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: Lann is pronounced lahn.
For those of you who have read Susan Cooper's book The Grey King, (from The Dark Is Rising series) where she describes how to pronounce things in Welsh, Lann's name has the slightest bit of a sloshy 'th' sound in front of the 'lann'-Thlann. Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and blow out the sides. Neat, huh?
Chapter Forty-One: Bitterness / Awakening
In the dim stone cell, Lina rested her head back under Gourry's chin, suddenly feeling weak despite the food she had recently eaten. "I've always said 'never second-guess yourself'," she murmured aloud, mostly to herself. "There's always going to be things you would have said or done differently if you had known more about a situation. But this is different; this time I let an opportunity slip right past me without even considering it."
"Well, you do tend to make snap judgments," Gourry piped up. "Although usually you're right."
"Thanks, Gourry." She felt a little better then.
Her ruby eyes stared into the dimness, her face uncharacteristically solemn. Maybe I should have made something up. Something that would get them to take us out of here, across the boundary that separates Varxin's realm from where magic works... No, this Ponmar is too careful for that. He's gone to a lot of trouble to set up this whole trap. But now that he's got me, why stick me in a cell and ignore me for hours? It almost seems like he's stalling...but for what?
Lina's living armchair jumped when the young sorceress suddenly slapped herself on the forehead. "Of course! Why didn't I see this before?"
"Um, Lina, are you all right? You're not getting delirious, are you?" Gourry asked cautiously.
"No! I just realized why we've been kept in here so long." Her enthusiasm growing, the petite sorceress elaborated, "They're using us as bait to lure Zel and Amelia here. Only they're expecting a group of power-hungry mages, instead of one girl and a chimera. So all we have to do is wait until they try to break us out of here, and take advantage of the distraction to escape!"
"That's good. But do think Zel and Amelia will be able to find us? And if they do, won't they lose their magic when they get here?" Like most males, Gourry immediately saw things in term of battle strategies.
"Oh." Lina slumped back down against him, her surge of energy gone. "I hadn't thought about that." What's the matter with me today? Am I that feverish? She tried to muster her optimism. "Well, both of them are experienced fighters. I'm sure they'll come up with some way to free us, or at least cause a distraction."
"Yeah, you're probably right."
Oddly, Gourry's faith in her judgment made her uneasy. My impatience may already have cost me a valuable ally. Clenching her fists, she made a silent vow to herself to try to look at all angles of a decision before acting.
I used to spend a little more time thinking my way around problems. Lately we've gotten into a rut, I guess, always doing the same thing, never taking on new challenges. I mean, it's fun to waylay bandits and scoop up their treasure as payment for cleaning them out, but if you don't do something different once in a while, you stagnate. It limits your thinking.
Not that that's ever been a problem for Gourry. Her face broke out in a wry grin as she realized that he had fallen asleep, his head lolling back against the stone wall. He was snoring slightly. Oh, Gourry. Well, he did stay up all night to take care of me. The big lug's earned the right to some shut-eye.
Decision made, the young girl snuggled back against Gourry's warm chest and let herself drift off, still exhausted from her long, feverish night.
Only a few hours later she found herself being shaken awake. "What now?" she complained crabbily, blinking at the strong yellow torchlight. Then she realized that the door was open. There were two guards silhouetted against the light. "Well, come on," one of them said, gesturing at them with his pike. "Ponmar wants ta see ya."
Lina gave her head a shake to clear it, and almost keeled over as the action caused her constant fever-headache to flare up. She felt Gourry's arms around her shoulders, holding her upright. "Not before she gets some kind of medicine."
"Yeah, she's been really sick ever since you stuck us in here." Lina felt Gourry's muscles tense as his voice got louder. "What kind of men are you, to dunk a helpless girl in icy water and then stick her in a cold cell without dry clothes, or a blanket or anything?"
The two men were silent, presumably taken aback by her friend's words, although for some reason her head was whirling and she couldn't quite make out their expressions.
Then one of them spoke up. "She's the enemy. She's done-"
Gourry interrupted, sounding angrier than she could ever remember him being. "It doesn't matter what you think she's done! Does that give you the right to do the same thing?" His voice was low and dangerous, full of disgust. "What kind of men are you? Don't you have any chivalry? Any compassion? Or are you just as evil as you say she is?"
In the silence that followed Lina felt Gourry breathing heavily against her back. Gourry...that was magnificent.
The same guard who had spoken before muttered, "It could be a trick."
After another long pause the other guard spoke. Lina recognized the voice of the guard who had tried to befriend her. "Will both of ya give me your word that ya won't try ta escape?"
"Sure-" Gourry began, but Lina interrupted him. "We promise not to try to escape at least until we've had the chance to talk with Ponmar. You have our word."
"Yeah," Gourry agreed, following her lead as usual.
"Fair enough," the big man said. Lina's vision was clearing, finally, so she was able to make out 'her' guard turning to the other one. "Weth, why don't you go tell Ponmar what's causing the delay?"
"But supposing it's a trick, Lann?" the other guard protested, giving Gourry a glance.
"Maybe so, but it seems ta me like he's got a point. How are we supposed ta call ourselves the good guys? Besides, did ya get a good look at her? If she ain't sick, then she's got one hell of a good act going."
Grumbling, the guard named Weth left. Lann turned to squat down in front of Lina. "Can ya walk?"
"I'll carry her," Gourry interjected. "Just show me the way."
Lina would have protested, but just then she remembered her sprained ankle. We should have unwrapped my cape from it. Don't want to look too vulnerable. Oh, well. Too late now. She felt amazingly lackadaisical about everything, and had to force herself to concentrate as she was carried down the stone corridor to the room the soldiers apparently used as a healer's chamber.
Gourry set her down on a blanket-covered makeshift cot made from two crates with boards laid across them. Her finally-dry braid fell over her shoulder, and she winced at the way the scraggly tufts of hair sticking out of it irritated the fever-sensitive skin on her neck. Absently she pulled her headband off of the end and began to comb out her hair using her fingers.
She watched as Lann opened a small pouch and poured out a small amount of a fine, grayish powder into a mug of water. "Here, swallow this."
She took the cup and looked at it, raising a slim orange eyebrow. "What is it?" she asked skeptically.
"We call it prin. It's made from the bark of a willow tree, very good for lowering fevers and easing aches and pains. It doesn't last more than a few hours, and it doesn't really do much to heal whatever's wrong with you, but it'll help you feel better in the meantime."
She studied the man's face, uncertain as the whether or not he was telling her the truth. If he really feels that I'm a threat, he might believe that poisoning me is the right thing to do.
Lann noticed her hesitation, and interpreted it correctly. He took the cup back from her and drank from it, then handed it back to her without a word, a look of understanding in his eyes.
The young sorceress lifted the cup to her lips and took a sip. The incredible bitterness caught her by surprise. She choked, her lips curling back from her teeth, her throat spasming as it attempted to eject the liquid. She swallowed hard, then got control of herself, taking a quick deep breath and forcing herself to take huge gulps, trying not to taste the tongue-curling stuff.
For a few seconds she fought with the gag reflex, swallowing repeatedly, trying to keep the stuff down. "Eyuggh, that's awful! I'd forgotten how bad most herbal medicines taste! Eyack!"
"Hey, you sound more like yourself already, Lina." Gourry grinned at her.
"Here, rinse your mouth out with some more water," Lann offered her another mugful.
She took it, glancing at him suspiciously. "Why are you being so nice to me? Last night-was it last night?-I attacked you."
To her surprise he grimaced, and put one hand behind his head in embarrassment. "Yeah, I know. But you got spirit, little lady. I prob'ly woulda done the same thing in your situation. And I feel kinda bad that I didn't check up on ya later-I never woulda let ya suffer all night long if I'd known you was sick."
Surprised, she looked up at him. It was the first time she had seen him in good light, and he sure didn't look like a villain. The man was almost as tall as Gourry, but more heavily built, with a ruddy complexion, steady hazel eyes and curly ash-blonde hair that was cut close to his head.
There were smile lines around his mouth, and in the corners of his eyes. He looked more like a farmer than a soldier.
The red-haired sorceress sensed a weak spot, remembering that he had told her that she reminded him of his daughter. She hoped that meant he would forgive her for her earlier escape attempt. "Um, Lann...I just want to say that I've had some time to think about what you said last night, and I was...hoping that your offer of help was still open." She deliberately made herself sound hesitant, looking up at him hopefully through her red-gold eyelashes, a little smile on her parched lips.
Lann gave her a shrewd look, one that told her he knew very well what she was doing, but she caught a kindly glint deep in his hazel eyes. "So are ya really the leader of this horde of mages that's been attacking us, or what?"
Lina took a deep breath, intending to let it out as a huge, annoyed sigh, but ended up having a severe coughing fit instead. Gourry cradled her close, trying not to drop her as she squirmed in his grasp.
As her breathing eased, Lann grimaced. "That's a nasty cold, all right. If I was home I'd give ya some crystallized honey to suck on. Soothes yer throat."
Lina leaned back in the blonde swordsman's arms, listening to her head throb, tears of exertion in her eyes. She was sweating again and could tell her face had turned bright red.
"You all right?" Gourry asked gently.
She nodded, not willing to risk another attack by speaking.
"How about some hot tea?" Her male companion's tone was soothing. He looked up at Lann. "And a bathroom?"
Always an early riser, Amelia woke before Zelgadis. She lay upon the dark blue ground cloth as the early morning sunlight came through the trees surrounding their clearing, causing flickering shadows to move back and forth over her closed eyelids. She could hear sweet birdsongs, singing insects, and, sweetest of all to her, Zelgadis' gentle, even breathing. It was a soothing sound, his soft inward breaths alternating with gentle sighs, making his very nearness seem somehow so precious. She was suddenly overwhelmed by the rush of love she felt for this man, this wonderful, extraordinary, lonely man who lay so closely beside her.
She did not want to open her eyes and break this moment of peace. This is what it must feel like to be married. Her mouth curved in a smile of pure pleasure. To wake up beside the one you love, knowing that the first thing you see will be his face.
Lazily she let her body relax, although her mind was becoming more alert, and therefore noticing more details of her surroundings. This morning was warmer than the two previous ones, which was good, since that meant she had slept better and was not as likely to have stiff muscles, as she'd had the last two nights from sleeping on the hard ground.
Amelia was seized with the urge to stretch, but as she began to move she noticed that her right hand was pressed against something hard. Hands...didn't I hurt my hands yesterday? Oh, yes, and Mister Zelgadis bandaged them for me, and even lent me his gloves... Somehow her mind made the connection between wearing the chimera's gloves and holding his hand, and sure enough, as her eyes popped open, she was holding one of his hands.
Suddenly she remembered their late night conversation, and that he had said something nice to her about needing her that had made her reach out and take his right hand in hers. Zelgadis was lying on his right side, his face not even an arm's length away. She gazed at him, enamored by his quiescent beauty, his face full of the peace he never seemed to have in wakefulness. She had to resist the urge to kiss him.
Silently the young girl watched the pattern of leaf-shadows play across his face, knowing he would wake soon. Should I let go of his hand? He could have taken it back last night, but he didn't. He let me hold his hand all night long. When she thought to notice it, she realized that in her sleep she must have pulled his hand closer, as it was only an inch or so from her chest. Her hand was resting on top of his palm, with his fingers half-curled up around hers.
She tightened her fingers around his hard hand, then relaxed them and instead began to run her fingertips over his bare blue skin, gently exploring. Zelgadis' skin was slightly cooler than a human's, with an almost polished feel to it; a pleasing silky-smoothness. His fingernails were not translucent, as hers were; they were the same slightly shiny blue stone as the rest of him. She noticed that though his fingers felt as hard as stone, they moved easily when her own fingers pushed against them.
The glove she was wearing reminded her that her hand was sore, and as she moved it she could feel some of the discomfort return. Parts of her hands were stuck to the insides of the bandages. I'd better go wash them. Still, she made no move to get up, musing, His hand is bigger than mine, but they look so right together.
Although his breathing did not change, Amelia knew at once when Zelgadis awoke. She gave his hand a squeeze, though her sore fingers protested, and watched his blue-green eyes open. The dark-haired princess beamed at him. "Good morning, Mister Zelgadis."
Zelgadis woke from a deep, dreamless sleep to the sounds and smells that were already becoming familiar. Along with the usual forest noises he could hear Amelia's breathing, and small noises made by Shiran and, further away, Amelia's horse Sunshine. He could smell Amelia's scent nearby, which comforted him on a deep unconscious level.
The stone man felt something give his hand a squeeze, and opened his eyes to see Amelia lying across from him, smiling at him, her deep blue eyes shining in the morning light. As she greeted him with her usual cheerfulness, his eyes went to their clasped hands, and he remembered their last conversation. He blinked. Hm. I fell asleep. He had assumed that his insomnia would last all night, as it often had in the past. It seems she's not the only one who needed comfort last night, he mused.
His gaze unfocused for a moment, remembering, but then suddenly he noticed something. It looked as if Amelia had pulled his hand against her chest, although with his insensitive skin he could not tell for certain, but he blushed anyway. He uncurled his fingers and slid his hand away from hers, looking away as he sat up.
In a cross-legged position, he set both hands on his ankles, his back and arms straight, and kept his face turned away from her until the blush faded. "Ah, good morning," he answered belatedly.
Zelgadis expected her to make some kind of comment about where his hand had been and unconsciously tensed as she began to speak, but she only said, "My hands feel a lot better this morning. I think I'll be able to have another lesson later today, after we find a stream and I wash out my bandages-and your gloves, of course. I think I'll buy a pair for myself in the next town we go through."
He looked up at her in surprise as she stood up and headed over to their gear. She's not going to make a big deal out of this? Lina would have. A small, bemused smile appeared on his face as he got up and went to help her fix breakfast.
Author's Note: GOOD NEWS-Shell Presto has been able to update her site, namely the DSSP (Dreamsinger/Shell Presto) part that has some of the fanpics I've gotten so far-go and see! Her site is called Inspiration Stemming from Sleep Deprivation, in case the address I've typed below doesn't work. Any search engine should find it.
Gomen nasai, but I lost the names of two of the contributors, so if you tell me your names again (or just email Shell Presto) she can add them in so people can tell you how much they like your work. ^_^
Slayers Otaku-Girl asked why I didn't have an author's note in my last chapter-sometimes I don't have anything to add, or I'm late for work or something. And as for Ponmar-well, that's another story. I don't think I'll be writing a sequel, but Lina and Gourry will honor their promise and return to help Ponmar find the real leader of the rogue mages-as well as learn to get along together as a couple. ^_^
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