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!
Note: Varxin is pronounced var-zin
Chapter Forty: Fireside Talk
Zelgadis went easy on her, and called a halt to the sword lesson after less than an hour. As he pulled on his tunic and cape, he explained, "You've made excellent progress in picking up the basics. All you need is practice. It will take a while for the moves to become instinctive, but I believe you have the makings of a fine swordswoman."
Again she gave him a dazzling smile, joking, "Well, if I have to be one, at least I can be a good one."
He almost smiled back, still slightly surprised at how rapidly her moods could shift. She reminds me a little of Lina, although Lina is never quite as cheerful as Amelia usually is. Lina. His near-smiled faded as he thought of his missing comrades. He missed Gourry's friendly company. I even miss Lina's bad temper.
Amelia stood in front of him with the fire's orange light flickering over the side of her face. "What's wrong, Mister Zelgadis? You've gone all quiet."
How does she know? The notion distracted him from his angst. I'm not much of a talker, usually. So how can she tell when I'm feeling bad? "I was just thinking about our friends," he admitted.
As she had done back at the palace before the concert, Amelia pulled him by the hands over to where her ground cloth had been laid out earlier on the opposite side of the fire from their training area. The concert, he reminisced. So much has happened since then; it seems like years ago.
The stone man noticed the chirping of the night insects filling the air with a soothing chorus, and the snapping and crackling of the fire as he followed Amelia. Shiran, looking ghostly pale in the dim light, materialized from the darkness at Amelia's side. The dark-haired girl sat down, gesturing to him to sit next to her. "We're almost there; I know it." She gave him a serious look, all traces of humor gone.
Absently he nodded, dropping down to sit on the edge of the ground cloth. "This null magic area can't be much larger. I'm starting to think I know who created this one..."
"You mean the old story about Varxin?"
His eyes widened. "Yes; how did you know?"
She smiled. "You forget, I've been doing nothing but research all kinds of old stories for a long time now. I came across references to Varxin several times. The poor man. He thought he was helping people, and instead he became the laughingstock of generations of mages."
"Mm." He nodded his head affirmatively. "Part of the problem was that our society wasn't set up to live with out magic. Take medicine, for example..."
The couple's conversation about magic turned into a discussion that touched upon several topics, both theoretical and non. Zelgadis was vaguely surprised to note that she had a good mind, her reasoning was sound, based on what facts she knew at the time. There were some areas in which he had a greater comprehension than she did, but she had been given one of the best educations available and therefore had a lot to say, especially in areas where being creative was an asset, such as in music.
Before he knew it, several hours had passed. Amelia had been silent for a while, and he was about to suggest to her that they try to get some sleep when she said, "I've been wondering something. Why haven't we run into any more guards since the first group?"
I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, myself. "I've seen the traces of a few camps since we started following Shiran, but nothing that looks recent."
Amelia sat with her knees drawn up under her chin, and her arms wrapped around her legs. "How strange," she mused. "You'd almost think they want us to find them."
"I think they might," he admitted.
She gave him a sharp look. "Huh? Then why did that awful man capture you? Why didn't he just tell us how to get there-wherever 'there' is?"
Slowly the chimera answered, "I suspect our 'friend' may have overstepped his bounds. He probably decided to grab some glory by bringing me in as a captive-apparently I'm a wanted man again."
Amelia remembered the mess she had gotten into years ago when they'd arrived in Seyrune to discover the wanted posters of her new friends, Lina and Gourry, as well as ones of Zelgadis, whom she hadn't yet met. She had turned on them, and managed to destroy one of the castle's towers in the process of deciding who was on the right side. Thank goodness Mister Zelgadis wasn't with us at the time! she thought, grateful that the firelight hid the embarrassed blush that spread across her nose.
Zelgadis continued thoughtfully, "It's my guess those ruffians were supposed to watch for our approach, then use their horses to get ahead of us to warn the ones who are holding Lina and Gourry captive. We've got a good head start on them, but we can't be too careful."
Amelia nodded, feeling a twinge of guilt at her insistence that the men be left alive after they'd been incapacitated by Xellos' sleeping draught, but not enough to make her sorry. Taking a life should only be a last resort. She was glad she had managed to get through to Zelgadis. Even if he only did it to spare my feelings; at least it showed he cares about me. The thought made her feel warm inside.
She yawned once, then again, with one hand in front of her mouth. "Well, we'll just...have to stay ahead of them, that's all. Shiran will," she paused to yawn again, "warn us if anyone approaches during the night. Come on, let's go to bed." She was too tired to realize how that sounded, with the two of them sitting together on the ground cloth with less than an arm's length between them.
Amelia did not notice the startled look appear on the Zelgadis' face. She lay back on the ground cloth and curled up on her side, facing away from him and the flickering light of the fire, pulling her cape around her.
The stone man felt the tension leave his shoulders as the awkward, half-imagined scene-himself, refusing to take her in his arms, as they had slept (accidentally) the previous night-dissolved. I hope she'll leave me alone tonight. I don't want to have to reject her outright-she'll be crushed, and now isn't a good time to be distracted by emotional problems. I half-expected her to ask me tonight why I'm not human yet, but I think she senses that the answer isn't the one she's been waiting for.
He stared down at his female comrade, feelings of regret and angst beginning in his throat, but he gave his head a firm shake and forced his thoughts back to the problem at hand. How much longer until we find the lair of our enemies?
Though he lay unmoving as a rock, the stone man could not sleep. Several hours passed. Then Amelia began making restless noises in her sleep, and eventually turned over to face him, losing most of her cape on the ground. He stared at her arms to make sure she did not develop gooseflesh, since he could not tell if the night was cool or warm. She seemed to be all right, so he closed his eyes and went back to thinking.
After several minutes, Amelia's voice whispered, "Mister Zelgadis? Are you awake?"
For a moment he did not answer. Then he wondered if something was wrong-if she was in more pain from her injured hands than she had shown earlier, and he made a sound of affirmation. "Mm."
There was a pause. "So you can't sleep either?"
He could not think how to answer that, so he remained silent. He opened his eyes to see her face, faintly lit up by the embers of the fire. Her eyes were shining as they reflected the orange light.
Amelia hesitated. "I keep dreaming about Miss Lina and Mister Gourry. I wonder if they're all right, if they're safe, or if they're... Anyway, it's been three days now. I can't believe that even without her powers Miss Lina would let herself remain someone's prisoner for this long. And Mister Gourry doesn't even have any magic to lose, so..." Her voice trailed off with an unhappy sigh, and the stone man noticed her eyes glimmering with unshed tears.
It occurred to Zelgadis that he ought to say something comforting, if only to ease her fears enough so that she could sleep. "Well, we know that they were drugged with a very strong sleeping draught, so it makes sense that they'd have been sleeping for at least the first two days, anyway, like Xellos said. Then on the third day they would have woken up to discover that Lina can't do magic. Presumably, the enemy would have removed all of their weapons, so Gourry's not going to be able to fight as effectively, either."
"So they're helpless..." the young girl whimpered.
"I wouldn't say helpless," he added hastily, realizing that his attempt to comfort her was rapidly going downhill. He forced a note of wry humor into his voice, trying to project reassurance. "Can you honestly imagine Lina Inverse helpless, no matter what the circumstances?"
Her lips twitched as if she were about to smile. Encouraged, he continued, "Whoever they are, the people who captured our friends are certainly more organized than your average bandit gang. They've gone to a lot of trouble, which makes me suspect that they don't simply want to kill our friends..." Thoughtfully he added, "But whatever that hidden agenda is, I'm sure it isn't good."
Zelgadis winced internally. Great. Now I've given her something else to worry about. "Well, anyway, Amelia; I'm sure they're alive, so don't worry, " he said softly, trying to sound confident. "Now why don't you go back to sleep?"
She nodded, and closed her eyes. The young girl lay quietly on her side, still facing toward him. He looked at her small hands as they lay half-curled on the ground cloth. His familiar gloves looked strange on her hands, as if his own hands were covering hers. Though she appeared to be asleep, the stone man could hear the sounds of her breathing over the chirping of the night insects, and he knew she was not.
Eventually she opened her eyes, and met his gaze. "What do you do when you can't sleep?"
He sighed. "I get up and continue traveling, usually."
"Oh. Do you...want to now?"
He shook his head slightly, feeling his wire hair catch slightly in the tough fabric of the ground cloth. "No. You need to get some rest. I can't have you staggering from exhaustion tomorrow."
Her face did not change, but again Zelgadis caught the shine of tears in her eyes. Dismayed, he watched a glistening line of liquid seep silently down from her eyes to dampen the cloth beneath her. "What's wrong, Amelia?"
He watched her take a deep, shuddery breath, her face smoothing out to become almost emotionless, but when she answered him, her voice trembled. "I feel like I'm holding you back. Like I'm some helpless, spoiled princess. I'm trying to be as...self-sufficient as possible, but...maybe you should just..."
Now Zelgadis felt guilty. Ha hadn't meant to imply that she was weak, or helpless. "I'm sorry, Amelia. I didn't mean it like that." Impulsively, he moved one of his bare hands to cross the space between them. He touched her wrist above where the makeshift bandage started, then curled his fingers gently around the top of her forearm in the lightest of embraces. "For the record, you aren't acting like a spoiled princess. You're acting like a person who's got every right to be concerned about her missing friends."
She blinked shimmering eyes at him, a confused expression replacing her false composure.
"And you aren't useless," he added honestly, the look in her eyes somehow encouraging him to elaborate, "I know I never acknowledge it, but...I do depend on you." He froze. Where did that come from?
"You do?" The look on her face made him feel both better and worse. She was smiling at him through her tears, her wet eyes shining like jewels. He could not hold back a feeling of gladness, because he had made her happy; yet he felt a dark cloud of doom settle over him. I can't keep encouraging her. I can't let her think that I...
"Thank you, Zelgadis." Her words stopped his brain in mid-thought. It took him a moment to realize that she had used the more intimate, personal form of his name, as she had done once before on her balcony. Before he could say anything, she had moved her arm in his grasp, turning it so that her gloved hand clasped his, pressing his own hand back against the ground cloth.
He lay there, frozen, not sure what he should do, or what she would do next. For a long moment, they stared into each other's eyes, but then she simply closed her eyes and smiled. The chimera stared at her content face, realizing after a while from her breathing that she had slipped into a deep sleep almost immediately.
His gaze transferred itself to their clasped hands. His hand lay on its back, with her gloved hand clasping his, looking very small within his half-curled fingers. He could feel the pressure of its weight, and thought he could almost imagine feeling the soft texture of her skin, though his memories of 'soft' and 'hard' were vague. He could tell one from the other only by what yielded when he touched it, and what didn't.
He discovered that her grip was rather firm when he attempted to withdraw his hand; it only caused her to cling more tightly to him, pulling his hand across the ground cloth toward her chest. He resisted, embarrassed, and decided to wait until she was more deeply asleep before trying again.
However, before he could do so, he himself dropped below the dream threshold.
Hand in hand, the princess and the chimera lay in peaceful repose.
Lina's cold was no worse, but judging by the nasty cough she had developed, she wasn't getting any better either, though her fever had lessened. Gourry spent a lot of time singing to her, or at least humming a soothing tune, once she had admitted that she liked his singing.
"It makes me feel better, Gourry," she told him, her tone somewhat hoarse. "You have a really nice voice-I never would've guessed it." Her laugh turned into a cough.
"Here, Lina, have some water." It was tricky to hold a ceramic cup of water to the lips of a coughing sorceress who was sitting on your lap with her back to you, but he managed it without spilling any water on her. He smiled in secret pleasure. In the dark, no less.
"When is that pompous Ponmar going to send for us?" Lina groused, once her cough had subsided. "How am I gonna convince him that he's got me all wrong if he won't talk to me?"
"Maybe he's afraid to talk to you." It seemed obvious to the blonde swordsman. "He didn't get the confession he wanted out of you the first time, after all."
"Hm. You know, you may be right." She grew quiet for a while, but then gave her head an impatient shake and said, "Well, I can't sit around waiting for him to make up his mind. We've got too much to do, and we've wasted too much time already."
"Hey, they gotta let us out soon."
"How do you figure that?"
"Well, uh...they didn't put a bathroom in here..."
Lina felt herself blushing. For the first time in hours she was reminded of the way they were sitting, and realized something else. "Do you have to go, Gourry? Should I get off?" She began to swing her legs off of his to the floor. "It's okay, I don't mind-umph." She gritted her teeth in pain as her sprained ankle was jolted by the contact her bare foot made with the cold stone floor.
"That's okay, Lina." She felt his hands on her shoulders, holding her back. "It's not bad. I didn't have anything to drink," he explained.
That's because he's saving the water for me. Disliking the feeling of confinement, Lina couldn't help twisting herself out of his hands, but then she did relax against him and replaced her legs back on top of his. Geez, am I stiff from sitting still for so long! Must be even worse for Gourry. Poor guy...thirst, hunger, constant danger; it's a wonder he's still with me. Yet he bears it all with such fortitude, even if he gripes about it sometimes.
"Say, Lina, do you suppose we could make a deal with one of the guards? Bribe him, or something?" Gourry suggested. "Not that I couldn't beat any of 'em in a fight, but you..."
"I don't think so, Gourry."
"Because...because I tried to jump one of the guards right before we got to the cell. That's how I hurt my ankle-I landed wrong. See, this guard seemed to be sympathetic-he told me he had a daughter my age, and that he understood that sometimes people let other people sway their judgment about what's right and what isn't, but he thought that young people like me deserved a second chance. He said he wasn't sure if I was guilty or not, but...I think he might have helped us."
"Really? Help us escape?"
"No-not escape. He's the kind of man chosen for his loyalty. I think he'd talk to Ponmar for us. But now..." her voice trailed off. I thought it would take too long. I decided to risk a quick escape, rather than suffer through another interrogation. Was I wrong?
"Wrong about what, Lina?" Gourry asked, making her realize that she had spoken aloud.
"Did I make the wrong choice, Gourry? Have I alienated our only possible ally?"
|NEXT---Chapter List---DS's Fan Art---B!'s Library---Main|