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, just 'cause I like to know people are 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-One: I Am Not a Child
A Rift Opens
"Rei Wing!" Zelgadis repeated, with the same negative results. He was about to try another spell when Amelia whispered, "Can you feel it?"
He resisted the impulse to ask the obvious question, and simply went silent, trying to extend his senses to perceive whatever Amelia was sensing. "I feel a numbness, a deadness," he reported.
"Whenever I try to reach out, I feel like there's a wall surrounding me, keeping me in." Amelia looked distressed, her lower lip trembling. "It's awful."
It occurred to the stone man that she had just described the way he'd felt emotionally during most of his life.
"What could be causing it?" Amelia murmured.
A vague idea came into focus. "A region of no magic?" Zelgadis had suddenly remembered climbing the mountain in the outer world that resembled a pile of... Well, it had felt exactly like this, as if he were cut off from the use of a limb, no less important for all that the 'limb'-his magic-was intangible. "I've heard of a few, but most of them are in well-known locations. I wonder..."
Amelia surprised him with a rogue giggle. "You mean like that mountain we climbed that looked like-"
"Amelia!" He could not keep a scandalized expression from his face. "Princesses shouldn't use language like that."
"I'm sorry," she answered, her eyes sparkling, looking not the least bit apologetic. Apparently identifying the problem had brought back her good spirits.
He wished it was that easy for him. "This is no time for your juvenile silliness," he snapped, more out of worry than anything else. "How are we supposed to locate Lina and Gourry now?"
Too late, he saw that he had wounded her, watching her wilt under his gaze. Why is it lately that I can never say the right thing to her?
Amelia bit her lip, as tears stung her eyes, feeling as if an enormous chasm had torn open between them. He...he called me a child. He still thinks of me as a silly little girl! It was all she could do to stop herself from protesting his words and making herself sound exactly like the child he accused her of being.
She turned away from the stone man, looking instead at Sunshine's small golden ears peeking out from her luxurious white mane. They were still twitching nervously. She must have sensed it when the magic stopped. Shiran, too. That's it! "We can use Shiran's nose, like you said before," she replied to his earlier question as if no time had passed, though it had felt like a lifetime since he had uttered his crushing statement.
"Will that work?" he asked after a moment.
"It should." She forced herself to meet his eyes. "If you have something with their scents on it."
"Their scents? Why would I have-" He paused. "Lina and Gourry used my cape as a makeshift tent for a few days during a desert stint. It may still have some of their scents on it."
"Good." Amelia swung down from Sunshine's back, handing the reins to Zelgadis in case the mare tried to bolt-she'd felt twitchy enough to try. Then the girl reached out and took hold of a piece of the chimera's cape, his familiar pale tan cape with green lining, and tried not to let memories of all the times she had seen this cape heroically flying around him overwhelm her.
"Shiran." The dragonwolf came to stand in front of her. "Lost sheep, Shiran. Track the lost sheep." She held the material out to the lilac-furred beast, who sniffed it deeply.
"Lost sheep?" Zelgadis sounded a little amused.
The princess was struck by how much she loved his voice when he spoke like that-or any time, really. He had such a rich, melodious voice... She resisted the impulse to reply in kind, though, still feeling the sting of his reprimand that she was too juvenile. I'll show you I'm not a child anymore. She looked up at him with shadowed eyes. You'll see.
Shiran began circling them, her dark purple nose to the ground.
Amelia kept her voice level. "One of the commands I learned was for Shiran to track down lost sheep-or anything with a scent. It's easiest to refer to her quarry as a 'sheep' to avoid confusing her."
"I see." His voice was drowned out by Shiran's excited whining. "It looks as if she's picked up something already."
"Of course. I led us on a path as close to the kidnappers' trail as possible." She tried to keep the annoyance out of her tone. Does he think I'm such a child that I can't even use a finder spell correctly? She remounted Sunshine, and signaled to Shiran to take the lead.
Their trek was never constant, as the dragonwolf periodically lost the scent and had to do some quick circling to track it down again. Amelia kept her eyes forward, and her mind strictly on her business.
Zelgadis noticed her lack of buoyancy, but wasn't sure whether it was due to his somewhat severe comment, or her concern for their friends. In either case, he felt a little seriousness was appropriate.
Suddenly Shiran froze, the fur on her shoulders rising. "Shiran, flank!" Amelia said immediately.
"What is it?"
"She senses something."
"Or someone." The chimera froze, listening, his pointed ears quivering slightly. "Amelia, you stay here. I'm going to go check it out."
She almost protested, then remember her vow not to act like an undisciplined child. "All right. But at least take Shiran with you."
Startled, he asked, "Will she obey me?"
"She will," Amelia assured him firmly. "This sign means 'attack', and this sign means 'stop'. You already know 'flank'. She'll obey voice or hand, in case you're in a situation where you need to be quiet."
Zelgadis looked at her a long moment, then nodded. "All right, Amelia. Shiran, flank." The dragonwolf immediately looked up at Amelia, who waved her hand toward Zelgadis as if to say, 'go with him'. At once the great beast was at his side, her emerald eyes glowing brighter, quivering to be off.
Again, the stone man met her eyes. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then turned away and melted into the undergrowth.
Amelia sat astride Sunshine, stroking a soothing hand over the mare's neck, although it was really the girl who was in need of comfort. "I hope nothing happens to them, Sunny," she whispered.
Ten minutes later, her wish was granted. There was a sudden crackling in the undergrowth, then Shiran came bounding out, her pink tongue lolling happily. "Shirry!" Amelia dismounted and started to hug the great beast, but stopped when a second swish of foliage announced Zelgadis' imminent arrival.
When he emerged from the forest, Amelia couldn't help giving him a quick look to make sure he was unhurt. The chimera appeared to be all right, although she noticed he was carrying an extra sword around his slender waist. As they stood looking at each other, both of them remembered the last time Amelia had greeted him, and there was more than a tinge of pink over two noses.
When the raven-haired princess made no move toward him, Zelgadis approached her, unbuckling the second swordbelt from his waist. "I thought you could use this."
"Where did you-oh."
He nodded. "There was a perimeter guard about a quarter of a mile from here. I took care of him."
Amelia felt sorry Amelia was thinking sadly for a moment about the poor guard, when it finally struck her: Zelgadis wanted her to use a sword. She looked up at him in dismay. Oh, no!
"S-s-top, please, stop!" Lina heard herself pleading in a pitiful tone. "I can't take it anymore! This is even worse than the time that fish-man kissed me!" She was shuddering violently, her near-frozen clothing clinging to her, chafing her tender skin, although she had long since lost the ability to feel it. "Well, maybe not...but it's pretty damn close!"
She still could not believe what they were doing to her. Apparently they had discovered a large depression in the stone floor of one of the cavern chambers and had filled it with achingly cold water from a nearby underground stream. Then they had brought in this board and set it the edge of the depression so that they could dunk her under the water to try to force her to talk. Ponmar had called it 'the water test'.
"The names, then." Ponmar's blue eyes bored into hers. "Why are you protecting these scoundrels, who haven't even the decency to come rescue their leader?"
"What scoundrels?" Lina sneezed, her ruby eyes showing her aggravation, and possibly the beginning of a cold. "I t-told you; there's no plot-we're only in a hurry to m-make it back to Seyrune in time for my friend's wedding. She's the p-princess of Seyrune-that's why I know I don't want to rule the world-there's w-w-way too much work involved. Most of it's all pomp and ceremony and s-stupid rules, like the one that's forcing my friend to get married by her seventeenth b-birthday even though she can't marry the guy she loves."
For the first time, real doubt flickered in Ponmar's eyes. Encouraged, Lina added, "He's under a c-curse that turned him into a chimera with stone skin. Of course, they're not going to let the princess of the white magic c-capital marry a guy who looks less human than some m-mazoku. We've been searching for a cure for months-that's what we're d-doing so far from Seyrune. Only now we're running out of time."
"I've heard of a warrior with stone skin..." Ponmar said slowly. "Is he one of the men in your group?"
"Yes-wait a minute, what group are we talking about?" Lina saw that she still had not convinced him completely. "Look, Ponmar, I'm not saying that there aren't some mages out there who might be p-planning to attack your realm, but you've got to believe me when I say that I'm n-not one of them. I've seen the job; I don't want it!" She let out her breath through her frozen nose in a snort. "W-what else do you want me to say? Do you want me to make something up? Will that make you happy?"
Ponmar turned his back. Lina watched his shoulders tense, as if he were having an argument with himself. After several moments, his shoulders slumped and he turned to face her again. She could see the bad news on his face even before he spoke. "I'm sorry, Miss Inverse. I'm not a cruel man by nature. If only there were some way I could make sure you're telling me the truth..."
"Guards, take her back to her chamber for the night. I can see that the water test has failed. Her strength of will is admirable. I will have to come up with another way to get the information that I require."
"Why don't you torture the man?" the shortest guard asked. "She won't like seeing her lover in pain, now will she?" He chuckled evilly.
Lina struggled against the two huge bruisers who used knives to cut her free of the waterlogged board and began to drag her off down a side tunnel, but she was too stiff to do much of anything. "He is not my l-lover! And if you even lay a finger on him, I'll..."
Prince Ponmar listened to the protesting redhead until her voice faded away, and sighed.
Amelia felt sorry for the guard whom Zelgadis had killed. I know that sometimes it's necessary to punish people-we have to enforce the laws of justice and make sure that evil never gets the upper hand-but if circumstances were different I might have tried to convince him to see the error of his ways.
She stared off into the distance with unseeing blue eyes. I know people laugh at me; they say 'once a villain, always a villain', but I also know that sometimes people can redeem themselves. Mister Zelgadis used to be a hired mercenary for Lina's rival Martina's old kingdom of Xoana, but look at him now. He's helped us save the world at least three times now...
"Amelia, did you hear me?" Zelgadis was holding out the dead guard's sword by its scabbard, obviously expecting her to put it on.
"Uh, well..." The princess bit her lip, fervently not wanting to take the weapon, but also not wanting to offend the chimera. What should I do? I can't use that sword...I just can't!
Slowly she began backing away from the stone man, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Mister Zelgadis...I can't do it."
He raised an eyebrow quizzically. "What do you mean 'you can't'?"
"I can't use that sword," she confessed aloud.
"Why not? You've used swords before."
"Not really. That weapon I used to help fight Lord Darkstar is the closest thing I've ever used, and it was really more like Mister Gourry's sword of light than a regular sword."
His teal eyes widened. "You mean you've never been trained how to use a sword?"
"No." She didn't mention that it was because she had refused to learn.
Zelgadis went into his 'thinking' pose, with the side of his index finger touching his chin. After a few moments, he sighed and stated, "All right. I hate to take the time, but I can teach you the basics for now."
"No!" It came out harsher than she meant it to. "I mean, no thank you. I'll be all right."
He stared down at her, stunned. "Amelia, with no magic, your ability to fight is severely crippled-half of your physical attacks rely on magic to give them extra impact. You need to know how to protect yourself with a weapon."
She withered under his incredulous gaze. "I...I just...don't really care much for edged weapons," she admitted in a small voice.
In the charged silence that followed Amelia watched the stone man's expression change from disbelief to exasperation. "Amelia, this isn't the time to get skittish! What are you going to do if someone attacks you with his sword-give him a lecture on justice?"
Tears stung the princess' eyes at this personal attack, but she held her face still, so as not to give him yet another reason to criticize her for being a crybaby. "No, of course not. It's just that...fighting real people is different from fighting mazoku and beings like Darkstar... They don't have real bodies. They can't be hurt by things like swords...but real people-"
"I can't believe this." Amelia winced involuntarily at the anger on the chimera's face. He faced her for several seconds, breathing hard, with his fists clenched. Finally he said coldly, "Look, we don't have time to waste on such a pointless argument. Those whom you call real people"-he almost spat the words at her- "are the ones who kidnapped Lina and Gourry, and that makes them just as much our enemies as mazoku. Now are you going to help me rescue them or not?"
"It's not that easy." She tried to explain. "I want to help them just as much as you do. It's just that-"
"Oh, you do, do you?" Zelgadis had never spoken so cuttingly to her before. "For all we know our friends might be at death's door right now, and just when I need you the most, you're letting me down."
The open accusation on his face hit her like a blow. Amelia felt her eyes filling with hot tears, and bowed her head to hide them. Only the strength of her conviction was enough to keep her from capitulating to his demand. Slowly she shook her head, and struggled to find her voice, but his next words stopped her.
"Maybe you should just stay here then." Amelia jerked her head up, shock washing over her like ice water at his sudden rejection. Zelgadis stood with his back to her. "If you don't think you can handle it, I'll just take Shiran." His implied insult was obvious-he was furious with her. "She can lead me to the enemy's location. We'll free Lina and Gourry and meet up with you later."
Though the young princess wanted desperately to protest his decision, the words stuck in her throat, almost choking her. More than anything she wanted his approval, but the thought of using that deadly blade on another human being...of seeing it cut and rip and tear and...Maybe...maybe he's right. I'd probably be just a liability without my magic. She swallowed hard, then said softly, "You're probably right. I'd only get in your way..." Like the child he thinks I am. "You don't need to worry about me on top of everything else."
He looked at her, his face impassive once again, then nodded abruptly. "Come on, Shiran." He gestured. "Flank."
The dragonwolf approached him, whining to show her distress over their quarrel. Zelgadis turned to leave, then stopped. All she could see of him was his silver-blue hair and pointed ear, and the very tip of his nose past his blue cheekbone. He said quietly, "Maybe you have changed. The Amelia I knew would never back down from a fight, especially when her friends' lives are at stake." He began walking into the forest.
Zelgadis, wait! Amelia wanted to call after him, but instead she stood in frozen numbness. As she lost sight of the moving patch of tan in the foliage, she closed her eyes, not only to shut out the sight of her beloved leaving her behind but also to try to block out the memory of his eyes, of his cold, accusing glare. The young girl felt hot tears creeping out to make streaks down her travel-smudged face. Her throat ached with the effort to hold back her sobs.
A small whimper escaped before she could stop herself. The young girl heard Sunshine approach, and opened her eyes to see the mare standing nose to nose with her. Big brown eyes blinked at her in concern as she whuffled at the girl. "It's-it's okay, Sunny." Amelia put a hand up to the mare's warm golden cheek, stroking the soft hair. "I did the right thing, didn't I? Didn't I, Sunny?"
Author's Note: Alea Seikou mentioned 'information given under threat is never a truly reliable source. It makes me wonder if the other magic users who 'ratted Lina out' were subjected to similar methods of interrogation? How can Ponmar claim to be in the clear while using such inhumane means to reach his end?'
DS-Well, mostly because he got his information from other people. He was told that his people had captured several mages and they all swore that Lina was their leader (some kind of conspiracy to get revenge on Lina, probably) and then he was ordered to capture her and determine the truth. So far nothing he's heard about her from random villagers has been different from what he was told originally...
BTW, Snoof left an excellent review relating to the three kinds of magic and how they're used, so if you've been wondering about stuff like that, take a look. ^_^
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