Episode Sixty-Nine: Disarranged Puzzle Pieces
Lina stood in the middle of a large crater with small pieces of gold falling around her, which she gathered. "The golden pyramid is a powerful artifact capable of enslaving high level monsters that can be ordered into battle by the holder of this device. It doesn't hold enough power to work on a monster lord, general or priest, and one would have to be skilled in sorcery to activate it. The pyramid itself is a three dimensional puzzle about the size of a fist when put together. It is made of gold pieces with magic sealed in them. When it is broken as it is now, it cannot be used to enslave monsters. Nonetheless each individual piece works as an amulet to guard against middle rank monsters."
Lina continued her explanation. "Overall, it's a fairly useful device that can turn the tides in a battle, even if perhaps not in a war." The redhead finished gathering the pieces of the golden pyramid as her friends approached and Zelas returned via the astral side. Lina held the golden pieces in her hands towards Zelas, "for you."
Zelas accepted the pieces of the golden pyramid puzzle, nonetheless pointing out, "this is hardly a sufficient bribe." Even if she spoke those words, Zelas had a peculiar grin on her face, as if a hidden purpose had been accomplished.
"It's not a bribe," Lina mirrored Zelas' expression. "It's only something that you wouldn't have if you had not come along with us. Something that you wouldn't have even heard we obtained."
"So it would seem," Zelas agreed, so far in appeared that the monster lord and the sorceress had reached a silent understanding that remained partially hidden to the rest of the group.
"About those renegotiations," Lina brought up the subject, "or rather, about the point I was trying to prove..."
"You've done a fine job as a bodyguard, even when all was seemingly lost, you provided a valid argument," Zelas acknowledged. "However," she warned, "my choice had been made from the start, thus you have no real influence on me."
"I noticed that," Lina accepted, "I think it was still worth proving the point though. I wouldn't want anyone to say I'm a lousy bodyguard who gives up on her clients, that's bad for business."
"Of course," Zelas grinned, "you truly are a peculiar being, Lina Inverse. Pact or not, I might still call upon you in the future, my amusing pawn."
Lina huffed, "I'm no one's pawn," she insisted, though she had been used as such in the past, thus she clarified, "but I'm a sorceress for hire on occasion. I accept payment in gold and don't forget to include a courtesy meal!"
"I'll remember that," Zelas ran a perfectly manicured fingernail over the smooth surface of the black cone jewel on her necklace. "I will release Xellos in a few days. You may carry on with your journey; I'll catch up to you when the time comes." With her final choice made, Zelas gave one last quick glance to Phythan, "your next assignment is to travel with Lina's group and report what you witness to me." Then she faded away to the astral side.
Phythan made a little salute, though Zelas had already disappeared, "yes, Lord Beast Master!"
Lina stretched her arms over her head, "that takes care of that. Let's find a good place to eat."
"Wait a minute!" Filia protested. "What just happened? What made Zelas want to release Xellos and why is she waiting a few days?"
"That I don't know," Lina admitted, but she at least could explain the rest. "Throughout our travels we come across a lot of places, people, things and situations. Zelas might want to be informed of all that for various reasons. I wanted to prove that it was worth keeping an eye on us and who better to do that than Zelas' most trusted minion? If she sends someone different who is not a monster, it wouldn't be the same to her and if she makes a new general priest, it wouldn't be the same to us, thus affecting our actions."
Filia's eyes widened in realization. "I understand; you were trying to prove to Zelas that Xellos is still useful to her. That's what this whole trip was about. But what if your theory about the mountain was mistaken?"
"I would have to figure out something to do," Lina grinned, disregarding the risk. "Don't I always?" She paused, with her face taking on a more thoughtful expression. "Nonetheless, Zelas' choice had already been made. She never intended to destroy Xellos. Galathia mentioned a secret mission; I believe this is all the same thing. The reason why we haven't been getting a whole lot of trouble from monsters, though we did have to face the Green Alchemist, the reason why Zelas reduced the amount of danger Xellos was exposed to... she must have had plans for him. Whatever those plans are, they must have involved trapping him in that crystal for a while. Zelas' plans have not yet been fulfilled though; it is probably something that takes time."
"That's why she won't release Xellos for a few days," Filia agreed. Her face was filled with horror as she considered the possibilities. "What if this is all part of some kind of plot to launch a full scale attack? What if she's trying to doom the world?" She rushed over to Phythan, shaking him by the shoulders. "Do you know something? Speak!"
"I don't know anything!" Phythan insisted. "This is my most exciting mission yet. All I ever do as an intern is groom Fang, clean Lord Beast Master's lair and carry her gigantic purse when she goes somewhere."
"This could mean trouble, but we know so little it's hard to think of what to do," Amelia worried. Attempting to break into Lord Beast Master's lair was out of the question. Not only would that be a suicide mission that was doomed to fail, but they had no idea where exactly the lair was located anyway and Phythan probably got teleported there by monsters, rather than being informed of the location.
"Then we'll just have to wing it!" Lina concluded with more optimism than the situation probably deserved.
xoxox xox xoxox
The group continued their journey, locating the nearest restaurant from the sky, riding on Phythan. Unlike Filia, he didn't mind carrying the group and still had no problems with transforming in front of people. After they had a good meal, the journey continued with occasional stops at inns and restaurants for sleep and food respectively. They were heading back to Seyruun; they weren't sure what to do next, so they resolved it was best to regroup there.
After a particularly long day of traveling, they stopped to camp out, as the next town was still a considerable distance away. Nothing appeared to be out of place as they sat around a campfire roasting marshmallows, until an unknown being materialized before them. He was obviously a monster, judging by how he moved through the astral side, albeit he resembled a human chimera in appearance. He had black hair and silver eyes; he was wearing black clothes in the style of a classic evil wizard, with silver armlets, belts and boots, though he was more of a physical fighter than a magic user. Nonetheless he had plentiful monster powers at his disposal. Another noticeable trait was the spiky collar he wore around his neck, which was something one would expect a pet to wear.
The main differences that gave him away as a non-human were his fox ears and tail, which were covered in black fur. Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and Filia jumped to their feet, taking on fighting stances, ready to combat the monster if he attacked. The fox creature appeared to ignore the aggressive atmosphere, instead keeping his eyes on Amelia and taking a step towards her. "Amelia... Would you scratch me behind the ears? I really like it when you do that!"
The group nearly fell over in shock. "Just who do you think you are?" Zelgadis angrily demanded.
"I'm Fang and you're Zelgadis!" The fox creature pointed out in a carefree tone.
"Fang?!" Lina, Amelia, Zelgadis and Filia chorused the surprised exclamation.
"Who's Fang?" Predictably, Gourry didn't remember.
"This is Fang's human form... or rather, his humans chimera form," Phythan calmly explain. He had seen Fang's alternate form so it did not come as a surprise to him. "You know how it is, monsters can take on human disguises, but since Fang is a monster fox chimera, his human disguise is a fox chimera too."
"I guess Zelas wanted to send a monster along with us." Lina sat down again. At least when Xellos returned, things should go back to normal. Or rather, things should be restored to their usual level of insanity.
The group settled down and went back to enjoying their roasted marshmallows, albeit Zelgadis wasn't pleased with Fang trying to lay his head on Amelia's lap. That wasn't so bad when he was just a fox, but now he was different. In an attempt to make them get along, Amelia pulled out a hairbrush from her cape and offered it to Zelgadis, "why don't you brush Fang's hair?"
"Brush his hair? But he's-" Zelgadis' argument was interrupted when Fang half laid on his lap.
Unlike in his fox chimera form, when in human chimera form, Fang had one tail instead of two, which wasn't as huge as his two tails in his alternate form. None the less, he could certainly wag that tail. "Brush my hair Zelgadis, I like having my hair brushed!"
Zelgadis felt his eye twitch and gave Amelia a desperate look. The princess smile encouragingly and nodded, while Lina snickered in amusement and Filia shook her head hopelessly. Gourry was as confused as usual, so he had nothing to offer Zelgadis beyond a blank look. "I can't believe this," shocked with himself, Zelgadis began to brush Fang's hair.
Other than that, it seemed that the camping trip would be relatively uneventful as the marshmallows were consumed and sleeping arrangements were made. Then in the middle of the night, Fang woke up. "I taste it, it's strong!" He exclaimed loud enough to wake the others. "I want it, I want it! Can I go? Can I have a snack now?"
"We already ate all the food, shut up and go to sleep!" Lina scolded, not pointing out that she had consumed the largest portion of their supplies herself.
Fang whimpered, "no snack?" He pouted cutely, his silver eyes looking similar to Phythan's when he was complaining.
"I don't think he wants normal food," Phythan commented sleepily. He yawned and allowed himself a moment to become fully alert. Then he leapt to his feet in determination. "Monsters feed off negative emotions, Fang must be able to taste the feelings of someone who is in peril! I cannot overlook this injustice!"
"Oh no..." Zelgadis muttered under his breath. Phythan was giving a justice speech; that would be sure to get Amelia riled up.
"Neither can I!" Amelia energetically jumped to her feet. "Fang, lead us to the source of the taste you perceive, we must find the person who is in need of assistance. We must defend justice!"
"Snack!" Fang took off in an all out dash, followed by Phythan and Amelia.
Since Amelia was going, Zelgadis ran after her as well, "wait for me!"
"Yes, Zelgadis, let us defend justice together!" Amelia took his hand, pulling him along to go faster. She was an amazingly speedy runner when it came to rushing to defend justice.
"Can't we defend justice in the morning?" Lina begrudgingly followed them.
"I guess that's a no?" Gourry hurried after Lina, not understanding the significance of the sarcastic rhetorical question.
"I might as well go," Filia joined the mad chase as well.
xoxox xox xoxox
Fang led the group towards a patch of vegetation. Not too far away, the crunching of the first few fallen leaves of autumn could be heard. The footsteps were unsure and unsteady, not following a firm rhythm. They were not too fast, yet there was a feeling of despair to the ragged breaths that accompanied them. The forested area was dark, the trees blocking the light of the moon and stars, but up ahead there was a bright unnatural golden glow. It was the gold that shined upon the sea of chaos.
Fang stopped his tracks several feet away from the Lord of Nightmares. "I smell power, I smell a lot of power," his black fox ears twitched as he lowered himself to hide behind some bushes, keeping his voice in a whisper. "That person knows we're here," he realized, "so much power, is this the one master calls Lord of Nightmares?"
Amelia, Zelgadis, Lina, Gourry, Filia and Phythan took cover along with Fang. "It's a warning," Lina guessed. "She wants us to hang back," albeit her voice was only a quiet whisper; she knew the Lord of Nightmares could hear her. The golden glow faded and everything was left in darkness once more.
"Who's there?" A weak voice called from the darkness. "Is anyone there?" It was the tired voice of a young woman.
Gourry was about to open his mouth to reply, but even if she couldn't see it in the darkness, Lina knew it. She simply knew him that well. The redhead reached out blindly and felt his shoulder, from there on finding his face and holding her hand over his mouth was easy.
"Answer me!" The female voice called out again.
Zelgadis could feel Amelia tensing up next to him. A seemingly defenseless person was in need of help and it was difficult for her to hold back the need to provide assistance.
"I'm not going back! I'm not going back!" The unsteady steps continued in the darkness. "I'm not going back, I'm never going back, there's nothing for me there. I'll seek my own happiness, they who give me nothing will not get anything from me. I can start over, I'm not going back," desperate sobs mixed into the words. "I'm not going back-ah!" There was the sound of someone falling on the ground and Amelia tensed further.
Then the brightness returned as the Lord of Nightmares once more showed her light. "You are weak."
On the ground in front of her there was a human woman. She seemed to be in bad shape with stained and ripped clothing, dirt and mud clinging to her, a few visible cuts and bruises and long tangled up black hair. "Who are you?" She looked at the being before her with wonderment, yet oddly there was no fear."
"You fear entrapment, you fear suffering and yet you do not fear me?" The Lord of Nightmares spoke. "You who despises the tranquil struggle, you who wishes to live outside the cycle of the masses, your weakness prevents you."
"No..." The girl looked as if the words spoken to her struck a chord. "I'm here now, I left, I started over, I'm not going to be weak anymore."
"You do not fear the embrace of death for it will spare you the pain," the Lord of Nightmares raised her hand. "Is your spirit as weak as your body?"
Amelia started to get up, but Zelgadis stopped her. She tried to move nonetheless, yet he held her in place. She stopped struggling and didn't say anything. What good could it do?
"Farewell," A silver orb of light floated on the Lord of Nightmares' hand. She held the orb in her hand, watching as the girl's black eyes stared at it, the darkness of her eyes and hair contrasting with her pale face. Then the Lord of Nightmares released the orb and it collided with the girl, trapping her in silver flames that electrified her.
"Stop!" Amelia cried out, but the sound was only a distant echo.
"Can't... move..." Phythan tried to jump into action but could not, none of them could.
Paralyzed and unable to even speak loud enough to be heard, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia, Phythan and Fang watched on until the silver light faded and the girl fell unconscious. The Lord of Nightmares disappeared and Lina's group was released, once again able to move around and be heard normally.
"I'm telling... I'm telling master!" Fang loudly declared, fading to the astral side instantly.
"Fang, no!" Lina reached out to the space where Fang was, but was unable to grab hold of him before he was gone. "Great, now Zelas is coming."
"Then we need to hurry!" Amelia rushed towards the unconscious young woman.
Phythan and Filia joined her, attempted to use healing magic on the girl, but soon Filia stopped them. "Don't!"
"Why not? She needs to be healed!" Amelia didn't understand.
"Look at her, her face is getting flushed, her breathing is uneven, her heartbeats are wild, our healing is making her worse" Filia explained. "Her energy waves are definitely human but they're different. I've heard about this, it's a rare condition that sometimes occurs in the lands that were outside the barrier. She will always react adversely to magic and is unable to cast it herself. It's a sort of genetic disease that can be inherited."
"Then we'll have to heal her the old fashioned way," Amelia concluded.
"It looks like there's no choice," Filia agreed.
Before anything could be done about the unknown girl, Fang reappeared with Zelas. "There she is," Fang pointed. "That's the girl with the yummy desperate emotions, but she's not yummy anymore. Now she's empty, she has no taste at all. She's alive, how come she has no taste? How come?"
"So the Lord of Nightmares threw a sort of spell into this girl?" Zelas curiously approached. "Are you glad Lina? Your point has been further proven. It is worth it to keep an eye on your group." She looked at the unconscious girl commenting with distaste, "she's filthy, it is as if she has been wandering around for a while, possibly lost. Perhaps no one cares for her, or perhaps she has been trying not to be found. Nonetheless, there is something there; the Lord of Nightmares sealed something in this girl, I wonder what that something is? I suppose I'll find out soon enough. Fang, be a dear and fetch the girl. Try not to get too messy handling the filthy creature."
"Yes master, right away!" Fang cheerfully agreed, wagging his fox tail.
Fang approached the girl, but Amelia stood in his way. "You can't just take her away!"
"It's okay, Amelia," Phythan encouraged. "Lord Beast Master wants to know what is sealed in her, right? She won't risk losing it if she dies. That's why I know she will be healed. Besides, she has a negative reaction to magic anyway, we can't heal her."
"I know, but..." that didn't make it any less frustrating for Amelia. She was a kind person who didn't like seeing others suffer.
"But you don't get a say in it," Zelas smiled smugly. "Fang, take the girl to Tiffany, tell her I said to keep her alive. Stay with her and come get me as soon as it looks like she's about to wake up."
"Yes master!" Fang carefully picked up the unconscious girl and disappeared into the astral side.
"Intern, you may continue to travel with Lina and the others for a while and assist Xellos in compiling his reports," Zelas ordered.
Filia gasped, catching a very important detail, "Xellos?"
"I was going to wait until morning, but it's been long enough." Zelas took off her black cone jewel necklace as it began to glow. Black light emerged from it, forming into a shadow that took the shape of Xellos. In seconds he materialized completely, still in the form of a human, albeit he had recovered enough for his hair to be black again. He was unconscious when he fully emerged and fell forward, though Filia was quick to catch him. "He is alright, only sleeping," Zelas stated. "Well then, I leave Xellos in your care for the time being. However, make no mistake, my patience is not infinite. I have obtained what I wanted, so this time we play for keeps. If Xellos is unable to break his curse and recover his monster powers in a reasonable amount of time, I will destroy him." Leaving a heavy feeling of foreboding in the air, Zelas disappeared.
To be Continued
Disclaimer, I don't own Slayers. The golden pyramid looks like the Millennium Puzzle from Yu-Gi-Oh! We know that Zelas has been plotting all along, but what is her plot about? There are also mysteries as of yet to be revealed about the Lord of Nightmares and the Green Alchemist. Keep the reviews coming! Though the outline of this story is finished, the sequel is still in the planning stages and I'll be implementing most of the suggestions I've received so far!