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 someone'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-Two: Unexpected Betrayal!
Xellos to the Rescue?
I did the right thing...didn't I, Sunny?
Once I would have had no doubts, but if traveling with Lina and the others has taught me anything, it's that sometimes decisions aren't always simple or easy. I used to think in black and white, but now...I see grays. I want to help Mister Zelgadis more than anything...but long ago I made a vow to never use any weapons other than my own fists or magic. It's terribly wrong to break a vow...
Thinking about the reason she had made her pledge all those years ago always made Amelia feel almost physically ill, as feelings of loss and grief and horrible, overpowering guilt swamped her mind. She shook her head, trying to focus on the here and now. She sat down to rest and let Sunshine graze, but she was too keyed up to sit still for more than a few minutes.
The princess got up and began to pace. I wish I knew what was happening to them! Our ward bracelets (she thought of the one Zelgadis wore as his, as a permanent link between them) will only tell me if he's dying, which is useless to me if I'm not there to heal him! ...Not that I could heal him, if there's no magic... Ohh, maybe I can keep an eye on them with my finder spell.
She sat down and closed her eyes, tuning out her surroundings. Mentally she reached out, looking for the deep lavender-blue pinpoint of light that was Zelgadis. She found him almost immediately, with Shiran's silver-white with hot-pink edges glow nearby. She noticed Lina's bright carnelian-red light, and Gourry's warm yellow-gold one further away, but after confirming that their signals were unchanged from the last time she'd checked on them, she focused her attention nearby.
What she saw next made her exclaim aloud in shock. There were at least a dozen malevolent lights approaching her friends, in dark, dangerous colors-muddy reds, ugly yellowish-greens, cruel browns.
Oh, no! He's walking into an ambush. I have to help him! "Sunny, here!" she called frantically, scrambling to her feet as the mare trotted over to her. She leaped onto the startled horse's back and the were off-like a shot from a flare arrow.
Zelgadis was preoccupied with his thoughts. Try as he might, he could not put aside Amelia's unexpected betrayal, or his feeling that she had abandoned him. How could she refuse to help our friends? How could she turn against me like that? The Oracle said she loved me. Some love! he thought bitterly.
I've never heard such nonsense-why set apart a particular type of combat? Why swordfighting? Magic can do much worse things to an opponent. Swords cut cleanly, in a lot of ways they're the most merciful type of weapon there is.
He ground his teeth together. She's betrayed me. One of the few people in this life I thought I could trust unreservedly, but first I find out that I've been led like a dog on a leash, and now this! With a touch of despair, the chimera wondered if any humans could be trusted. Maybe I should stick to animals like Shiran. She was bred to be loyal above all else.
Shiran suddenly stopped, whining. Instantly he was alert, focusing his senses around them in search of danger. "What is it, Shiran?" The great dragonwolf had gone deathly silent, her long purple-tipped ears quivering.
An armed warrior burst from the bushes on their right, bellowing a fearsome battle-cry. The slender chimera dodged the man easily, sidestepping with his lightning-fast reflexes and bringing his sword to bear just in time, as two more men charged him.
Shiran had transformed back into the ghostly wild beast the stone man had seen-and sensed-the first time he'd met her, a snarling force of bristling fur, burning green eyes and razor-sharp fangs. Without a moment's hesitation she had launched herself at one of the men.
Satisfied that the big dragonwolf could take care of herself, Zelgadis returned his attention to the two men attacking him. In truth, it didn't matter if their blows struck-they would never penetrate his skin. They were simply obstacles that had to be dealt with, as they were obviously part of the group that had captured his friends. Coolly, he chose one of the two men to question later for the information, his mouth curving in his old cruel smile. He had been too worried about leaving Amelia alone to spend time questioning the last guard he had dispatched.
Huh? Zelgadis blinked as the two men he was fighting stepped back. A horde of soldiers had appeared out of nowhere. Their leader, a powerful-looking brute with heavily muscled arms and a full black beard, turned to look at where Shiran was wrestling with one of the soldiers, her teeth buried in the arm he had thrown across his throat, and spoke in a gravelly bass. "Would you mind calling her off? I have a message I'm supposed to give to anyone who comes looking for the evil witch, Lina Inverse."
Zelgadis gave him a hard look, but signaled to Shiran, who released the man and loped to the chimera's side. "What message?" he asked suspiciously.
The man seemed not to hear him, turning a dark glare on the three men who'd attacked. "Idiots! I said, first we get the information, and then we kill them!"
The brutish man sighed and turned to Zelgadis. "You just can't get good help these days. All right, now where was I? Oh yeah, our leader wants to talk to all the witch's followers-we were warned about you in particular. We're supposed to bring in anyone who's looking for her, or kill them if they resist. It's up to you. Personally, I'd love to see what it would take to get through that freakish skin of yours."
The stone man did not show any reaction to the barb. He had heard much worse over the years. He narrowed his eyes, assessing the truth of the man's statement. "All right," he said slowly. "I believe I feel the need to 'talk' to your leader as well."
The men reacted to his implied threat with growls, bared teeth and the appearance of a variety of weapons, none of which, in Zelgadis' estimation, could so much as scratch him.
The boss-man's face went red with anger, but he only barked, "Leave him alone, you thugs. We'll get our chance to have some fun with him after he sees Ponmar. You three-" he pointed at the men who had attacked Zelgadis- "since you're so eager to prove your strength, you guys can stay here and guard the perimeter."
"What about his arm, boss?"
"Bandage it for now. When we get out of here we'll make one of those priestess-people heal it."
Ignoring the swords pointed at him, the chimera walked calmly in the midst of the horde, his only concern being to get to his friends as soon as possible. He decided to see how much the boss-man knew. "So what did Lina do this time?"
The bearded man growled, "Don't act stupid. You know she's out to conquer our lands-you're one of her men-maybe even her second-in-command."
This was news to Zelgadis. Lina, have you been hiding something from me too? He mulled it over silently for a while. I have to admit that she has the ambition and the power to try such a thing, but I'm not sure she'd have the desire. The one thing that I've never heard Lina say she wants is to rule a kingdom. She wants the riches of a kingdom, but not the responsibility. That's too much like work-and she's the type who will never want to settle down.
He thought about trying to convince these men that their leader was wrong, but he knew that they would assume he was trying to lie his way out. Besides, who would believe a monstrosity like me? The abrupt notion of Amelia in the hands of these men made him suddenly grateful that she hadn't come with him. I have no doubt of what men like these would do to a helpless female captive.
Determinedly he suppressed the thought. He did not want to think about Amelia. Her unsettling betrayal was like a toothache, always there in the back of his mind, bothering him no matter how he tried to ignore it.
Darkness came soon to the depths of the forest. Zelgadis chafed inwardly at the delay. They hadn't covered much territory, but the boss had called a halt and ordered his men to set up camp at the first signs of dusk. The chimera realized that without the aid of magical light spells it would be a real chore at best, and deadly at worst, to trek on through the forest at night. The foliage is too thick to carry torches and risk a forest fire, but without it there's no way to ward off the night predators.
The men tied him with a rope thick enough to be called a cable, making scathing remarks that Zelgadis chose to ignore. Then they approached Shiran. She snarled and showed her fangs. "Shiran, flank," Zelgadis ordered from his prone position on the ground. "She won't be any trouble unless you threaten either of us."
As the grumbling dragonwolf lay down beside her stone master, the men, cowards at heart, agreed to leave her unfettered. "But if she acts up, we'll take it out of your hide!"
Zelgadis only made a rude 'tch' sound of scorn at their threats. The men left to eat the evening meal. He did not expect to be fed, and he wasn't, but he heard Shiran's stomach growling and hoped she would have the opportunity to go hunt something for herself soon. I wouldn't trust anything these barbarians tried to feed us, anyway.
The camp became quiet after an hour or so, as most of the men were soon asleep. The utter silence was so lulling, in fact, that the chimera found himself nodding off, making up for the sleep he had lost. He was therefore surprised to feel Shiran's bushy lavender tail slap him in the face a few times as she waved it enthusiastically. He shook his head and sat up, only to see a familiar person approaching them.
Amelia? "What are you doing here?" he blurted out, astonished. His alienation of her had been so thorough that he had managed to almost completely block her out of his mind.
"Shh." The dark-haired princess knelt behind him and his stone hands could faintly feel her fumbling with the ridiculous cable the men had tied him with. "There's still one guard left. We don't want him to get away and spread the alarm."
"We do keep meeting under the strangest circumstances, Zelgadis," came a voice the chimera knew and despised.
"Shh!" Amelia admonished him, working diligently at the thick ropes. "He helped me rescue you."
The stone man glared at the smiling mazoku priest. "Oh, really? And just what do you want for this 'help'?"
"Why do you always think so little of me, Zelgadis? I'm just helping out an old friend who's in a bit of a jam." His smile faltered under the skeptical stare of the chimera. "Wellll, actually...I really can't say at the moment."
"Let me guess," Zelgadis stated sarcastically. "It's a secret."
Xellos held up his index finger as if to say 'you got it'.
Amelia began to speak in a quiet voice. "You see, after you left I started getting worried about you, so I used my finder spell and discovered this ambush. I couldn't just abandon you..." The stone man was reminded of his own thoughts earlier that evening. "...so I rode Sunshine after you, but by the time we caught up you had already been captured. I was going to try to create a diversion, to let you get away, but then Mister Xellos appeared out of nowhere-you know how he always does that-and said it would be easier to get you away from them if we followed them and waited until they'd fallen asleep."
Amelia is crouched behind some bushes, with Sunshine tied to a tree about twenty yards behind her.
Amelia (her voice full of concern): "But Mister Xellos! What if they hurt him? What if they try to torture him to get the information they think he has?"
Xellos (a gleam in his pale amethyst eyes): "That could be very amusing. Especially if they actually succeed in discovering a way to torture him. It might be interesting to watch..."
Amelia (glares at him fiercely): Mister Xellos!
Xellos: (pouts): "Spoilsport. All right, I suppose we'll have to do it your way. I have some herbs with me...I'll materialize in front of tonight's meal and drop it in when the cook isn't looking. It will put everyone who eats it into a drugged sleep for about two days, more than enough time to rescue our dour stony friend."
Amelia: "It..it won't do anything else to them, will it?"
Xellos: "Why do you ask?"
Amelia (remembering the terrible stew he had once cooked as part of a challenge, shudders): "Never mind. But supposed Mister Zelgadis has some stew?"
Xellos (mutters): "It would ruin my plans...ahem, I suppose we'd just have to warn him somehow."
Amelia continued, "It worked perfectly. All these awful men will stay asleep until long after we're gone, and we didn't have to kill any of them."
Everyone tensed as Shiran's head went up, her eyes blazing as she stared at a nearby patch of bushes, a fierce growl throbbing in her throat. Before anyone could react she dove into the thicket. A terrified human scream emerged.
"Shiran, capture!" Amelia cried immediately. Everyone watched as a few moments later the dragonwolf backed out of the undergrowth, dragging one of the soldiers by the seat of his pants. He kept reaching for the sword at his belt, cursing a blue streak all the way, but the large animal's tugging kept him too off-balance to quite reach it. He also looked somewhat frightened to put his hand anywhere near the dragonwolf's deadly teeth.
As soon as he saw Zelgadis he started spewing out a rather colorful set of invectives, ranging from the chimera's own looks and personality, to questioning his parentage. The enormous vocabulary of foul language was astonishing. Even Xellos simply watched the man with a blank expression.
Amelia shouldn't be listening to this, Zelgadis thought after a few moments. He craned his neck around to look at her, feeling the impulse to cover her ears with his hands. Unfortunately, she was still working on getting the blasted cable loose...he couldn't be sure in the moonlight, but she appeared to be blushing deeply.
"All right, that's enough!" Zelgadis barked. The man shut up, surprised. Then it seemed to occur to him that he ought to attack his enemies while two of them were sitting down, so with a desperate blow he knocked Shiran's head loose from his clothing, and drew his sword, leaping for Xellos.
His first blow was blocked by the mazoku's staff, which had been moved with inhuman swiftness. The apparent man easily dodged or diverted the soldier's barrage of sword strikes, smiling contemptuously the whole time. Finally, as Amelia finished with the heavy ropes that bound Zelgadis' hands behind his back, the mazoku tired of the game and swung his staff in a lightning-fast double strike, first hitting the soldier's head, then striking his feet out from under him with the other end of it. The man went down without a word.
Zelgadis reached down and began working on the cable tied around his boots. Then he got to his feet, looking for the tent where the boss slept, intending to retrieve his sword. Amelia followed him as he stepped over the motionless warriors. "Are you all right, Mister Zelgadis? That rope was pretty coarse." He looked over to see Amelia rubbing her hands gingerly.
"I'm fine, Amelia." Of course, with his skin, he'd never noticed that, but the princess' tender fingers were a different story. He could make out several raw patches on her fingertips and palms. For a moment he wondered why she had not cast a healing spell-and then he remembered that magic didn't work here.
Xellos was slapping the unconscious man's face to bring him around as Zelgadis emerged from the tent. The man opened his eyes to see Shiran's muzzle just inches away from his throat. He yelped and tried to scramble away, but he only backed into the mazoku's legs. Slowly, he looked up to see an upside-down view of the apparent man holding what looked like a bowl of last night's dinner, which he hadn't had a chance to try yet. Guards were supplied with dried trail rations to keep hunger from making them tired and inattentive.
"Care for some stew?"
Instantly suspicious of the man's solicitous tone, he scowled and said, "Yeah, and what's in it?"
"Only the same drug that some of your people gave to Lina and Gourry to make them sleep, so you know it won't hurt you. I'm sure you'd like it better than the alternative."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"Why, torturing you to death, of course," the mazoku said jovially.
"Mister Xellos!" Amelia shouted reproachfully.
"Well, I am a mazoku, after all." Xellos opened his eyes to display his eerie pale triangular irises. He smiled in a way that was somehow charming and frightening all at once. The soldier gulped, and reached for the bowl, shoveling in the stew like no tomorrow. Within minutes he was out like a light, snoring noisily on the ground along with the rest of his people.
Meanwhile, the three travelers had been busy building several large fires around the men, banked so that they would last at least through the next night to keep predators away. The two males would simply have left, but the princess insisted. "It wouldn't be right to leave them all helpless and alone here."
Zelgadis grumbled, "They wouldn't show such consideration if our positions were reversed."
"I know," she admitted, looking him in the eye in a curiously mature way. "But that doesn't mean we should descend to their level of brutality."
While he was still stunned by her indirect reference to his past mercenary days, wondering Was it intentional? she continued in a reasonable tone, "Besides, we didn't make the effort to rescue you from them bloodlessly just to let them get eaten by predators."
He was silent for a long moment. Finally he heaved an exasperated sigh and muttered, "You should have just killed them. It would have been easier. Now they'll-"
Amelia interrupted him. "You should only kill as a last resort. What if you make a mistake? You can't undo something like that."
She has a point. But still-"They'll probably come after us when they wake up. We haven't solved the problem, just delayed it."
"We'll figure something out. After all, justice is on our side. Maybe when they see that they cannot win against our goodness, they'll admit defeat without a blow being struck!"
Both males developed sweatdrops as they listened to Amelia go into Justice Mode.
Zelgadis covered his face with his hand. I should have known she hadn't outgrown this. He missed seeing Amelia take a look at his face and immediately assume a contrite expression, as if she were sorry she had embarrassed him. Xellos, on the other hand looked back and forth between the two, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"Well, duty calls. I think I'll take my leave of you now." The apparent man rose into the air a few inches, his straight black hair and cape fluttering in the breeze.
What? He's actually volunteering to leave us in peace? Zelgadis thought.
Amelia lifted a hand in farewell. "Thank you for your help, Mister Xellos."
"Good luck with the rescue." The mazoku priest vanished.
Author's Note: Wing asked why chapter 31 couldn't be found-from my experience, it takes several hours at least for to actually get around to updating. I usually send in a new chapter late at night, so they have the whole night (assuming their computers update automatically overnight) to do so, but I've never checked to see how long it actually takes. The site says it can take as long as 24 hours, though.
BTW, I've decided to try to update every Monday and Friday night, so look for new chapters on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Alea Seikou asked why Zel didn't make Amelia a staff to use as a weapon. Well, partly because only the bad guys in Slayers ever seem to use them, and partly because-you guessed it-I'm setting up for another scene further into the story about Amelia's past. Look forward to it! ^_^
|NEXT---Chapter List---DS's Fan Art---B!'s Library---Main|