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-I just like to know if anyone's interested. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing really descriptive. PG for minor swearing.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
Chapter Thirty: Interrogations and Inner Contemplations
How do I end up in these situations? Lina groaned to herself. Out of all the people I could have run into, I meet the one group of people who don't hold my name in fear-I mean, respect. And since when is submerging somebody under water a reliable way to get information?
Some hours earlier:
Lina watched to see which plates the man across from her ate food from, and copied him. She nibbled with extraordinary restraint at the savory meats and crisp vegetables, passing up the rich-smelling broth-just in case-though her stomach was crying its distress at her, urging her to devour everything in sight.
Gourry, sitting beside her, did not have such caution, stuffing himself as if-well, as if he hadn't eaten in two days, which he hadn't.
"My name is Ponmar." The man bowed his head slightly at her. "You are Lina Inverse and Gourry Gabriev."
"Yeah, now what's the big deal, kidnapping us?" Lina demanded. "I haven't got the time to kid around, here!"
"Oh?" Lina caught the hint of suspicion in Ponmar's keen blue eyes, though his face remained calm. "And what are you in such a hurry for, if you don't mind my asking?"
Lina's ruby eyes narrowed. "Not so fast, pal, I asked you first."
He nodded slightly. "Fair enough. I have come from the land beyond the Barrier. In the months since its fall, the surrounding kingdoms have been attacked several times by powerful mages who have caused severe damage and casualties. We fear an invasion; an army of wizards and witches-a force we would be largely helpless against. The few magic-wielders we have managed to capture so far all claim that you are their leader."
"What?" The red-haired sorceress couldn't decide if she was astonished or indignant. "You don't believe that, do you?"
"That is what I have been sent here to determine."
Flustered won. Red-faced, the young girl sputtered, "Aw, come on, are you telling me you're gonna believe a bunch of mages so cowardly that they'd blame their actions on a girl?"
Deep in Ponmar's eyes, she thought she saw a trace of doubt, but his expression remained serious as he answered, "Normally, no. But expeditions to your land have brought back many tales of an incredibly powerful, young-seeming sorceress who is bent on conquest."
"Not those old rumors again!" Lina groaned.
Gourry, as usual, made everything worse by adding his two cents. "Oh, you mean how people call Lina names like the Bandit Killer and Seyrune's Demolisher?"
"Idiot!" Lina whacked him upside the head. "Don't go spreading things that aren't true!"
Ponmar only blinked at this display of violence, and continued as if he had not been interrupted. "The kingdom of Xoana was the first to fall, but now with the Barrier down the sorceress has focused her intent upon us, as we would be able to offer little magical resistance. I was chosen to come her to confront her, and, if necessary, to stop her by whatever means available."
Interlacing her fingers behind her head, Lina leaned back in her seat, relaxing a little now that she knew what was going on, and had some food in her belly. "Well, Pon, I can understand your alarm, but the truth is, you don't have anything to fear from me. The only goals I have in life are to travel, eat well, and maybe attack a few bandit gangs now and then-as a public service. After all, villains have no rights, right?" She smiled winningly.
"So you are denying their claims?"
"Of course!" she said a little too quickly, sitting upright again. "The thought never crossed my mind! I mean, who would want thousands of people worshipping at your feet, ready to obey your slightest whim?" Both Gourry and Ponmar could see her eyes go out of focus, as if she was imagining that very scene.
After a few seconds she became aware of their stares, and laughed in embarrassment, putting on hand behind her head. "All right, maybe I have thought of world domination, but who hasn't?"
"I haven't," Gourry piped up.
"Gourry, you're not helping!" Lina said in exasperation, refraining from hitting him, realizing it was damaging her 'I'm harmless' image. "But honestly, Ponmar, if I was going to try to conquer your kingdom, I wouldn't send a bunch of lackeys to do it for me. I'd just...oh, I suppose I'd start by blowing up a few things to get my message across-maybe a couple of national monuments...and then I'd-"
She stopped as Ponmar pushed his chair back from the table, its wooden legs squeaking on the stone floor. "Guards, escort Mister Gabriev back to his accommodations. I believe I wish to chat a little longer with Miss Inverse."
As the guards approached, Gourry tensed, glancing at Lina. She nodded, standing up and crossing her arms, looking supremely confident. "Sorry to disappoint you guys, but Gourry and are in a hurry. I've told you what you wanted to know, and to show you how generous I am, I won't even hold a grudge for this whole kidnapping business."
Gourry stood up next to her. "Lina, our swords."
She added, "And I'll just take back our weapons."
Ponmar said quietly, "You won't be needing them." He signaled to his men to close in.
Lina scowled. "All right, that does it. I was going to be nice, but if you insist on being so rude, then: Fireball!"
Lina tried again. "Diem Wind!" The temporary blast of wind she expected should have shoved the approaching men backwards without causing too much harm, but again, nothing happened.
Gourry glanced at her. "Hey Lina, is it that time of the month again already?"
"No, you fool!" She turned to Ponmar, demanding, "What did you do to me?"
"Nothing, directly." He looked at little smug, raising an eyebrow at her. "So, the great Lina Inverse can be defeated-with nothing more than a little preparation."
"What are you talking about?"
"What is the most feasible way to stop a powerful sorceress? Take away her powers."
"But-how?" Gourry asked the question before she could.
"Before I came here I did a lot of research about your land, particularly in how to neutralize magical threats. I discovered that there are many areas of land that have been created specifically to null magic, usually for religious temples and such. This cave, and the area surrounding it for many miles is the largest of these non-magical regions."
"Varxin's Realm?" Lina murmured, looking stunned.
"Ah, you've heard of it."
"What's Varxin's Realm?" Gourry gave her his usual 'I'm a step behind' look.
She answered him absently, working out the details in her mind. "It's supposed to be a myth. See, a long time ago there was a priest of white magic named Varxin who'd spent most of his life battling mazoku. More than anything else, he wanted to keep his people safe from them, so he decided to create a realm where magic was nullified, so that the people who lived there could spend their lives in peace, without being attacked by magical threats."
"He sounds like a nice guy," her blonde companion commented.
Lina smiled a little. "In a way, he was, but the problem is he never stopped to consider what life would be like without magic. No healing, no instant rain to put out forest fires, no help with the backbreaking physical labor of farming, no little spells to make life easier. After a few years of living without magic, most of the people moved away, deciding that they'd rather take their chances with the monsters than live in what had become abject poverty."
"Gee, that's sad. So whatever happened to Zarzin?"
"Varxin. No one knows. Some say he lived out the rest of his life here, too ashamed of the blunder he'd made to ever show his face again. In time, the story of his Realm became one of the most ridiculed legends among magic users-'don't fall into Varxin's Realm', we say, when somebody gets stuck doing some tedious chore. But nobody ever said it was for real," she finished thoughtfully, frowning. How many times am I going to run into mythological menaces?
"You know your history." Ponmar had been silent up to now, allowing Lina to fill in the blanks for Gourry. "So you see, it's quite useless to fight. Your magic is nullified. You have no way to escape before you tell me what I need to know."
"And that is?"
"The names of your accomplices, their whereabouts, and exactly how I can defuse your plan of conquest, assuming your second-in-command takes up where you left off." His face was no longer amused, but deadly serious.
Lina blew up. "I told you, there is no plan! Why won't you listen to me?"
"I guess your reputation finally caught up with you, Lina," Gourry remarked, stepping far enough away from his ranting friend to be out of the direct line of her fury. One of the guards snickered.
"Arrrgh!" She leaped into the air, tearing at her hair. "Gourry, we've got to get out of here! Remember Amelia?"
"Oh, yeah." He stepped forward to stand back-to-back with her. "Sorry to eat and run, guys, but we've got a schedule to keep."
Instantly several of the guards closed in on them. With a fierce battle-cry, Lina leaped into the air and slammed her booted foot into one man's chest, sending him flying across the chamber. A second guard fell to a powerful punch to the chin, with the crack of bone hitting bone clearly audible. While the rest of the men stood there, stunned at the small girl's ferocity, Gourry lost no time in seizing two of the guards and bashing their heads together.
"Better get back, boss." The head of the guard muttered to Ponmar. "And send for reinforcements."
It took over an hour, but eventually the two adventurers were subdued through sheer numbers. An unconscious Gourry was carried back to their cell, as Ponmar looked down at the insensible red-haired girl in regret. "I wish I could be certain of your innocence, but I dare not take any chances. This is the only way I know to be certain."
When the red-haired sorceress woke up, she discovered herself tied down and helpless. "Hey, what is this?" she demanded indignantly, staring up at the cave's ceiling. It feels like I'm lying on a piece of wood, a board maybe. She shifted as well as she could, which was not much, as she was bound to the wood at the chest, waist, knees and ankles. Her hands were tied down as well. Hey, the board moved! It feels as if I'm hovering in midair.
Ponmar came into her field of view. "You are even more formidable than I thought. It's a pity that a remarkable young woman like yourself should be using her talents to hurt people."
She opened her mouth to reply, but could not, because the phrasing he had chosen was correct. She had hurt many people in the past. Mostly villains, true, but occasionally some innocent bystanders got caught in the crosswinds-the fate of several dozen of Seyrune's citizens came to mind. She shuddered as a crushing feeling of guilt brought sudden tears to her eyes.
"I can't deny that...but it was necessary at the time," she said softly. "I've never hurt innocent people intentionally. Sometimes it's an accident...sometimes they're just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The brown-haired man was silent. After several moments, Lina's fighting spirit surfaced. "Hey, what do you know about fighting mazoku? Or-you may not have heard this, but I was the one who destroyed Lord Shabranigdo when he was reborn a few years ago."
"I heard. There are those who claim you were the one who resurrected him."
"Wherever mass destruction has occurred, your name has been linked to it. I find it extremely difficult to believe that you were the innocent party in every case."
Ponmar's blue eyes were full of pity. "As history states, no human villain ever believes himself-or herself-to be truly evil."
"Are you saying I'm a villain now? Who's the one picking on a poor defenseless girl?"
The man sighed. "Like you, I am doing what is necessary to protect my loved ones. If that makes me a villain in your eyes, then so be it." Some of the watching men murmured amongst themselves.
Ponmar glanced at them, and hesitated. "I want to believe you. Those magicians we caught-apparently in your land they are no better than fifth-class magic-casters, the lowest of the low. They say they were promised great wealth and power if they followed you and helped you take over my homelands. They are not the kind of men I would believe, to be honest...but your name is infamous here in your own realm, and few have anything good to say about you. I can't afford to take chances-I must know everything you know. I'm sorry."
With that, he raised his hand, and Lina was instantly plunged into frigid iciness.
Amelia had been uncharacteristically quiet all morning. After her earlier breakdown in Zelgadis' arms, she hadn't wanted to start asking awkward questions about his cure; she was unwilling to break the atmosphere of closeness that had grown between the them. She knew both of them were worried about their missing friends, but she was glad to be sharing something like this, especially with him.
Zelgadis was having some trouble focusing on the current rescue mission. He had been emotionally strained for many days, he had finally managed to achieve a kind of mental peace, and now he had to deal with one of the main causes of his angst.
Yesterday he had thought about nothing more than who the possible kidnappers were, about the best rescue plans, (depending on whether or not their friends were conscious), and what he would do to the criminals if Lina and Gourry were dead. Amelia was certain that they were alive, but he couldn't help planning for the worst, out of old habits.
Amelia. Today, he kept finding himself thinking of her, instead of being alert for signs of the kidnappers. She always seems to show up when I need her the most. She had rescued him from drowning once, had fought at his side in innumerable battles...she had even stood up to Copy Rezo to protect him, back when she barely knew him, jumping in front of a blast of deadly energy with nothing more than a tiny wind shield.
He caught himself glancing up at her for the twentieth time, cataloging the differences between the young girl he had known, and the young woman who rode gracefully beside him on the palomino mare. Unconsciously detouring around the faint memory of his waking dream from the previous night, he decided that physically she looked much the same as she always had-she was even wearing the same sort of outfit she'd always worn.
Her behavior hadn't changed much, either-even her sudden outburst that morning had been in character. Grieving over a horse, he thought, a little embarrassed, remembering his own sharing of that emotion. And getting more upset about whether or not I was angry at her for the ward bracelets, instead of about her having to go through such a traumatic experience; that's definitely the Amelia I know.
It isn't she who has changed; I have. Or at least, I've been made aware of something I did my best to ignore...that her little 'crush' didn't fade as I'd assumed it would-it deepened into real caring.
He stared ahead with unseeing blue-green eyes. How could she possibly feel that way about me? he asked himself for the hundredth time. His naturally pessimistic, highly suspicious mind had been turning the Oracle's proclamation over and over in his mind, looking for the catch.
Thinking back, it's obvious that Lina knew about all of this. In fact, I wouldn't doubt it if this whole 'Oracle' thing was her idea. He found it easier to believe the impish sorceress was capable of such scheming, rather than the forthright princess...and yet, he had gone along with the whole thing, trustingly following the path they had laid out for him, never suspecting Amelia's motives came from anything other than her goodwill. It hurt him in a way that no physical injury could have.
Gradually the feeling of betrayal transmuted into anger, resentment, bitterness. What bothered him the most was that he had not been given a choice. He'd been treated like a thing, with no rights or feelings, part of a plan he'd had no say in. Maybe I should just tell her about my cure, and let her take her chances! He clenched his fists as red-hot anger burned just below the surface, though his face remained impassive. If his hands had not been stone, his nails would have punctured his skin.
Eventually, he cooled down. No. I won't go back to that. I'm human...Amelia doesn't deserve... It never occurred to him that he was doing exactly what he had resented most about the girls' plot for him-not telling her the facts and letting her make the decision for herself. And he was doing it for exactly the same reason-to protect her from possible harm, physical or emotional.
They're offering me the chance to regain my humanity. In exchange for what? The Oracle said Amelia wanted to marry me. Is that true? And if it is, is it because she really loves me, or simply because she's faced with a forced marriage, with no real prospects? Am I just a convenient way out of a reluctant duty?
Almost, he convinced himself that this was the correct answer-it was obvious. He was probably the only male of marriageable age whom she knew well. Someone she trusted. It's only natural-we've been through a lot together; even saved each other's lives.
He found his condemning thoughts softening a little. I suppose I don't blame her. I might even have done the same thing in her position. The hard core of resentment, anger, and betrayal at being placed along a path seemingly of his own choosing, but actually following along naively with someone else's plan, began to ease.
She won't want me now-not as a stone freak. She was probably counting on this cure as much as I. Poor Amelia. She must have convinced herself that she's in love with me. Of course, that's wrong, he told himself quickly, denying the one tiny spark of hope that wouldn't be smothered. No one could ever really want a chimera, but...if she did, I might actually...
For a brief, delicious moment, the stone man allowed himself to think about a future with Amelia, as a member of the royal family. The implied power didn't tempt him-he already had a taste of ultimate power-but at least he was used to those kinds of responsibilities. They were more of a restriction than a freedom, sometimes incredibly boring or frustrating, but no worse than many other jobs. And with Amelia by his side, he...
Amelia. A young, wide-eyed girl on the verge of womanhood. Sometimes silly, sometimes surprisingly mature. She took her responsibilities seriously-was a bit too zealous, maybe, but she had everything a good ruler should have, with her own special flair.
Still, if I had met her now, without knowing her for years, I might have dismissed her as just another useless airhead of a princess. It never would have occurred to me that she could be so formidable in battle... and it takes a special kind of courage to fight for what you believe in, rather than for money or power. She's...remarkable...
He was bought out of his reverie when Sunshine, who was usually so well-mannered, began to whicker and sidestep nervously. "What's wrong?" he asked Amelia.
"I don't know," Amelia replied in concern. "Something's bothering her." Shiran suddenly appeared out of the forest in front of them, whining softly.
"Now she's doing it." Zelgadis frowned. "Amelia-check on Lina and Gourry's locations."
She closed her eyes and lifted her chin, orienting. "I can't." She looked shocked. "It's not working at all. Something's really wrong."
"I'll fly up and take a look around." Zelgadis said. "Rei Wing."
Author's Note: Isn't it funny how even though Zelgadis has Made His Decision about whether or not to get Amelia to help cure him and/or marry her, that as soon as he begins spending time with her he finds himself forgetting his resolution, letting his imagination wander? But he's not one of those people who change their goals easily-once they make up their mind the tend to stick to it, even under extreme circumstances. This can be both a good quality or a frustrating one. Poor guy.
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