I know for a fact that everyone was once young (so don't dispute it) and so, I would imagine others once had an older adult that they looked up to and loved very much. If you don't know what I mean, then think of the person as a mentor figure. Someone who was older and wiser and was always there to pick you up when you fell. As is nature's wont, they inevitably pass on and we are left to try and reach some sort of resolution. For me, the person who was close to me was well into the later part of her years when I met her as a young child. She was a fantastic cook and had a down home type of wisdom that I have yet to find anywhere else. She passed away on the 16th of December and though I loved her very much, I still found myself unable to really cry. I knew that I should do something to express my grief and so I started writing. I'm sure that there are those who may have found themselves in a similar situation once upon a time, and so this fic is not only meant to be a cathartic release for me, but to serve as a Tribute to other mentor figures that have since departed and to provide some sense of solace for we who are left behind.
Lina was just about to turn in for the the night. The desert wind howled longingly over the dunes, and nearby their campfire crackled a little as the few pieces of sand-scoured wood they had found slowly turned to ash.
It had been a tiring day. Her sleeping bag felt good and her eyelids felt incredibly heavy. She was certain that it would take something pretty big to get her out of bed before she felt fully rested, something along the lines of the Third Coming of Shabranigdo. So it was good for Lina that the return of the god of evil didn't happen every day. Well, it did happen to her fairly often, but even she couldn't be expected to trash evil gods every day. After all, there were what? only 4 or 5 shards left of old Shabby-chan?
A small smirk formed on Lina's face as she envisioned all the wonderful food and beautiful jewels she would find in her dreams. Then, a horrible thought broke free from the back of her mind. Her eyes shot open and she flipped the flap of her sleeping bag off. She was only in her undergarments, but she didn't appear to care. She turned to Zelgadis. It was his turn to stand watch, so he was the only one awake.
"Quick, Zel! What day is it?!?"
"NO! NO!! NO!!! I mean what is the DATE?"
"Oh! So that's what you mean. Today is the 16th of December."
"December 16... OH SHIT!!"
Before Zelgadis knew what was happening, Lina zoomed past him. The wake of her passing was so fast, so irresistible, that Zel's entire body was lifted into the air and sent tumbling across the landscape. It is not relevant to the story to report that while Zel was not hurt (being a chimera is useful that way), his favorite coffee cup was sent flying and shattered upon a rock. (Since it wasn't relevant I probably didn't need to tell you but maybe my actions will be justified later.)
When Zelgadis finally stopped, his head from spinning, he turned and noticed that Lina was already back into her sorcerer's costume and had a brown sack slung over her shoulder. She turned to look at him and hastily said,"I'll be back soon, Zel. Don't wake Gourry" And with that, she took to the sky with a quiet shout of "RAY WING." Before she zoomed off back in the direction of the last town they had visited, she took one brief look to where Zelgadis had fallen. Her gaze lingered on the smashed coffee cup, then she was gone.
Absolutely Incredible, Zelgadis thought. I've never seen her fly that fast. Not when she was fighting Kopii Rezo, not when Shabranigdo, the Dark God of All, was after her. Whatever's going on has something to do with the day's date, but I can't figure out what it is.
With that, Zel sat back down near the fire and began rifling through the group food stores looking for an extra tin (yuck!) cup. After that strange upset, he felt certain he needed something to calm him. Coffee sounded particularly good. Too bad his favorite mug had been destroyed. He finally found one of the spare cups and poured himself a steaming cup of coffee. He sat there and waited. The coffee was feeling mildly reassuring in his hands, although for some reason he could not make himself take a drink. It was almost as if he were waiting for something or more precisely, someone.
He didn't have long to wait. Thirty minutes later, a red blur streaked down toward the camp and coalesced into the rapidly moving form of Lina Inverse. The sack that she had brought with her was now full and it swayed on her back as she began to approach the fire. Before Zel knew what was going on, Lina had removed the pot of boiling coffee and had replaced it with a big metal kettle. She filled the it full of water and set to work. Into that kettle, Lina emptied bag after bag of dried tomatoes, various herbs, ground meat, and multiple bags of long, thin sticks of uncooked noodles. As the water came to a boil, she gingerly hefted a small sack out of the very bottom of the larger brown bag. With an amount of care Zelgadis had never seen in Lina, she began to carefully measure out cup after cup of a fine white substance. At first Zelgadis thought it was white sand, but there was no way anyone would pour sand into a pot of food. It could have been salt, but there was equally as little chance that anyone would survive eating so much of it. Still curious, Zelgadis just leaned against a handy boulder and began to sip his now very cool coffee.
After Lina had spooned out four cups of the fine white powder, she sat back and inhaled the smell from the cook pot. With her eyes closed, she leaned forward and took a good long whiff from the boiling and bubbling kettle. A smile formed slowly on her lips as she settled back to sit cross legged in front of the pleasant fire, her gaze never left the bubbling kettle.
From his place by the rock, Zelgadis couldn't help but notice that Lina looked so very serene tending the fire. With the flames reflecting in her eyes, Zelgadis' thoughts began to entertain more contemplative thoughts. If anyone saw her now, they would never be able to guess that "she" is the one everyone describes as "The Enemy of All Who Live". He continued to gaze upon her for a very long time, completely enthralled by the contradictions that lay inherent in such a destructive yet gentle girl. One that is not yet 20 and still more a woman than any he has met or will probably ever meet. Well, strike that. There might be one that made his heart burn in a way that surpassed his love for Lina. His hand fell to his belt, to the water bottle that was never far from his side. The bobble on the bracelet that bore the same mark as the holy barrier that surrounds Sailoon. While his love for Lina made him follow Lina all around the world, it was his love for Amelia that brought him home.
While his mind had been wondering, Lina had been vigilantly stirring the kettle. A light desert breeze wafted the scent of the bubbling brew to his nostrils and he took a deep heady whiff of it. It smelled spicy, zesty and there was something else he couldn't identify. He closed his eyes and was about to take another sniff when Lina spoke to him. "Zel... wouldn't you like some chiiri?" she in a soft voice.
Zelgadis had never heard of chiiri before but now his curiosity was piqued. The smell was actually quite pleasant, and though his stomach was stone on the outside, the inside was still quite susceptible to hunger. He nodded and was able to manage a small smile as he walked closer to the fire and accepted the proffered bowl and fork.
His first thought was 'why a fork to eat soup with?' but almost as if Lina could read his mind, she said, "Oh, Zel. If you're wondering why you're using a fork, it's because the recipe calls for long noodle. My ss-ss-s-ssister like to cut them up, but Mrs. Shurle didn't so I don't." And with that, Lina picked up her own bowl and began to eat some of her own chiiri.
Seeing that whatever it was that Lina had been cooking was safe, Zelgadis tentatively lifted a few noodles from the bowl and took a small bite. He could taste a little hot pepper, a little onion, a lot of tomatoes but there was something else that made the soup taste different from anything he'd had before. He took a second, bigger bite and took his time chewing it. Yes, the noodles were still a little chewy, but that only seemed to make them more enjoyable and the liquid was warm and satisfying. He had gotten some cooked meat mixed in with his noodles this time and he thoughtfully chewed on it as he wondered what it was that made this soup better than anything he'd had in the dozens of exquisite kitchens he'd eaten in. After his third bite, he stopped caring and began to eat more ravenously. After all, it was good chiiri.
"Stop!" said Lina. "It's alright to each chiiri fast, but I always eat the first bowl slowly. That way I can appreciate the flavor more fully. Would you mind doing the same?" The last part seemed almost an afterthought, but Zelgadis felt a bit embarrassed at his behavior. He was supposed to be the calm reserved one, and yet Lina was the one telling him to slow down. He sighed once and began to eat again... slowly. The chiiri was warm and filling. Its smell seemed to warm up the cold desert night and, even though he had completely finished his first bowl, he was hoping Lina wouldn't mind giving him seconds. After all, it was a big pot and it certainly wouldn't taste as good reheated as it did while it was still newly made.
Lina began to refill her own bowl until she noticed his bowl was now also empty. She could almost feel the longing looks Zelgadis was giving the large remainder that still bubbled and brewed in the soup kettle. She decided to take pity on him and fill his bowl first. Besides, who else but Zelgadis was polite enough not to ask for more unless it was offered, especially since he must know that there is something special about this particular meal they had been sharing.
Once both bowls were brimming with chunks of cooked meat, glossy noodles and vibrant red liquid, they both began to eat silently. After their seconds were over with, Lina stood up and dusted herself off. She took the kettle off the fire and covered it with a large tightly fitting lid, and then moved off to go to bed. Zelgadis considered asking her what was so important that Lina had rushed off for groceries in the middle of the night, but he was tired too and his full stomach made him drowsy. He wished it were a little later, then he could trade off his guard duty with Gourry. He sighed to himself once again and contemplated making another pot of coffee. But without his special mug, it wasn't the same.
The skritch-scratch of footsteps on sand alerted Zelgadis to the presence of someone coming up behind him. He turned, his hand upon his sword hilt and the words to Flare Arrow were at the front of his mind. It was only Lina. His hand dropped from his sword and his mind went blank as Lina sat herself next to the large and handy rock that Zelgadis had been using less than three hours ago. She looked up at him and said, "I'm wide awake now, Zel. I'll take my watch now and you can get some sleep. I'll wake Gourry in a few hours. You can take your turn after that, I don't think I'll feel much like traveling once it's daylight." She pointed toward her messy sleeping bag and said, "Use my sleeping bag. I know you always say it doesn't matter, but a little comfort never hurt anyone." This time a thin smile formed on her lips and Zelgadis, for once in his life was utterly speechless. All he could manage was a nod and a hushed 'thank you'. As he was about to sleep a thought suddenly dawned on him. He had almost fulfilled his hours at watch and now Lina was going to finish out what little remained and stick him with another full duty at watch in a few hours. That wasn't fair! Zelgadis shifted around to face the fire and tell Lina exactly what he thought of her little scheme when heard a soft sniffling. It was coming from Lina.
Zelgadis had never seen Lina cry like this. Certainly he'd seen her cry because of pain, but that was pain that would have forced other lesser people to go insane. This was a different kind of crying. Her breathing came in gasps of breath, the tears were slow but they still accumulated around her chin and fell while she was crying. Zelgadis could tell she'd been crying since he had first lain down to sleep. Her legs were drawn up toward her chest and her arms were wrapped around herself. They seemed to be squeezing so tight that Zelgadis wasn't sure that she could still feel them. Over her soft sobbing, Zelgadis could barely make out the words, "Why did you have to die?" and then Lina buried her head in her arms and started to cry even harder while still making barely any noise.
At that moment, Zelgadis wasn't sure what to do. He knew he should try and help Lina, but being a friend also means knowing when a friend needs her space. As the dark and mysterious swordsman type, he knew better than almost anyone what that feeling felt like. He could let the matter of guard duty slide this once, but he'd have to remember to find out what was the deal with the so-called "chiiri" and why Lina had been crying.
As Zelgadis sank slowly into his dreams, two thoughts occurred to him. One, I'm very lucky to have met Lina, and two, whatever's the matter, I hope I can help her. After all, what are friends for?
Might be continued. Let me know if you think I should go on with this. I have some good ideas on how to give the next installment a happier ending.
Yes, I know what you're saying. "Chiiri?" Well, the easiest way to explain that is that the person who passed away all those months ago was a fantastic cook (as I mentioned earlier) who could cook up the tastiest pot of chili I have yet to eat. I thought it would be easy to portray Lina in a story like this where she cooks a special meal once a year in tribute to the old lady who used to look after her when Luna was too busy. I was trying to evince in the reader the emotions I felt while writing and even if I haven't succeeded in the way I wished in terms of literary accomplishment, I do think I have created something of merit. Because of the wonders of the Internet, this fic will be around for a long time and will probably outlive its author. How's that for a suitable tribute?