Author: Rune Simbriant PM
Fifty years ago Lina Inverse left behind all that she knew. In that time much has changed. But things never stay simple, with a bit of Lina and Zel fluff thrown in for fun. New Chapter 15!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Lina I. & Zelgadiss G. - Chapters: 16 - Words: 76,356 - Reviews: 93 - Favs: 49 - Follows: 51 - Updated: 07-07-12 - Published: 08-27-02 - id: 936538
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Learn to laugh at your problems. Everyone else does…
Lina liked to believe life was a big, beautiful flower standing defiantly against the wind and rain, or whatever else fate decided to throw at it. Even when Lina faced certain death her flower never wilted, never bent. She enjoyed every moment of her life from day she first learned to use magic to her triumphs against Mazoku lords to her first shared kiss with Zelgadis. Her life had its fair share of ups and downs. Whose didn't? Live and learn. Don't dwell on mistakes of the past. Never suffer a regret. Those were Lina's mottos. And with one exception, she managed just fine.
One thing that never ceased to amaze Lina was that no matter how long she lived, she always found something new and unexpected to discover. For instance, Zelgadis might like to believe he was a heartless sorcerer-swordsman, but when he slept he wore the most peaceful expression, almost like a child. She found it surprising she never noticed the detail before.
Together, Lina and Zelgadis lay sprawled across her bed. After a long night of revelry, this being their fifth night spent in the celebration, the two had stumbled back to Lina's room, her room being the closer of the two. Zelgadis was more than a little tipsy so Lina allowed him to crash on her bed. It was a prime opportunity to take advantage of a situation. Unfortunately, Lina wasn't in much better shape. So the day had uneventfully passed with the two of them sleeping off the worst effects of the massive amounts of alcohol they had consumed.
"Remind me to never drink another Whatever again as long as I live," Zelgadis grumbled as he sat up on the bed. The room swayed, encouraging him to lay down again. "I should have known better than to try a cocktail named Whatever."
Lina rolled over and gazed bleary-eyed at the chimera. "The same goes for me. My head feels like a dragon did a dance on it."
"How many Whatevers did you have? You were tossing them back like water."
"It seemed like a good idea at the time. They tasted pretty good."
"I'm surprised you remember their taste at all. Why am I in your room?"
Lina's lips twisted in a sly smile. "What do two members of the opposite sex usually do after a night of partying and drinking?"
"We must have done it wrong. Our clothes are still on. And I don't remember a thing." The faintest of blushes colored his cheeks.
"A pity. You were magnificent!" After a moment, Lina burst into laughter. "Oh, the look on your face! Priceless!"
"So glad I entertain you. Now if the room would be so good as to stop spinning whenever I try to sit up."
Lina rolled onto her side. She sighed contently, nuzzling closer to Zelgadis. With her ear against his chest she could hear the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. It was a comforting sound. "This is nice." She reached up, her fingers running the chimera's chin. The dark pebbles buried in his skin appeared to mark extra sensitive spots—Like this one here on his neck! She ran her thumb across the dark spot.
"Stop that," mumbled Zelgadis sleepily.
"And if I don't?" She teased him with another playful caress.
Zelgadis cracked an eye open at the sorceress. "You force my hand." Before Lina could say a word he hooked his hands under her arms and pulled her into a deep kiss.
Kisses are like drinking salt water, Zelgadis realized. The more you drank, the thirstier you got. If not for the necessity of breathing, it was likely possible people would keep kissing forever.
That need to breathe was the eventuality that forced them to break apart, but Lina was never one to be satisfied with a single gold coin when she could have the entire treasure chest full of gold. One kiss became two. Two quickly became a dozen. Zelgadis lost count after that, but he knew their time was running short.
"You know," Zelgadis managed between kisses, "it is the afternoon. We need to get up. The ball is only a few hours away. The Count is expecting us to be punctual."
"Let him wait." She leaned in for another kiss.
Zelgadis leaned back, just enough to tease her. And give himself a few seconds more to catch his breath. "I'm serious, Lina."
She sighed. He did have a point. "You always have to be the killjoy, don't you?"
"Work before pleasure."
Lina had to laugh. Although their work schedule for the count kept them constantly busy, most of their off time was spent together. Lina was the happiest she had ever felt in a long time. She was going to live! Zelgadis loved her! She loved Zelgadis! Could life get any better?
Hours later, after spending a ridiculous amount of time fixing her hair and putting on makeup, Lina was finally ready. An insistent knock at the door reminded Lina she was running behind schedule. A short while later she was being led through the halls by a fairy to a small anteroom where the music of stringed instruments wafted in through the curtained doorway leading to the ballroom. Zelgadis was already there, peeking out through the curtains. He turned at the approach of her feet whispering against the carpet.
"It certainly took you long…" Speech had escaped the chimera for the moment. To Lina's supreme satisfaction, there was a look of utter astonishment of on his face.
"I'm sorry, Zel," she smiled smugly, flicking a strand of red hair over her bare shoulder. "Were you saying something?"
"I…it…ball…start…half hour ago." Even single-syllable words were posing a challenge for him.
Lina laughed, smoothly slipping up to him so they were nearly eye to eye. She gave his neck scarf a playful tug. "It's called being fashionably late. All women do it." Another tug on the scarf brought his head down enough for her to give him a quick peck on the lips. "And you look devilishly handsome tonight."
"Remember why we are here," Zelgadis finally managed to say.
"Oh, I do. I'm just having fun like every other woman playing dress-up at a ball."
"Odd. As I recall, you never cared much for the balls in Saillune."
"I've grown three inches since then." Having dresses tailored to her figure certainly helped. Gio had done wonders. While the crimson dress was slimming, it did an amazing job of enhancing her bust and accentuating her curves. The matching gloves that came up past her elbows were a nice touch, too. Zelgadis certainly liked it. She didn't miss how his eyes kept lingering on her figure. "Have you noticed anything suspicious yet?"
"Only that every noble from this city I meet makes my fingers itch to draw my sword. Rhakov warned me of the shady businesses they involve themselves in."
"At least you get to keep your sword. They're not exactly fashionable to wear with a dress. The best I could do was strap an enchanted dagger to my thigh."
"I'm surprised you didn't create an enchanted pocket or two in your dress."
Lina shook her head. "Not enough time. Even Lazlore needed at least three days to create a bag of holding."
From the ballroom, they heard the deep, metallic ring of a gong followed by a servant announcing, "The Sorceress Supreme, Lina Inverse, and Zelgadis Greywers, Royal Court Mage of Kardia."
"Looks like we're up." Zelgadis offered his arm. "Shall we go?"
Lina hooked her arm through his with a smile. "Yes, let's."
They exited through the curtained doorway down a grand staircase that led down to the ballroom floor. From the stairway Lina could see all the way to the opposite side of the two story room. Stained glass windows stretched from floor to ceiling. Gigantic chandeliers hung from the ceiling, showering the room with a soft glow from enchanted crystals. The floor was white marble flecked with gold and polished to a high sheen that allowed Lina to see her own reflection. Tables draped in white linens, laid out with silver platters of various sweetmeats and pastries lined one wall. Servants darted from one side of the room to the other, offering glasses of chilled wine and champagne to the guests. Over two hundred of the city's nobles were in attendance tonight—politicians, merchants, and more. Lina briefly wondered how many of the nobles could actually claim royal blood. There was a reason why the city was called 'The City of Sin.'
Count Rosencratz greeted them on the floor as if they were old acquaintances, "Lina. Zelgadis. I'm so glad you could join us!" As a well experienced politician, he could perform for a ready audience without missing a beat. "You positively glow today, Lina! What is it, did you style your hair differently?"
Lina was wearing her hair down the same as she had for the past several days, but to keep up appearances she combed her fingers through her hair and replied, "How kind of you to notice, my dear Count. Does it suit me?"
"You look positively radiant. Oh, wait! Where are my manners? Zelgadis. Lina. I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine that arrived recently." Rosencratz gestured and a tall, beautiful woman with a dark mane of hair marked by a single stripe of white and sapphire eyes surfaced from the crowd. She wore a wicked smile, which appeared to be aimed specifically at Lina. "Allow me to introduce—"
"Naga!" Lina exploded. "You again! What the hell are you doing here?"
"Hello, Lina. I thought it would be obvious. Ohohohohohoho! I am simply enjoying the wonderful ball thrown by the charming Count. Imagine my surprise at finding you here mingling among your betters."
"I'll show you who your better is!"
Before Lina could so much as start an incantation Zelgadis tactfully clamped his hands over her wrists, trapping them at her sides. "Not here," he whispered into her ear. Lina scowled at him over her shoulder, but did nothing more. "Gracia, why didn't you tell us you knew the Count?"
"Ohohohohoho!" Zelgadis noted she was showing disciplined restraint with her laughter. The wine glasses had yet to shatter. "I didn't want to spoil the surprise."
"Ah, I am so glad you are already acquainted with one another," Rosencratz said with a hint of amusement. "I had no idea the three of you knew each other. Well, I suppose I should explain the princess's presence. She is here representing the interests of her kingdom."
"And here I thought it had more to do with the large wine selection your bar offered," Lina hissed.
"That, too! Ohohohohoho!"
Lina couldn't quite suppress the urge to wince at the laugh. "Let go of my hands, Zel," she hissed between clenched teeth.
"Call me psychic, but I have this sneaking suspicion you will do something violent if I release you."
"Only to Naga."
"Well, then, no. We have a job to do. That does not include creating an international incident with Saillune."
"Then get her away from me, Zel."
"All right," he sighed, promptly releasing Lina. He offered his arm to the princess. "Gracia, can I offer you a drink?"
"Ohohohohoho! Always the gentlemen, Zelgadis. I would love to."
Lina watched them drift over to the refreshment tables. When she turned back to the Count, she was much more visibly relaxed. "I apologize for the distraction, Rosencratz. Everything should be fine now."
"Do you and the princess hold a dislike for each other?"
"We met decades ago when we were both young. You could say we have a professional rivalry of sorts going on between us. Nothing that will interfere with your grand ball, I assure you."
"Excellent. Well, allow me to introduce you to some of my other guests…"
"So," Gracia chirped brightly after her third glass of wine, "I see you and Lina are an item now. How is that relationship working out for you?"
"We are happy," he replied honestly. Zelgadis knew Gracia well enough to realize her outward behavior was mostly a front to hide her true self. Something to do with her mother's death. Everyone dealt with problems in their own way.
"I am glad to hear that. You were so mopy after you left Amelia."
"That is water under the bridge now."
Gracia laughed, but it was a friendly sound, without malice. "I never did agree with Daddy's decision or the court's behavior. You did a brave thing."
Zelgadis shrugged, his gaze scanning the crowd. He didn't really know how to respond to that.
She brushed a silver-bluish strand of hair back from his forehead, stealing his attention back for the moment. Their eyes met, sparking thoughts of what might have been. "I do wonder, what does little Lina have that I do not?"
"Let's not go there," he warned. "You are two entirely different people."
"We would have made a good couple."
"Maybe," Zelgadis admitted, "but it would not have been fair to you."
"Yes, you were still licking your wounds from Amelia. Ours might have been a short relationship, but what a relationship! Oh, the stories Amelia told me…Zelgadis, I never imagined you would know such naughty things. Ohohohohohoho!"
A change of subject seemed like a good idea. "How long will you be staying?"
Gracia frowned in disappointment. "Not long, I'm afraid. My presence tonight was needed to make our interest official. Tomorrow I shall appoint a representative, then leave for home in a few days." She smiled. "Why don't you and Lina come with me? I'm certain Amelia will be happy to see you both."
"I would have to discuss it with Lina first." He wasn't certain how Amelia would react to their appearance.
"Zelgadis, has Lina made enemies since her arrival?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Do you see those three women sitting in the corner? They have been glaring daggers at little Lina all night."
"I noticed that too. Would you excuse me, Gracia?"
The princess grabbed his arm as he turned to go. "Zelgadis, is something wrong? Is Lina in danger?" Gracia's voice was filled with concern. "I can help."
"No, nothing like that," he reassured her. "I do have to go."
Reluctantly, she released him. "Be careful. You and Lina, both."
Lina had attended her fair share of ballroom dances and celebrations. Learning the steps of each dance had been more an act of necessity in politics. There were foreign nobles who refused to acknowledge a rival unless he or she knew their local dances.
Tonight Lina was putting them to good use. It seemed every nobleman Rosencratz introduced her to wanted a dance with her. No sooner was she done with one partner would another come to whisk her away. And all of them were curious to meet with the Sorceress Supreme, Lina Inverse. What was her opinion of local politics? Where would she travel next? Was she interested in finding a suitor to settle down with and continue her bloodline?
And then there was Lithium, a short, well-dressed man with a receding hairline, and tinted glasses. His very presence made Lina's skin crawl, although she couldn't quite place her finger on the reason why.
"Greetings, sorceress!" he bowed. With the snap of his fingers, a business card appeared in his hand. "I am Lithium, Star-Maker extraordinaire. I have brought fame to many. Bards, warriors, sorcerers, and even beastmen! With the right gimmick and proper advertising, why, I bet I could make you as famous as the Dra-matta!"
"I seriously doubt that," Lina replied dryly. There were times when fate's ironic sense of humor really grated on her nerves. She crumpled the business card in her hand. Where was the trash can?
"You underestimate yourself, sorceress! Picture this: A beautiful, genius sorceress, guardian of the weak, heroine of righteousness, enemy of all who threaten mankind! She travels the world, combatting evil at every turn! With the properly placed stuntment—I mean foes—you will become a legend! Even great than Lei Magnus!"
"No thank you, Lithium. I've already had more fame than I care to handle." The night was still young. Lina found herself tiring of the constant attention. And her feet hurt from dancing in high heels for so long. A glass of wine sounded good. "If you will excuse me…"
"Of course, sorceress! Don't worry! I'll keep in touch!"
She certainly hoped not. Thrashing a star-maker wouldn't do much for her reputation.
"You look beautiful," a familiar voice whispered in her ear as she reached the refreshment tables. Lina had already heard the same compliment a dozen times from as many men at the ball. Hearing it from Zelgadis as he slipped up beside her gave the compliment an entirely different meaning.
"Thank you." She couldn't quite hide the blush creeping up on her. "You really like the dress?"
Zelgadis smiled. "The dress is a lovely accessory. You are the one that is beautiful. Or didn't you notice all the heads you turned when you entered the room?"
"I expect the compliment from other men. You, however, have already seen me in this dress."
"Not really. I saw you being fitted for it. And earlier, you didn't give me much of a chance to see the dress. Or breathe, for that matter."
That brought on another blush from the sorcerous.
"That reminds me, I have a gift for you."
"A present?" Lina giggled. "For little old me? What is it?"
Zelgadis pulled out a jewelry box, flipping it open before her eyes. "Since you never wear rings or bracelets I wasn't sure how you felt about them. I thought a necklace would be more appropriate."
She expected a simple gold chain. The necklace in the box was of platinum and embedded with rubies that sparkled with an inner fire to match the sorceress's eyes and hair.
"This is…beautiful…" Lina replied breathlessly. "But for me? Why?"
"I was planning to save it for after you were healed. When I saw the drow dart take you down I realized how scared I was to lose you. If you turn around, I can put it on."
"And here I thought you were furious."
"I was scared," he replied dryly, closing the clasp. He couldn't resist planting a kiss on her neck. "There you are. You are one of the strongest people I know. You have the strength to Dragon Slave me a dozen times over. I found myself preferring that over the thought of losing you."
Lina fingered the necklace curiously. "When did you find the time to have this made?"
"I asked Lazlore to make it."
A crimson eyebrow arched toward the chimera. "How? Lazlore is all the way back in his tower!"
"We have been keeping in touch by carrier pigeon. Your childhood friends finally found you after decades. They wanted to make certain you stayed in touch this time." There was a slight scolding tone to Zelgadis's voice. "I just happened to see the opportunity in having the necklace made. Lazlore assures me there are numerous protective enchantments imbued into it as well. He agrees that you tend to get into a lot of trouble."
"I do not!" she snapped. "Can I help it that trouble follows me wherever I go?"
"Like moths to flame." Zelgadis's attention was suddenly caught by something across the room.
"What is it?"
"I have been watching everyone at the ball. Those three noblewomen in the corner seem to have taken an interest in you. Gracia noticed it as well. They have been watching your every move."
"Are you sure they aren't a bunch of petty nobles jealous of my beauty?"
"I admit they do look like they want to kill you, but not for that reason. If you take a close look at them, you will notice they are surrounded by a magical aura."
Lina gave them a careful look over. "Spells of cloaking and disguise. I'm guessing they must be our drow friends. Shall we pay a visit to my fans?"
"Are you certain that is a good idea? They might try something."
"They would have done so already. I believe they want to talk." As Lina spoke, one of the noblewomen summoned a servant, whispering into his ear. He nodded and quickly scurried across the floor towards Lina and Zelgadis.
The servant bowed. "Mrs. Inverse. The Lady Losrwyn extends to you an invitation to her table."
"See?" Lina nudged her elbow into Zelgadis's ribs. "What did I tell you? Tell the Lady Losrwyn I would be honored."
Zelgadis grabbed her arm as she moved to follow the servant. "Wait! You're going over there alone?"
"The invitation was for me. And one of us has to stay behind to keep an eye on things from afar," she pointed out. "This could be a trap. Or a distraction." She was both annoyed and happy at the concern in his eyes. "I can take care of myself against the drow. I am not made of glass, as I keep reminding you. You make certain they don't assassinate our employer."
"Be careful. I would hate for something bad to happen."
She tossed him a wry smile. "And here I was thinking of making a mess of things."
"Greetings, sorceress," the Lady Loswryn rose from her seat as Lina approached. "How wonderful of you to join me."
"Charmed, I'm certain," Lina replied.
"Would you care for a glass of wine?"
"No, thank you. Why don't you just get to the point of why you invited me over here? It was very clever of you to disguise yourselves as humans to sneak in. Although, I can't imagine why you would attend the ball and do nothing."
One of the ladies in waiting stepped up beside the Lady Loswryn. "I told you this one was no fool! She saw through our disguises so easily."
"Fear not, sorceress," the drow in disguise smiled. "Our mistress has sent us to propose a truce."
Lina frowned. "Why would she do that?"
"She recognizes your strength, though, immature your power may be for a Chaos Mage. Twice now you have surpassed the mistress's expectations when she was certain you perished. She promises to spare you and your pet chimera so long as you do not interfere further with her plans."
A Chaos Mage? The last Mazoku Lina destroyed had called her that. She still had no idea what it meant. Maybe this was a chance to gain insight into the meaning and learn the drow's plans.
Lina put on her best merchant's smile. "If your mistress knows I am a Chaos Mage, she must realize the trouble I could cause. Who is to say her plans don't interfere with mine? I need incentive to stay my hand."
The dark elf scowled. "I said she would spare your life."
"Death really isn't so bad," she replied nonchalantly. "It's what you leave unfinished. Now explain to me why I shouldn't have my 'pet' chimera dispel your illusion. I'm certain exposing your master's servants will complicate her plans."
"Allow Rosencratz's son to perish. Your contract speaks nil of protecting him."
"His son is a louse, but his sudden death could reflect badly upon me."
"Even when he is the one plotting against the Count?"
That was unexpected news. Of course, since the news was coming from a drow, Lina didn't entirely trust it. "Why would the son want to kill his father?" she asked.
Lady Loswryn laughed. "He wishes to seize power for himself. Why else?"
"Aren't you supposed to be his ally? You were the ones who attacked Rosencratz's mansion."
"The situation has changed. It is no longer profitable to eliminate Count Rosencratz. Best to wipe our hands clean. The son must die to protect our interests."
"What exactly changed?"
"Now, Lina," a voice from behind her spoke, "you should know that is a secret!"
"Beast Priest!" the drow scowled.
"Xellos!" Lina spun around. "What are you doing here?"
"That is a-"
Lina's fist smashing into his face cut him off. "Don't you get tired of saying that all the time?"
"Lina, that hurts!" Xellos whined.
"Cut the crap!" the sorceress snapped. "Are you in league with these dark..." she caught herself at the last moment. If she let slip that the three women she was conversing with were dark elves, it could start a panic in the ball room. "These ladies?"
The Mazoku smiled. "I thought that would be obvious." He nodded to the drows in disguise. "Ladies, if you would excuse us."
The three drow faded into the shadows as if they were never there.
Lina frowned at Xellos. If the drow were up to something, she had faith Zelgadis would keep them busy until help arrived. For now, she would preoccupy herself with dealing with Xellos. "What do you want?"
"So cold, Lina."
"If this is about the pledge, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not taking it. I don't need it."
"Disappoint?" Xellos mocked surprise. "Why, whatever do you mean?" His smile returned. "You are a mere eighty years old. While I, I was created before the Kouma War. My patience is infinite. Time is on my side. I can wait. In the meantime," he gestured to the table, "why don't we sit down. There is much we have to discuss."