Slayers Fan Fiction ❯ Wrath of the Volcano Goddess! ❯ Chapter 2
Something that probably should have occurred to me when packing for Safe Haven Island: it was hot. Maybe not as hot as some of the deserts I'd travelled through in the Outer World, but that was a dry heat. Here, once the sun got high enough, it felt like it was five minutes from raining for the rest of the day. I had started sweating after about fifteen minutes of walking, and we had stopped three times at farms to refill my canteen.
"Maybe you should have brought some shorts and shorter sleeves." Amelia suggested. She had swapped her normal trousers for a knee-length skirt. Totally impractical if she wanted to do any more Acrobatics for Justice, but probably a lot more comfortable in the heat than my trousers and long-sleeved tunic.
"I don't own any short sleeves," I replied. "They draw attention to me."
"You had shorts on when we went on that nice luxury ship," Amelia said.
"Well, yes. Not looking like I was a tourist on holiday would draw attention to me there. But I didn't keep them, since I wasn't going to wear them again."
"You should have at least packed a swimsuit."
"What for? I'm not swimming. I can't swim, unless you count using a flight spell to hover underwater." Which was to swimming like a pair of felt cat ears was to being a beastman.
"For the beach. You could at least wade in with me."
"We're heading to the capital, not the beach."
Remember what I said about not wanting to draw ourselves into the local trouble with the Volcano Goddess? Well, the townsfolk of Porthaven were really grateful that Amelia and I had saved them -- words like 'heroes' were tossed around and Amelia ate it all up. I had to admit, they were pretty grateful and impressed by us. They explained that the gang of priests had come to town demanding their entire catch of fish for the Volcano Goddess's dinner, or the town would be covered in fire. Since the port's people had to eat, they hid some of the fish. The Volcano Goddess was too lazy to get off her mountain and flood the port with molten rock, so the priests decided to do it for her.
After being outraged at such bad behavior, Amelia offered to bear the message to the island's queen in the capital, since we had been heading that direction anyway. Which was surprisingly mature of her. I thought she'd go running up the mountain herself and challenge the Volcano Goddess to a sorcerer's duel.
"I know," Amelia said. "But it's not like anywhere is really far from the beach, Mister Zelgadis. And you would definitely be more comfortable in other clothing. Maybe we can get something in the capital for you."
"Fine, we can get something in the capital for me," I told her. Mostly because she was right. I didn't think I could take another day in the clothing I had on. I was already carrying my cloak in my backpack.
Amelia had run up the next hill, making me wonder where the hell she got her energy, and pointed. "I can see Safe Haven City!" I struggled up the hill after her.
Calling it a city was a bit of a misnomer. It was definitely a town, and had a few decent-sized buildings near the center, but was nowhere near the size of cities on the subcontinent. Then again, Safe Haven Island wasn't that big, and the capital and Porthaven appeared to be the only sizable towns on my map. We had passed through a couple of villages which were mostly clusters of houses surrounded by farms.
We walked towards the center of town, Amelia darting this way and that playing tourist and me working on keeping a steady pace. It was around mid-afternoon and it looked like no one was out. Given the sun nearly overhead beating down on us, I didn't blame them. The few people I saw out were usually wearing hats to keep the sun off.
I was getting a better sense of the architecture of Safe Haven. There were lots of windows and doors to the buildings, usually only sealed off from the outside by light curtains. The stone that was the major construction material was mostly arranged in columns and low walls, supporting tile roofs. Rather nice, actually, if different than I was used to. I wondered what the place did when a storm blew in off the ocean, though. Surely it couldn't be this clear all the time.
By logic -- well, by walking towards the center of town assuming that's where any important building would be -- we made it to the palace. It had the same open structure that the smaller buildings had, and I'd seen bigger walls on family farms. There was a guard, though. Given that he was sitting in the shade, without his armor armor (or his shirt, for that matter), and his spear was leaned against his chair, I suspected he was just there to make sure none of the local kids broke windows or whatever.
Amelia didn't seem to see a problem with this. She walked straight up to him. "Palace tours are closed for the day, Miss," he told her. Guess we looked a lot like tourists. "Come back tomorrow."
"Oh, Mister Zelgadis and I aren't here for a tour," Amelia said. "Well, not now, at least. We're carrying a message from Porthaven. A very important message."
"Really?" The guard sat up, a skeptical look in his eye. "Why didn't they send someone actually from Porthaven, instead of a couple of tourists?"
"Because 'a couple of tourists' have nothing better to do besides walk across the island in the heat delivering messages," I answered curtly. "Everyone else in town is busy rebuilding." Yes, I knew the guard had a job to do, but at this point I was hot and sweaty and didn't give a damn about his job.
"Rebuilding? What? What's this message, anyway?" he asked. We had his attention.
"Anton, Mayor of Porthaven, wishes to tell Her Majesty, Queen Oihana of Safe Haven Island that the priests of the Spirit of Fire Mountain made unacceptable demands on the town, then set it on fire when he refused to give in to them," Amelia recited.
The guard stood up. "You're shitting me."
"We shit you not," I told him. "The smoke's probably cleared up by now, but you might have been able to see it this morning, if you got up somewhere high. Captain Euria of the Havenseaker was with us, and she saw the town burning." Safe Haven City, ironically, was built against some dangerous cliffs, which gave a spectacular view, but it meant that all sea traffic came through Porthaven. As a result, I doubted Euria would come around to report this herself.
"Here, let me show you two inside," the guard said. "The queen's napping right now, but you can freshen up while I send someone to get her. Maybe take a bath or something." He wrinkled his nose. Thanks, buddy, I'm sure you don't smell so great yourself.
I discovered why Safe Haven City was built where it was. Fire Mountain's geothermal heat provided plenty of space for hot springs. The guard was gracious enough to let Amelia and me use the guest baths. The weather meant that the bath's water was too warm to sit in for long, and there was the hint of rotten eggs in the air, but it was a nice way to relax muscles sore from walking, and there was cool water available to rinse off in.
I had changed into my spare set of clothing and had left my cloak with my pack. Amelia had already finished. She had changed too, into a sundress, which made me wonder how much clothing she had brought along. She was pacing outside the entrance to the guest baths, which were in their own separate building on the mountainward side of the palace grounds. "I didn't think I took that long," I said.
"You didn't, Mister Zelgadis." Amelia replied. "I just want to see the queen as soon as possible. That attack was a travesty of justice, and we need to correct it."
"Right," I said. "Fine, let's go."
The guard, who must have been listening, stepped forward and led us towards the main building. We were led into an open courtyard where servants were already bringing out cold drinks and little bowls of fruit. If those were for us, and not just so the queen wasn't interrupted from her mid-afternoon snack, I had a feeling this would be one of the non-annoying royals I have met. After all, as far as the queen knew, we were two tourists of no particular import, bringing a message that took five minutes to tell, even if we had come halfway across the island non-stop in the hot part of the day. Amelia gave me a glance and I could guess what she was thinking. Even a princess should probably wait for a queen to sit down.
We weren't kept long. Footsteps heralded the approach of a figure, and the servants stepped back, close enough that they could still be there to refill bowls, far enough that they weren't obviously eavesdropping on affairs of state. The guard drew himself to attention, and Amelia and I looked where he was facing.
Queen Oihana didn't look that much older than I was, which could be inaccurate if she was a sorceress. She wore her deep red-violet hair up, with flowers tucked into it, as well as a simple crown to remind tourists like us who the head of state was. Her dress was dyed in some intricate pattern that I couldn't study for fear of staring, but had the kind of loose cut that was practical in the weather.
Amelia gave a brief curtsey, and I figured I probably should have bowed, but thought as a bodyguard, I could get away with a nod. I've never been much for ceremony, even if Amelia and her father seem to enjoy it. I'm not going to talk about the fuss the first time I was appointed as Amelia's bodyguard by Phil.
"Your Majesty-" Amelia began speaking, but was cut off by a wave of the queen's hand.
"Please, sit down and eat. You must be tired after your long walk."
Amelia looked at me and I shrugged. When in a palace, listen to the monarch -- unless she's crazy, of course. We both took our seats, as the queen did the same. As we ate, Amelia filled the queen in on what we had observed at Porthaven, and what the mayor had told us had happened before we got there. I mostly just added details when needed.
"Those priests of the Spirit forget their place," the queen said after we finished. "I have half a mind to march my guards up to the temple and give the high priestess a piece of my mind."
Amelia nodded her agreement. "But..?" I said, waiting for the second part I knew had to be there. Honestly, if it was that simple, she wouldn't be all 'I am thinking about telling the high priestess off', she'd be on her way already.
"But," the queen continued, "technically speaking, the Monarch of Safe Haven Island is regent to the Spirit of Fire Mountain. So as long as the priests can claim they are acting under the Spirit's blessing, my hands are tied." She looked down, clearly annoyed.
"Why don't you go talk to the Spirit?" Amelia said.
"Because her high priestess won't let anyone near her," the queen answered. "I have tried that, young lady. Honestly, life on this island is much simpler when the Spirit sticks to her mountain."
"If no one but the high priestess has seen the Spirit, how do you know it's not a hoax?" I asked. Both Amelia and the queen looked at me. "What?"
"Mister Zelgadis! This is a sacred thing!" Amelia objected.
"Yes, and that's exactly why unscrupulous people would take advantage of something like this -- because good people don't want to question sacred things."
"While the high priestess is a pain in the," the queen paused, "a pain, she is a member of the Safe Haven government. Watch your tongue, foreigner."
"Fine, forget I mentioned it," I said. I certainly wasn't going to risk getting tossed into prison or something for treason when I was just visiting here. At least, not unless I was gaining something other than being right.
Amelia had a thoughtful look on her face. That worried me. "What normally makes the Spirit go back to... whatever she does when she's not walking the island."
"Normally, after a bit, the Hero from the Sea comes, and there's a fight," the queen replied. She gave us both an appraising look. "How would one of you like to be a hero?"
"No, that won't end well at all," I said. "Amelia, can I talk to you? Alone?"
Amelia had been ready to open her mouth and sign away both of our free time without even knowing what she was doing. But I had distracted her enough for her to not answer the queen right away. She nodded as she stood up. "Excuse me."
"Certainly," the queen said.
Amelia and I walked over to the other side of the courtyard. There was a fountain, but someone could probably hear us. "They need a hero, Mister Zelgadis," Amelia said. Her eyes were shining, and I knew she was ready to step up and be that hero.
I sighed. "Yeah, but there's no reason it has to be you. Or me, so don't give me those puppy-dog eyes. Listen, if it was just a random monster, I'd tell you to go for it, but you're getting involved in another kingdom's politics. You saw how the queen reacted to me badmouthing their priestess, even if she's ready to throw a hero at the situation." Which made me think that this had even odds of ending up with both sides chasing the evil foreign devils out of town.
"But, it never mattered before when I was helping with Miss Lina," Amelia replied. Which was true, probably because anyone who gave a damn was too busy caring about Lina being Lina, rather than noticing Amelia as something other than a sorceress with some white magic training. "You know, if I can't get involved, you could."
"Not while Prince Phil told me to bodyguard you, I'm not. People could assume you or your father ordered me to do it. At least let the queen know you're Crown Prince Philonel of Saillune's daughter. If she's all right with things, then fine. Let's be heroes." It was the best I could manage, given the circumstances.
Amelia was quiet for a moment. "You're a natural at this political stuff, Mister Zelgadis. Do you want to be a prince or something?"
I turned away so she couldn't see the fact my face was getting red. Did she really mean...
"I didn't mean it like that, really! Just that you're really good at it!" Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Amelia blushing as well. Well, great. What a pair we made.
No, I didn't mean it like that, either. Stop it.
"Excuse me?" The queen cleared her throat. "If you two are done with your little tryst, I'd like an answer."
Oh, great. Other people noticed. I tried to saunter back to the table nonchalantly. I couldn't help noticing Amelia wasn't meeting my eyes.
"There's something I should mention to you, Your Majesty," Amelia said. "I'm traveling as a private citizen on vacation, but I'm actually Princess Amelia wil tesla Saillune." She produced the Saillune Royal Crest from her bag. "Mister Zelgadis Graywords here is acting as my bodyguard, and he pointed out that getting involved in another country's affairs could be a problem for both of us. I'd love to be the hero you need, but I couldn't hurt my home country."
"How do you feel about disguises?"
"Excellent. My people will have you looking like a native by suppertime."