Slayers Fan Fiction ❯ Wrath of the Volcano Goddess! ❯ Chapter 3
You can already tell where this is going, can't you? You're probably half right. After we finished eating, Amelia and I were separated, presumably so Amelia could get dressed. No one came in with clothing for me, so I decided to wait. I pulled out my journal and started to make notes about the day we had had so far, as well as my own observations of Safe Haven CIty and the palace. I was probably failing as a bodyguard, but if Prince Phil wanted someone who could stay in the room while Amelia was getting dressed, he would have hired a woman.
There was a knock at the doorframe. "Come in," I said, and Queen Oihana parted the curtains and stepped in. "I wouldn't think a queen would have to knock on doors in her own palace."
"This queen knocks on doors when she doesn't want to catch her visitors changing. No offense, Mister Greywords, but I have no desire to see you naked."
I shrugged. "None taken." Listen, it's not like I don't know what my body looks like. Granted, having it brought up annoys me, but what else could she say? "Is Amelia finished?"
"She is, and we worked up a cover story for you two."
I raised an eyebrow -- or I would have, if I had eyebrows. "Traveling adventurers doesn't work?"
She smiled at me. I didn't like that smile at all. "It lacks panache. Besides, this is a local problem, so a local should take care of it. But a local who is larger than life, of course."
"Don't mind him, Queen Oihana. Mister Zelgadis can appreciate a dramatic flair, when he's not being grouchy." Amelia's voice came from the other side of the door.
"I'll take your word for it, Princess Amelia," the queen answered. It sounded like the two of them had bonded over this plan, which sent an unexpected cold chill down my spine. "Why don't you show your bodyguard his outfit and fill him in on what we decided."
"My friend," Amelia said. "Who happens to be my bodyguard." She stepped past the curtain and came into view.
I did a double take. It certainly was different than her normal clothing. Less, for one; I'm pretty sure that it only barely met standards for being clothed, and would be cold on any place other than this island and the Desert of Destruction. The top brought to mind artists' attempts to draw mermaids for people who would be offended at female nudity; it was covered in shells that had to be a pain to sew on. The bottom had a short skirt that was made of some kind of gauzy stuff that was useless at covering the bikini-style bottom underneath. Amelia had also replaced her cape with the same kind of material, though I noticed she kept her belt, collar, boots and bracelets -- all things with the amulets she carried. Topping it off was a decorated domino mask covering her eyes, probably her attempt to make sure everyone knew this was a secret identity.
I didn't mean to stare. But, while I knew Amelia had a pretty face, this was a whole new experience. After a bit, I felt like I should say something so she wouldn't think I was some kind of lech or something. Amelia beat me to it. She did a short pirouette, giving me a very clear view of the back, which was about the same character as the front. "What do you think?"
"It's..." I struggled to think of something that wouldn't merit her taking a page from Lina's book and smacking me. Which would hurt her more than me, but that's not the point at all. "It's a bit revealing, isn't it?"
Amelia frowned. "It's a traditional sorceress's costume from Safe Haven Island. My mother used to keep several in her closet back home. I think Gracia took most of them with her on her training expedition. You don't like it?"
That told me more than I ever really wanted to know about Prince Phil and his wife and older daughter. And made me wonder why Captain Euria wasn't making money hand over fist from men who wanted to ogle Safe Haven's sorceresses. Probably because ogling sorceresses was a trait that tended to not produce repeat customers. "No, I like it fine, it's just-"
"Good!" Amelia beamed, practically bouncing on her heels. I looked away. Dammit, I was starting to blush again, and I couldn't blame it on the heat. This wasn't going to work at all -- it was ruining my image as a cool, aloof, sorcerer-swordsman. "Do you want to see what you're wearing?"
Not particularly. I liked my existing clothing, but at least the native clothing would probably be more comfortable. "Let's get this over with."
"Okay. Queen Oihana came up with your backstory, since there aren't any chimera living on Safe Haven Island." Now Amelia was starting to look embarrassed, which boded ill for me, since she was in full-tilt Champion of Justice mode, and wouldn't see anything wrong with getting me to follow along, costume and all.
"I didn't think there would be," I answered.
Queen Oihana waved her hand, and a very traditional butler entered, holding a small bundle of clothing. A very small bundle. I eyed it suspiciously. "We needed some proof of the Hero of the Sea's power, so we figured the taming of a wild barbarian would be sufficient," the queen said.
Amelia held up her hands. She was making the expression she normally saves for when Lina is about to do something stupid in the name of food or money, when she wanted no part of it, but didn't want to say so. "This wasn't my idea at all, Mister Zelgadis. I'd understand if you want to sit this one out."
It was tempting. It wasn't like I was getting anything out of this, and Amelia really didn't need a bodyguard, even if her father had asked me to do it. On the other hand, professional pride meant that I had to keep the job I was getting paid for. No matter how embarrassing it ended up being. "No, I'm going to keep you out of trouble." I held out my hands, and, wordlessly, the butler placed the bundle of clothing into it. I started picking through it, trying to figure out how the mass of leather straps and buckles would actually go on.
"My butler can assist you in dressing until you figure it out, Mister Greywords," the queen said. She was smirking, which made me even more annoyed.
I scowled. "I can dress myself."
"Very well. The princess and I will leave you to it. Call out if you need the butler."
"It's a bit late to be setting off today," I said. "We'll have to climb the mountain, and I don't want to do that in the dark." Maybe they wanted to make sure it fit, whatever it was. Some of the buckles were for belts, but some were clearly too small to fit around my waist. Leg sheaths for daggers, maybe?
The queen nodded. "Of course it is, but I couldn't send off a hero and her sidekick without a celebratory feast. It will be short notice, but do try to be ready by sundown, Mister Greywords." She turned to leave, and Amelia gave a wave as she followed.
In the end, I couldn't figure out how to get the damn thing on. Signaling a very dignified royal butler to show you the correct way to put on a loincloth has to be on my list of the top ten weirdest things that have ever happened to me.
"Did you put sunblock on, Mister Zelgadis? Your skin probably isn't used to so much direct sun."
"I don't need sunblock, Amelia."
It was the next day, not even two hours after sunrise, and I was already annoyed. The costume the queen of Safe Haven Island had put together for me pretty much consisted of just enough to cover everything important, a pair of sandals, plus enough belts, leg-sheathes, arm-sheathes and other strips of leather with buckles to outfit an entire brigade of swordsmen. Complete overkill, considering I only had my sword and dagger, plus bits of my hair in a pinch. Add in not sleeping thanks to a chorus of musical frogs that nested under my window and a dinner feast last night where the queen upsold Amelia and everyone stared at me with surprise when I could actually correctly use the silverware, and I was about ready to play to character and go into a berserker rage.
Amelia was walking behind me, because I was in a bad enough mood that a distraction, even a pleasant distraction, would impact my judgement even more. Plus, I was nominally supposed to be guarding her on this crazy mission, and most of the danger was ahead of us.
"Are you sure?" Amelia asked. "The sun's pretty hot here, and these straw hats we got are nice and all, but they won't cover everything. And sunburns are pretty painful."
I sighed. Amelia could sense a bad mood, and responded by being more cheerful and helpful than normal. "I haven't had a sunburn since I became a chimera. I don't think my skin burns any more."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"All right. I put some on before we left, but if we need to stop for lunch before we get all the way up, I'll need another coat. Can you help me with my back?" I mumbled something like assent.
The day was getting warm enough to be uncomfortable. We were walking through the forest surrounding the volcano, on a trail that steadily climbed upward. There were birds chirping and the smell of flowers and the leaf litter that covered the trails hung heavy in the air.
"What about insect repellent?" Amelia asked.
"Amelia, my skin turns blades. Mosquitos are better off getting blood from a mazoku." I hope she wasn't expecting to use stealth, because people would hear us from a mile off.
"Oh. Just making sure. There are some big bugs around here." To my surprise, this wasn't the cue for a person-sized bug to come leaping out of the undergrowth. Maybe my luck was turning up.
I felt something whiz past me, and another something hit my arm. "Amelia, down!" I drew my sword without even thinking about it, and tried to figure out where the attack had come from.
"Mister Zelgadis?" I turned to face Amelia. She looked white as a sheet, and was staring at a dart sticking out of her arm. I ran forward, dropping my sword and put my arms around her to steady her. "That's not a bug, is it?" she said. Then she fainted.
"Damn it!" The dart had to be poisoned, or at least tipped with something more than a sharp point. Whatever it was, I hoped it wasn't a contact poison, since obviously someone had tried to hit me as well. I eased Amelia down to the ground. I should try to work the dart out, but I'd have to stop the bleeding then -- by spell, since it wasn't like either of us had enough spare cloth for bandages. After that... I didn't know how to cast Dicleary, so I'd just have to improvise.
For now, though, someone was clearly trying to fight us. Once Amelia was safe on the ground, I stood up again, picking up my blade and drew my dagger with my left hand. I doubted I'd need spells for these people, if darts were all they could muster, unless time was of the essence. "Those aren't going to work on me. I'm one third rock-golem -- your darts won't get through my skin."
A group of younger locals, carrying blowguns, came out from the undergrowth surrounding the trail ahead. Mostly shirtless, though farmers' tans suggested that this was probably not their normal state during the day. Another Fire Spirit priest was with them, someone who was young enough that his face was still covered in acne, and his vestments showed signs of having been made before his last growth spurt.
The group stared at me and the unconscious Amelia. I couldn't tell if it was at our silly outfits, or the fact they had managed to knock one of us out. I glanced back to Amelia, who was starting to snore. Man, this was embarrassing.
I cleared my throat, trying to keep the upper hand, and assumed a ready stance. I gave them a grin. "Well? Shall we continue?"
The head of the blowgun-carriers looked to Priest Junior. "Is that the thing the Hero of the Sea was supposed to control?" Great, I was demoted from 'barbarian' to 'thing'. Wonderful. Maybe by the end of the day I could get to 'monster' and just stop caring.
"Yeah. Go get him!" Priest Junior pointed at me.
"Um, Brother, we left our spears at the compound. Let's go get them, right, boys?" The gang of locals took off sprinting away from me.
Well, all right, that was a nice fringe benefit. I'm good at being intimidating, but a reputation helps. Priest Junior turned to yell at his missing goon squad, but they were quickly getting out of sight in the forest. He sighed and turned back to me. "Is it true that you're a berserker only held under control by the Hero's magic?" He glanced at Amelia, who was still sleeping peacefully. I wondered if he was questioning any Hero who passed out after one dart, or was just wondering what happened to a spell when the caster fell asleep.
I paused. This could be my chance to take care of things myself. Amelia would be disappointed, but she'd get over it. "That's right. I'm feeling my control slip right now." I grinned at him, and Priest Junior stepped back, bringing up his hands -- either for a spell or to shield his head as he ran away. "It's a good thing for me that you're such a weak spell caster. You could never pull it off yourself. It would practically take a minor god to do it." Let's hope he would get the hint.
"Then I'll go get the high priestess! Or the Spirit of Fire Mountain herself! That'll show ya!" Priest Junior was shaking.
"By the time you get back, I'll be gone into the forests," I pointed out. Now to plant the second half. "And you can't make me go with you. Only Ame- the Hero of the Sea can do that."
Priest Junior paused, glancing at Amelia. "She's asleep."
No kidding, moron, considering one of your guys was the one to knock her out. "Guess you're out of luck. You'll just have to wait until the spell wears off and I come and find you. She can't give you any orders, so I'll probably just have to stay with her to protect her until the spell wears off. Last orders, you see."
Priest Junior was thinking. He looked like he was about to strain something from the effort. "So, if I bring the Hero to the Spirit, you'll have to follow us?"
I sighed. "We are enemies, you know. I can't tell you that."
"Come on, then." Priest Junior picked up Amelia like a sack of potatoes. I worried something was going to come loose on that stupid costume of hers, and quickly covered my scowl.
It wasn't a long walk, thank goodness, or I might have had to invent some bullshit about residual magic. And I was intimidating enough that Priest Junior kept his hands to himself, which meant that I didn't have to remove them either from Amelia or his arms.
The compound that the Priests of the Fire Spirit had as their headquarters was made in a clearing of hacked-away jungle. To its back, I saw the jungle clear and the trail rise up to the mountain summit. The compound was surrounded by a fence of cut palm tree logs, with two more locals standing at the gate. These ones actually looked like they might be able to use their spears, and the woman wore the red robes that the priests were sporting.
"Clear the way! I have a prisoner! No, two prisoners!" Priest Junior there was making a lot of noise considering he didn't actually do anything to get his two prisoners. I tried to ignore him and get as much of a look around as I could. The guards were barring the way inside, so I could only kind of see some tents and thatched huts inside. There was construction noise, and the air smelled of sap and sawdust, so I thought that the whole compound must be new. "I need to get the barbarian to the Spirit before the spell snaps and he kills us all!"
"What's the password?" the priestess said.
"Oh, come on. You know me, Sue. I owe you money for last night's card game."
"Hey, High Priestess's orders."
"Fine. The password is 'swordfish'." I groaned when he said that. The password is always 'swordfish'. "Take me to the Spirit!"
"She also said no one was to see the Spirit except her." Sue folded her arms and the other guard pointed his spear menacingly.
"Fine. But I meant what I said about the 'killing us all' thing. Everyone in town was talking about it." Priest Junior glanced at me nervously, and I gave him another grin.
"Maybe you should have taken his sword away from him, then." Priestess Sue sighed.
"My hands were full with the other prisoner."
"Where is the high priestess anyway?"
"She went down to deal with Porthaven. She'll be back by nightfall."
"We can't wait until nightfall!" Junior glanced back at me again. I didn't think I looked all that threatening, but he seemed to increase his urgent pleading to beak the rules.
"Nice town you got here," I said. "Nice of you to show me where it was, too. Hate to go on a rampage, but you know how it is."
"Fine," Priestess Sue said. "Just fine. If the Spirit burns you both to a crisp, don't come crying to me. Take the prisoner to the empty hut, and I'll deliver this one to the Spirit."
I was worried this would mean a climb up the mountain, but instead Priestess Sue and the other guard lead me to the central building, which was actually stone and the only thing in the compound that looked older than two weeks. She left the guard outside with me, and went inside, presumably to speak to the Spirit of Fire Mountain. "Okay," she said once she came back outside. "Go in."
I walked inside, and blinked several times, trying to clear the afterimages of bright sunlight from my vision. Someone -- the guard, I think -- shoved me in the right direction, and I went through a curtain into a room.
"Zel, what the hell are you doing here, and where the hell are your pants!?"