Chapter 2

Death is a surefire cure for all that ails you...


Somebody screamed, and it wasn't her.

She was still alive with her head conveniently attached to her shoulders. No blade had been drawn across her throat. The expected deathblow had never come. Even the pressure of the meaty hand, which only moments ago had been pulling on her pony tail, had withdrawn. She had been at their mercy. So why hadn't anything happened?

There was another terrified scream. This one was much closer -- a few feet in front of her in fact. She heard the sounds of a skirmish, and then something warm splattered across the sorceress's face, drawing an involuntary shudder from her.

She was still untouched so that meant...

Zelgadis!!!... It had to be him! He must have finished early in town and come to save her! That was it! He probably heard the explosion from her fireball! The bandits must be busy trying to fight him! That had to be why she was still alive!

So many years had passed since she had felt so happy to have an unexpected visitor drop by. If Zelgadis was here then she was saved. She could worry about explanations later. Right now she was very happy just to be alive.

Lina had to wipe the blood away from her eyes before she dared to peek. While he kept them distracted she had to find a hiding place. Without her powers she wouldn't be much help, at least not in her present condition. The pain was gone, but her legs were numb. They still wouldn't respond to her mind's screaming. Hiding was her only option. The only trick now was to find a safe spot.

With the blood gone she could finally see. To greet her was the sight of the fat bandit, minus his sword arm. His back was turned to her with his good arm clutching the bloody stump on the opposite shoulder. Blood dribbled out of the wound like a runny facet. Did Zelgadis do that?

The obese man shuddered. It could have been fear. It could have been pain. She couldn't have cared less. She only wanted the bastard to pay! Who knew how many innocent travelers he had captured to amuse himself with. Death was too good for him!

Two claws suddenly appeared, clamping down on both sides of his head. They gave a violent twist. Bones popped and cracked as the elasticity of the bandit's neck was stretched to the limit and beyond. His body went limp as a rag doll in those hands.

Remnants of breakfast churned inside her stomach as she found herself on the receiving end of his cold, empty stare. His back was still turned to her!

The body dropped to the ground, crumbling into a lifeless heap. With the bandit out of the way her savior was revealed before her.

Lina felt herself grow cold. That's not Zel...

She wasn't sure what to call it. There were breasts and curves that were unmistakably feminine, but a very fine coat of tiger striped fur covered its skin. A pair of emerald-like eyes peered out from beneath a mess of short red hair as one clawed hand combed through it. Writhing behind it like a cobra charmed under the magical tune of a flute was a cat-like tail. Shin and wrist guards adorned its limbs while a purple vest covered her unmentionables.

A mischievous gleam twinkled in its eyes as Lina fell under its stare.

She found little comfort in that look.

Beneath her the one-eyed bandit fumbled with his sword, desperate to free the blade from the prison of its sheath. He spouted a few curses and charged.

The creature lunged.

There was no fight. It wasn't even a contest. The blur of yellow and red was on him before he even took his second step. The bandit was sent sailing through the air like a sack of potatoes. There was another sharp crack of bone as he collided with a tree. The blow from the creature had been so strong his body nearly wrapped around the base of the trunk from the impact. A stream of red trickled from his mouth as he slid to the ground. He didn't get back up.

The other bandit was nowhere to be found. He had probably gotten smart and ran away. Lucky him. Now she was the only one left!

It turned, flashing the sorceress with a smile. Sharp, elongated fangs grew out from underneath her red lips. Lina didn't want to imagine what those pearly whites -- or any of the creature's other exotic features for that matter -- could do to her.

Lina tried to get away, to push herself back with her hands. The monster laughed at the feeble escape attempt. There was no running now. Magic was useless. Even if she could cast a spell it was too close. If she tried to fire one off it would be on her before she was halfway through the chant. She could only rely on the one thing that had never failed her in her most desperate situations: Her keen mind.

This sorceress hadn't survived for over half a century and not learned a few tricks in her time.

Three silver daggers found their way out from within the hidden folds of her cape. Embedded in the handle of each one was a single ruby about the size of a coin. She carefully drew her thumb over them, receiving the expected flash from each one.

The daggers flew with deadly accuracy. One sank into the creature's shoulder. Another was deflected with the swipe of a claw, veering off to the left to tab into a giant pine. The other bounced off an invisible wall, dropping to the ground at its feet. The three rubies flashed, unleashing their power in a brilliant explosion of energy.

Now was her chance!

Swaying her shoulders about, Lina pushed herself off in the opposite direction. Her legs may be immobilized, but she could still haul herself around using her arms and bodyweight. She rolled herself into the bushes. A thick blanket of smoke had settled over the area, but the wind was quickly clearing it away. If that thing had somehow managed to survive hiding was her only option until she recovered. She was still too weak to do anything else.

Covering herself with her cape, she uttered a single command word. Instantly, the patterns of the cloth began to shift to match the leaves of the surrounding flora.

From her hiding spot she waited. The last trailing wisps of smoke evaporated. She could see a good portion of the tree trunk was gone. On the ground where the other dagger had landed was a smoking carter about the size of a wagon. Then her eyes came to focus on where her target had been.

The hair on her neck stood on end.

The creature was still there, standing amidst the aftermath of the destruction. It had been injured by the attack, but that was of no concern to Lina. What did was the gaping hole where its arm had once been. After that explosion blood and gore should have been seeping out of that wound. Instead, there was a white section of nothingness.


As astral beings Mazoku did not bleed. Their physical bodies were merely a shell, a false skin that could be altered or discarded at will. Destroying it would only force the demon to return to the astral plain in order to regain its strength. This was why to truly destroy a Mazoku it was necessary to attack from the astral side.

How did they find me?! Is Xellos watching over me again...?

She watched it clutch at the wound. It trembled as if in pain. They weren't supposed to feel any physical pain! Was it feigning? Why would it?

The smile hanging from its lips a moment ago had flipped over into a nasty sneer, vibrating the air with an angry hiss.

It wasn't very happy with what Lina had done.

Her eyes moved back to the damaged pine. Wood chips were splintering off as what was left of the trunk could no longer support the full weight of the tree. Perhaps if she could keep its attention distracted long enough she could work this to her advantage. From her pocket she produced a small black stone and tossed it at the demon's feet.

Unfortunately, it heard her rustling in the bushes and glanced up.

Their eyes met. It squinted and hissed at her.

Larger pieces of the trunk were starting to give way as the pine slowly began to tip over. At the same time the stone exploded in a blinding flash of light.

The moments seemed to tick by with an agonizing slowness. She could hear the demon cry out in anger and frustration as the webbing lashed out at her, holding her fast in place. It wasn't long afterwards that she heard another noise, this one several notches higher on the desperation meter.


The ground shook as the tree finally toppled with an earsplitting crash.

When Lina opened her eyes again she saw the fallen pine with a clawed hand protruding out from beneath its many branches. The crooked limb wavered and dissolved into a white mist.

She let her head drop into her arms. It was over, thank Ceiphied.

Several minutes passed before she tried to get up. When she did she had to brace herself against nearest tree. Her legs were finally working, if a bit wobbly. No sense in rushing things. If she looked anything like she felt she had to be a very sad sight.

"Lina?" a familiar voice called out behind her.

The sorceress spun around -- perhaps a little too quickly. She nearly tripped over her own sluggish feet. These attacks were getting progressively worse. Right now her legs were rubber. Would she have to learn to walk all over again after the next one? At least she had the tree to help balance herself with.

A figure emerged from the bushes and rushed to her side. "Are you okay?"

Her eyes bulged out at the sight of her chimera friend. "Z -- Zel!?" she shrieked. How much did he see? "What are you doing here?"

"I just got here," he went over and wrapped her arm around his neck so she could use him as a crutch. Did she really look that bad? "The business I had in town didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. I was trying to catch up with you when I heard the screams and the explosions." He gestured with his free arm towards the dead bandits. "What happened to them?"

"How much did you see?"

"Nothing. I told you, I just got here." His eyes narrowed at her. "What did you do to those bandits? One of them looked like he tried to wrestle with a lesser demon!"

"I didn't do anything!" came her skittish reply. He didn't see anything. That's a plus!

"If you didn't, then mind explaining what did?"

How long does it take a Mazoku to regenerate, she began to wonder. "I'll tell you, but we need to leave now!"

"What is your hurry all of a sudden?"

"Do you want to wait around to see the thing that did this?" After that, he didn't' argue.

It wasn't long before she could walk on her own again. They traveled long and hard, putting as much distance between them and the forest. Lina made sure of that. Along the way she explained everything to Zelgadis, leaving out some of the minor details and rearranging most of the others. As far as he knew the bandits had come out to rob her at the same time a Mazoku had ambushed them all. Only after much fighting and spell casting was she finally able to scare it off.

There had still been many questions from him, of which she had been quick to answer. Fortunately, all the pieces fit perfectly together, and eventually his curiosity was satisfied. She did not want him to know about her attacks. The last thing she needed was someone watching over her playing nurse. Having Gourry as a bodyguard had been convenient, but she had never wanted to rely on anyone to help her, and she wasn't about to start either.

By the time she was ready to stop for the night they were standing at a fork in the road. The left path curved around to lead into another forest. The path on the right went downhill into an ocean of impenetrable fog. That wall of fog marked the boundary to the town of Blackhill, a long abandoned and cursed town that even the greatest of mages in the outer territories shied away from.

As long as one never entered the fog they were safe. Those who dared never returned. Lina had known several foolish mages who had attempted an expedition into the unknown. She was still waiting to collect on her bet from those missing adventurers.

Strangely enough, camping near the town outside the fog was safe. Nothing ventured out from within and all the predators of the forest stayed right where they belonged. Now if they could find a comfortable spot.

Lina turned to her traveling companion. "Know of any good places to set up camp?"

"There's a cave near here. We can spend the night there."

A short walk later they had a fire going and their bedrolls set up in the side of a cliff. The location was convenient as the mouth of the cave faced towards the mist engulfing Blackhill. They could keep an eye out for anything going in or out of the town. At the same time the cliff would protect them from the worst of the elements the weather could throw at them.

Dinner was quick, consisting mainly of a few strips of cardboard that were supposed to pass for dried meat and some of the banana nut bread Lina had picked up earlier. Zelgadis watched with an amused smile as the sorceress tried to tear away a chunk of the meat. She might as well have been chewing a rubber band. The harder she pulled the farther it stretched until she finally gave up, tossing the dried strip over her shoulder into the fire.

"These travel rations suck," she sighed mournfully, wishing for something more filling to eat.

"You bought them," Zelgadis pointed out.

"Who asked you?"

He laughed and added his ration to the fire as well. "So would you mind telling me what exactly this job is that you've taken for us? Last night when we left off you still had yet to tell me. You haven't even told me what town we'll be going to."

"I haven't, have I?" the sorceress grinned. "I suppose you would like to know."

"I would appreciate it."

"Okay," Lina gathered up her blankets tighter into a cocoon. The night air felt cold to her and she was starting to shiver. "Well, here goes.

"The town we're going to is called Treen. It's a decent sized town. The place serves as a midpoint between the port town of Fresca and the capital of Cen. It has become an international bazaar of sorts for merchants who are either looking to quickly get rid of their perishable goods or back stocks. You can find some pretty good deals there if you look hard enough. I've stumbled across some myself.

"Anyway, the job I've taken requires us to contact the head of the merchant's guild in Treen. Located nearby is a set of ancient ruins that nobody likes to visit. They've been there as far back as anyone can remember. Until recently all was peaceful. The bazaar was busy as always. About a month ago there were reports of people seeing strange lights, sounds, and other sorts of phenomena at night. Since then the natives have started to get restless, and business at the bazaar has started to thin out. People have been afraid to come out of their homes."

"And we're supposed to do something about it?"


He narrowed his eyes skeptically. "How much are we getting paid?"

"That's to be negotiated when we get there."

"Are you doing the negotiating?"

"Of course! Who else would you expect to do it?"

"Just checking," he grinned. "Mercenaries are underpaid as it is. I would hate to be cheated out of any more money."

"Gimme some credit, Zel. Remember who you're traveling with."

"How can I be sure? You were the one who disappeared for fifty years. You could have become a helpless maiden in distress since then."

"And you had better not fall asleep tonight unless you want to wake up as an extra crispy critter."

"Okay, okay, Little Mrs. Fireball. No maiden in distress."

Lina bristled. "What did you call me?!"

Zelgadis grinned impishly at her. "Well, it's that or damsel in distress. Unless you prefer Dragonslayer, that is."

She stared at him in disbelief. "Have you been taking lessons from Xellos?" she snorted. "You'll have to do a lot better than that"

"Don't worry. I'm nothing like that fruitcake," he replied as he gazed out over the road. "Which path are we taking in the morning?"

"Don't try to change the subject."

He continued on as if she had said nothing. "If we go through Blackhill we'll save half a day's worth of travel time."

"And get mauled, dismembered, eviscerated, and eaten by every monster ever thought up in a person's imagination. You can't tell me you don't know about the curse!"

"Oh, you mean the one about the Mazoku who invaded the town and trapped all the people inside. That story has been greatly exaggerated. The curse isn't what the stories say it is. The town isn't full of zombies who want to eat your brains or vampires who want to suck your blood. The curse is -- "

"I don't care what the curse is, Zel. We're not going through Blackhill. Understand?" A ball of flame ignited in the sorceress's hand for emphasis. This wasn't going to be a negotiation.

Zelgdadis grinned again and nodded. "You win."

"I always win," she smiled sweetly. "Haven't you realized that by now?"

The chimera rolled his eyes.

Lina yawned and stretched her shoulders a bit before spreading out in her bedroll. "Goodnight, Zel. I'm think I'm going to sleep."

He decided to follow her example. They would have to get up early tomorrow if they wanted to make good time. "Goodnight."

The fire popped softly as they let the sandman overtake them.

Zelgadis had always had a keen sixth sense. It was one of the reasons he had survived so long. It could make him aware of a person hiding from view or it someone was sneaking about in the shadows. It gave him the extra edge in a battle. He trusted it completely. So when he awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of someone shuffling through their supplies he knew something was up.

He didn't immediately open his eyes. Instead, he waited. The sounds were clues that could give him an idea of whether this person was just a simple scavenger or someone who was looking for something specific. They didn't search for long so it had to be the latter.

His hand slowly reached for his sword, feeling the touch of the cool metal as he wrapped his hand around the hilt. He opened his eyes and saw...


He shook the fog from his mind and remembered where he was. After traveling alone for so long it felt a little odd to wake up to find someone else next to you. His body slowly relaxed. His hand fell away from his sword. Zelgadis was about to go back to sleep when something caught his eye.

Lina was hunched over a book of some type. It was thin and had a brown cover with a few runes inscribed on the front in gold. He listened as she muttered a few incantations softly before flipping it open.

What is she doing up at this hour, he briefly wondered. Pushing aside the covers, Zelgadis sat up. Lina always had an odd knack for getting magical relics. This one looked interesting. Maybe she would like some help dealing with it.

"What's that?" he yawned, his curiosity nipped at him. Whatever it was it was old and powerful. The worn leather binding was heavily enchanted with numerous wards he could feel reaching out, weaving in a circulating pattern around the book. She appeared to be trying to pry through the wards with limited success. Beads of perspiration had begun to gather on her forehead, glowing with an orange sheen from the fire.

Her eyes briefly peeked over the top of the book. If he had startled her again she didn't show it. "Nothing," she replied in her usual carefree tone and went back to picking at the warding.

"That looks important. Need some help dealing with it?"

"Nope. I'm fine, thanks." This time she didn't even bother to look up. Her finger quickly scrolled across from one side of the page to the other, then back again, repeating the process until she had reached the bottom and continued on to the next page. She was looking for something.

"Are you sure? Maybe I can -- "

"I'm fine, Zel," her voice rose in warning. "I'm trying to concentrate, which is a little difficult to do since you keep -- "

The enchantments flared up then. With her concentration broken they had no problem shredding the counterspell she had woven.

"Ow!" Lina snapped her hand back before the book snapped shut. "Dammit!"

"What's wrong?"

She held her hand out to the fire, examining the damage that had been done. "Nothing. I'm fine."

He caught a faint glimpse of her forefinger before she stuck it into her mouth. There had been a thin but deep line of red that had begun to swell from the blood leaking out of the paper cut.

"Now do you want some help?" Maybe she would accept his now. "If we both work together it will be easier to decipher that book you are working on."

The sorceress pulled her finger out just long enough to voice her reply. "Zelgadis, I said I'm fine! Don't worry about the book! Don't worry about me! Just go to sleep! What I do is of no concern to anyone else!"

He blinked. What was going on? She was just trying to read some magical book full of spells wasn't she?

Silence fell between them as the chimera felt her glare ride over him. Maybe she had been working on something really important. He sighed. He should have realized that even Lina had changed after all these years. She was more serious with her work. "Lina, I'm sorry. Look, I didn't realize -- "

"Zel," she began in a calmer but just as menacing tone, "just go to sleep. You don't understand the importance of what I was doing, and I don't expect you ever could!" The air between them began to tingle as a dark shadow fell over the sorceress's eyes.

His senses were screaming danger at the sudden rise in her power. Something was very wrong here!

Crimson flames burned in her eyes, giving them an eerie glow. If she had been irritated before she was furious now. "But if you ever...Don't you ever...!" She clenched her teeth in frustration. "If you only knew! Dammit!" The dark shadow faded. Her eyes shimmered in the soft glow of the fire as tears welled up within. All the anger that had been there a moment ago was gone now. Only an exhausted and teary-eyed girl remained.

He knew something was wrong. This was extremely out of character for the Lina he knew. Even if she was fifty years older she couldn't have changed that much unless something drastic had happened to her in that time. But what?

"Lina, what's wrong?" he reached for her but stopped when she pulled away.

She covered her face with her hand. "I'm sorry," she replied in her softest tone yet. "Zel, I'm angry, I'm tired, and I can't think straight right now. Just go to sleep and I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight." Taking up her blankets, the sorceress wrapped herself in a cocoon before pointedly turning her back to him.

Zelgadis continued to stare at her for a long while after that. He hoped she would get back up. He hoped she would say something more. Only silence answered his pleas. Finally, he whispered his goodnight and rolled over.

As sleep overcame the chimera a shadow moved over his him. His senses instantly tried to awaken him, to pull him back reality. He struggled against sleep, but only for a moment. A soft tingle worked its way across his body. The weariness seemed more than he could bear. At last he gave in, letting the darkness claim his mind and body.

Satisfied the chimera wouldn't wake; Lina picked up the book again and flipped it open to the previous page.

"Lina, about last night..."

"Don't worry," she smiled. "All is forgiven. You can make it up to me by buying dinner at the next town."

He raised an eyebrow to the sorceress. "That's nice, Lina, but -- "

"No buts! You are buying me dinner." It was neither a request nor an order, but a foretelling of what the future would be.


"I won't hear of anything else, Zelgadis Greywers!"

"Alright. You win." She clearly wasn't about to discuss the events of last night one way or another.

After catching a few hours sleep in the cave the duo had risen with the sun to catch an early start on the morning. They had quickly packed up their stuff, and buried the still warm coals of the fire. Over the course of the early morning he had tried to bring the topic up several times, but she had always somehow managed to avoid it. He couldn't help except wonder why.

On the bright side, Lina was in a better mood. They still had another day of travel ahead of them, and for some reason she was in a playful mood.

"Let's play twenty questions," Lina announced.

Of course, she was in the mood to play all the teasing games that he hated. "Let's not and say we did."

"Come on, Mr. Zelgadis," she latched onto his arm the way Amelia used to and gave him a cutesy-eyed look.

"Don't do that. You scare me when you do."

She laughed. "Okay. How about this: You tell me a secret about yourself. Then I'll tell you a secret about me."

"You're not going to give up, are you?"


"Fine," he sighed, resigning himself to this fate.

"Yay!" Lina cheered. Yes, she was definitely back to her old self. "Spill it. Tell me all your deepest darkest secrets."

"Ladies first."

"Hey! That's cheating!"

"No, it's not. Should I say Dramatta first?

"That's not funny," she growled.

He grinned. "You're right. I'm sorry."

"Just for that, you get to go first."

"Fine." The chimera was silent for a moment as he searched his memory for a secret from his past. Nothing major, but something that would catch Lina's interest. The town was still far away, and he didn't want Lina to spend all day trying to uncover every single moment of every single day he had lived for the passed fifty years. "Have you ever been inside Blackhill?"

"No, I have enough sense to stay out of such a place."

"Whatever happened to that adventurous spirit you used to have?"

She snorted. "A foolishness of youth."

"That never stopped you before."

"Would you like a knuckle sandwich?"

"Well, if you're going to threaten me then I just won't tell you my big secret."

"You're cheating again."

He laughed. "So what? What are you going to do to me?"

"Wait right here. I'll go find a boulder."

His hand grabbed her shoulder before she could take off. "Do you want to hear my secret or not?"

A coy smile aimed at her stone-skinned friend grew over her face. "'re going to tell me how madly and deeply you've fallen in love with me, aren't you?"

"Don't kid yourself."

She stuck her tongue out at him. Before she could pull it back in, however, the chimera uttered a few choice words to an incantation.

"Freeze Needle!"

Lina only felt a tiny prick on her tongue before it went totally numb. "Thay! Thut thid thou thu!?"

Zelgadis smiled smugly to himself. "I'm sorry, Lina. What did you say? You'll have to speak up."

"Thith ithn't thunny!"

"I can't understand what you're saying. I guess you'll just have to wait until we get to town. By then the paralyzation spell will have worn off."

Most people would have found this situation humorous, but like most situations in life the victim finds it to be rather humorless, which Lina deeply expressed as she promptly punted the chimera into the atmosphere over and over as they traveled down the road. Fortunately, they managed to make it to Treen in half the time with Zelgadis constantly fleeing and Lina striving to keep up to dish out her revenge against him.

"See? We didn't need your stupid shortcut through Blackhill."

"That's because I got you worked up enough to keep a steady pace."

"Whatever." She hooked her arm around his. "Since we arrived ahead of schedule you can buy me a full course dinner or three at the fanciest restaurant in town."

"Don't you ever think of anything other than food?"

Lina laughed. "Do I have to?"

"I had to ask," the chimera groaned.


"What?" A blond haired man with spectacles dangling from his nose popped up from the entrance to the underground section of the ruins. "Really? Where do you sense them at?" He looked all around but as far as he could tell he was the only human being outside the city.

The deep throaty voice pierced the air again. "SUBJECTS ARE ONE MALE, ONE FEMALE...HMMMZZT...THEY HAVE JUST ENTERED THE CITY."

"Hm...They are probably agents sent by the magic guild." He paused to push his spectacles back up on his nose. One of these days he would have to invent something to keep one's glasses from falling off. "Don't worry about them unless they approach."


"I bet they are here to investigate the bandit gang you and Tempest disposed of the other day. I must say, Bullox, you and Tempest put on quite a fireworks show those two nights. And on top of that moving all of those fallen pillars and boulders must have created lots of noise. The people in Treen must be quite afraid by now."


"No, you're fine. We'll just deal with those two if they come near. If they appear hostile, you and Tempest know what to do."


"Yes, yes. Whatever you deem is necessary," the mysterious man waved dismissively as he started to head down into the darkness of the ruins again. "If you can discourage them with less drastic measures, then by all means do so. Just don't damage any of the ruins. Age has already done more than its fair share."


Chapter 3   |   Fanfiction