Slayers Balance by Esther Nairn | Chapter One: | Time For Lunch! But What's HE Doing Here?!
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Wispy, white clouds floated lazily in a perfect, blue sky as golden sunlight streamed down over the Tes'sha Forest. The air was warm and it carried the scent of pine needles and forest foliage as it gently swept the land beyond the Mazoku barrier. It was a perfect day, concluded Lina Inverse as she lay on her side on a grassy slope along the edge of a rushing stream, a fishing pole in one hand. The gurgling sound of the water was relaxing, and she felt her muscles, usually tight with energy, loosen and unwind. It was a welcome feeling, especially after the events of the past two weeks.

Lina groaned and rolled onto her back. She didn't want to think of the battle against King Rolard and the destruction of Achek's Tower, nor did she particularly want to ponder the political upheaval that occurred in Chorion upon their arrival there a little more than one week ago. Instead, she decided to think about lunch, which was infinitely more pleasurable to consider, in her opinion. A roast goose would taste so good right about now, she thought. Yeah, with bread and some melted butter...mmmmmm.

Lina's stomach rumbled and she closed her eyes. Fish would be nice, too. I wonder when Gourry's coming back with that bag? Gourry had forgotten to bring a sack with which to hold the piles of fish Lina wanted to catch using her homemade fishing spell. While she waited, she held her fishing pole haphazardly over the water's surface. While Gourry was gone, Lina figured a little rest and relaxation in the warm sunlight wouldn't hurt.

I wonder if Erika could catch a deer, Lina thought idly. With her arrows and her telekinesis, she wouldn't even have to aim. She could just shoot and make the arrow go where she wants. And Janak said he's hunted deer before, so he would know how to cook it. Mmmmm...venison. Behind her eyelids, she could see sumptuous dishes floating in and out of her vision tantalizingly: roast duck with carrots and peas, meat pies, roasted salmon with lemon juice. Lina's mouth curled up into a wistful smile and she ran her tongue over her teeth hungrily. She could almost smell juicy steak and heaps of mashed potatoes, fried chicken on a stick with corn roasted over a fire, still on the cob, and baked penguin... Penguin?!

* * *

Gourry Gabriev whistled cheerfully as he tromped through the tall grasses that blanketed the meadow not far from the stream, an empty canvas bag draped over his right shoulder guard. As he marched through the grass, his sword bumped against his left leg, and each time it touched him, he could feel it trying to suck energy from him, little by little. No, he told the sword. I thought I told you I wouldn't let you do that. The sword bumped against his leg again, but Gourry felt no ill effects. Smiling down at the golden hilt, he said firmly, "That's better. Now don't try it again."

A few minutes later, Gourry parted the grass and weeds near the stream, following the sound of the babbling water. "Lina?" he called. "Liiiiina! Li--" He stopped, his boot still in mid-air, when he saw a puddle of red-orange hair spilling out from between two patches of cattails. "Lina?" he said, cocking an eyebrow skeptically.


"Lina?" Gourry said again, a little more skeptically this time. Carefully, he stepped through the cattails and around Lina's puddled hair, stopping next to her prone form. He let his empty sack slip silently from his shoulder guard to the ground and knelt down to shake her awake, but paused just before he touched her arm. How someone usually so explosive could look so peaceful, he would never know. Her legs were extended flat on the ground and crossed at the ankles, parting a patch of tall grasses. Her fishing pole had fallen out of her right hand, and her left hand was draped lazily across her stomach, the picture of relaxation. Gourry's gaze traveled up to her face, and he smiled. Her nose was twitching a little, as if she was trying to smell something, and her mouth was slightly open, so that when she breathed, she made a cute little sleepy sound.

Gourry could have simply watched her for a little while longer, but his stomach interrupted the tranquility with a loud, low grumble. As if in reply, Lina's stomach also grumbled, and Gourry quietly snickered at her. Deciding that shaking her awake would probably be more dangerous than it was worth, he rocked back on his heels so he was squatting at her side, ready to spring out of the way as she awakened. Lina had a tendency to be violent while she slept, not to mention when someone dared to wake her up. Picking up the fishing pole where it had fallen out of her hand, Gourry began poking her arm with it. "Hey, hey Lina," he said softly. She wrinkled her nose but didn't stir, so Gourry poked her more insistently. "Hey...hey..."

Suddenly, Lina's body jerked. "Penguin?!" she half-mumbled, half-exclaimed, and violently threw herself upright into a sitting position.

At that, Gourry took a startled jump backward and, with a squawk, landed ankle-deep in stream water, splashing both himself and Lina. "Sorry! Sorry, Lina!" he cried.

Lina screeched in protest as the water struck her face and arms, all the while frantically trying to wipe the grotesque image of a roasted penguin on a platter out of her mind. Once she regained her bearings, she glared at the swordsman and held one hand out, making it glow with magic. "Sorry? You woke me up when I was trying to sleep!" she griped. "I was dreaming of food!!"

Gourry sweatdropped and waved a hand in a placating gesture. "'s time to catch fish--you know, so we can eat! Everyone's getting ready for lunch!" he said hastily.

Lina, about to Fireball him just for good measure, immediately canceled her spell and dropped her hand. "Lunch?" she repeated, her eyes glittering. Her stomach rumbled in eager anticipation.

Hoping against hope that she wouldn't pound him, Gourry nodded quickly. "Lunch! The sooner we get back, the sooner we can start cooking, and then we can eat!" He crossed his fingers behind his back that the thought of food would distract her from the fact that he had interrupted her nap.

Clapping her hands together with an enthusiastic squeal, Lina grabbed her fishing pole from where Gourry had dropped it and leaped to her feet. "C'mon, Gourry! Grab that bag and get ready to catch 'em when I throw 'em back to you!" With that, she tossed her line into the water and cast her fishing spell in an eager, singsong voice.

Behind her, Gourry eyed her for a moment, not daring to point out the little pieces of grass and dead leaves that clung to her fiery hair and black cloak. He stooped down to reclaim his bag and gave a barely audible sigh of relief. That was a close call, he thought wearily.

"Oh, and Gourry?" Lina said sweetly, not turning around.

If Gourry had been paying attention, he would have realized that her tone was just a little too sweet. He was too relieved to notice, however, so he replied absently, "Yeah, Lina?"

Grinning wickedly, ignoring the first bite on her line, Lina looked down at the hand that wasn't holding the fishing pole; immediately, a little red ball flared into life in her palm. She held that hand up over her shoulder, and, her eyes glittering with vengeful mirth, said quietly, "Fireball!"

"Waauugh!! Lina!!"

* * *

Zelgadiss Greywords bunched his long, beige sleeves up around his elbows, pausing for a second to scowl at the blue-green, rocky skin that was revealed. He then stooped down to collect another log from the forest floor and readjusted his grip on a hand axe he had borrowed from Janak. With a grunt, he brought the blade down swiftly, slicing the log widthwise in two. With the flat of the blade, he nudged the two pieces of wood off the tree stump he was using as a table and assessed the pile of similarly chopped logs on the ground. There was probably enough wood to make a good-sized fire, he concluded. Besides, he was bored with chopping firewood. Sheathing his sword, Zel cast a Levitation spell on the pile of logs, each one almost as long as his arm, and began walking toward the edge of the forest.

A few minutes later, Zel emerged from under the canopy of the treetops, a four-foot-high pile of wood floating dutifully behind him. He stopped and squinted in the yellow sunlight, blinded for a moment by the sudden change in light. While his eyes adjusted, his ears twitched as a faint breeze carried the sound of laughter to him. It was Ameria's laughter, and it was followed by a deeper laugh--Janak's. Zel's aqua eyes narrowed further as he scanned the meadow beyond the forest's edge.

Forty yards away, the Princess of Saillune and the Prince of Orios knelt by a small, but growing fire, obviously enjoying a joke Janak had just told. Ameria was poking some small, smoldering branches with a stick, occasionally casting a little fire spell here and there to stoke the flames. Janak, meanwhile, was cutting branches to set up a makeshift spit with a thick, vicious-looking knife he usually kept in a sheath in his boot. By their tone, they were chatting like old friends, Zel could tell due to his extra-sensitive hearing. He took a few steps closer, morbid curiosity making him wonder just what they were talking about.

"...some high-profile cases. The assassination attempts are always the toughest. But most of the time, it's a pretty routine kind of job," Janak was saying in his accented voice. "Most of the time, we just round up gangs of evildoers roving around causing trouble."

"Wow," Ameria breathed, her blue eyes wide and impressed. "I've beaten up bad guys with Lina-san and everyone, but...a secret police? It sounds so exciting!"

Janak grinned lopsidedly at her and waved a hand. "Not really--it's all in a day's work for us," he replied easily. "It's fun at the same time, though. My men trust me well, even though none of them know my title--they just think I'm a regular guy. I've had more fun running around the country with them than I ever would at the palace." He winked at her and said, "I just don't like to be cooped up. I'd rather be out there with the people, helping my countrymen firsthand."

Ameria flushed slightly and nodded emphatically. "That attitude is so rare among the nobility in many countries, I think. Daddy has the same attitude that you do, though. He doesn't care about titles, just about bringing justice to everyone."

"Well, then I should probably meet him someday, shouldn't I?" Janak replied, his tone light.

Ameria glanced over Janak's shoulder and noticed the outline of Zelgadiss and his pile of wood against the darkness of the trees beyond him. "Someday," she said politely with a smile and a nod. She stood up quickly, brushing bits of grass off her pants, and waved him over. "Zelgadiss-san! I'm glad you've come; we're running out of wood already!"

Janak turned and held up a hand to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight. "Need any help?" he called good-naturedly as Zel crossed the meadow toward them, Janak's axe in hand.

"I can handle it, thanks," Zel shouted back, fighting the urge to add a few choice suggestions as to what Janak could do with his help. A small part of him scolded himself for feeling so hostile toward the friendly Orian prince; it was silenced as Ameria bounced up to him, looking exuberant and impressed at the same time.

"Wow, Zelgadiss-san, that's a lot of wood! Are you sure you don't need any help?" she asked innocently.

"It's a simple Levitation spell, Ameria," Zel assured her dryly. "I'm sure I can handle it."

Ameria nodded pertly and smiled up at him. "Of course," she agreed. They walked a few more paces toward the fire, while Ameria looked back and forth as she tried to take in all the nature around her at the same time. "It's so beautiful here--so peaceful, don't you think?" she remarked with a contented sigh.

Zel was about to open his mouth to reply when he heard a faint, distant shout of "Waauugh! Lina!" and smirked. "It's never too peaceful, not when those two are anywhere nearby," he replied.

Ameria sweatdropped. "That's true..." she agreed. "I hope Gourry-san is all right."

"He can take care of himself," Zel said. "Anyone who hangs around with Lina as much as he does would have to."

Ameria clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "Zelgadiss-san! Lina-san isn't all that bad..." She trailed off, reconsidering her words. "Well, then again..."

Zel nodded sagely. "Exactly."

They arrived at the place that Janak had cleared to make room for the fire, and Zel set the pile of firewood down on the grass a safe distance away from the blaze. "Thank you," Janak said once Zel was finished. "That should be plenty."

Zel nodded as he handed Janak his axe and threw a few logs on the fire. He and Janak watched Ameria cast another fire spell on the logs, a larger one than she had used before. The wood ignited quickly and Janak shook his head in mild amazement. "That's quite a useful skill. I've always envied people who have a way with fire; it takes me forever to get one going, and even longer when I'm stuck in the forest on a mission in the dead of winter."

Ameria looked up at him. "Are there Chakar who can start fires just by using their minds?"

Janak nodded. "Yes, but it's a rare affinity. The ability to make ice or water out of nothing is even rarer, but one of my brothers can do it." He shrugged. "I got stuck with the more common affinities."

Zelgadiss sat down on the ground and passed a log from the pile to Ameria when she reached for one. "What can you do, exactly?" he asked, curious in spite of himself. "Besides telepathy and teleportation," he added, remembering what Janak had done at Erika's coronation ceremony and after.

Janak shrugged his broad shoulders. "That's pretty much it, I'm afraid. Nothing too exciting. I'm somewhat telekinetic and I have a bit of a knack for healing, but that's about everything. Erika's telekinesis is much stronger--in fact, she's one of the strongest Chakar I know. Their majesties, her honored parents, were quite powerful as well." He shook his head. "I don't know how she did all the things she told me she did at Achek's Tower against her uncle. I don't think many Chakar could have survived that."

"I see," Zel said. He wrinkled his brow and glanced around. "Speaking of whom, where is Erika?"

Ameria and Janak exchanged a glance. Erika had been close to euphoric during their first three days on the road--she was more free-spirited and outgoing than Janak had ever seen her, and she talked constantly about the fact that she was now free of her uncle and the trappings of the throne. However, almost overnight, her mood took a drastic turn for the worse. She seemed to realize all at once just how much she had lost, and withdrew into herself in despair. When she did talk to anyone, all she said was she didn't know what to do with herself now that she would never have the chance to restore Chorion to the way it was when her parents ruled it. Ameria and Janak tried for days to cheer her up, but nothing they said seemed to work. Even Gourry's cheerful manner and words of support failed to lift her spirits. Lina and Zelgadiss were concerned, but since neither had any idea how to help, they simply did what they could and watched their friends' attempts fail. When Erika had volunteered to catch lunch for a hungry Lina, Ameria and Janak had quickly offered to accompany her, but she asked them to leave her alone for a while. They complied with her request, but reluctantly.

"Erika is hunting," Ameria replied simply, her expression pained, and Zel nodded in understanding.

* * *

Deeper in the Tes'sha Forest, the air was still and slightly humid. Overhead, a flock of geese seemed to float in the sky, propelled forward by their long, powerful wings, occasionally honking to each other softly. Suddenly, a sharp twang sound broke the stillness of the woods and an arrow shot upward toward a goose near the end of the birds' formation. The arrow had been slightly misaimed; however, the person who had shot it moved one finger slightly, and the arrow wobbled and changed course. With a thunk, it lodged itself into its target's flank. The doomed bird squawked in pain and its companions broke their V-shaped formation, honking in consternation. The dying goose came spiraling down toward a little patch of meadow surrounded by forest and landed with a heavy thud.

Erika Chakar lowered her left arm and stared at the fallen goose for a moment, impressed despite the fact that she had had to rely on her Chana to strike her target. For the past week, she had been practicing her archery, something she hadn't been able to do since her mother, who had been an excellent archer herself, was murdered. When her uncle was king, she never found a way to keep up her skill with a bow and arrow without arousing suspicion. For the most part, he had left her alone once he came to believe she was too weak to be a threat to him. It had been fairly easy for her to practice sword, knife, and staff fighting in secret, but archery was out of the question. Now that she had a bow in hand and was able to practice, she realized all over again how much she missed her mother.

Erika grimaced and adjusted the quiver of arrows on her shoulder, breaking her train of thought and forcing a smile to her face. She crossed the meadow and stopped next to the dead goose. "I'm sure Lina will be quite happy to see you," she said. She dropped her bow, slid her quiver off her shoulder, and stooped down to tie a cord around the goose's neck, humming to herself.

After a moment, however, Erika froze and the music died in her throat. A fleeting, strange feeling of something out of place and chaotic interrupted the stillness of the forest--and that something was watching her. Instantly alert, she held her breath and strained her ears, listening for movement in the foliage nearby. At the same time, she used her Chana to search the surrounding area for intruders, but could find no one. Strange, she thought, I could have sworn I felt someone watching me.

Slowly, Erika rose and touched her right hand to the hilt of the sword that hung at her belt, her green-blue eyes narrowed and searching. Nothing around her stirred; the forest remained still and silent. "Who are you, watching me like this?" she called, adjusting her feet into a more proper fighting stance. She turned slowly, her eyes scanning the forest. She wished it wasn't such a bright day; the contrast between the dimness of the forest and the sunlight streaming down from above made it difficult to distinguish what lay beyond the first few layers of trees around her.

A branch somewhere off to the side moved; Erika turned quickly, saw nothing, and turned again to her left, only to discover a squirrel leaping from the ground to cling to the bark of a tree. After a moment, she shook her head and muttered, "Maybe I'm just too jumpy." Sighing in exasperation, Erika turned, expecting to see her goose lying on the sparse grass, but instead found her vision filled with twin pools of deep purple broken only by two small, black slits.

"Hello," the person standing nose-to-nose in front of her said affably.

Erika responded by screaming and lunging backward reflexively, unsheathing her sword and throwing up a defensive Chana shield simultaneously. She held out her sword and gasped, "Who are you?"

The man in front of her, now a few feet away, closed his eyes and stood in place calmly, smirking at her slightly. He was perhaps a half a head taller than she was, although he probably wasn't much larger in build. A long, black cloak was draped over his shoulders and pinned in place with a large, irregularly shaped silver brooch inlaid with three smooth rubies. Underneath it he wore a simple yellow shirt and black pants. A slight breeze ruffled his purple hair and cloak, and he passed his long, wooden staff from one gloved hand to the other, the blood red, round gem atop it gleaming in the sunlight. His smirk melted into a broader smile as she adjusted her stance and brought her sword into a guard position. His smile only unsettled her further; he didn't seem to mind the fact that she was pointing an unsheathed weapon at him when he appeared unarmed save his staff.

"Who are you? Answer me!" Erika repeated, this time more harshly, her throat dry and her heart thumping loudly in her chest.

The man before her lifted an eyebrow and managed to look surprised, despite the fact that his eyes remained closed. "Why, Princess Erika--or perhaps I should say, Erika-san, after the unfortunate events of last week--you're too suspicious! I am but a simple traveling priest, and no one to be afraid of."

Erika's sword point didn't waver an inch. Narrowing her eyes as she regained some of her shaken composure, she fortified the invisible shield around her, holding her free left hand, palm out, near her sword hilt. "A traveling priest who just happens to know my name and title," she replied dubiously.

"Doesn't everybody?" the man replied lightly. "There are plenty of people who know what you look like. You are royalty, you know."

Her eyes narrowed a fraction more. "Not anymore."

Again, despite the fact that his eyes were closed, the man managed to look mildly surprised at her words. "Oh, I wouldn't say that so quickly," he said casually. "Anyone could tell you're royalty from your stature and demeanor, just as easily as anyone could tell just by looking that I'm a priest."

"A priest, hmmm? A priest of what order?" Erika asked, keeping her voice cool, hoping her fear didn't show. Her palms were beginning to sweat, and the bright sun overhead didn't do anything to ease her nerves--in a fight, its light could easily temporarily blind her, potentially giving the stranger in front of her an advantage.

Cracking one violet eye open, which Erika found even more unsettling than when he kept his eyes closed, the man looked impressed. "Few people ever think to ask me that question. How observant you are," he commented and bowed with a flourish. "I am Xelloss, the mysterious priest."

Erika shifted her grip on her sword slightly, more than a little uncomfortable with a person who readily admitted to being mysterious. "And I suppose you're from an equally mysterious order?"

Xelloss smiled. "You could say that, yes."

Seeing that she would probably get no further information with regard to his origin out of him, she demanded, "Why were you spying on me?"

Xelloss made a point of taking a few steps to the side, casually strolling away from the dead goose on the ground and forcing Erika to readjust her stance. She blinked and squinted; the sun was almost in her eyes, but she forced them to focus on him. "Spying has such negative connotations," he sighed, and his expression changed to one of concern. "You seem so troubled," he mused half to himself. "Of course, who wouldn't be, after all you've been through?" He took a few steps closer, but Erika stood her ground, her shoulders tensed and the grip on her sword a little tighter.

"How could you know what I've been through?" she snorted.

Xelloss ignored her command and kept walking toward her. "Oh, one hears things here and there. Some say you left in disgrace, while others say you held your head high through a tense situation." He tilted his head thoughtfully and murmured, "But no one has stopped to ask themselves what you plan to do with the rest of your life, now that everything that defined your role in life is gone..." He trailed off, cracking one eye open, which glinted in the sunlight, and stopped a few feet in front of her.

"My...role in life..." Erika repeated, her eyes widening in astonishment. How could this stranger possibly know the turmoil that had plagued her for the past few days? Once she had taken the time to reflect on what had happened, she had plunged into a deep depression, knowing that the role she had been raised for would now never be hers. The throne was the last thing her parents had left her--now she couldn't even fulfill their dream that she would one day rule Chorion. Erika blinked and opened her mouth to speak, but the words died in her throat when Xelloss swiftly crossed the remaining distance between them and reached out a hand. She gasped and almost dropped her sword when she felt the Chana shield in front of her shatter as soon as he touched it, and, before she could move away, his gloved fingers brushed her cheek.

"You're no pampered princess, though, that much is true," Xelloss mused. "You'll figure out what to do."

Erika gasped so sharply that she coughed involuntarily. At the same time, she jumped backward ungracefully, stumbling to keep her balance, her blood like ice in her veins. "How did you do that?" she hissed.

Xelloss looked at her innocently. "Do what?"

Erika's mouth fell open. "My broke right through..." And he's not Chakar!

As if to convey innocence, Xelloss held his free hand, palm open. He slowly took a few steps closer to her and said, "You seem so startled--have I frightened you?"

Matching each step toward her with one step back, her sword held ready, Erika gritted her teeth and tried not to show fear. "Just stop right there," she ordered. "Get away from me." To Erika's surprise, Xelloss shrugged flippantly, changed direction, and sauntered over toward her fallen goose. "Hey, get away from that!" she said roughly as soon as she realized where he was heading and took a step to stop him. She halted in her tracks, however, when he paused and glanced up at her through one open eye. Satisfied that she wouldn't stop him, he stooped down and lifted up the goose by the cord around its neck.

"You're getting better, you know. A few days ago you would have missed this fellow by yards, but you almost hit him dead on today," Xelloss observed casually.

"You've been watching me for days?!" Erika screeched, anger galvanizing her into action. She raced forward swiftly and took a reckless swing with her sword, but Xelloss moved out of harm's way inhumanly fast. "Get away from me and that goose--Lina will be mad at me if I don't bring it back for lunch!"

Now standing almost at the edge of the clearing, once again, Xelloss held out a hand in a gesture of innocence. "Is it lunchtime already?" he asked rhetorically. "Well, I must be going."

Erika screeched to a halt and gaped at him. "Going? Where?" she repeated, at the same time cursing herself for asking such a dumb question.

The purple-haired priest waved a hand. "To see Lina-tachi," he replied offhandedly.

"You...know Lina?" she said numbly.

Xelloss nodded. "We've...worked together before, I guess you could say. Bizarre circumstances, common enemies, et cetera." He waved a hand nonchalantly. "I'm sure Lina-san will explain it to you later, if you ask nicely and only after she's eaten. It's been a pleasure meeting you, Princess. I do hope I'll have that pleasure again."

Erika opened her mouth to demand further explanation, but Xelloss was already moving. With a sweeping bow and without another word, he vanished right in front of her eyes.

Whirling around and then around again, Erika searched the meadow wildly, but found no trace of the mysterious priest. Frantically, she threw her sword back into its sheath. Without a second thought, Erika teleported herself back to her friends' campfire, leaving behind her bow and her goose and the stillness of the forest.

* * *

"On the whole, the weapons we use are pretty common. But there's one weapon that the Chakar can take total credit for--the shakak. It's essentially a double-bladed staff made so that no one in the world but a Chakar could wield it," Janak was saying while Ameria listened attentively and Zel lounged on the grass, his eyes closed, acting as uninterested as humanly possible.

Zel rolled over onto his side when he heard that, though. "Come on, you can't tell me that no one else in the entire world has used a double-bladed staff before. What makes this one so special?" he said, his dubiousness of the prince's claim plain. He ignored a glance from Ameria that made it clear that she thought he was being a little rude and looked at Janak expectantly.

Janak lifted a bushy eyebrow and grinned, not at all offended at Zel's tone. He was seated a little way back from the fire, his legs stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles, and his arms stretched out behind him, supporting his weight. "For one thing, staff-like weapons aren't terribly common. A double-bladed staff is difficult to learn, especially when the blades are shaped the way we shape them. What makes the shakak so difficult to use, though, is its sheer weight. The wooden part of it is thick enough to fill your whole hand--it has to be that thick in order to support the two heavy iron blades we use. The whole thing together weighs more than two large barrels of rice." He shrugged his broad shoulders and said lightly, "I'm sure you could lift it, Zelgadiss, but could you wield it?" He shook his head. "No offense intended, but only telekinetic Chakar can do that effectively. You must use your whole body and your whole mind at the same time, or it won't be a viable weapon. In fact, most people agree that shakak fighting comes down to whose mind is the strongest, fastest, and most powerful. It's really a beautiful thing to watch."

"Chakar use their minds to lift these weapons?" Ameria asked, looking up thoughtfully as Zel sniffed and rolled over onto his back again. "That must be how Erika was able to use your sword, Zelgadiss-san, since she doesn't look much stronger than I am. I don't think she ever did explain that--but then again, we had a lot on our minds."

Janak nodded. "Erika's good--I visited her quite a few times while her uncle was in power, and she showed me what she had taught herself in secret based on what her honored parents taught her and by observing the palace knights in their practices. Her honored mother could pick up just about any weapon and instinctively know how to use it, and I think Erika has inherited some of that skill. I do know her honored father taught her sword and staff fighting before his death, but I don't know how much of the staff fighting she was able to practice in secret once her uncle took power. She--"

"Aaaaaaaaaa!" The sound of a short, shocked scream suddenly echoed through the forest and the meadow in which they were sitting, interrupting Janak mid-sentence. Zelgadiss sat up immediately and Ameria and Janak whirled around in their seats in the direction of the forest.

"That sounded an awful lot like--" Ameria started to say.

"Erika," Janak and Zelgadiss finished at the same time, searching the forest through narrowed eyes as if they expected Erika to appear any second right in front of them.

Janak stood slowly, his brows knit in concern. "I'll try to contact her telepathically; I can't teleport to her until I know where she is," he said, his chocolate eyes taking on a distant look for a moment. "That’s odd…she isn't answering..." He trailed off, looking at the woods uneasily.

"Maybe she just tripped and fell over a root or something," Zel suggested, but he too rose to his feet and listened closely for any sound of a fight or a struggle.

Janak shook his head, now looking around in all directions uneasily. "She would have responded to me, then. Something's going on--she hates it when I think things to her but she never fails to answer me back, if nothing else to shut me up."

"We should go find her," Ameria said, already on her feet and rushing to the forest's edge.

"No!" Janak said, more roughly than he intended. Ameria stopped in her tracks and turned, not expecting the prince to protest so strongly. Glancing sideways to meet Zel's suspicious gaze, he held out a hand placatingly and said, "If there's some hidden danger in those woods, Ameria, you'd best stay here. I wouldn't want you to get hurt."

Zel lifted an eyebrow. "Ameria's more than capable of handling herself," he pointed out, his voice quiet but pointed. "She is a fully-trained sorceress."

Ameria glanced from one man to the other, quickly becoming flustered. "I'd like to help--" she started weakly, but Janak crossed the distance to her quickly.

"It's not that I don't trust your abilities, Ameria," he said, wincing, "but someone should stay here in case Erika comes back and is injured. Your magic couldn't help, but I'm sure you know more about healing of all sorts than we do." It was a lame excuse, and he knew it, but he couldn't let Ameria wander around the woods alone, with her magic as her only weapon.

Ameria looked up at him and nodded reluctantly. She trudged back over to the fire, biting her lip uncertainly, puzzled over Janak’s sudden and obvious uneasiness. Zel watched her wordlessly, then turned to Janak and nodded. "We should split up. Send some kind of signal if you find her," he said simply, and dove into the cover of the woods faster than anyone's eyes could follow him. Janak nodded and also slipped into the forest, moving quickly but silently, his every sense on alert.

With that, Ameria tossed another log onto the fire to keep it going strong until Lina and Gourry came back, knowing they'd want some fish as an appetizer until Erika came back, hopefully with something she managed to catch for lunch. Ameria sat down next to the fire, watching her surroundings carefully and waiting for someone to return.

She didn't have to wait long. A few minutes later, she heard a sound several yards behind her and turned to see Erika appear out of nowhere near the forest's edge. The former princess raced toward her, her face white and her eyes wide and panicked. "Where's Lina?" she demanded breathlessly.

Ameria immediately leapt to her feet and quickly crossed the distance to Erika's side. "Why?" she asked urgently, glancing around sharply for signs of trouble.

"Where did she go?" Erika demanded again, ignoring her question.

"Lina's still fishing," Ameria said, taking Erika's wrist into her hand and looking up into her wary, green-blue eyes. "What happened?"

Erika pulled away from her, gesturing wildly toward the woods. "A man snuck up on me in the forest! He was...well, he was creepy, is the only way to describe it. He's been watching me, Ameria--for days. What scares me is that he's not Chakar--I can tell for certain he isn't--and yet he broke through my Chana shield without any effort!" she explained, her accented words tumbling out almost too fast for Ameria to comprehend. "He said he was a priest and I asked him a priest of what order and he just said he was mysterious and he had purple hair--yes Ameria, purple hair!--and a long staff with a red jewel on it--"

"Wait, wait, wait!" Ameria cried. She had a bad feeling she knew precisely who it was Erika had seen in the forest, but she asked anyway, "What was his name? Did he tell you?"

"Xelloss." Erika replied, looking around sharply, as if he'd appear as soon as she said his name. "He said his name was Xelloss."

Ameria took a step back and sucked in a breath sharply. "Why would Xelloss-san show up now?" she thought out loud. "He never comes around without a good reason...that's strange."

Suddenly, Erika's eyes snapped to a spot over Ameria's shoulder and narrowed. "Wait--there he is," she growled.

Ameria whirled around and scanned the meadow. Three people were walking toward her, already halfway across the meadow to the campfire: Gourry, Lina, and, just as Erika said, Xelloss. Gourry had a bag slung over his shoulder guard and was chewing on a long stem of grass, while Lina was prattling gaily to Xelloss about something; they couldn't catch her words, but they could hear her carefree tone.

"So Lina does know him," Erika said, torn between confusion and fear. "But he's not could he have..." She trailed off, and, with a growl of frustration, brushed past Ameria and marched up to the approaching group. Ameria scrambled to follow, but stopped short not far behind her, unsure of what to do.

"Ah, a pleasure to see you again so soon, Princess!" Xelloss said as soon as she was a few yards away.

Erika gritted her teeth. "Don't call me that. I thought we established I'm not royalty anymore."

"No, we didn't," Xelloss countered amicably. "You said you're not royalty anymore. I, on the other hand, believe you still are, even if only in spirit, not in name."

"Wait, wait," Gourry broke in as Erika balled her fists by her sides and glared daggers at him in annoyance. "You know Xelloss, Erika?"

"We just had the pleasure of meeting," Erika responded between gritted teeth.

"Huh? When?" Lina asked, looking from priest to princess quizzically.

"I took the liberty of introducing myself to Erika in the forest before I ran into you, Lina-san," Xelloss explained.

"Yeah, and then you admitted you've been watching me for days," Erika interrupted. Lina's eyebrows shot up, and she, Ameria, and Gourry simultaneously looked at Xelloss as if to ask 'is that true'?

Xelloss rubbed the back of his head with his free hand and shrugged. "Well, true, but you didn't know that until I introduced myself to you just now, did you?"

Lina smiled widely at Xelloss, although her eyes were narrowed somewhat in suspicion. "Well, imagine that!" she said cheerfully but with a dubious undertone to her voice. "I'm sure you'll be able to tell me why you were watching Erika, and the rest of us for that matter, over lunch, right?"

"Ohhhhh no, he's going to explain something right now," Erika said, stomping up to Xelloss and poking a finger in his chest before he could reply. "I want to know how you broke through my shield, and I want to know now."

"Well, well..." Xelloss murmured, taking a step back and holding up one hand in a mediating gesture. "Perhaps I was wrong about the 'pampered princess' part..." he said, his expression a blend of mild amusement and bland innocence.

"What was that?!" Erika snapped.

Xelloss pushed her outstretched hand away gently and shook his head. "Nothing, nothing. I simply don't know what shield you're talking about, Princess."

Erika's eyes widened and she stomped one foot on the ground. "I thought I said don't call me that! And you do too know what I'm talking about--you know exactly what I'm talking about--so answer my question!"

Xelloss turned to Lina and, despite his closed eyes, he managed to look both indulgent and perplexed. "Erika, Erika," Lina said, stepping between the two of them and holding out one hand to placate Erika. "Let's just discuss this over lunch, all right?" She added more forcefully, "I'm hungry."

Erika threw down her hands in frustration and said, "Don't you see it? There's something...something wrong with him." She shuddered at the faintly chaotic feeling emanating from him as she spoke. "I couldn't sense him in the forest before he snuck up on me, and the only way he should be able to hide himself from me like that is if he had Chakar blood in him. I had a shield up in the forest because I thought he was going to attack me, but he broke right through it, with no effort! There's something strange about him! Almost as if..." She broke off her sentence, holding one hand to her head and pointing dramatically at the Mazoku priest in front of her.

"As if?" Gourry prompted when she paused.

"As if he wasn't even human!!" Erika exclaimed, looking around at the others' reactions.

To her surprise, Lina, Gourry, and Ameria were not at all surprised at Erika's revelation. Gourry exchanged a glance with Lina and then with Ameria, who folded her arms and shook her head. "Well, she guessed it faster than the rest of us did," Ameria said ruefully.

"Except me," Gourry pointed out. "I've always known Xelloss is a Mazoku!"

Erika gasped in shock--Lina had explained to her what the Mazoku were while on the road to Achek's Tower more than a week ago. "Yes, yes, Xelloss is a Mazoku," Lina repeated impatiently. "But that's not important right now. Right now, what's important is food, and hearing Xelloss tell us all about what brought him into the area, and did I mention food?" She stepped around Xelloss quickly and began pushing him toward the campfire near the edge of the meadow, still talking about food, Gourry following behind her dutifully.

Erika opened her mouth to protest, but Ameria interrupted. "Xelloss-san isn't... always bad..." she said, wincing.

Xelloss made a show of rubbing his chin and pretending to mull Lina's invitation over. “Unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a rush...” He cracked an eye open and glanced over his shoulder. Gourry nodded in understanding, Ameria looked warily skeptical, Lina had a sickeningly sweet smile plastered on her face, and Erika was staring after them, openly incredulous. “But maybe I could stay for just a few minutes,” he finished, his thoughtful expression melting into his usual smile.

With that, Erika stalked past them toward the woods, shaking her head in stunned disbelief. “Wait, where are you going, Erika?” Ameria shouted after her, running a few paces to catch up to her.

“I’m going back in the woods to find the goose I caught,” she replied curtly. Ameria winced at her tone; Erika was rarely that impolite. “I’m not going to stay around here while Lina’s talking to that...that thing like an old friend. If none of you can see the danger in having a picnic with a being whose sole purpose in life is to destroy the world, don’t say I didn’t try to get you away from him when he pulls some kind of stunt like he did in the woods,” she spat out bitterly.

“But--“ Ameria started to say, but by the time she got the word out, Erika had already teleported away. With a sigh, Ameria stopped and shook her head. She heard a squawk behind her and turned around quickly, only to see Lina grab Xelloss in a headlock and proceed to try to punch whatever information it was she wanted out of his head. Ameria could only laugh weakly--it was far more like Lina to try to beat something out of someone rather than sweet talk her way into getting what she wanted.

"But...Lina-san..." Xelloss choked, fighting back weakly against Lina's iron grip. "I really...simply was...just passing through..."

"You never show your face around anyone unless it's for a reason," Lina growled back. "Now, out with it. What's going on that you're on the move again?"

Ameria's eyes met Gourry's, and the two exchanged a knowing look and a shrug. Ameria trudged back to the campfire and Lina's little scuffle, wondering if she shouldn't try to help by adding a few rounds of her "Life is Wonderful" song, just to provide a little extra motivation to the secretive Mazoku.

* * *

Erika stomped through the forest, searching for the clearing in which she had left her goose behind--she had been so shaken up over Xelloss that she had forgotten where the clearing was. She cursed herself angrily for letting Xelloss get to her so much. "He broke through my shield, he broke through my shield," she repeated, rationalizing the whole situation to calm herself down. After all, he had snuck up on her in the middle of the woods and done something no one outside her clan should have been able to do.

It was a disturbing thought, but while she had always assumed things like Chana shields were effective against anything, she had to admit she had never heard nor read anything about their effectiveness against non-humans. To be completely defenseless against a Mazoku who, for some reason, had taken a passing interest in her the way Xelloss had--that scared her. She continued pushing her way through the forest, too disquieted by her train of thought to be fully aware of her surroundings until she heard a voice not far away call her name.

"Erika?" Zelgadiss repeated as he made his way between the trees toward her. He had heard her coming from some distance away-- with the way Erika was stomping around, compared to the stillness of everything else in the woods, she was about as easy to find as Lina at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Erika looked up quickly and groaned softly--after the embarrassing way Xelloss had thrown her off guard, Zelgadiss was the last person she wanted to know about it. "Over here," she replied.

"What happened?" Zel asked as soon as he was nearby. "We heard you scream, and Janak and I went looking for you." He looked her over quickly for signs of a struggle; aside from grass stains on her maroon tunic and pants, she looked unharmed.

"Ah...I screamed? I didn't even realize I had..." Erika trailed off, even more upset that her reaction to Xelloss had called both Zelgadiss and Janak to her aid. "Where's Janak?"

"We split up. I have no idea where he is--I think he was trying to reach you telepathically, but..." Zel shrugged, "...I found you first." Without weird mind tricks, he added mentally, a little smug. "So what happened? And why are you walking around like this?"

" see..." With that, Erika reluctantly summed up what had happened since Xelloss dropped in on her in the clearing.

Zelgadiss listened intently, interrupting for clarification at times, his jaw set and his eyes narrowed. When she finished, he demanded, "And Lina just let him join them for lunch?"

Erika nodded. "I don't understand it--Ameria doesn't seem to trust him, and Gourry--"

"Of course Ameria doesn't," Zel huffed, "she's a shrine maiden and Xelloss is evil." He paused for a second, then said, "Well, on the surface, Lina's actions don't make sense--not given who we're dealing with and not given who Lina is. Knowing Lina, I'd say she was trying to sweet-talk him to get something. She's tried that kind of thing before."

"You mean Lina doesn't trust him, either?" Erika said hopefully.

Zelgadiss shook his head and folded his arms. "No, she doesn't, but Lina also believes it's sometimes necessary to keep your enemies closer than your friends," he said. "Besides, if I know Lina, she's probably beating what she wants to know out of Xelloss by now, anyway. She can't keep up the sweet and innocent attitude for too long."

"I see..." Erika trailed off, now embarrassed as she recalled what she had done.

Zel turned and gestured outward. "Speaking of keeping enemies close, we should get back there. I want to see what information I can beat out of Xelloss."

Erika blinked at the feral smirk that crossed Zel's face. "I...have to find my bow..." she said uncertainly.

"We can get it later," Zel replied. He turned away and began walking, but stopped when he realized she wasn't following. "Coming?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder.

Erika's eyes took on a faraway look for a second, until she shook her head as if to clear it. "That was Janak, just now," she explained after a few seconds. "He's back at the meadow--he said he just missed our strange visitor. Apparently Xelloss didn't stick around for long."

Zel returned to her side, looking disappointed. "Do they think he'll come back?"

Erika's brow wrinkled and she closed her eyes. After a pause, she replied, "Janak says Lina doesn't think so. He seemed in a bit of a hurry once Lina started pounding him--at least, that's what Ameria told him."

"Coward," Zel spat under his breath, folding his arms in annoyance.

"I'm just glad he's gone," Erika said, relieved. "I don't ever want to see him again."

"The feeling's mutual," Zel grumbled in reply.

Erika turned and gestured deeper into the woods. "I'm just going to go find my bow--I don't remember where I left it, I was so stunned. I...I guess I'll, um, meet you back at the campfire," she said tentatively.

With a shrug, Zel moved to follow her. "I'll come too, in case Xelloss comes back to bother you."

Erika nodded and began stepping through the forest foliage, searching for the little clearing in which she had left her bow and goose. They walked in silence, Erika brooding over what Xelloss has said as he was goading her about losing her role in life. They stopped about ten minutes later when Zel spied her bow lying on the ground. Erika groaned when she saw the empty space in the grass next to her bow where the goose should have been. The grass had been flattened in a path leading into the woods and drops of red mixed with the green; obviously, the bird had been dragged away by a hungry animal.

"Greeeeeeat," Erika moaned. "The goose is gone. That means my goose is cooked. I know Lina's ready to kill me for pushing her around, but now she's really going to kill me." She crossed the clearing, Zel in tow, her shoulders slumped forward in defeat. She stooped down to reclaim her bow and exhaled heavily. "Maybe I should catch another one, if I can--I promised everyone I'd bring back lunch," she said, looking up. In the distance overhead, she could faintly hear the sound of a honking gaggle of geese.

"I think we should head back," Zel disagreed. "I still think Xelloss might come back, and I want to hear everything Lina has to say about it."

"I can't go back there until I have something for her to eat," Erika protested, looking at him in obvious despair. "Then maybe she won't be mad at me."

Zel frowned and took a step back, shrugging and gesturing toward the sky with one hand. "All right," he said, "but we shouldn't take too long."

Erika nodded gratefully and searched the skies for the approaching flock of birds. Zel, meanwhile, pulled off one of his fingerless gloves and examined it for tears, trying not to let his impatience show. As far as he was concerned, lunch mattered far less than figuring out what Xelloss was up to, but then again, a well-fed Lina was easier to get information out of. Resigning himself to wait, he watched Erika out of the corner of his eye while he smoothed the worn leather of his glove.

Erika had seemed happy--positively euphoric, in fact--during the first few days of their journey. She was finally free, she had said repeatedly--free of her uncle, free to use her Chana in the open, free of the rejection of her country. But after three days, her mood took a dramatic turn for the worse, and now she seemed depressed and agitated almost all the time. The harsh realities of life had finally hit her, and the fact that she had been rather repressed in life probably didn't help, either. Ameria had pointed all of this out to the rest of their party two nights ago, after Erika fell asleep. Janak had even gone so far as to say that Erika was having a bit of an identity crisis after losing so much in her life. Zel wasn't sure about that, but since Janak had known her longer, the rest of their group readily agreed with him.

Erika, still searching the skies, cleared her throat uncomfortably, which interrupted Zel's thoughts. She glanced at her companion nervously and stammered, "Perhaps I'm prying...." She trailed off when Zel glanced down at his glove and began to pull it back on his hand. "I just wanted ask you something," she continued softly and hesitantly, "a-and if you don't want to answer, please just, just say so and--and I'll completely understand."

Zel looked up from his glove, but said nothing.

"After...after you were--you were cursed," Erika said brokenly, "how did you...go on? I mean," she added quickly, "how did you keep going in life, once your grandfather took so much away from you?"

Zel's expression didn't change, although his sea green eyes flicked to her face to stare at her intently. Her cheeks flushed and she began to stammer an apology. Zel looked away for a second and Erika's words died in her throat. She bit her lip and turned to her bow, kicking herself viciously for asking.

"After I was cursed," Zel began softly, not meeting Erika's eyes as she looked back up at him in surprise, "my friend Zolf was the first person to find me." He folded his arms and looked up, his eyes skimming the tops of the trees for a few brief seconds before they came to rest on a large oak to his immediate right. "He went and got my other friend, Rodimus. By then I'd already figured out that conventional swords and knives wouldn't work against me."

Erika winced, but said nothing. Zel continued, "Rodimus was older than me, and he had taught me everything I knew about weapons and fighting. He was my friend, and he was sort of a mentor, in a way." He took a deep breath; thinking about his dead friends was still a little painful, even after all this time. "And he straightened me out."

"Wh-what did he do?" Erika asked meekly.

"He didn't really do anything; it was just what he said. He asked me if I wanted to let Rezo have power over me--and of course, that was the last thing I wanted. If I didn't 'keep going', as you said, and search for a way to cure myself, Rezo would win--he'd have power over me. I had to keep going, just to spite him, if nothing else." The corner of Zel's mouth quirked upward in an ironic smile. "Now, I'm alive and he's dead. I'm still cursed, but at least he never completely won over me--I'm alive to keep searching for my cure."

"It's a good thing you had such good friends," Erika said softly and pensively.

Zel nodded. "That didn't hurt, either." He glanced skyward for a second, almost as if to acknowledge them. "I owe them a lot," he said quietly.

After a pause, Erika sucked in a breath and smiled a little. "Thank you, Zelgadiss," she said.

He waved a hand and glanced skyward again. "Looks like you lost your geese," he pointed out. While they were talking, the flock had passed overhead unnoticed, and Zel could hear them as they sped away, honking to each other.

Erika gasped and wailed in protest, "Oh no! Lina's lunch!"

Zel turned and started walking toward the forest. "Come on, let's get out of here. I think I saw some deer tracks not too far away, and they were pretty fresh. Lina likes venison, you know."

Erika nodded once, her face relaxing into a smile. "All right, then. But if we don't catch anything I'll tell Lina it was all your fault," she said teasingly.

Zel shrugged. "I'll just use you as my magic shield," he replied casually.

Erika laughed and followed him into the woods, feeling as if the weight on her shoulders had been lifted somewhat. Slinging her bow onto her shoulder, she skipped quickly a few times to catch up and walked alongside Zel, their heads bent and searching for tracks in the dirt.

* * *

Xelloss's footfalls echoed in Zelas Metallium's throne room, the sound bouncing off the rutilated obsidian walls and arched ceiling. The room was silent otherwise, just like the rest of Wolf Pack Island. His master was there, though--he could feel it. Xelloss stopped a few feet away from Zelas's empty throne and knelt before it; as he did, the torches held fastened to the walls on either side of the throne flared to life. Zelas Metallium herself then appeared, and the torchlight dimmed to a level that was more to her liking.

Xelloss looked up at the Beastmaster, who was seated casually, with her legs draped across one arm of the throne. She held a long cigarette holder between two delicate fingers; its tip smoldered gently, sending up a little trail of smoke. She flicked ash off its end and acknowledged him, her lupine eyes glinting in the faint light.

"Spare me the formalities, Xelloss. What have you to report?" she drawled.

Rising to his feet but keeping his head bowed, Xelloss said amicably, "I guess that means you haven't adopted a different style of management."

Zelas took a drag on her cigarette and let out a short, mirthless laugh. "And what if I did? Would you try to strike out on your own, do things your way?"

Xelloss looked up and met Zelas's eyes; obviously, whatever had caused her to treat him so formally the last time they spoke was not a factor in this case. His usual smile widened a little, and he shook his head. "Perish the thought," he replied dryly.

Chuckling a little, Zelas nodded and said, "Good to know. Well? What happened?"

With that, Xelloss explained everything he had done since he left Wolf Pack Island. Zelas was pleased with how it went, and told him so. Once they were finished discussing that, she shifted topics to his new orders. "Xelloss, I will need you here for quite some time in the near future, but not before you cause a little more trouble for them. You know what I mean--find the enemies they don't even know they have at this point, and ensure that the wheels are put into motion."

Xelloss nodded. "Whatever you wish, my master," he said, bowing his head in acknowledgement. "After that...?" He trailed off, politely asking for more clarification.

Zelas exhaled, sending a ring of smoke into the air above her head. She swung her legs off of the throne's armrest, rose, and took a few steps toward her servant, her perfect, cream-colored robes flowing around her like water. Putting a finger to her lip, she said thoughtfully, "I'll tell you more about it later. For now, let's just say Dolphin and Grausherra will be coming over for a little visit. They should be here when you come back, and at that time, you will be in charge. I don't want anyone to disturb us."

Violet eyes followed Zelas's movements questioningly, but Xelloss reserved all of his queries but one. "Is that why everyone else is away right now?" he asked.

Nodding, Zelas slowly returned to her throne and sat down gracefully, flicking away more cigarette ash with a snap of her fingers. "Your lesser brethren have been sent away, yes, so I may prepare for what is to come."

With that, Xelloss nodded and bowed. "Will there be anything more, my master?"

Zelas shook her head and waved her free hand. "Nothing else comes to mind. I'll summon you if anything changes. Have fun causing trouble," she said, smirking crookedly at him.

"Thank you, my master. I always do." With that, Xelloss reverted to his true form, and then vanished.

Zelas sat at her throne for a few more minutes, pensively puffing on her cigarette, reveling in the silence throughout not only her throne room, but all of Wolf Pack Island, as well. To return the entire world to that kind of silence--that was what she wanted more than anything else. "But first," she murmured to herself, "certain measures have to be taken, of course."

Extinguishing her cigarette on a small, golden plate on a little table next to the throne, Zelas rose and, as an afterthought, willed the torches to extinguish themselves. The second they complied, a wolf stood in the place where Zelas had been standing--her true form. Her golden, slit-pupiled eyes glowed in the darkness just before Zelas vanished. She had people to visit before her plans could progress to their next phase of action.

Notes: That Xelloss, always up to something, isn't he? But what? And what's with the penguins, you ask? Lina dreamt of them again! (Xanthix is dying to know if I'm just on crack or if they have any actual relevance to the plot of this story.) ::wags no no finger:: Sore wa himitsu desu! |||^_~|||

It took forever to get this chapter written. For some reason, I couldn't write Xelloss, Lina, or even Erika (yes, my own character!) in character. Originally, Erika was freaking out a lot more in reaction to Xelloss, and she and Lina got into a fight, ^^;;; and then she pulled a very Filia-like reaction to Xelloss upon finding out he's a Mazoku. And Lina completely forgot about the fight in favor of sweet-talking Xelloss into revealing his plans.'s a good thing I've got Xanthix looking out for these things--he's an awesome editor. I've found that I really, really enjoy writing the parts in which Xelloss interacts with Beastmaster, though. It's just so much fun.

So what's coming up next? Well, Xelloss takes a pleasant evening stroll and the Slayers gang takes a little break at an onsen (Japanese bath). But what is Erika and Janak hiding? Mayhem abounds when bathtime is interrupted, and then Erika and Janak are forced to spill the beans. What will this mean for the rest of their journey? And just what is Beastmaster planning in this little Mazoku pow-wow she's got planned? And do you really expect me to answer that last question? |||^_^||| Tune in next time for Chapter Two of Slayers Balance!

"Slayers" is copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi. Original ideas, artwork, and text present on this page are copyright Esther Nairn, unless otherwise noted. No reproduction is allowed without express written or emailed permission. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.