Slayers Fan Fiction ❯ The Silent One ❯ The Silent One: Chapter 1 ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Silent One

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 One
Zelgadis hadn’t spoken to anyone since his grandfather had disappeared. Some folks assumed that it was because of the Indian curse his grandfather had toyed with, and he let them assume. The curse had turned him into a monster, and the townspeople had been putting up with his presence only because he was the only competent blacksmith within a week’s ride—and even then some folks were willing to go that far to make him feel unwelcome.

The truth was, he didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially not the priests that occasionally came to town to test their faith. It wasn’t his fault they left broken men; whatever gods the priest Rezo had called upon were stronger than those of the priests. But the town blamed him anyway. After the fifth, two weeks before, it was only through the grace of the crush Sheriff Phil’s youngest, Amelia, had on him that he hadn’t been run out of town or worse. And even that wasn’t likely to keep him safe for long. He wasn’t sure he cared anymore.

Everyone, with a few exceptions, thought his refusal to speak was a sign that the curse had addled his brain, left him stupid. And he let them think that only because when the day came that they got sick of him, he’d at least have some sort of advantage. Still, it wasn’t easy staying quiet sometimes; they didn’t bother keeping their voices down when they talked about him, not that it would have mattered much with his accursed enhanced hearing.

It was through them that he heard, only a few days after the last priest ran into the desert at noon after giving up, that a new priest was coming, one of an order so mysterious no one knew of it. He’d been having a few drinks at the saloon, and when the bar proprietress—one Lina Inverse, stingy town terror—began taking bets on how long the new one would last, he paid up and headed home.

Lina Inverse had made a lot of money after the first priest, betting on the ones that had followed. Each time, she told him privately what her money was on, and in exchange for his cooperation—silent encouragement of the priests until she would win—she gave him some of her winnings to supplement his dwindling earnings and let him have near-unlimited credit at her saloon. It was a good arrangement, but he didn’t like hearing the betting.

A week later, Zelgadis was pounding out horseshoes for the new horses Gourry was breaking when the priest showed up at his shop, accompanied by Phil and Amelia. He heard them approaching before he saw them, and put the red-hot metal in a basin of water with a pair of tongs before turning toward the door. He could see several other townspeople milling around outside, watching curiously, waiting for the show to begin, and he steeled himself.

Each time this meeting took place, it became more and more humiliating. One priest had immediately started poking and prodding him, as though there might be a secret button hidden on Zelgadis’ hideous body that would magically undo the curse. Another had broken into a chanted prayer and flicked handfuls of scented oils at him. The last one had begun by trying to exorcise him, using his staff to pin him so close to the smelter that his clothing had singed and the tips of his hair had melted together a bit before Phil had forced the man off of him. Each priest had spoken as though he were not present, about him instead of to him.

When the new priest entered his workspace, Zelgadis could only stare. The purple hair, at first, made him think it was Rezo returned from the dead. But this priest was different than any other he had seen. He wore simple black trousers, a turtleneck the color of sand, and a black traveling cloak bordered with runes—the like of which Zelgadis had never seen, even though he’d spent the years following the curse reading through Rezo’s library. Most priests wore ornate robes that marked them almost as royalty. His staff, too, set him apart from the other priests; where the others, even Rezo, had carried metal staves with rings that announced them and called attention to their status, this one carried a simple wooden staff with a red orb fixed to the top.

The priest didn’t open his eyes, though he smiled at Zel as though he could see him. It made the chimera uncomfortable, reminded him even more of his dead grandfather, but he forced himself to stare back impassively. He stood his ground when the priest approached him, preparing for the humiliation that was sure to follow.

He was surprised when the priest stopped only a couple of feet from him and held out his free hand. “I apologize for the intrusion, Zelgadis-san. I’m Xellos.”

Xellos clearly expected him to shake, but Zel didn’t touch anyone if he could help it, so he didn’t acknowledge the hand. And he didn’t break his silence, either.

The priest wasn’t fazed. “I heard about your predicament. The Red Priest studied shamanism, did he not?”

Zel didn’t answer, and Amelia stepped forward. “Yes, Xellos-san. He went to a tribe in the desert to learn it.” She turned toward him. “Xellos-san has studied shamanism extensively, too. He may be able to help you, Zelgadis-san.”

Xellos didn’t turn toward her. “You’ve taken a vow of silence?”

Amelia bit her lip. She looked outraged, but was clearly trying to be polite to the priest. “He hasn’t spoken since Rezo-san…”

The priest turned to her. “Ah, so you believe that Zelgadis-san is mute?”

Phil sighed. “The entire town believes it; some even believe that Zelgadis-san was affected mentally by the spell.”

“I doubt they censor themselves, in that case.” Xellos turned back to him, his smile tightening slightly. “I’m sure that allows you to stay aware of what others are saying.”

Zelgadis remained silent, unmoving. He wasn’t pleased to see that the townspeople had moved closer to the door to hear what Xellos was saying, his conversational tone not carrying enough for their hearing. He was relieved that they had to move in, that the priest was being so much quieter than the others, who had apparently wanted to make it a show. But while he didn’t particularly care if Xellos talked about it, he didn’t want to lose the one advantage he had over the town.

After a moment, with the townspeople’s stares, he couldn’t quite stop himself from shifting his weight uncomfortably. He regretted even that measure of body language when Gourry pushed through the crowd and stepped in, frowning. “Everything okay, Zel?”

Xellos turned toward the door, then, as though noticing the townspeople for the first time, and his smile disappeared. “Oh, dear. I assume this is some sort of spectacle?”

A few of the nearest ones had the grace to look embarrassed, but most only looked sullen at being called out. Gourry, in particular, looked ashamed, but Zel knew he was only there out of concern for his well-being. Given the last priest’s near-disastrous attempted exorcism—the worst in a progressively worsening string of meetings—he had cause to be worried.

The blond looked so troubled that Zelgadis wished he could just close the door on the townspeople, to somehow show that Gourry wasn’t like them. After all, he was one of Zel’s oldest friends, one of the few people who didn’t look on him with disgust or fear, and he didn’t deserve to be grouped with the rest of the town. But he was frozen under their scrutiny. He didn’t dare move.

He was surprised when the priest crossed the room and easily slid the large, heavy door shut with one hand, leaving Gourry inside and shutting the others out. It was exactly what Zelgadis had wanted to do, and was a surprising show of strength—the door was quite heavy—that left the townspeople murmuring amongst themselves outside.

“That’s better,” Xellos said cheerfully, that weird little smile returning. “Do they always treat Zelgadis-san like an exhibition?”

The question was directed at Gourry, who nodded after recovering from the surprise at being included. “Yeah. The other priests have done some weird stuff.”

The priest’s smile took on an unpleasant edge. “Oh?”

Gourry glanced at Zelgadis, who didn’t move, before answering. “The last one tried to exorcise him. Almost pushed him into the fire.”

“Zelgadis-san didn’t even fight him,” Amelia broke in. “It was terrible.”

Xellos glanced in his direction, and Zelgadis couldn’t take standing still any longer. He pulled off the heavy apron that protected the front of his clothing from his work, just to have something to do; he didn’t think he was going to get any more work done today, anyway. He was hanging it on a nail near the smelter when the priest spoke.

“You were wise not to, Zelgadis-san.” Xellos turned at Amelia’s outraged gasp. “Any show of force would be seen as a threat to the townspeople, even if it was self defense. Many of them seem hostile toward him already, and I doubt it would take much to bring them to violence. With the power the Red Priest bestowed upon him, the entire town would not be much of a threat, but if he’s refusing to fight or even speak, I’d guess he doesn’t want it to come to that.”

Truthfully, it hadn’t even occurred to him that he might actually be a threat. He’d been far too wrapped up in his misery to think about it. The very idea kept him distracted until Phil offered to put Xellos up, and the priest reacted surprisingly.

“Certainly not. I’m here to help Zelgadis-san. How can I do so if I’m elsewhere?” The man turned to him, and Zel struggled to keep his expression impassive. From the way Xellos’ expression softened, he didn’t think he’d been successful in hiding his wariness. “No wonder none of the others stayed long. They never even tried to help you.”

Zel tightened his jaw to keep himself from reacting, and turned away to pull the strings of the sleeveless leather jerkin he wore over his shirt. He shrugged it off, hanging it beside his apron.

He hadn’t felt the urge to speak in ages, and it had never happened in the presence of the priests. At Xellos’ words… he’d felt the urge to tell him just how the Red Priest had “helped” him, to list everything so-called priests had done—not for him, but for their own reputations.

But if he opened his mouth now, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to close it again, and the silence that had protected him this long would be gone.

Zelgadis didn’t turn to acknowledge the priest, just led the way through the small door that led to the short expanse of dirt that separated the forge from the house. He heard Xellos follow, and the murmurs of the townspeople. He could feel their eyes, but he refused to look in their direction or even duck his head. Zel just led Xellos to his house.

Very few people bothered to visit him socially anymore. Even when Phil, Amelia, Gourry, or Lina came around to visit, they generally stuck to his workshop, and occasionally sat on the porch. He’d never invited them in, even silently. Since Rezo’s disappearance, the house had been empty but for him.

Zelgadis was uncomfortable to have, from the sound of it, four people approaching the mess that had become of his home. Zel hadn’t had visitors—or wanted them—since Rezo had disappeared. And with good reason; in his search through Rezo’s notes and books, and the frustration of finding nothing, the house had become a little more than messy inside. It’d become a war zone. With no one visiting, he had simply kept the drapes closed, but now he wouldn’t be able to hide the disarray the house, and his life, was in.

And even if Phil, Amelia, and Gourry were well-meaning, the fact that he had torn apart the house, even if it was in his search for a cure, wasn’t likely to look good.

Zel tried not to care as they got closer to the door, but they were his few remaining allies, and he couldn’t repress his apprehension. He could feel the eyes of the townspeople waiting for a reaction, and the agitation increased.

He jumped when Gourry touched his shoulder. The blond frowned at him, looking concerned. “We’ll stay out here, okay?”

He didn’t know how Gourry managed to be so intuitive at times—always had been. Before Rezo’s curse had changed everything, Gourry had known before Zel’d had the courage to tell him about his crush, and he’d had the decency to let him down gently and not let it change their friendship. It was the blond who had protected him from the townspeople, even now was protecting him

Zel wished he could thank him somehow, but with the town watching, he only dared to nod very slightly. The relief that flowed through him wasn’t something he could hide, though, and from the smile he received in return, he knew Gourry understood.

Amelia looked like she was considering arguing, until Phil, fortunately, intervened. “Zelgadis wasn’t expecting company, after all. It’d be rude to impose on him.”

That left only Xellos to follow him, which was considerably less stressful. Even though the priest was someone he didn’t know or trust, that was part of the reason he was less anxious about it. Even if he was appalled at the condition of the house, Zel didn’t know him well enough to care about his opinion.

Still, he didn’t dare look back as Xellos entered the foyer after him—which was, thankfully, presentable enough in case any of the townspeople were especially nosy—and followed him into the house itself.

Zelgadis hadn’t bothered clean much of it in ages. After all, he didn’t use it. There was a thick layer of dust in the living room, parlor, and the dining room where Rezo had once entertained guests. But it had only gathered that dust after his weight had broken several pieces of furniture and his skin had scratched the wood surfaces and torn the upholstery of others. The room was a wreck, in part because he’d taken frustration out on the broken furniture, the remains of which were scattered about the room.

He didn’t bother to open the library, which was one of the few places that was marginally free of dust, as messy as it was. The kitchen he used, but cooking for one meant that much of it was in disuse.

The extra bedroom he showed Xellos to was also dusty, but at least it wasn’t Rezo’s room, which he kept closed, and it had a bed—unlike his; his weight had broken his beyond repair near the beginning of this whole nightmare.

Although he’d stayed silent throughout the brief tour, Xellos seemed unbothered by both the dust in the guest room and the condition of his house. Instead the strange priest graced him with another one of his little smiles and murmured, “My. You haven’t had guests in some time, have you, Zelgadis-san?” He didn’t wait for an answer and ran a gloved finger along the dresser in the room. “I’m sure you’ll feel much better once I get this cleaned up a bit. It’s important to feel comfortable in your own home, if nowhere else.”

Zel hadn’t expected that, and he couldn’t hide his surprise, or his suspicion.

Xellos’ smile changed into something he was sure was meant to be reassuring. “You know, you can speak to me if you wish, Zelgadis-san. I won’t tell anyone.”

He only stared at the priest, keeping his features blank, but that smile didn’t slip at all. Zelgadis stepped back when Xellos reached out toward him, surprised and more than a little disturbed. He didn’t dare trust anyone, especially not a priest. Not after Rezo.

“If you wish, only,” Xellos whispered with a sigh. “I’m here to help you, not to force you to do anything.”

That was something Zel definitely didn’t believe, and he certainly wasn’t going to speak just to call him out on it. Instead, he retreated from the room, from his own house, and went to the saloon for dinner, never mind that it was hours before dinnertime.

He hadn’t realized what a relief it was that the other priests hadn’t stayed with him until now.

First chapter of an AU written for Slayers Kinkfest on the SlayersAdult community on LJ, for the prompt:

Xellos/Zelgadis: (AU) Western scenarios and fetishization (cowboy gear; campfire and trail scenes; horses; gunslingers, lawmen, card sharks, etc; train robberies and bank hold-ups; posses; saloon brawls) - Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

I don’t know when I’ll get to writing more, but I do intend to.
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