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 Forty-Two: A Princess' Sacrifice
Several hours and one short sword fighting lesson later, they had arrived at the place where Shiran's nose said their friends were. From the cover of the forest, Zelgadis did reconnaissance, scouting out the enemies' base and then returning to where he had left Amelia and the two animals.
"It's a natural cave system that looks as if someone's converted it into a fortress," he reported. "It's only a small mound of stone and earth, about twenty feet high, but there are no less than four entrances. They're all heavily guarded, but at least that means if we manage to get inside there'll be more than one way out. There are also about a dozen men walking the grounds outside. For the most part, their weapons are swords, although each entrance has one archer. It looks as if we're up against quite a large force."
"So what do we do? How will we get the guards away from the entrances?" Amelia had shifted into battle mode, her eyes showing none of her usual warmth.
"I had thought Shiran might decoy some of them, but I'm not sure we'd care to risk her against the archers. A lavender dragonwolf is not your average forest animal."
"Mm." Amelia bit her lip thoughtfully. "Suppose we start a fire?"
The stone man stood with his index finger and thumb against his chin. "That would get some of them away, but the problem is that the rest of the guards would go on alert. Fire is a well-known diversionary tactic-they'd know we were here."
"Why are there so many?"
"You must remember, they're expecting a lot more people than just the two of us. The leader of the group you-ahem-rescued me from said he'd been told that I was the second-in-command of a group of rogue mages led by Lina Inverse."
"But Miss Lina doesn't have any followers, unless you count Mister Gourry. And he can't do any magic."
"Any followers that we know of."
Amelia was silent, a look of doubt crossing her face. How strange, the chimera mused, I can read her face so easily, yet still she managed to keep things from me. Such as the fact that this entire journey wasn't set up only to help me find my cure; it was Amelia's solution to her obligation to marry by her seventeenth birthday. Or was this all Lina's idea?
He shook his head to derail that train of thought. Right now our first priority is the rescue. Even if Lina did cook up this whole marriage scheme, she is my friend and I owe her a life-debt. I'd be on the bottom of the sea if not for her.
Amelia moaned, "Oh, I wish I had my magic! A good wind spell would be all we'd need."
Zelgadis theorized, "Maybe they have periodic supplies delivered. There doesn't seem to be a lot of food available around here, certainly not enough to feed that many men. We could hide ourselves in the wagon."
"But they might not have any supplies delivered for a long time. And anyway, they might unpack the wagon outside, wouldn't they? We'd be discovered," Amelia pointed out.
The chimera made a noise of chagrin. "You're right."
They lapsed into silence. Eventually Amelia said, "Remember when you said they seemed to want us to come? Why guard the place so heavily if they wanted it to look easy for us to get in?"
"We upset their plans when we incapacitated the perimeter force, remember? I deduced that they were supposed to let us pass, then use their horses to get ahead of us and warn the home base. If that were the case, I don't doubt that most of these men would be in hiding right now, with only a token guard at each entrance."
"And when we got inside, they'd have us," Amelia finished.
"So the one thing we do have is the element of surprise." Amelia frowned thoughtfully. "They know they're to watch for you, but...I wonder if any of them would be suspicious about a young girl traveling alone? Yes, that's it!" The girl's eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. "I could let them capture me and become a secret undercover spy!"
Zelgadis looked at her in alarm. "Amelia...That's not a good idea. What if they took you prisoner as well? With no magic, you'd be practically helpless..." He recalled the brutish group of men who had captured him. They had left him no doubts as to what they would have done to a female prisoner. His fists clenched as he suppressed a quick mental flash of Amelia, tied up and about to be-
"No!" he burst out. "That is not an option."
His voice was loud enough to startle her. The princess looked up at him with wide dark-blue eyes, meeting his resolute gaze. Melting into an affectionate smile, she took a few steps closer to him and placed a hand on his forearm. "Zelgadis, I think it's our only option," she said gently. "Shiran, they would probably shoot on sight, and they know who you are. But if I can gain their confidence, maybe I can talk their leader into letting Miss Lina go, peacefully, without any bloodshed. Or at least disarm any traps they have indoors."
"Amelia, no-" His voice, his face, his eyes all displayed his utter horror at her assertion.
She continued to gaze up into his eyes, smiling at him with her trademark hopeful confidence. "I know you feel that most people are unfriendly, Zelgadis... I know most people don't take the time to try to get to know you before they decide not to like you...your appearance frightens them, I guess... I also know that you think I'm wrong, even silly and immature, to believe that there's some good in everyone, but, well...
One shoulder lifted as she tilted her head to the side, the very image of an enchanting child as she continued, "When you're a young girl, most people want to look out for you. They're nice to you, so it's easy to like them back. Some show you a side of themselves that few adults ever get to see. Most people are really interesting to talk to; everyone has thoughts and feelings about different things, and if you're a good listener, they tell you what's bothering them." Her tone grew enthusiastic. "As a princess I've been taught to respond to the needs of others. Daddy says I have a lot of natural empathy as well-if I could, I'd fix all the problems of the world!"
He could not pull his gaze away from her eyes, those alluring deep blue wells of emotion as they shimmered within her small face like jewels, her entire face radiant with the strength of her passion.
Amelia's tone held the ringing note of justice. "I've been trained to work out problems between people. If I can talk to their leader; if I can help Miss Lina and Mister Gourry, we wouldn't have to fight, don't you see, Zelgadis? And if not, well, at least you'd have someone on the inside to help them escape."
He couldn't help but be affected when she used his name like that. His most adamant barriers began to melt, as ice does in the sun. Weakly Zelgadis tried to protest, "But you don't know what they'd do to you. Men will..." He couldn't bring himself to say it.
A shadow dropped over her brilliant sapphire eyes, and finally she turned her face away. "Well, that's a chance I'll have to take."
The stone man pulled in a breath, not expecting her to know and accept that such a thing existed. Suddenly her face was not that of a sweet, charming girl, but that of a grave young woman, whose eyes revealed somber depths that he never would have suspected.
"Amelia..." His voice was barely above a whisper. She turned back to him, easily reading his anguish, and his defeat.
She gave herself a shake as if to rid herself of the other persona, and patted his arm. "But that's only the worse-case scenario, right? We have to think positively."
In the end, they went with Amelia's plan. While Amelia led Sunshine, Zelgadis brought the princess to the entrance that lay closest to the faint road that had once curved around the base of the low mountain. "You can say you've been traveling along this old road. Give me a signal of some kind if you get in trouble."
"If I haven't heard from you in three hours, I'll get close enough somehow to cause a commotion-maybe a rockslide down the cliff face-so be ready to escape if you can. Are you sure you don't want to take Shiran with you?"
She shook her head. "She's too unusual-looking. I need to look as ordinary as possible."
In the back of his mind the chimera wondered how anyone could think Amelia was ordinary.
At the edge of the forest, Amelia stopped behind a tall bush and fluffed out her hair. "It's a good thing I'm wearing your gloves. They do a good job of hiding my bandages."
As she turned to look at him, she was caught by the solemn, almost forlorn expression on his face. She could read everything he was feeling in that moment. He'd switch places with me in an instant, if he could. "Don't worry, Zelgadis...I'll be fine." Instinctively, she had used the more intimate form of his name again, but this time she barely realized it, already getting used to its taste on her lips. "You've done everything you could to help me."
To push back the sense of impending doom that threatened to paralyze her with icy tendrils, she gave in to the urge to touch him one last time, reaching up to slide her hand along his jaw and up the side of his face.
His face showed his surprise, his own hard hand coming up to cover hers on his cheek. "Amelia..."
"Now you must trust me. I promise you, I will do everything I can to come back safely. Have faith in me!" she whispered, her eyes shimmering with emotion. Then she pulled her hand away and lifted herself into Sunshine's saddle, turning to ride through the last of the trees, the mare's hoofbeats muffled on the russet pine needle carpet.
The chimera called the dragonwolf to his side and melted back into the brush, taking little heed of the way his clothing caught on the multiple tiny branches. He wanted to be in a position to easily see and respond to Amelia if she should need him. His hand unconsciously touched the spot on his face where she had placed her hand, his stone fingers sliding against the smooth planes, making tiny tapping sounds as his fingers moved over the small stones embedded in his cheek and chin.
He watched the dark-haired girl signal Sunshine to trot, and heard her familiar voice raise into a cheery traveling song. She was making no attempt to hide herself; rather, she was doing everything she could to show that she had nothing to hide. He almost smiled at the picture they made, and then fervently hoped that the men near the caves were doing the same.
Amelia tried not to show how nervous she was. She sang at the top of her lungs as she got closer to the rocky cliffside, making sure to guide Sunshine over dry sticks that would snap loudly and signal her approach. She rode along the edge of the forest as if she was using the treeless patch of land as a shortcut, then deliberately stopped her mare when she got within sight of the men guarding the caves. Several had noticed her already.
Amelia immediately broke out into a big smile, and waved vigorously. "Hello!"
Some of the men looked at one another, seeming undecided about how they should respond. Amelia repeated, "Hello there!" and signaled Sunshine to walk toward them, beaming brightly all the while.
Some of the men responded with smiles of their own. Amelia guided the palomino mare to approach the largest of the smiling ones, grinning and waving again. "I didn't know anyone lived here!" she called out. "Don't you know that magic doesn't work here?"
As she had hoped, many of the men looked at her as if they thought she had said something amusing. "We know," said the man she was approaching as she stopped Sunshine within a dozen feet of him.
"Oh. Well, why would you want to live without magic? Doesn't it get terribly boring?" She was taking full advantage of a youngster's ability to ask the kinds of question that are not always considered polite, though she was also curious to hear how he would answer.
"We like it." The man avoided giving her an answer that would tell her any useful information, but at least he did not seem inclined to attack her, or take her prisoner.
"Oh. Well, my name is Amelia, and I'm traveling to a village south of here. I have some good friends there."She and Zelgadis had worked out a cover story, which involved sticking to the truth whenever possible. The village Shiran and Sunshine had come from was south of here, and she did need to travel there to return Sunshine.
"Who else is with you?" asked one of the approaching men.
"Sunshine." Amelia indicated her horse.
"...Well, Miss Amelia, we're under orders to bring anyone who comes here to our leader. He...wants to meet our new neighbors."
Amelia pretended not to notice the smirks some of the men gave him at this lame explanation. She pouted a little, pretending to think. "Will it take long? If I'm late they'll think something's happened to me. My daddy will get worried and send out search parties...ooo, it would be soo embarrassing!"
"Oh, that depends on-well, he'd like to ask you a few things, that's all."
"Oh. Okay, then." As she followed the man into the torch-lit cave, Amelia forced herself not to look back. She didn't want to take the chance that someone might notice Zelgadis hiding in the foliage, his face a grim mask that promised severe retribution if any harm were to come to her.
Author's Notes: It looks like I'm going to have to plan on only updating once a week. You see, it takes me at least an hour since I always do some final editing and then work on my author's note, answering your wonderfully responsive comments and questions and then adding personal stuff. I have time off on Thursdays, so look for my updates on Friday from now on, okay? If I have time, I may occasionally update twice a week.
I have some understanding of Amelia's viewpoint on people. I'm a 30-year-old female, but most people guess me for 22 at the most-and many even think I'm a teenager, especially if I wear my hair in certain styles. I have one of those 'baby faces' I guess. Most adults treat me (indulgently)-as if I'm 16 and most of the teenagers I work with (I'm a cashier) think I'm their age until someone tells them otherwise. I love having people guess my age-I get such a kick out of it. Nobody ever comes close. ^_^
jadz_i_ka asked me about Shell Presto's story One Third Human. Well, SP just started college, so her time is very limited as of now. Among other things, she's taking a course in Japanese language. She also has a wonderful new boyfriend. She has plans for her story, though, so don't be surprised if there's an update sometime.
To Clover the Sea-Beast-wow! You stayed up ALL NIGHT to read my fic? Betcha got mad when you reached the end only to discover that it's not finished yet...tee hee. I'm honored that some of you have deemed my fic worthy enough to go without sleep-Clover's not the first, I know-but please do remember that regularly missing too much sleep can do awful things to your body in the long run.
Besides accidents with cars and other dangerous things, I've read health magazine articles that report a correlation between sleep deprivation and tons of diseases that are on the increase, from Alzheimers to diabetes, both of which are in my family-not me, (yet) thank goodness. Plus in general you're run down and tend to get lots more colds because your immune system is weakened. I notice this with people I know who skip sleep-I don't, and I never get colds. Hey, maybe that's why I look younger, too...
Take sleep problems seriously. You know how Shell Presto's site is called Inspiration Stemming from Sleep Deprivation? She tended to work all night on her computer and sleep all day, or not sleep at all, and her health has been...well, getting worse. Guess what? She just found out she's anemic, which I never would have guessed. I knew it could make you tired and run-down, but I never knew it actually interrupted sleep patterns! She's on medication and doing better now.
DarkAngel-Ahria asked me how long Only Stone is-well, I'd say we're a little more than two-thirds of the way through. Remember way back when, when I mentioned that my fic tends to run in arcs? I've got about five more fascinating, heartwarming, dramatic arcs to tell to bring this story to a close-but I have to admit I'll be sorry when it's over. I hope some of you will be, too. ^_^ Have fun reading!
|NEXT---Chapter List---DS's Fan Art---B!'s Library---Main|