Slayers New by Esther Nairn | Chapter Five: | Attack! A Fearsome Dragon!
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Thwok! was the sound Gourry's sword made as he chopped through a branch blocking his path. He continued forward. Chop, chop! Two more smaller branches followed it, and he nudged them to the side with the toe of his boot. His group had been traveling through the Tes'sha forest since early morning, when they had left the inn on the last leg of their journey to Achek's Tower. Chop, thwok, chop! This was good exercise, Gourry concluded. It was a great way to burn off all the calories from that morning's breakfast. Speaking of breakfast...

"Hey, Lina!" Gourry called over his shoulder as he walked. "When are we going to eat again?"

"Not until we get to the Tower, take whatever's in it, and go back to that inn we left this morning, unfortunately," Lina called back. She grunted as she chopped through another branch that Gourry had missed with her short sword, and moved on to the next offending obstacle.

"Well, you ate enough food to feed an entire village; I should think you'd be able to hold out until tonight," Zel said with a trace of sarcasm in his voice. He was in the lead, alongside Gourry, also hacking through the thick foliage of the woods to make a path for the rest of the group. They had hit a particularly dense part of the forest a few minutes before, and were thus forced to cut a trail in order to get through.

Ameria and Princess Erika followed behind Lina, chatting quietly about their homes and palace life in general. They paused, however, while Ameria brought out the map and held it so that the two could study it. "The map says that the forest should thin out, then end completely pretty soon, if we didn't get off course too much," Ameria called ahead.

"And how much longer to the Tower after that?" Lina asked.

Princess Erika squinted at the drawing, gauging the distance indicated on it. "Here," Ameria offered, passing the map to her.

"Thank you," the princess replied with a smile. She traced one finger along the paper, then said, "We probably have several more miles to go after that, although it is hard to tell since we cannot see the outline of the Tower through the treetops." She nodded, and passed Ameria the piece of paper, which Ameria folded and replaced in the pouch on her hip.

"Then we'd better keep moving," Gourry replied. "It's a long walk back to that inn, and I'm hungry already."

"Me, too," Lina moaned. "Why couldn't they have put another inn nearer to this Tower? Then we could be eating right now!"

Zel glanced back at Lina and replied, "You know what the innkeeper said. The people in this area are afraid of the forest. They say it's cursed, and that few people who have ever gone there have come back alive. I'd say that's a reason not to build an inn near this place."

Princess Erika nodded. "This area of the country is far from the capital, so we do not hear much about it very often, but even we knew that it is not considered a safe place by the local folk."

"Hmph. Well, silly little things like curses don't stop us easily, right, Gourry?" Lina said with scorn.

"Right, Lina!"

"That's the spirit, Lina-san! We'll take care of this curse, retrieve whatever's inside the Tower, and free the people of this area from any fear of that place!" Ameria cheered. "And then we'll get food!" she added quickly.

"Yeah! And then we'll get food!" Lina echoed, pumping her fist in the air. "C'mon, Gourry, Zel, go faster! The sooner we get there, the sooner we can go back and get dinner!" she yelled, skipping along behind the two men.

Zel sighed and cracked a smile, in spite of himself. "No matter what we're doing, Lina's always thinking about her stomach."

Gourry grinned at him and paused in his tracks. "Well, what she said makes sense to me. Ready, Zel?" he said, gesturing ahead of him with his sword.

He nodded, readying his sword and stance. "Ready."

"Let's go!" With that, the swordsman and the sorcerer started running ahead, holding their swords to opposite sides, perpendicular to the ground, so that they, in effect, trimmed the tree limbs surrounding them back to make a path.

As Zel and Gourry raced away, and the newly-chopped foliage hit the ground, Lina sweatdropped, and Ameria and Princess Erika started laughing. "Well, that's one way of doing things," Ameria said between giggles.

Lina shook her head and shrugged. "Guess so. Well, we aren't getting there any faster by standing around, so let's go!" With that, she started jogging ahead, skipping around fallen pieces of wood nimbly, eager to get out of the forest and on her way to the adventure which awaited them.

* * *

A little while later, Zel and Gourry ran out of forest to chop through, and Lina, Ameria, and Princess Erika came up behind them, Lina blowing debris out of their path with controlled wind spells. They stopped at the forest's edge and gazed at the landscape before them.

A field of golden wheat stretched ahead and around them for miles. Birds chirped and chased each other, zipping through the air and playfully darting into the cover of the wheat. Individual wheat stalks caught and reflected the light of the sun as it beamed down upon them, paying homage to its life-giving warmth. A breeze moved the stalks in rows, creating waves that turned the field into a golden ocean.

"It's beautiful!" Ameria breathed.

"Wow!" Gourry exclaimed.

"That shape up ahead must be the Tower, right?" Lina asked eagerly, pointing to the outline of a tall rock pillar against the horizon.

Zel held a hand to his stony brow to shield his eyes from the sun. "I don't see how that couldn't fit the description of it on the map. Princess?" He looked down at Ameria and the princess, who were now studying the map again.

"It's exactly as the legend, as well as our soldiers, described it," Princess Erika affirmed.

Gourry waded into the field a little, pushing wheat stalks away from him, almost as if he were swimming. He paused and glanced backward. "What legend?" he asked innocently.

Lina rolled her eyes and waded in until she was just behind him. She reached up and bonked him on his blond head. "She told us last night! And the first night we started on this trip, Gourry! Honestly!" she puffed, "Can't you remember anything?"

Zelgadiss, ignoring Lina momentarily, gestured ahead to Ameria and Princess Erika. "Let's keep walking. You can explain it again to him, if you like, as we go."

Ameria and the princess nodded, then parted the wheat stalks and started trudging through the field, Zelgadiss not far behind them. Lina and Gourry stopped squabbling once they realized they were going to be left behind, and hurried to keep up. Once Gourry fell into step with the princess, she spoke. "The legend of Achek's Tower is only one of many in this part of the world, and it is not even nearly the most important," she began. "That is why most people do not even know of it. The story of Achek was passed on in books and collections of writings throughout the centuries, and, just recently, His Majesty, my uncle, found a new collection of writings buried in a stack of old books in our archives. Prior to that, everyone who knew the legend knew that the place known as Achek's Tower existed in this area, but no one really bothered to explore it until now." She shrugged. "There was nothing in it for adventure-seekers, I suppose. No other writings even begin to suggest that there is anything of importance hidden within the Tower's walls. When our soldiers approached it, however, they were suddenly attacked by a giant white dragon, which appeared out of nowhere. Uncle thought the area might be cursed with magic, since the book indicated that it is a very old place."

"If you found this book hidden in your libraries," Zelgadiss mused to no one in particular, "I wonder what else lay undiscovered there."

"But wait," Gourry said, scratching his head with one hand as he parted wheat stalks with the other, "isn't there some kind of story with a legend? What's the story with this Achoo-whosits guy?"

"It's Achek," Lina corrected, rolling her eyes.

"Whatever. What'd he do to be part of this legend?" Gourry asked.

Ameria looked from Gourry to Princess Erika as she walked behind them. "He created the Tower, didn't he?"

Princess Erika shrugged. "Actually, we do not know. All we know is that he was a great sorcerer somewhere around the time of the Kouma Sensou, and that either he created the Tower, or he was associated with whoever did so. We think he lived there, however. Achek disappeared after the war, but the legends about him said that he had written several diaries, all of which described knowledge of magic. Uncle believes that what he found is one of those manuscripts. It was very damaged, but some parts are readable, or so I was told. I never saw the book in person. All I know is that Uncle had scribes copy a map in it, and that is the map which you now hold in your bag, Ameria-hime." She gestured to Ameria, who held a finger to her lip, thinking as she walked.

"If Achek wrote so many books, maybe that's what we'll find at the Tower," she surmised.

Zelgadiss shrugged his shoulders. "It could be anything, really. All we may find are the remnants of his experiments, or we may not find anything inside at all. Then again," he added, "we could find something interesting." His eyes shone eagerly as he gazed at the Tower ahead of them, and no one doubted that he was wondering if he would find anything that would provide a means to his cure.

"Did you catch all that, Gourry?" Lina asked, quickening her pace so that she was next to him. She craned her neck to look into his face.

"Umm, I think so," he replied, turning to nod to Lina.

Lina sighed in resignation, knowing that he would probably forget the details in a few minutes. "Don't worry about it, Gourry," she said. "Just keep on the lookout for anything strange. All we know is that the locals don't like this place, and that a few Chorioni soldiers came back home frantically babbling something about a white dragon that had killed their comrades."

Gourry nodded and patted his sword hilt, flashing Lina an easygoing smile. "No problem, Lina."

Ameria gazed around the field of gold, which seemed to stretch on forever around her. It was all an illusion, of course; they were probably no more than five miles away from their destination. "It's strange to see a formation of rock that rises up out of nowhere, with no other mountains nearby," she commented. "It sort of looks as if someone took a giant cone, turned it upside down, and changed it into stone.

Princess Erika nodded. "It looks exactly the way our soldiers described it--as a thin stone spire which rises up from the ground with nothing but flat, rocky ground surrounding it."

Lina paused, disentangling her cape from the thorns of a prickly weed which was growing among the wheat. She looked up, furrowed her brow, and shook her head, as if to clear it. "It almost looks familiar, somehow. The way those foothills surround us to either side, and the way this field looks like pure gold..." her voice trailed off as she struggled to remember when she had last seen something like this.

"Now that you mention it," Gourry said, "it does kind of look familiar."

"Where have we seen this before?" she asked.

Gourry shrugged. "I can't remember," he replied.

Lina's eyes traveled the surface of the golden wheat, pausing to study the outline of the rock Tower against the backdrop of the late afternoon sky. The sun still blazed brightly above them, and the wheat reflected back its golden light. Suddenly, her eyes widened a little, and she blinked in astonishment. "It looks just like the landscape in that dream I had..." she murmured.

"What was that?" Gourry asked.

She shook her head quickly. "Nothing, nothing. Let's just hurry so that we can get back to that inn tonight and get food. I'm starving!"

"OK!" Gourry and Ameria cheered, and pushed forward faster, with Zelgadiss and Princess Erika not far behind them. Lina gazed at the Tower as they half-ran through the wheat field, wondering what that dream meant in connection with the familiar landscape and the potential danger that lay ahead.

* * *

A few hours later, the ground became rockier and the wheat field began to thin in patches. Light and dark gray clouds populated the atmosphere, while the setting sun peeking between them cast its light on the Tower from behind, creating a backlit effect. Rays of light, broken up by moving clouds and the Tower itself, played across the landscape behind Lina and her friends, their presence adding to the contrast between the golden fields and the shadowed face of the stone spire.

Eventually, the wheat plants disappeared entirely, revealing a belt of brown, rocky soil that encircled Achek's Tower at a radius of almost a mile, in stark contrast to the shimmering fields of gold they had emerged from. Scraggly bushes and some prickly thistles dotted the barren landscape. The half-mile-tall stone spire, which had looked thin and unassuming from a distance, now loomed over them as they approached. Lina found that she had to watch her footing to avoid tripping over the rocks and stones that were embedded in her path. She paused, causing everyone around her to stop, too. She eyed the Tower up and down, marveling at its height.

"It's huge!" Ameria exclaimed, following the shape of the rock pillar all the way to its top.

"I'll say," Lina agreed. Gourry simply whistled in amazement.

Zelgadiss gazed around, noticing how rocks were scattered across the clearing. Smaller outcroppings of stone gradually gave way to large boulders that leaned against the base of the tower, forming an impervious wall of rock, three times his height and circling the base of the tower. He glanced left and right suspiciously, and caught Lina's eye in the process. They nodded to each other, silently communicating to each other that they were both uneasy. Lina glanced over to Gourry, who nodded as well, and flashed Zel a subtle thumbs up--he had seen nothing out of the ordinary so far. Zel took a deep breath and peered around again. Princess Erika stood next to him, also watching for potential trouble. She looked nervous to him. Was she apprehensive because she knew more than she was letting on? Or was it because she honestly feared the attack that possibly lay before them?

"We must be cautious, everyone," the princess said, trying to put some regal confidence in her voice. "The soldiers reported that a white dragon came out of nowhere, and attacked them before they could even begin to defend themselves."

"Right," Gourry acknowledged.

"Keep walking," Lina directed, and continued toward the Tower.

Zel sidled up to Princess Erika and spoke to her softly. "Sense anything, Princess?"

She tensed at the sound of his voice, but managed to turn and give him a small smile. "I am not sensitive to curses as you sorcerers are," she responded. She faced forward again and picked up her skirt a little so she could step over a patch of rocks. "Perhaps you have sensed something?"

He glanced around again and nodded, noting that the atmosphere around the Tower had changed. The wind had picked up a little and the sky was getting grayer. "Perhaps."

"Then we must stay alert," she replied softly. She looked up to the Tower looming ahead of them. "Very alert," she whispered to herself.

Before anyone could take a step further, the ground under their feet started trembling. "Wh-what's that?" Gourry said, his sword now unsheathed.

"Maybe it's the curse," Lina said. The trembling stopped. "Or maybe not," she said with a shrug.

"Maybe it's just your stomach," Zel remarked dryly.

"Hey!" Lina protested.

"There's some strong magical energy coming from somewhere around here," Ameria called out, oblivious to Zel's snide comment. "I don't like this at all."

Suddenly, the ground heaved, causing everyone to lose their footing and fall. A deep rumbling sound coming from the general direction of the Tower could be heard, almost as if the very rocks were roaring their protest against the movement. Gourry struggled to his feet, only to be knocked over again as the soil bucked and rolled. Princess Erika watched the Tower as best she could, despite the trembling ground beneath her. Small rocks were breaking loose from its surface and tumbling to the ground at an alarming rate. If it wasn't stable, it could fall and crush them, she knew. And, despite the magical resources of the three sorcerers, she wasn't sure if they'd be able to avoid getting killed if it crumbled.

Then, just as suddenly as it began, the ground calmed and the roaring was reduced to a low, barely noticeable grumble. Everyone scrambled to their feet, weapons drawn or magic ready. Gourry and Lina stepped to the front, flanked by Zel and Ameria, with the princess somewhat in the center of the loose half-circle they formed. "Be ready, everyone," Lina directed. "I'm sensing this magic, too. Ameria?" she said, throwing a glance to her right.

"Yes," she said confidently. "It's coming from somewhere up ahead."

"Are you sure it is the curse?" Princess Erika asked nervously.

Zelgadiss nodded, his palm glowing with enough energy for a strong wind shield, ready to use. "I sense it, too."

Gourry narrowed his eyes, searching the area, his muscles tight and his stance wide. He adjusted his grip on his sword hilt slightly, his jaw set. "What did they say the dra--"

He was never able to finish his question, though, for at that moment, the ground not far in front of them burst open, throwing rocks and soil hundreds of feet into the air. Everyone flew backward with a collective yell of surprise. Dust saturated the air, completely obstructing their view of the Tower. There was a giant roar, followed by a howl that sent shivers down everyone's spines. As he hit the shaking ground, Zel instinctively threw his hand forward, finishing the incantation of his shielding spell and gritting his teeth as he made it hold against the force of the dust and rocks that were hurled skyward and then back down toward them. The roaring sound continued, rivaling a tornado in its ferocity. Ameria quickly threw her own spell behind his, strengthening his shield from where she had landed on her side. Princess Erika was not far away from her, simply looking shocked and scared. Lina had been thrown into Gourry, and was now sprawled perpendicular to him across his breastplate. They bounced together against the ground. She didn't protest being so close to him; she didn't have time to.

Finally, the giant head of a white dragon became visible above the still rising rubble. It opened its mouth and roared, and everyone instinctively covered their ears with their hands in pain. A few seconds later, its mighty jaw snapped shut with the horrendous click of hundreds of needle-like teeth as it shot out of the ground and landed next to the hole it had created. It was a long, snake-like creature with no legs, so white its skin was almost translucent. Half its body was raised in the air like a flagpole while it wrapped the other half of itself loosely around the base of the Tower. Its tail ended in a long tuft of stringy white hair, while thick scales covered its body and two delicate arms. Its hands, tiny in comparison to the rest of its body, yet still big enough to pick up a person, flailed through the air. Its fingers ended in four-foot-long, vicious-looking claws. Its long, flat, boxy snout ended on each corner with nostrils the size of a full-grown man. The ends of a thin, rope-like mustache, dangling ten or twenty feet off either side off its muzzle, quivered in the air as the beast moved. Its blood red eyes sat above and behind the snout, and were overshadowed by thick, hairy eyebrows. The beast stood probably two hundred feet tall--about one tenth as tall as the Tower itself. Its body shook, causing the rocks that rested on its flat head to tumble to the ground. Some of them smashed against Zel and Ameria's wind shield, which faltered for a second, but held. The rest fell from its body with an earth shattering crash.

Zel and Ameria let their shield drop when the rocks stopped falling, saving their energy for future magical attacks. They scrambled to their feet. Lina pushed herself off of Gourry and muttered her thanks for catching her. "You're welcome," he replied, his expression switching to his easygoing smile for a split second before he picked himself up and turned his attention to the threat at hand.

Zelgadiss looked meaningfully at Lina. "So the curse does exist, after all," he said softly.

Lina shrugged her small shoulders and nodded. "Guess our suspicion was unfounded. At heart, it seems like a very powerful basic summoning spell. I'd still like to know how it's stayed potent despite its age, but..." her voice trailed off and she shrugged. "Well, then," she said appraisingly, eyeing the dragon in front of her, a dangerous grin on her face, "this thing doesn't look so scary. I'll bet I can take it out with one spell." With that, she held her palms out in front of her and yelled, "FireBALL!"

The ball of flame shot toward the dragon and struck it in its midsection. But instead of hurting its target, it simply disappeared with a "pop" as soon as it made contact with the dragon's skin. It tilted its head and blinked, focusing its eyes on Lina, and sniffed the air disdainfully.

Everyone sweatdropped and lifted an eyebrow at Lina. "That was...anticlimactic..." Zel said dryly.

Lina growled in irritation and yelled, "Well, excuse me for trying an easy spell first! Why don't you try something, if all you're going to do is make fun of me?"

Zel grinned. "Very well." He stepped forward and began chanting, then threw his hands forward, yelling the name of the spell. "Burst Flare!"

A blazing ball of bright white light appeared near the dragon's head the second after Zel finished the incantation, and promptly exploded in a blinding flash of light. Everyone blinked and rubbed their eyes until they could see again, while the dragon reared backward and shook its head, its hands waving frantically and its tail flicking against the ground in irritation. "What?!" Zel gasped.

"That spell should've blown it up completely!" Ameria said in surprise.

"Feh. Nice going, Mr. Anticlimactic," Lina said scornfully.

Zel glared at her, and was about to retort back, when Gourry interrupted. "Uh, Lina..."

"Not now, Gourry. We have to figure out what spell we can use against this thing," Lina said, too busy glaring back at Zel to even glance at Gourry.

"Zelgadiss-san," Ameria said slowly. "Um, Zelgadiss-san?"

"I'm a little busy, Ameria," Zel replied, returning Lina's glare coolly.

They heard a gasp behind them, however, and turned when they suddenly heard Princess Erika yell, "Look out!" She pointed up at the dragon, which was now thrusting its head forward, its chest expanded like a balloon and glowing red. It opened its mouth and roared, and fire shot out from between its bared teeth, splaying through the air right across the top of their heads. With yells of surprise, everyone instinctively hit the deck and tried to make themselves as flat across the ground as they could while the dragon blew its fiery breath right over them.

"It'!" Ameria yelled, the intense heat immediately making her clothes dampen with perspiration.

Gourry wiped sweat out of his eyes and yelled, "Lina! Do something!"

"Zel! Get a shield up!" Lina ordered over the roaring sound of the flames.

"What was that about being anticlimactic?" Zel yelled back snidely from where he lay face-down.

Lina managed to find his arm with her toe and kicked him hard, to their mutual chagrin. "Just do it!"

"Hurry!" the princess pleaded.

Zel glanced upward, then quickly rolled over and put his hands out in front of him, creating a shield that was low and flat over their bodies. The heat immediately lessened as flames licked against the shield instead of their clothes. They stayed like that for a minute more until the dragon ran out of air and the flames disappeared.

Gourry scrambled to his feet. "I'll take a whack at it!" he called, and raced forward as the dragon sucked in another breath, its belly beginning to glow red-hot again. He charged forward, his sword held ready, yelling a war cry.

"Gooooo get 'im, Gourry!" Lina cheered. She readied another spell to divert its attention, yelling "Flare Arrow!"

Ameria and Zel jumped up, as well, and began chanting their own spells. "Keep distracting it!" Ameria cried. She concentrated, then yelled, "Burst Rondo!"

"Damu Brass!" Zel called.

Little balls of light from Ameria's spell circled around the red sphere of light created by Zelgadiss, and together, they raced toward their target. The dragon reeled in shock as the first of the little light orbs smashed into its chest, exploding like firecrackers into balls of flame that licked at its scales for a few seconds before fading into clouds of smoke. Meanwhile, Zel's Damu Brass struck the beast squarely below its jaw, where he supposed its throat would be. It rocked backward as the red globe self-destructed with a bang, snorting fire while its limbs flailed frantically. The smoke from the exploding balls of fire partially obstructed everyone's view of the dragon, but they could clearly see that its ears were plastered back against its head in aggression. It whined low in its throat as it regained its balance, glaring down at its attackers with fierce, red eyes.

Gourry took that opportunity to race toward the white beast and leap into the air, his sword held high. Unfortunately, everyone was so busy trying to either distract or attack it that they didn't notice that it had brought its tail from around the Tower. With an angry roar, the dragon tilted its body and brought its tail up, slicing it through the air just above Gourry, knocking him off course. "Waugh! What's going on?!" he shouted. Instead of slicing through the beast's belly, he fell straight down with a yell.

The dragon, which had now seen through their plan, roared again and sucked in a quick breath. It pounded its tail against the ground, creating small trenches and almost knocking everyone off their feet again, and blew fire in small spurts at the three sorcerers and Princess Erika. They scrambled out of the way, Zel and Ameria throwing up shields around them while Lina pulled the princess behind them.

Gourry, meanwhile, was busy trying to avoid getting crushed by the dragon's tail. He ran back and forth among the rocks and rubble in front of its body, never getting the chance to slice at its most vulnerable areas. Suddenly, however, he got an idea. He sheathed his sword, and, instead of dodging away as the dragon brought its tail down next to him with a loud boom, he simply stood still. Without warning, he lunged for the tail, just barely managing to grip one of the stringy tufts of hair at its end as the beast poised itself for another attack. He held on tightly with two hands, all the while gauging the distance between himself and the dragon's belly while it continued to breathe fire on his friends, not aware of where he was.

Just as the dragon was about to snap its tail downward again, Gourry judged the distance between him and his target to be just about right, and let go. He was flipped up into the air at a dizzying speed. He unsheathed his sword in mid-air, and held it perpendicular to himself as he went flying toward the dragon's body. With a grunt, Gourry felt the sword point pierce the dragon's skin. It sank into the flesh halfway to the hilt, and Gourry slammed his free palm against its stomach to stop himself before his inertia smashed him into the hilt.

Suddenly, the dragon stopped blowing fire and roared in pain. Lina, Ameria, Zel, and Princess Erika looked up, and, to their surprise, saw Gourry dangling from his sword hilt as he used his weight to pull the sword through the dragon's midsection.

"Hey, he did it!" Lina cheered. "He really--whoa!" she yelled, interrupted by the dragon, which had pounded its tail against the ground even harder than before. She was thrown sideways and almost fell to the ground, but Princess Erika managed to grab her by her shoulders and hold her upright. Lina blinked, surprised by the other girl's strength. "Thanks," she said quickly.

The princess nodded back and let go. Lina turned to see Zel and Ameria attack the beast with small fire spells to keep it from pounding its tail. Gourry, meanwhile, had brought the sword almost to the ground, and pale green blood was oozing out from a huge gash in its belly.

"Keep attacking it!" Zel yelled to Lina.

Lina immediately began to cast a Fireball that would be big enough to get the dragon's attention, but not big enough to hurt Gourry. She paused, however, when Ameria tried to yell something over the dragon's roaring. "What?" she shouted back.

When the beast sucked in more air to roar again, Ameria hollered, "This isn't working! It's healing itself!"

"Impossible!" Zel exclaimed.

"Look!" Ameria yelled, pointing to the top of the long cut Gourry had made. Already the bleeding had stopped, and new, white flesh had almost completely grown over the wound.

"How is it doing that?" Lina yelled in disbelief.

Ameria shook his head. "I don't know, but this doesn't look good! We're going to have to try something else--something bigger!"

"Bigger, hmmm?" Lina said, a glint in her eye.

"What about Gabriev-san?" Princess Erika asked. She gestured ahead to Gourry, who had now reached the ground and was making smaller slashes with his sword. Green blood spurted out, covering his hands and forearms, its mild acid making his skin itch and burn. He leapt and dodged the dragon's tail as it slammed to the ground right behind him, but valiantly kept slicing.

"Let's get him out of there," Zel said. "Ameria and I will take a whack at it while you call him back, Lina," he directed.

Zel and Ameria exchanged a glance, silently communicating their plan. They stepped forward together and began the chant for the Ra Tilt.

"Towa to mugen wo tayutoishi / Subete no kokoro no minamotoyo," Ameria began.

"Gourry!" Lina shouted. "Get out of there!"

Suddenly hearing something, Gourry turned around. "What?" he yelled back, holding a hand to his ear.

"Tsukiru koto naki aoki honouyo," Ameria continued, her eyes closed in concentration.

"Gourry!" she shouted again. "Oh, it's no use. Keep chanting!" she yelled to Zel and Ameria. She raced forward, and called out, "Ray Wing!"

Gourry, not realizing what was going on, turned back to the dragon, and was surprised to see that the slashes in its skin he had made earlier had disappeared. "Huh?" he gasped in shock.

"Get out of there, Gourry! Run!" Lina yelled as she flew toward him. Trading speed for safety, she pushed ahead even faster, ignoring the dragon's tail, which was twitching and moving not far away.

"What?" Gourry shouted, turning. "Lina!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?".

"Never mind that! Just run! We're going to blast this thing to smithereens!" she hollered. Suddenly, Lina caught movement out of the corner of her eye. With a gasp, she cancelled her spell and went tumbling to the ground some six feet below as the dragon's tail swished through the air just above where her head had been.

"Waga tamashii no uchi ni nemurishi sono chikara," Zelgadiss continued, maneuvering his extended hands into position next to Ameria's.

"Lina!" Gourry shouted. He ran to her side and quickly checked her over for injuries. "Are you all right?"

Lina picked herself up with a grunt. "I'm fine, just a few bruises." She saw Zel and Ameria ready themselves to finish their spell. "C'mon, let's get out of here!" She jumped up and grabbed Gourry's wrists while re-casting her Ray Wing spell, at first dragging him back to her friends, then finally lifting him enough so that his feet dangled a foot or so off the ground.

"Mugen yori kitarite / Sabaki wo ima kokoni! RA TILT!!" Ameria and Zelgadiss shouted together, completing the incantation. White power burst from their hands and sped toward the dragon, which reared his head back and started to take a deep breath as if it were going to breathe fire again. The spell caused a flash of light that temporarily blinded everyone watching.

Princess Erika gasped. "Inverse-san and Gabriev-san!" she shouted. "They're--"

"They're fine!" Zel replied. "Lina had enough time to get him out of there."

Ameria looked less confident. "But, what if--"

At that second, against the white background, they saw the outline of Lina carrying Gourry by his wrists away from the dragon. The princess sighed with relief. "Thank goodness," she whispered.

"Zel! Ameria!" Lina shouted as she sped toward them. "Thanks for waiting till we were out of there!" she yelled sarcastically as she dropped Gourry unceremoniously next to the princess.

Ameria and Zelgadiss sweatdropped. "Sorry, Lina-san," Ameria said sheepishly.

"Well, it was your fault for not moving fast enough," Zel said grumpily.

"We couldn't help it!" Gourry protested. "That thing started attacking us just before you cast that spell!"

"Exactly!" Lina agreed.

Princess Erika cleared her throat to get their attention. "That is not very important right now, since it is still very angry with us," she pointed out nervously.

"It wasn't even scratched!" Ameria exclaimed in shock.

"Huh?" Lina turned to see the dragon writhing around, flailing its arms uncertainly, tendrils of smoke floating up lazily from its nostrils. "Heh. I'll show it what happens when it tries to smack me around," she said smugly, pretending to roll up her sleeves.

Everyone else instinctively stepped backward as Lina took a few steps forward, beginning the chant for her favorite spell. "Tasogare yori mo kuraki mono / Chi no nagare yori akaki mono..." She held her hands up dramatically, the wind beginning to pick up around her. The dragon regarded her curiously and snorted, then began to inhale, its stomach starting to glow red again. "Toki no nagare ni uzumore shi / Idai na nanji no na ni oite..." Her voice grew in volume, and her hair and cape were now flapping around her in the strong wind. The dragon's belly was now fully expanded and glowing an angry red.

"Lina! Hurry!" Gourry yelled with concern. "It's going to blow fire again!"

Suddenly, the dragon's expression changed. Instead of blowing the fire at Lina, it exhaled slowly, flames licking up around its teeth and lips. It stopped waving its small arms and held them still, and looked at Lina expectantly. "What's it doing?" Ameria said, eyeing it suspiciously.

"It's waiting...for something..." Zel trailed off slowly.

None of them noticed the expression on the princess's face change from one of nervous expectation to one of sheer dread. "No," she whispered under her breath.

"Ware, koko ni yami ni chikawan / Warera ga mae ni tachi fusagari shi..." Lina continued, her eyes closed. Ruby-colored power gathered into the space between her hands and formed a red ball. Equally red tendrils of energy floated around her, swirling in a spherical pattern.

"That is very powerful, right?" Princess Erika murmured, her eyes wide and the color drained from her cheeks.

Ameria half-turned and glanced at her over her shoulder. "She's casting the Dragon Slave--the most powerful spell in all of black magic." Noticing the princess's fearful expression, she turned completely. "Why?" she asked.

Princess Erika kept her eyes riveted on the dragon, which was now standing very still, watching Lina in anticipation. "She has to stop," she murmured. She caught her breath and stepped forward. "She can't cast it!"

"What?!" Zel and Gourry said simultaneously.

"Subete no oroka naru mono ni / Ware to nanji ga chikara mote..." Lina continued, oblivious to what was happening behind her.

Before anyone could stop Princess Erika, she shoved past her surprised protectors and ran toward Lina. "Lina, Lina wait!" she shouted. "Lina, no, don't cast it! LINA!!"

At the same time, Lina grinned and thrust her hands forward. "Hitoshiku horobi o ataen koto o! DRAGON SLAVE!!"

Crimson power exploded from her hands and streaked straight at the dragon. Small tendrils of energy curled around it and joined it, forming one large, red bolt. It sliced through the air and impacted the dragon at its midsection with a loud boom. It gave off a blinding burst of light, so bright that Princess Erika skidded to a halt right behind Lina with a shriek. She threw her hands up in front of her face reflexively while Lina kept the spell up, willing it to destroy the roaring white dragon.

The moment seemed to last forever. Finally, however, Lina brought her hands down and saw the last of the spell's power impact its target. She held her fingers in a 'V' shape. "Got it!" she cheered victoriously. The princess slowly lowered her hands and opened her eyes wide.

As the light died down, however, Lina gasped. " survived?!" she said incredulously. "Just how tough is this thing?!"

Princess Erika looked up and saw, just as she had expected, the dragon still standing in front of them, unharmed. This time, however, its white skin had turned an ugly blood red, and its eyes rolled crazily in fury. Its small hands waved in front of its body and finally clasped together briefly, just long enough to form a ball of red power between them that eerily resembled the color of the Dragon Slave. The ball grew bigger and bigger, as did Lina's eyes in amazement. "What's going on?" she murmured, and took an instinctive step backwards.

"Get back," the princess said, softly at first, eyeing the ruby-colored ball between the dragon's hands. "Lina!" she shouted. "Get back! Get behind me!" She ran forward and gasped when she saw the dragon lean back, the red ball in front of it almost as wide as its body by this time. When Lina didn't move, she caught her arm and threw her backward. She whirled around at the same instant that the dragon shoved forward its huge crimson ball, threw her hands out in front of her, and closed her eyes, screaming, "NO!!"

"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.