Garbage is a thing, that can be stored in dust for years and seem
you throw it away, and five minutes later you badly need it.
Oh, Chaos, my darling, my beautiful demon,
Oh sweetness, oh selflessness of the flight...
Lina woke up and fidgeted under the blanket. It was very warm there, but it was rather cool in the room. October showed its character in full. Lina thought that the nightcap was not an obsolete luxury, but a vital necessity. She dressed under the blanket then got up and stared at a heap of things at the exit in surprise. Then it dawned: it's her birthday today!
"Gee! I've forgotten about it, and they do remember!" she was extremely happy. Even the thought that they had sneaked into her room at night was not bewildering. The sorceress hastened to inspect the presents.
"Oh, this is scabbard from Gourry, just now I need it badly for the old is good for nothing. And this " oh, my! " is a leather bag from Amelia. Oh, it's magic, you can put an elephant into it and it won't be heavy! Grand! And what's that?" she unfolded a cloak with a high collar, the cloak was made of something waterproof, had an amazingly beautiful golden bird embroidered on the back and a fur lining: "Zel! He guessed what I am dreaming about for a fortnight! Just fantastic... He was the last man I could expect it from... Well, and what's in here?"
She was holding a small plane linen sack in her hand, there was a strap of leather with white stone inserted in it. It looked like simple ornament, but Lina absorbed with her sister's blows (not with her mother's milk) that there were not so many simple ornaments, but all of them were in fact amulets. The more so that little stone was glittering dazzlingly lilac.
She found a post-card showing some site in the sack. On the back of the postcard she read:
After she stopped laughing and having adorned her neck with the "dog's collar" with the amulet, she tried to count how many necks she would be able to embrace to express her thanks, and how many of them would stand it during the whole day. The result was not very favorable: Xel didn't admire positive emotions, Zel was shy, and Gourry was not the best candidature" But the she didn't have a chance to do this every day.
In high spirits Lina left her room and directed her steps to the stairs, but her way was crossed by an inn servant. She heard his voice:
"Oh, this glutton of a woman as already got up, and again we'll have to empty the pantries!"
Such insolence made Lina loose her power of speech. And when she regained it the offender disappeared without a trace. The sorceress gave a deep sigh, then she decided that this trifle couldn't spoil her merry mood, and walked downstairs, pulling the new cloak around her.
Downstairs she was greeted by a huge cake.
After a half an hour of the above mentioned hanging on the necks, Lina felt, that she had twice as many friends as she had thought, because they kept talking altogether incessantly and sometimes their words made her blush to the roots of her hair. Whereas the waiters expressed their anger in chorus, yelled in terror and in general used very filthy language. But no one seemed to notice it, except Lina.
"It's a pity, Filia couldn't come," announced Xelloss in a happy voice. "she is busy. But she sent you such fiery congratulations that she almost burnt me down!"
Everybody roared with laughter, and Gourry thumped the table with his fist with such strength, that several plates fell on the floor and shattered. At this a waiter, who was standing behind Zel, picturesquely cursed Gourry personally and the rest of them altogether. In a thundering voice. Lina's eyes popped out.
"What did you say?! Want to get a Fireball?!!!"
The waiter and the Slayers stared at her in astonishment.
"What's the matter with you?"
"And what did he say?"
"I won't repeat it!" shouted Lina in rage. "Haven't you heard?"
Everybody shooked their heads, perplexed.
"I didn't say anything," bleated the servant.
"Do you consider me an idiot"!"
"But, Lina-san, he was silent indeed," Amelia defended him. "Otherwise we could have heard, is that right, Zelgadiss-sama?"
At this moment Zel gave her two answers at once. The first was: "Yes, I might have heard him, for he's standing behind me," and the second: "Again "sama"! This lass must be crazy!"
Lina's jaw dropped. However, it was clear, that the rest of them heard only the first one. Xelloss put his hand lightly upon her shoulder. And also pronounced two phrases: "Lina, it was very noisy here, it was just your impression," and "Stop popping your eyes. The guy will urinate, that would be funny!"
Lina's brain began to boil in its scull. Now she stared at Xelloss, foolishly straight into his eyes. However she was not much confused, but Xel was surprised: "Am I loosing my ability" She doesn't even wink her eyes." But his mouth remained shut. At this instant a terrible guess came to Lina's mind: "I can read thoughts!" But at once another one came: "I can read Xelloss's thoughts. It's not a secret any more!!!"
The Slayers were watching the staring duel between Xel and Lina. At some moment her eyes widened in fear, but suddenly she giggled strangely and turned away from him.
"Well, sorry, it seems, it was my mistake indeed," proclaimed the sorceress, looking awfully pleased.
"I hope, I have done nothing to her," Xelloss thought.
"What has Xelloss done to her?" thought the rest of them in chorus. Lina laughed again. "That's the present for my majority? I wish, nobody could guess."
The boisterous breakfast was ending. Step by step Lina was learning to distinguish what was pronounced and what was thought. Yet, the incessant thoughts in everybody's heads made her head ache. She'd like to somehow switch off those who were not interesting for her "other clients, servants and even Gourry and Amelia. They were pronouncing exactly what they were thinking. Zel was thinking about two problems: how to get rid of Amelia and if his presence here means anything for his comrades. Only Xelloss's thoughts were somewhere far away.
If I say, that the enemy is dangerous, Lina will make me to pay a large amount of money. If I say, that it is just a trifle, she will not even become interested enough to go there. And if I say, that it is a threat to the world, then she may ask no money at all, because she holds it sacred. Well, as long as she is in a good mood, I won't say anything. Let somebody else spoil it.
It was difficult for Lina not to begin asking Xel in order to learn all the details, but she didn't want to make her gift known to her comrades. "He'll tell me, he won't have any other way." Xel's thoughts were very odd. Seemingly, he was thinking at several layers of his mind at a time, and it wasn't connected with his words at all. To Lina's disappointment, she could peruse only two or three layers. "Well, it's something at least," she decided. "I hope that he won't shift everything on the other layers?"
From the early morning Miles was ill at ease. That day he had to refuse to fulfill the direction of his boss, who was the chief of the Empire Security Service " and not to give any explanations.
Recently a new s-t-tunnel was found at the extreme border of the inhabited universe. Beyond it "a small galaxy with four planets, and the main thing was that all those planets were inhabited. The historians ran their feet off, but they didn't manage to understand, when those people penetrated thus far and settled there. The whole world was slightly astounded: was it a parallel civilization" Are they non-human" An external enemy"! But it turned out very soon, that they were human after all. In addition to that, those human societies stagnated at the period of development the same as medieval times of the old Earth. They had neither transport, neither means of communication, neither extraction of energy" Most possible, they don't even know about the existence of the other three planets of their galaxy. Nevertheless the natural resources were rather rich and the population was not multitudinous" In a nutshell, the Beta Colony, Barrayar and Cetagand clashed for the right to occupy the newly found little planets. Cetagandans started from their planets in small exploring groups, the betans were collecting their army and Barrayar was thinking. It's more precisely to say, that it was only the prime minister lord Aral Vorkosygan, Miles's father, who was thinking and Emperor Gregor took into consideration his opinion. Lord Vorkosygan was saying, that they had quite enough problems of their own external and internal to meddle into this campaign. But The Council of Lords had another opinion. It was evident that if they decided to send their people to the tetragrammaton (that was a nickname of the new galaxy), they would send the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet under the leadership of Miles. At first Miles was glad to take part in the action, but yesterday his joy disappeared like a shot from a gun. When Miles entered his apartment in the Vorkosygan estate, a young man was waiting for him there. There were three strangenesses in it: firstly, he was not reported that a guest had come; secondly, the guest was not in the study, but in the bedroom; thirdly, the guest was very strangely clad. Miles tried to remember in what province of the country such costumes they wear, but he couldn't. When he was thinking, the young man came out from the shade behind the curtain, nodded and looked at Miles attentively. What was after that, Miles remembered very vaguely. It seemed to him, that they discussed the problem of occupation of the tetragrammaton. It seemed to him that this guy arrived from that galaxy and was a member of the government there. It seemed, that he was a kind of clergyman. Miles remembered only that:
1. he had never been so scared in his life;
2. he will not fly to conquer those awful planets not for the world.
Now Miles was lying and thinking, what psychotrophic medication it was possible to influence him for such an effect, and how had that guy manage to inject it into his body. Not having any clear idea, he dressed and flue to the capital.
Simon Illyan was slightly exited, if only this word can be attached to the boss. He didn't let Miles greet him properly, but asked him at once:
"Lieutenant Vorkosygan, a strange young man dropped into your place recently, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did!" Miles felt, that his prayers had been heard.
"so he did to mine. And also " to your father's and to the Emperor's. Therefore, we decided to postpone the expedition until we find out his methods. And I propose, that meanwhile you undergo a full medical inspection. Doctors are waiting you behind the door."
"Er' Thank you, sir!!!"
"Yeah, they are right, if those guys are able to frighten even Illyan, then it's better to go there with peace and not with war. And the best is not to go there at all?"
The betan detachment landed at the South of a desert among some mountains. This place was suitable for a base as the camp couldn't be seen, it wasn't possible to reach it through mountain steeps, and had a full site of the continent to the West and a sea to the South. The numbered flyers and aviettes gave unlimited possibilities to move by air. An island was seen beyond the waves, and it evoked unpleasant feelings in all the members of the detachment. For more safety it was decided to cover the camp with a protective dome.
The plan was approximately the following: to occupy the insular state, to analyze the principles of its government and the mental peculiarities of its inhabitants, and then organize a wide-scale operation to occupy the whole planet, and the three other planets after that as well. The technical level of the countries is very low, almost none at all. Regular armies are small and badly equipped, the kingdoms are quarreling with one another, the borders are not guarded, and there were no great wars for a thousand years" No problems must arise. But still, there was something in the island that made even the most experienced fighters not turn their backs even in their sleep"
And now Xelloss was celebrating Lina's birthday, sitting at the table and jesting, and his thoughts were directed to a strange yellow half-sphere that had raised a few days before that on the mountain plateau just opposite the Wolf Island. The previous week he did his utmost in surmounting the long space distances. It was his duty to prevent the invasion. He visited all the leaders of all the planet-states, who had sent their detachments, frightened to death emperors and presidents, but he couldn't manage to reach his aim. The cetagandans now considered as a matter of honour to overcome their fear, and Xelloss was not sure, that they wouldn't manage to do this. The betans had a very disconnected system of army managing and any appreciable result could be reached only by a mass terror. But Xelloss was too far from the sources of powers, and this made him oppressed still more. Juu-ou-sama saw his failure, but she acted as if everything was alright, but he knew, that it was far from "alright". It was for the first time in his life, that he couldn't fulfill the task. It was too complicated for him. If Juu-ou scolded him or punished him, he could try again and did it. But she knew, that he could not. SHE SAW HIS POWERLESSNESS. Everything was bad to Xelloss. The mistress was beginning to refuse his service. This feeling was extremely acute when he was there, in the far worlds, where he had none of the power support, and there were several times when it seemed to him, that his native world was a delusion, a book, an illusion, and not reality, and that he was a child that slept while reading, and was woken up by an electronic alarm-click and he had to take his laptop, get into an aviette and fly to the collage? He hadn't been as desperate as that in all his life. And even the thought about destroying all of this to Darkstar and dogs didn't bring any joy to him.
"They call it depression here."
Returning from his space wanderings, he couldn't envisage, what place he would appear at exactly in his native world " every time it was another place, it seemed that it was impossible to have high accuracy at this long distance. It was dangerous in a way. One time he, deeply in his thoughts about his misfortunes, materialized in Filia's small room. Being shocked by the pure energy so near him, he almost collapsed, for he had become utterly estranged of such presence, but in an instant he was awfully glad to remember that the opposition of the light and darkness were nor illusion, neither dream, but a perfect reality. All these feelings showed in his face so clearly, that Filia was silently winking her eyes for about five minutes, and then used this situation and talked him into making a present for Lina. Xelloss was worse than drunk. She was a little bit frightened with it (Is Xelloss drunk?! Is the world crashing?!!).
From time to time Lina glanced at him rather strangely, that made him worry: was he behaving inadequately in any way" It seemed to him, that everything was alright "untroubled smile, anecdotes, stingings, what was ailing for her"
At last he felt, that it was time to explain the matter to them. He hadn't yet say a word, but Lina was already looking at him with extreme interest. At the same time the others did not notice any changes in him. "It must be due to my present," he decided. The red-haired smiled secretly.
He elbowed on the table and propped his chin with his palm.
"Lina, what would you say about the idea of again rescuing the world?"
"What will be the honorarium?" the sorceress seemed to have awaited the question.
"Lina-san! How can you ask for money for..." Amelia started to say.
"Hmmm, we know his sort and his "world rescues", they will again turn out to be some family conflicts with girl-friends of the War time."
Xelloss was shocked.
"Oh, my, Lina has become elder..."
Lina suppressed growling and stared at the mazoku expectantly.
"so, what's the problem?"
"You see, a strange thing had appeared in the south of the Desert and strange creatures come out of it..."
In half an hour things were flashing before Xelloss's eyes because Lina pulled out of him everything he knew about his cosmic travels. Everybody got sweatdrops upon their heads, because of Lina's shrewdness. It was like that:
"What are their weapons?"
"It's a secret."
I don't know.
"What do their weapons look like?"
"I haven't seen."
Some tubes, from witch fire blasts.
"Do they through fire?"
::Xelloss in a sweatdrop::
"Yes... from the tubes..."
"Hasn't Zellas send you to their camp?"
"IT's A SECRET!!!"
No, she hasn't. She is only sending me to hell now! And if Lina will go on being as shrewd, the mistress would quite pulverize me...
::Lina in a sweatdrop::
"Okay, go on living..."
After this strict interrogation, Lina was already shaking. "Damn, how difficult it is to react to his words, hearing his thoughts! I wonder, how he manages, to think and to say as different things as that? Training is a grate matter!" Gradually she learned to cut off uninteresting thoughts and it at once became easier to focus at the interesting ones. She could even not to hear anybody at all. Now she switched her attention entirely at Xelloss and began catching phrases from the fourth layer of his mind. And still it was not the last limit.
The interrogation ended unexpectedly, and she asked for not so large an honorarium. It was due to one phrase from the fourth layer:
I haven't got so much money, and if Zellas learns, that I've hired the Slayers, she will cross me off.
The "cross" made Lina a little bit pale. One thing if a punishment would threaten him, but this way it was...
"Okay, Xel, a little bit more, and you will have troubles with your boss," said Lina, trying to sound jokingly. "In the low run, if the task will prove to be really complicated, I shall demand some reciprocal favor from you."
"Well, it's an idea! I can get money from anyone, and a real help..."
Xelloss already agreed to everything.
The Slayers were marching across the desert. Zellas was standing heavily leaning upon the windowsill and looking at the sea.
"But, mistress, what else can we do?"
"I was hoping, you would invent something," her words were falling down, like heavy drops into dust, raising clouds of frenzy. "The Slayers are not a way out. It only means, that you grounded arms."
"Your opinion was different before this case."
"Before this case you used them not to deal with trifles yourself. And now you have decided, that they can do what you can't do. And that means, that you can do nothing."
"But, mistress..." he was ready to fight in order to prove, but she was not right, but she didn't give him an occasion, and it was foolish to have hope in words. "There isn't an idea in your head or a word in your mouth that I didn't put there". Damn, how right it is!"
"Get away, Xellos," calmly, as it was a matter of fact. "I disillusioned about your irreplaceableness."
The dense gray fog is veiling eyes. He is falling into a precipice of immeasurable depth, as if he was again flying in the open space, only down, down, to the ground, to the rocks, asphalt, concrete, bits of glass from a book shop window, and his reflections in the splinters are becoming his counterparts and are following him down, mocking him, the come-down quickens the flight, where is the ground" Here it is at last. His body hits it with a thump, raising a cloud of dust. There is no pain, there is only gray dust, the same as the fog and the words...
For some time he laid asleep. Then the dawn began. He sat up and looked around indifferently: yes, that's it, it is the Slayers" camp, and there they are seeing sweet dreams. So he didn't evoke an earthquake, when he sank. It was as well, he didn't have to explain to them, what had happened. WHAT had happened. He felt that wasn't the limit. He will yet realize later, WHAT THIS MEANS " to loose her, the lord, the mistress, to loose this dependence, and to become free. Oh, if only he had known, how he predicted...
Such as, may be, any creature feathered
Who lived all its life in a cage
And forgot what its wings are for
For a long time behind a locked door,
and, when it isn't a bird any longer,
somebody " by chance, unawares "
opens the wide world for it,
saying: "Well, it's okay, fly away".
But if he is a genius or a braggart "
the stones beneath won't be softer.
Cheated himself, or cheated by somebody "
all the same, it's his end.
It was a broad day, when Xelloss stuffed the last horrible thought into the far end of his mind, so as nobody could notice anything. Well, now he will just go farther together with the guys, that would hardly be a surprise for them. He will switch his mind to the guys, and let all the horrors come later, and d. v. he will be killed by the strangers. It would be best of all, may be, he would be the rescuer of the world in the memory of peoples... "Think of that, I wished for a lofty death! A scum, garbage! Ye-ah, Filia was right. Just the word for it, garbage, that can be thrown away with a wince. So it is."
Filia, talk of angels, was just flying towards the camp. Rumours fly fast, the Golden Dragons had already learned about the strange object in the South and sent Filia (who else it could be?) to see for herself, what it was. They insisted, that as she was an experienced warrior and hadn't seen the War, so the short distance between the object and the Wolf Island would not influence her much. But this reason was a little bit too much of a flattery. She had a strong feeling, that they wanted to get rid of her. The priestess of a non-existent shrine she was they had no idea how to engage her and where. And her power was not being used...
The nearer she was to the island, the more she sick felt. "It would be better, if Xelloss turned out to be near at hand. At any rate, he wouldn't kill me at once. What if this is a Mazoku's secret object"... "Pshaw, secret! It's their common pathology!"
It wasn't clear who was the god, whom Filia was addressing her prayers, but he heard her and put not only Xelloss, but also the whole Slayers gang in her way. She joyfully landed, transformed and sat down by the fire.
A wave of positive emotions splashed upon Xelloss, and he became entirely off colour. But to infuriate anybody was now beyond his power.
"Hi, Xel, what's going on here?"
"Where do you mean?" answered he with artificial cheer. Filia didn't notice the false in his voice.
"Well, there are various rumours about some golden half-sphere... But what are you all doing here?"
"I'm asking too mush and too straight, as if I believe that he will answer." But he did answer. And rather extendedly at that, he told everything, that Lina had pulled out of him, considering that Filia would ask her by all means.
His talkativeness made her eyes pop.
"Xelloss, do you think they are really so dangerous that it made you tell me all this" Where do you know this from?"
Xelloss casted a long and strange look at her, his lips moved as if he wanted to say something, but changed his mind, and then they stretched in his usual smile:
"Ah, but THIS is a secret."
Filia sighed in relief. No, whatever you may say, but the world will not crush soon.
The day was nearing noon, and the Slayers to their goal. Lina did her utmost to penetrate Xelloss's mind, but she didn't find anything interesting there. Absolutely nothing. Her favorite fourth layer was utterly blocked, and on those accessible all the thoughts were directed to plans of attacking and defense, so Lina very soon felt as if she was in a front headquarters. "Damn it, hasn't he managed to guess? Why is the most interesting 'always the most inaccessible'!?
Recently all the Slayers noticed with interest, that Lina was becoming much kinder and calmer. There were two reasons for that. First, that now she had to keep inside all the emotions, evoked by the thoughts of the people surrounding her " because, they are not responsible for their thoughts. And this turned out to be done easier, if her reaction to what was spoken was calm. Second, she had overheard so much good about herself that she was even ashamed of her behaviour. "They all love me so much, and I with my Fireballs... How can I?!" Only once she doubted and asked Zelgadis quietly:
"Zel, do you think that it's possible to tell lies in thoughts?"
"It's possible to tell lies to yourself and not to notice it," Zel answered thoughtfully and scratched his chin. Lina did not dare to listen to his thoughts.
At last they reached the mountain, embellished with the golden half-sphere. They were just about to fly up, but the sphere suddenly disappeared. There were several buildings made of metal on the plateau. All of them were shaped like an irregular cone, the sharp end up. There also were several booths of the same construction apart from the buildings. People clad in khaki with some strange artifacts hanging upon them were moving among all those structures. "These are those firetubes, about which Xel told us," guessed Lina. "By the way, what is Xel thinking of?"
Well-well, preparing the flyers for the flight. Stuffing them with weapons. They have paralizators, neuroblasters and plasma-guns with them. A grim campaign. But which direction to? Theoretically, my defence barrier must stand their fire, but for how long? Idiot I am, when I was there, I should've tried all the weapons on myself, I just got frightened. And now all of us will receive a blow with something unknown and with an unknown strength. Garbage!
Lina stared at Xelloss. He was smiling non-chalanly, having opened his eyes a little. "Am I having auditory or visual hallucinations?" But she didn't have time to think it over; several buildings and booths started up from the surface of the plateau, flew into the air, turned into horizontal position and flew towards the island. Lina remembered with a shiver her victory over Nagha and her apprentice, when she raised the golem-building into the air and crushed it upon the enemy...
"After them, quicker!"
"Don't hurry. There is a magic barrier a kilometer thick upon the island," Xelloss was watching the flight enchantedly.
At this moment the first flyer stopped in the air above the shallow waters two horns were driven out from its sides and two jets of green fire spat out from them. When they struck the invisible barrier, the fire began to shutter into sparks. The rest of the flyers did the same. The fire didn't cease for a minute. Now the defending dome above the island became visible. It gleamed green light that was spreading upon its surface in circles, as if it was a soap bubble. Its smooth surface seemed to breath and to shudder. The disgustedly green was pouring and pouring. The light was flashing before Lina's eyes, and she absentmindedly touched the amulet on her neck. And instantly the magic barrier blinked and disappeared. The fire stopped at this very second, and not a tree caught it.
Why isn't anybody meeting them?
Xelloss's thought rushed through Lina's mind.
"Xel, and why aren't you there?" asked Lina reasonably, hoping that Xelloss would at least think the answer.
Xel shuddered and kept silence, devouring the island with his eyes.
Damn it, I was to be there, if... No, only not now.
"We must follow them," squeaked Amelia in a terrified voice.
"Do you think, Zellas will not resist their attack?" Zelgadis asked unruffledly.
"Sh-she hasn't alread-dy m-manage..." said Xelloss, slightly stumbling.
"THEN WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR"!!!" shouted Lina and Filia. "LEVITATION!!!"
They could overcome the machines of the enemy, but they were afraid to. They kept flying at a distance, not high, hoping not to be discovered. The enemy's weapon was too destructive. Now the flyers came up to the castle and surrounded it in a circle. Streams of darkness shot from the castle's windows. Filia brokenly grasped Amelia, but managed to keep the Levitation. Smoky black streams enwrapped the flyers, but they didn't make them any evident harm. They began weakening gradually. The sweatdrop above Xelloss's head has grown immensely. At last the streams of darkness dried out. Three machines approached the castle and people jumped out of them onto the roofs and cornices. Lina saw that there were women there, clad just as men. The aliens began to penetrate into the castle.
"Forward," commanded she in a shaking voice.
They flew nearer hiding among the trees and thrusted into a window. They heard shouts and roar of the fire inside. Xelloss rushed somewhere along the corridor. "Why didn't he teleport?" -- Lina wondered, rushing after him and dragging breathless Filia behind her. Judging by the sound of their step, the rest of the Slayers were following her. After they have passed through numberless passages and staircases, they bumped into a crowd of dazed lower mazoku, who had gathered by gigantic gate.
"What?" snapped Xelloss, catching somebody by the collar and swinging him around.
"There are some vermins there! We can't enter! Everything's on fire!"
At this instant a blow up of improbable strength was heard behind the gate, and then many shouts and screams of pain, anger and surprise. The Slayers made their way to the gate and began bumping everything they could -- the swards and magic. A green light sprang up behind the gate, then they heard a moan, which went into a scream and then all was silent. Xelloss slumped down to his knees with a muffled thump. A wailing murmur went through the mazoku crowd. Zel broke the gate with his sward.
They burst into the hall. The aliens were crowding by the walls in fear and astonishment. There was a vacant space in the middle of the hall, and all around the hall there were wolf's corpses. "And where is Zellas?" -- thought Lina. And then she saw a small puff of a black smoke high under the ceiling. It was melting waving and then it was gone.
"Darkness beyond twilight..." Lina recognized her own voice, noting by her side view, that Zel was putting the defence. When it blasted, and threw them back into the corridor with a wave, there was nobody there.
An alien woman appeared in front of her nose. With an attentive look she raised her tube and the green fire hit Lina in the face. Nothing happened. "It's the amulet", -- she guessed. The woman died, not having time to feel surprise. After that the fight was like that: the Slayers attacked, and Lina was jumping in front of them, covering them from the green fire. At some instant it entered her mind, that she had already mastered teleporting, like a mazoku. The fire was gradually becoming weaker.
"Damn! The charge is ceasing!" shouted one of the enemies, tugging the lever of his tube.
"Fire with a paralizator!"
Instantly Lina felt a painful flash in her left shoulder and fainted.
She came to in a little box, feeling a wild headache. There were only two benches and a door there. Amelia was lying on the second bench, and it looked like she was also senseless. Filia was on the floor. Lina made herself mumble Recovery and, having come to, looked around her. She didn't have her cloak on -- that was Zel's gift, -- there wasn't the sward as well. There were also no gloves, no amulet and "oh, no!" no Xel's talismans. Filia shifted. Lina quickly used the healing magic on her and Amelia. There were no weapons about them either.
"We have to get out of here," she told them. Nobody contradicted her. In half an hour of aimed beating they managed to make a hole in the thick metal door and to crawl out. Lina restrained to cry in joy, when she saw all their things in a heap on a table in the corridor. Having put on their precious possessions, they rushed in search of Zel and Gourry. Soon they heard knocking at a door, and guessed that it was the guys" box. They helped Zel to break through and Amelia worked healing magic on him and Gourry.
"All right, guys," Lina decided to discuss the situation. "As I have understood, they have three kinds of weapons. The plasma-guns -- something like Fireballs, neuroblasters -- the green fire, paralizators -- it's the thing that they switched us off with. The two of them don't influence me, due to the amulet, thank you, Filia."
"Not me, but Xelloss. By the way, where is he?"
"Dunno, when they switched us off, he wasn't already there," said Zelgadis.
"I saw him last, when he fell in the corridor, then all the mazoku disappeared somewhere."
A terrible thought struck all of them simultaneously.
"Stop, no, he could not depend on Zellas to THAT extent!"
"How did they kill her?"
"The green fire... Let's go out of here."
They left the prison and understood, that they were inside the dome. Alas, they were noticed. The Slayers flew up to the roof, defending themselves as well as they could, they didn't let their enemies to approach at a shoot's distance. But they couldn't break the dome. Then they began descending down a crevasse, hoping to be able to break through the barrier, standing on the ground. But in this position they were opened to the shooting, so they kept their defence as well as they could. The crevasse was narrow and crooked, so they were moving in a file back to front, trying to get into it, avoiding bumping into one another. And then, when they were already hanging above the precipice, a buzz of a paralizator was heard somewhere very near, they hurriedly threw themselves down, the rock was very high and it took them several minutes to get to the ground. Having approached the edge of the dome, at the place, where it went into the stone, Lina summoned Ragna Blade. But before she had time to use the sward, the golden wall was shaken with oscillation. The sorcerer instantly drew her terrible weapon into the barrier. Circles formed around the blade and the dome disappeared. At the same time the Slayers flew up and away. Nobody followed them. The yellow mat half-sphere was restored just after it. And only then Lina noticed, that Zelgadis was not among them.
...When they were hanging above the precipice and were going to descend to the bottom of the crevasse, they heard a buzz of a paralizator. Zel didn't have time to realize what happened and ha fainted, loosing control of the spell and falling into the dark chasm...
He regained his senses feeling that someone's arms hugged his waste strongly. He didn't have a headache and he was still in the air. He was carried. He looked down. Gloves, yellow sleeves...
"Ha! Where were you going?" was the sneering answer. Two cloaks -- his own white and Xelloss's black one -- were waving behind them. The air surrounding them was lustrous. It seemed, that every molecule was eager to flash in a dazzling ball of a rainbow's colors. Through this sea of little Lightings one could see the inside of the dome, the rock and aliens" buildings. It was fantastically beautiful. He could enjoy the site whole-heartedly, and even the foolish situation couldn't prevent it. But he had once sworn, that he would never delight in anything while he was existing in this body, because it would meant that he got used to it and was defeated.
The lustre became thicker, the bright spots multiplied, and it wasn't possible to see anything. Suddenly he felt the contact with the pellicle of the barrier, and they flew out of the dome. The bright balls disappeared and Zel came to a little bit. Xelloss was still dragging him, directing to the North away from the sea. The Wolf Island was calm and quiet.
"Xelloss, why are you doing this?" Zel dared to put the question that had been annoying him.
"Aren't you sickened at dying young?" it seemed, that the answer had been already prepared.
They reached the rock and Xelloss put him down, unclenching his arms.
"But still, what is the use of that for you?" Zel insisted. Of course, it would be right to thank him, but to thank Xelloss...
"For me?" the mazoku's brow rose, but suddenly he grew serious. "Oh, but I am looking for use in everything. How could I forget it!"
He abruptly turned round and was going to make a step from the rock, Zel grabbed his elbow. the look, which was cast by Xelloss, was such, that chimera remained standing with difficulty.
"Xelloss.... thank you..."
The mazoku winced. Zel continued:
"And... my commiseration."
The demon turned around looking as if somebody had bound his hands and slapped his face.
"Damn!" he hit the air with his fist and vanished.
Zelgadis made a pair of hesitant steps away from the border of the rock, but had to sit down. For indefinite time he just stared into the space, thinking nothing. At last he saw golden letters, uneven, as if drawn in watercolours upon enamel-paper, springing out of this space. "You have done everything as it should be. And now go straight ahead, and you will reach a village. You are expected there." He felt slightly scared, for it seemed to him, that the letters were sneering at him tenderly. He blinked his eyes and shook his head -- the illusive letters vanished. He looked into the sky and felt the sneer again. Then he stood up and began to walk.
Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Filia were sitting in a village inn and not eating anything. Filia was trying to pray, but she was floundering every time, Gourry was gloomily scratching the table-board with his nail. Amelia was whimpering quietly, pressing her hands to her mouth. Lina's eyes also had the tap on, and she was biting her fist, cursing everything in the world. She had a load of questions, but any answers were not probable. Xelloss... Zel... Well, she could've stood the death of one of them, but both... What is everything now for? Who needs all this blasted magic, if here came some damned riffraff and killed the two greatest sorcerers she knew... For the aliens don't use magic, she has understood it now. It's some technique. That is, nobody needs these people without their weapons, she could've destroyed them with one spell, and still... What is the way to defeat them? Who would be her comrades in revenge? She looked at her company. To call the dragons? But they will be only glad if Zellas and her servants die... Dolphin, Dainast? But what can they do? And how to reach them? More than that, these Mazoku are always quarreling, although there is no civil war between them as yet... What to do?!
Zelgadis entered the inn and didn't notice the quiet company at once. Approaching them, he stopped, feeling an irrelevant joy. "Are they thus upset because of me?" He gazed at them for a minute, then unfastened his scabbard with the sward and put it across the table to drawn attention.
"Whom are you burying?"
The guys hesitantly raised their heads. The inn resounded with happy screams. Zel was surrounded with the red, white and pink whirls; he was hugged and bumped on the back and shoulders, and even kissed several times. Gradually Lina's voice prevailed over the rest of them:
"Zel, HOW COULD YOU frighten us so much?!!! We thought you smashed yourself up!"
He had to press the red-haired sorceress stronger, not to give her space for swinging her arms.
"Calm down, Lina, don't you beat me, I've got terribly frightened myself, upon my word!"
At last he managed to sooth everybody and to make them sit down. Lina and Amelia grabbed his elbows, making it clear, that he would not leave them ANYMORE.
"Well, what actually has happened? Are you as impregnable as that?!"
"No, no, Lina, not as much. You won't believe me, but it was Xelloss who saved me."
"XELLOSS?!! So it's all right with him?"
"Not exactly all, but he still can fly."
"And what's not correct?"
"Well, it seems to me, that Beastmaster's death was a sad blow for him. He didn't become weaker, nothing like that, but he is somelike... antsy. The very fact that he has saved me..."
"Don't feign. At that, he was nervous from morning."
"Was he? I haven't noticed," Filia was surprised, for she always tried to feel the slightest changes in the mazoku's aura. Lina bit her tongue.
"You know, it seems to me, he had some conflict with Zellas... It might be because of us. That was why he was not on the island when everything began."
Everybody gave heavy looks to one another.
"Ok, let's not interfere in their Mazoku problems, it's better to order some food to eat, and to think what we are to do," Lina broke the silence.
In two hours, all of them, fed up and content, went to their rooms. Lina jumped into the warm bed, wrapped herself in a blanket snuggly and went to sleep.
The morning began at three a. m. She heard a voice:
I'll kill them, I'll kill them, I'll kill them, I'll kill them, I'll kill them, I'll kill them...
When the words were repeated for thirty-second time, she opened her eyes. Xelloss was pacing the room, folding his arms upon his breast, his head down. He was silent, but he was thinking.
"Xel, what are you doing here?" Lina mumbled sleepily, not yet sure that it was not a dream.
"I'm planning revenge," was the answer.
Waiting for you to wake up.
"O-oh, " Lina was slowly getting wide-awake. "Xelloss, where have you been? We worried about you."
Far away. Seemingly, I killed somebody.
Lina flinched. That was a bit too thick. Suddenly Xelloss grabbed her hand and dragged her out of the bed (it was lucky, that she had gone to sleep almost dressed!).
"Hey, what's up?!"
The sorceress scarcely had time to take her boots and cloak, when they teleported.
This hell of a dome again.
"Xelloss, tell me please, what are you up to?" Lina was pulling on her boot, hanging in the air. She very much disliked the gleam in the Mysterious Priest's eyes. The fact that he had lost his direction was evidently not in his favour.
"In five minutes they'll switch off the dome for the next flight. That's when we shall show them..." (the first-class galaxy curses usual for The Osser's Mercenaries followed these words. When has he managed to pick it up")
Lina gulped. She liked all this less and less. The dome vanished. Lina was watching Xelloss attentively. And he... transformed. "The General... Ye-ah, he is in grave mood. But, oh, my! HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS!!!!! I shan't ever believe that the ryuzoku feel beauty, for they were AFRAID OF HIM!!!" The sight was marvelous indeed, the demon has nothing but eyes and wings now, and all of this was SO VIOLET...
He began to assault. Lina spat a curse under her breath, when she remembered that all this performance was not for her sake. And she began with Dragon Slave. And then again. And again. By eight o"clock in the morning she felt as a squashed down orange. There was no alien's base any longer, there was only a smooth plateau of melted metal.
"Oh, hell, why haven't we done this from the beginning?" Lina asked herself rhetorically. Xelloss was silent. And this instant the sorceress made a grea-a-at mistake. She tried again to read his thoughts. And a mighty wave of terror, inconsolableness, loneliness and everything else, that Xelloss had industriously stuffed into the far end of his mind the previous day, splashed over her. Oh, yes, now she realized everything: why he wasn't on the island when the enemies stormed on it, why he hesitated and ran instead of teleporting... For he was not needed when everything was in order. But was he needed in case of danger" He was not sure. He was used to the idea that Juu-ou-sama was never mistaken. And that meant, that he wasn't to be there. But could she envisage this" He doubted it to the last extent. And now he was tormenting himself because of those doubts. And all this was terrible. Lina could stand it for about fifteen seconds, and then fainted because of the horror for the first time in her life.
She came to herself in her bed. Xelloss was sitting at her side, having his usual image.
"Hmm, it is, of course, calmer this way, but something vanishes... Oh, how I pity him... How can he stand all this?"
"Lina, what was the matter with you?"
His voice was soft, unusual. And what was she supposed to answer"
"Oh, Xel... It's awfully silly. It seems, I've got scared of you..."
"What nonsense am I saying?!"
"OF ME?!! Sorry, I didn't think about that," he moved away a little.
"Oh, no, it's alright now! I was just too tired. And you were so..."
"Oh, damn, all those epithets that come into my head don't fit: wonderful, great, fantastic, marvelous... Phaw, drat it!"
"Yes, I know," the demon replied sullenly. "Ok, sorry, I'll go."
"That's for you, clever girl. Now he thinks that I'm afraid of him. Couldn't you invent anything sillier than that?"
And she went to sleep. She woke up when it was almost noon. When she, sleepy and ruffled came down the stairs, she was met by surprised looks.
"We began to think that you had sleeping sickness," Zel was so attentive!
"What a hell of a sickness"!" the sorceress replied joyfully. "I would've looked at you after the night of destroying those alien scums side by side with this violet scum..."
"Oh, something is wrong with my vocabulary. Spent time with that blasted representative of the demonic elite."
"Did you attack them?"
"Something like that. There is a dance pavilion with a floor of metal mirror there now."
"Ah! Uh! Eh! Why didn't you do it at once?"
"Because Xelloss is an awful know-all. But I don't want to speak about it."
Lina remembered the bunch of different hues of despair, which had fallen upon her in the morning, and winced. At least there were no more questions.
In the evening, when everybody went to their bedrooms, Lina was sitting on her bed. She was wide-awake. Was she overexcited" No, she wasn't, she was just worrying about Xelloss. "Ph-f! Worrying about him! What could become of him?" No, she wasn't afraid that he would be attacked, or that he would meddle into a fight -- it would be too much not very like him, and who could threaten him after that? And still more, he had shown very vividly that he wouldn't fight without her at his side. Simply he was somewhere there, she knew not where. And he was thinking about she knew not what. Possibly, about them, about the Slayers, and about Zellas. Now, when she doesn't exist, what would he do? How would he use his liberty" Would he take her place among the High-level? Would he be able to? Would he be allowed to? Or, may be, he would give it up at all? She would very much like him to join them. The strength, the support were very well, but the main thing, that she would know, how was he and what he was doing. "Why am I so afraid of this not knowing?? It was understandable. She was afraid that he would become completely evil. That is, he was absolutely evil as that, but when Zellas had sent him to watch Lina, he pretended to be her friend, her pal so successfully. Pretended. And who knew, what he was in fact? That is, everybody knew -- a Monster. But Lina herself was considered as a monster as well by many people, and they were trembling at the sound of her name. The truth was, that they were primarily the owners of the inns. But what of that? Xelloss fed differently, and he was disliked just for the way he lives on. By the way, may be, he was as glutton as Gourry and she, but it was not so evident. And he hadn't made her cross on purpose for a long time... It sometimes happened that one often playing a role forgot where the scene was and where the life was... Lina remembered the layers of mind and shivered. No, it was not the case. "Oh, how good it was, it turns up, when Zellas controlled him! Why, now, grief-stricken, he is able to do something terrible, and will be again an enemy of human race for a thousand years. Oh, Xelloss, you are so thrifty; guess that it will be better for you with us, oh please! Our company is so overwise, crazy, that it is the best place for a homeless mazoku! Only if you stay sane enough... How did he think that time? Far away. Seemingly, I killed somebody. That's it. And just this is terrible. It's true that he fully vented his anger upon those unfortunate invaders, but who said, that he would stop at that? I have no impression that he has calmed down. What if he will begin taking revenge upon everybody and everyone? Then somebody will kill him by all means. It's possible, that it will be me. O-oh."
Lina sat up, because she understood, that she is nerving herself. She must find him. Or... This instant an absolutely unquotable absurd idea, that would solve so many problems, came into her head. That is, simply, all the problems. Lina quickly dressed, wrapped in her cloak, wondering the softness of fur, and slipped into the corridor. As she had thought, there was light in Filia's bedroom. Lina knocked.
It was evident, that Filia had been praying. "Xelloss needs all her prayers as much as a dead man needs a poultice," Lina thought.
"Sorry, Filia, could you teleport me into the Kataahto Mountains just now?"
Filia goggled at her primedly.
"I want... to try and help... all of us. Please, Filia, I need it badly."
Filia did some manipulations; Lina felt sizzling cold wind on her cheeks and pulled her cloak around her closer. She was standing in front of the Shrine.
"Oh, God, I"m sicken tired of mountains!" She turned round and began descending. Then spit and flew up. She was tired.
"So-o, this is the passage to the glacier... Shall I spell the light? It's as dark as in a coffin! In fact, why "as?" Well, here is the fine corpse."
Very pretty red eyes were shining out from the darkness of the hall. "It's good, I don't belong to the pure. Otherwise I would've kicked the bucket here..." She penetrated into his thoughts.
Who could it be at this time? Fans? Not a mazoku. Not a dragon. Can it be human? Stra-ange. I must note it for the future; it may be useful when I leave this place.
Lina strained her will: she wanted to be heard by him.
"How did you guess! Who are you?"
"I'm Lina Inverse. Luna's sister."
(She decided that her yells about the great sorceress wouldn't work this time, and she let him know, that he wasn't mistaken.)
"Hm. And what does Cefeid knight's sister want here at this hour?"
("Oops, why didn't I ask Luna's help" She acted in such a way, that I'd rather address Shaburanigdo than my own sister! Hhe...?)
"Zellas Metallium is killed."
"I know this. Such event cannot be unnoticed even here."
"Could you... return her?"
A silent minute.
"I'm somewhat surprised by your question. But here I can do nothing. Why do you want it?"
"It's a secret. ("Oh, how I do understand HIM!") And if you are freed, will you be able to?"
"And will you want to?"
"Dunno. It will depend on the situation of my rescuing."
"And what if I set you free right no? And ask Zellas's life in return?"
"WHAT?! And can you?"
"But I do. Well, how about it?"
"Huh, if this is your price, it's easy."
"Can you speak aloud there?"
"With difficulty, but can."
"Then repeat after me."
And words started to sound in her mind. It was a rhythmical song. She didn't know, where it had come from. She didn't know it and had never heard it before. The lines smelt gold. It made something clearer.
When she finished dictating and Lei Magnus -- repeating after her, there was no more ice. Lei was standing in front of her, tall, stately, his hair blown by the icy wind... For a couple of seconds Lina looked at him in admiration. "No, still I'm crazy. I'm too fixed at those mazoku. I should've tremble with fear, and I..."
"Thank you, Lina. Won't be scolded by your sister?"
"Ph-f! Zellas is her best friend!"
"Ok. Will I tell her that it was you who hired me?"
"You mean, to Zellas? Yes, she will guess anyway."
"Reasonable. Then let's go together, for you to make sure, that I fulfill my promises."
"What a voice he has... Stop it!"
It was cold and vague in the Astral Plan. Lina couldn't realize, who's aura was where and who was doing what. The idea to look for Xelloss through the Astral failed -- she herself couldn't, and to ask Lei... But at last, hurray, they appeared in the hall in the Island -- Lina, Lei and Zellas. The last one was staring around her and at the pair of plotters in wonder. Lei was smiling politely. Lina was feeling cold and disgust. At last Zellas squeezed:
"Lei Magnus?! How you..."
"Well, some enthusiasts turned up."
"Have you revived me?"
"Yeah. I was er... asked," a nod at Lina.
Zellas turned into a tall slim question mark.
"Well," Lina was bewildered, not knowing what to begin with. "I'm worrying about psychic health of your priest. But don't you tell him..." Lina merrily winked her eye.
Having gained their senses, both the mazoku began discussing their matters.
"Well, what plans have you got?" Zellas asked.
"I haven't yet time to think about anything. I've come out of ice five minutes ago."
Lina began to blush slowly. "I have to forewarn him... I hope, he won't kill me... No, he won't."
"Er, Lei-san..." they turned and looked at her. "You know, about those words, you pronounced in order to get free, I didn't tell you everything. Besides rescuing there was also an oath, but it was very well disguised."
Lei raised his brows:
"And what was my oath?"
"Well, er... you promised neither to make harm to any dragon, nor to any of my friends. But this is better than to be stuck in the ice, isn't it?"
His eyes flashed in ruby-red.
"And what if I make it, what will happen?"
"I don't know exactly. But something terrible. Just put all your questions to the Lord of Nightmares! I'm here just as an object..."
"It's good that I can't feel auras, otherwise I would've been knocked off my feet..."
Lei Magnus came to the first.
"Ok, I could've guessed that all this was not that simple. And it is indeed better than to be an issue of old Gardia's herbarium."
Lina sighed in relief.
"Then couldn't you teleport me to the inn, for Filia must be worrying..."
She didn't have time to finish her sentence, both the Mazoku threw her into the Astral with all their might, so that she hit her bed and stayed so for two minutes. Then the Slayers rushed into the room.
"Lina-san! What have you done!" wailed Filia. "Don't you understand, what there is in store for us in it?!!!"
"I restored the justice," sardonically retorted Lina. "There is no any threat in it for you."
Lina explained the sense of all that had happened in detail. For some time more Filia was clutching her head, but then she calmed down. Lina sent everybody out and then slept a sweet baby sleep.
In the morning she saw a bunch of violets on the bedside-table.
Verses by M. Sherbakov
The character Gardia exists in the rpg-forum http://www.rpgslayers.narod.ru, and appeared in the fanfic by chance. He is an old Golden Dragon.