most people will have nothing to do with it and will see the few who do as people to be suspicious of. Now, those few people who DO use magic will have a hard time finding anyone to learn from, so will have to figure out most of it on their own-so of course their spells are likely to be unimpressive to those people from inside the Barrier, where magic is accepted as legitimate.
Look how long it's taken the general public to get used to the idea of our police using psychics to help them solve crimes, and even so, most people still scoff and profess to disbelieve, though one might wonder...if being a psychic was suddenly regarded as a respectable thing to be, how many of the scoffers would drop their scorn, now that they didn't have to be afraid others might make fun of them for believing in psychics? I'm watching a show called The Dead Zone (10pm Eastern Standard time, on USA) that has just such a psychic-and he has several friends in political and law circles who make others go along with his predictions, even when they disbelieve. It's interesting from a cultural point of view-and I like how he lives in Maine, only one state away from my own New Hampshire.
Third query: Why do I have people react to Zelgadis as if he were someone to be afraid of? When he was part of Lina's group people treated him no differently from the others? Well, partly because Lina's group was so unusual that he blended in better, and Lina, with her loud, brash personality, sort of overshadowed the rest, so Zel seemed more normal in comparison. Less noticeable. Ever notice if you're watching a group of anime characters and they're all unusual-maybe even monstrous-except for the human leader, it's usually the human who is given the most attention?
I thought about how the average villager would react to everything that's happened over the past three years in the Slayers world. (I figure with no media it would take several years for the stories of Lina's group's exploits to become known to the general public, most likely twisted into mere rumors and stories.) Shabranigdo, mazoku, the fall of Sairaag, Lord Gaav, and the spectacular battles in Try with the dragons that left the giant beam of light where the core of the Barrier used to be-if I were a villager I'd be afraid my village was going to be wiped out at any moment. Even the White Magic capital, Seyrune, literally lost a huge chunk of its land and any people that were on it, so how can the average village protect itself? I'd react with suspicion toward ANY stranger, and as for one who looked non-human...
And Zelgadis would react to people's suspicions by become more cautious, secretive, maybe almost paranoid at times. A few bad experiences with villagers would only make him that much more reclusive. He's not like Amelia, who would figure any nasty treatment she received was exclusive to that particular person, not that everyone was going to treat her that way. Optimism: 'The next village is bound to be better, ne?'
I love to explain my reasoning behind seemingly offhand plot points in my fic-if any of you have something that's been gnawing away at your mind, please don't hesitate to ask! ^_^
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