Slayers Fan Fiction ❯ Detour ❯ Chapter Twenty Seven ( Chapter 27 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
by Rose Thorne
Disclaimer: Slayers is owned by a bunch of folks who aren't me. I'm borrowing them for my perverse pleasure, much as Xellos borrows emotions for his.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Xellos spent the quiet hours of the night musing over the joke his life had become. The moment he had gained control of his destiny, a will of his own, he had managed to turn it upside down. The only thing he was certain about anymore was the need to destroy the sorcerers before they became even more of a threat—a matter of common sense. That he also felt the need to protect Zelgadis, however, was proof of how far he had fallen.
He poked at the fire idly as he thought. While the action wasn't really necessary—he could manipulate the blaze with his magic, after all—the mundane task was almost comforting in comparison to the problem at hand. By virtue of being alive, Zelgadis would be a continued threat to all Mazoku.
That alone had death sentence written all over it, and there was a level of species loyalty that nearly required Xellos to take that job himself. But he couldn't bring himself to do so. That Xellos wanted so badly for the chimera to live was so alien that it threatened to drive him insane. Only a shaky amount of acceptance enabled him to keep his balance for any length of time.
Xellos glanced at Zelgadis, who had stayed so still throughout the night that he almost looked statuesque. If other Mazoku discovered this, it would become nearly impossible to protect him. Even if the sorcerers were destroyed, Xellos knew Zelgadis' life would be in jeopardy if the Mazoku ever did realize the danger they had been in. The Mazoku would remove the threat of a copycat by destroying the basis of the research.
He realized he was stabbing at the fire almost violently when his actions sent embers popping into the air. Though the noise didn't wake the others, he quietly slipped another bit of wood on the fire and left it alone. Zelas was close to finding out, and though she had promised that she would not kill him, there was no guarantee that she would not share the information with others who would. He needed to prevent her from uncovering the truth or she would find a way around her promise.
He looked up at the sky, smiling grimly. It was lighter than usual, polluted by the reflection of light off ice and snow. The stars seemed faded. He had allowed himself to slip into his old role again, acting as Zelas' servant, her spy. Doing so, he had neglected the Mother of All, failing as Her Priest, Her Eye. He was Her agent first now, and that was even more of a priority than his loyalty to the Mazoku. His behavior disrespected Her, and that needed to stop.
He refused to allow Zelas to collar him any longer. If she were to discover the danger Zelgadis posed, the information Xellos was withholding, the fact that he could not kill the chimera despite that danger, whatever attachment she apparently felt would not matter. She would be honor-bound to destroy them both, Zelgadis to protect the Mazoku and Xellos as a traitor.
The situation needed to be contained. And, if possible, turned to his advantage.
After all, pitting Dolphin, Dynast, and Zelas against each other would remove quite a bit of danger to both himself and Zelgadis.
His will set, Xellos watched as Lina and Amelia fought over the blanket in their sleep. Somehow, even after Gourry started snoring, they kept sleeping. The weather had picked up, and he could see the dancing reflection of firelight glinting off ice-covered trees beyond the barrier. The falling sleet amplified and carried the firelight further than normal, and it gave the area an otherworldly aura.
When Zelgadis' sleep was again disturbed by nightmares, Xellos had to quash the urge to go to him and soothe his sleep has he had in Seyruun. Where the nightmares should have amused him, he instead found himself concerned about their frequency. He ignored an awkward desire to take Zelgadis in his arms, to comfort him. Instead he set a pot of coffee in the embers to warm and waited.
Zelgadis woke with a gasp, struggling with the bedding briefly before waking sufficiently to calm whatever panic the dream had inspired. The chimera frowned at the blankets, then Xellos sensed a flutter of confused emotions—fear and anger at the forefront—as Zelgadis' eyes found him.
Xellos poured a cup of coffee and held it out. He waited as Zelgadis regarded him warily; the sorcerer only moved when he saw Lina sleeping nearby. Even then, he stood as far away as possible when accepting the cup, then put the fire between them before sitting and taking a sip.
His actions were really only to be expected after Xellos' folly in Seyruun, but the Mazoku was bothered by them nonetheless. The chimera wouldn't even look at him, as though he were repelled by the sight of Xellos. The silence made him uncomfortable. To his disgust, he was almost elated when Zelgadis spoke, despite his harsh tone.
“Why are you hanging around?”
Xellos watched him for a moment, and the chimera shifted under his gaze and pulled his cloak more snugly about himself as though trying to shield his body from his gaze.
“Why, I'm surprised you didn't notice the weather,” he finally said. “Poor Lina-san wouldn't have gotten any sleep if she had kept this barrier up herself.”
Zelgadis glanced around, apparently noticing at last the layer of ice that covered everything, the sleet still falling, slowly morphing into a snow flurry. Then Xellos felt him reach out with his magic, putting it into the barrier. He resisted the odd impulse to embrace that magic with his own and instead pulled back.
“Now you can leave.”
Xellos forced a smile. “Yare yare. You're well aware that's not the only reason I'm here.” Zelgadis shuddered. “You are still in danger.”
“Zelgadis-san…” He drew out the name slightly, giving himself time to consider a response. He opted to ignore it. “Those sorcerers want to recapture you.”
“I hadn't noticed.” Zelgadis sipped his coffee with a condescending air. He clearly intended to stick with pithy one-liners until Xellos gave up.
The priest sighed, dropping his false cheer. “That is not the only problem, you realize.” He glanced at Lina to make sure she was still asleep before continuing. “There are other factors.”
Zelgadis finally looked at him. “Are you actually going to share information this time?”
Xellos continued as if he hadn't spoken. “While Zelas promised not to harm you”—his eyes widened at this—“if the Mazoku realize the risk of the sorcerers recapturing you, they are likely to remove that risk by destroying you.”
“Wait, what?” There was a new fear in Zelgadis' eyes now, as though he realized the implications of Xellos' words even as he asked for clarification. The Mazoku didn't doubt that he did; he had always rivaled Lina's genius in his own way. “How is this connected to the Mazoku? Why the hell would they care?”
Xellos considered how much information to give; he wasn't comfortable telling him everything unless it became necessary. Revealing a weakness felt traitorous, but he had basically acknowledged to himself that by not killing Zelgadis he was a traitor. Was this any more disloyal? He had to protect both of them somehow.
Perhaps, in his own way, he really was just as foolish as Gaav.
“Some of their experiments could pose a threat if perfected,” he finally said cautiously.
“You're a regular fount of information,” Zelgadis snapped. “That tells me exactly nothing. Fat help you are.”
He didn't bother to respond, waiting as Zelgadis calmed down.
“You are Mazoku. You should kill me,” he finally said tonelessly.
Xellos stared at him, surprised. He was separating himself from the Mazoku, wasn't he? He didn't even want to consider the implications of that. “I already told you… I don't want to kill you.”
“Despite this danger?” Zelgadis frowned at him, studying his face. “Despite the fact that you should?”
“Why? What do you want from me?”
This time it was Xellos who found himself looking away from Zelgadis' penetrating gaze. He didn't know how to answer those questions; the truth seemed absurd even to him. He doubted the chimera would take it well, if he even believed it.
After a while, Zelgadis glared at him. “I want nothing to do with whatever plot you have going.”
“There is no plot,” Xellos said softly. “I would rather you live.”
“For now, maybe.” Zelgadis looked away. “I'm sick of you treating my life like it's some kind of game. All you've ever done is use me for your own benefit, entertainment or whatever.” The anger had disappeared, and the simple hurt that replaced it surprised Xellos.
“I don't even want to look at you anymore. Just go away, Xellos.”
Xellos complied, too troubled to try to convince the chimera that he didn't see his life as a game, not anymore.
Zelgadis was again leading the others through rural Ralteague, past farms and through increasingly wooded territory. The ice storm had hit the path, leaving a quarter-inch thick layer of ice over everything. Several times he'd been forced to Levitate out of deep snow after breaking through the ice. The others didn't have that problem. They weren't too far from the border of Lyzeille when he wordlessly detoured to into a town around midday so they could eat. He was still full from the ridiculously heavy meal the night before, and only ordered coffee.
Xellos hadn't been back since before dawn, and Zelgadis was torn about his absence. As he watched the Lina, Gourry, and Amelia fight over food—the three of them consuming ridiculous amounts of it—he had to admit that despite what the bastard had done in Seyruun, he still trusted Xellos to help him. In the past several weeks, the Mazoku had proven time and again that he didn't want him to die.
He sighed in frustration as Lina ordered another round of dessert. On the road, pushing his pace, he didn't have to think. This time, try as he might, Zelgadis couldn't think of any possible underlying purpose behind Xellos' actions, especially if what he had said about his very existence being a danger to the Mazoku was true. He tried to tell himself that he didn't think like a Mazoku and therefore wouldn't necessarily be able to suss out the reasoning, but all he could think about was the look in those too-human eyes. I would rather you live.
Even if Xellos refused to see him die, to kill him as his duty to his race basically demanded, Zelgadis denied the emotion he had thought he had seen in those eyes, the very concept… No. There had to be an ulterior motive.
He was thankful when Lina finally let out a belch and declared she was stuffed; they could get moving again, and he could stop thinking.
They passed into Lyzeille about an hour before the sun began to dip below the horizon, lengthening shadows in the small forest they were hiking through. Even in the harsh light, when he saw the shadows flux and heard the sound of steel being drawn, he was ready to pull his own weapon, and his actions alerted his friends. He enhanced it with Astral Vine only seconds before they were attacked.
At first, he mistook the ragtag group for bandits. When a long, black, serpentine mass rose from the shadows beneath him and lifted him into the air, he realized that they were mercenaries, a distraction. Even with the men attacking them, he heard both Lina and Amelia scream his name. The Mazoku pinned his arms to his sides and yanked him through the trees and into the sky with unbelievable speed. The Fireball Lina threw missed his attacker by a wide margin. The ice-covered branches ripped at his clothing, scratching at him with so much force that they actually left shallow cuts in his stone skin. He clung to his blade like a lifeline.
They cleared the trees. Zelgadis managed to twist his sword arm and strike, the Astrally-enhanced blade piercing the Mazoku. Its roar nearly deafened him, but instead of releasing him, the coils around him constricted painfully, so tight that he dropped his sword, his arms feeling as though they might break. He couldn't breathe, and he began to panic. If he lost consciousness, there was no way he'd be able to avoid being captured. He started to murmur a spell, forcing the words out through sheer will-power, but there wasn't enough breath in his lungs to finish it.
Zelgadis was only vaguely aware of a jolt before he was flung free, gasping in deep breaths of frigid air that burned his lungs. He recovered in time to realize he was seconds from smashing head-first into a tree at high speed. Like the rest, it was coated with a layer of ice that, at this speed, might as well be diamond. There was no time to cast Raywing or any other sort of spell. His only option was to raise his arms to protect his head and brace himself.
What he hit was soft, warm, and unyielding. The impact knocked the wind out of Zelgadis, but he wasn't surprised to discover that Xellos had caught him. Though his expression was pleasant, he oozed bloodlust. That bloodlust frightened Zelgadis, but overall he was relieved; Xellos had saved him again, even preventing a painful landing.
“Oh, dear. That could have been disastrous,” the Mazoku murmured, touching a stinging cut on Zelgadis' face, removing a sliver of bark from the injury.
His touch was gentle, but the chimera flinched away. For a split second Xellos' expression wavered. Then his arms tightened around Zelgadis and the world blurred as they dodged a blast of dark energy. When he regained his footing, it was literal; Xellos had brought him to the forest floor.
“I'll deal with this one.” His hand was still on Zelgadis' shoulder, a warm, almost comforting weight. For once Zel didn't pull away, allowing the Mazoku to steady him as he reoriented himself. “I'm sure Lina-san would appreciate your help with those mercenaries, if she hasn't blown them up already.”
Then he phased out in a violet-black shimmer.
Zelgadis found his sword only a few feet away. Xellos had taken him to it on purpose, he realized, ensuring he had a weapon even as he removed him from danger. He still felt a little off-balance and found that he missed the light warmth of Xellos' hand on his shoulder, and that disturbed him. There was no time to consider this, he realized as he heard a small explosion in the distance, and he grabbed his sword and cast Raywing to join his friends.
Lina grinned at him when he touched down swinging, getting rid of a mercenary that was about to attack her from behind. “Nice of you to join us, Zel! Get rid of that Mazoku?”
“Xellos is taking it,” he replied. Then he cast Astral Vine and got to work. There were more mercenaries than he had realized—but, then, he hadn't really had time to count before he'd been swept away.
Zelgadis faced his current opponents: three mercenaries, large, battle ready men with blood in their eyes. He blocked a strike from one and kicked another in the gut. As he dodged the third's sword, he felt a disturbing mix of magic that froze him. Pure terror clawed at his heart. Cold voices washed over him, muffled as though he were hearing them from underwater, clinical. He couldn't understand what they were saying, but he knew what would follow. Fear, pain, helplessness. He felt as though he were suffocating.
Something clanged against his skin, resonating in the air, and then he knew nothing.
The relief Lina felt when Zel landed behind her couldn't really be expressed, and it wasn't because he'd just saved her ass. She resisted the urge to give him a huge hug. They were kind of in the middle of a battle, and that was more Amelia's territory anyway.
Instead she sent another Fireball into a group of mercenaries; she, Amelia, and Gourry had managed to thin their numbers, but there were still enough left to give her a headache. At least Xellos had proved to be useful. He had, once again, helped Zel. There had been no way for her to get to him; if Xellos hadn't come along, she didn't know what would have happened. Assuming that had been the same Mazoku that had injured Zel so badly before, it was possible that she would've had trouble even if she'd managed to go after it.
Possible, but not likely. She was, after all, the beautiful sorcery genius!
An explosion of frankensteined magic hit her senses unexpectedly, and she barely missed being run through by an attacker. Gourry pulled her aside, then counterattacked. She glanced toward Zel, wondering if he'd felt that weird magic, only to find him standing still as three mercenaries swung swords at him. The blades clanged harmlessly against his stone skin, but he screamed as though he had been run through.
She readied a spell, running toward him with Amelia and Gourry. She was surprised when he moved so fast that he was nearly a blur. The mercenaries fell in his wake. Zel moved with a fluid grace, cutting them down without mercy, ruthless and efficient. They barely had time to scream before they died. Blood stained the snow and spattered on his torn clothing as he moved through the carnage, heedless of it.
Lina had never seen anything like it, and could only stare in shock, frozen. It was only when he turned to them, his eyes blank with no sign of recognition, that she moved, taking a step back. This wasn't Zel, she knew. She had seen that look before, when Rezzo had forced him to attack them. He wasn't in control, and she had no idea who was this time. This time he didn't move like Rezzo's puppet. He was a real threat. He lunged at them, swinging his sword at Amelia, and there wasn't time to react.
But only a split second before his blow would have fallen, he crumpled, the sword flying from his hand. It left a deep cut in Amelia's arm as it whizzed past them, skewering a mercenary before imbedding itself in a tree.
It took a moment for it to register, and she could only stare as Xellos caught Zel before he hit the ground. He had whacked Zel with his staff, she realized, with enough force to knock him out. He had saved Amelia's life. The Mazoku murmured something lowly, and his power filled the air. Then there were little explosions all around them, leaving bloody stumps where the mercenaries had once had heads.
Amelia was the first to speak, but all she managed was “Xellos-san…”
“What happened?” Gourry asked. Lina didn't have the urge to wallop him this time, in part because, given the circumstances, it wasn't a stupid question. She didn't understand some of what had happened herself.
Only then did Xellos even glance at them, and Lina flinched at the murderous look in his eyes. The eyes seemed too human to look that deadly. With the light from the sunset shining on him through the trees, he looked almost as though he was splashed with blood. He lifted Zel into his arms with a gentleness that seemed incongruous with the bloodlust that sang in the air, cradling him against his chest like a child.
“Come. There is shelter nearby.”
His voice was as cold as his eyes were deadly. Something had royally pissed him off, and Lina was almost afraid to find out what. She wondered if the flare of odd magic had anything to do with it, but he turned and walked away before she could ask. Lina stared at his back for a moment before following, pulling Gourry and Amelia with her.
She had questions, and she intended to get answers. But while she would have liked to say she'd beat the answers out of Xellos if she had to, with the look in his eyes she was—for once—more inclined to ask nicely and hope he shared.
The semester is finally over and I can write again. I am, in fact, writing this in Chicago, visiting home. So happy to be home for a little while.
This chapter took a while to write. Had to get back in mode. I know where this is going, though. Even though I haven't been able to write Detour, I've thought a lot about it over the past few months. I'm glad to finally be writing it again, that's for sure!
Some of you will note that I've changed my spelling of Beastmaster's name from Xellas to Zelas. I kind of have to blame Tsutsuji for that. All chapters have been edited.
Tsutsuji chatted with me while I was writing and generally encouraged me to keep going. Chrissy helped with some developmental issues. Fawx did some awesome hard-core beta-reading. And Chrislea was kind enough to beta after getting back from A-Kon, despite her exhaustion.
Happy birthday to me! I intended to post this earlier, but I suppose it works out okay.