(Standard disclaimers apply)

Author's note:
This story contains mature themes torture, both physical
and mental, and generally frightening scenes which are
not suitable for a young or sensitive audience. It will
also, eventually contain Lemon elements, but these will
be posted separately so you can skip over them. Oh, and
I'm not being mean to Lina because I don't like her -
she's actually my favourite character and I'm giving her
plenty of chocolate to cheer her up. :)

_An Ignominious End_ by Flarn

*Part 1*

ignominious adj. 1) Marked by or involving
dishonour or disgrace; shameful. 2) Meriting
disgrace; despicable. 3) Tending to diminish
one's self respect.

When Lina did not come down to breakfast, that was the first clue that something was wrong.

Gourry sat at the table, eating bacon and eggs - four helpings - and thinking about his journeys with the red-haired sorceress since they had last parted ways with the rest of the group.

Although it was true that the swordsman was not considered gifted in the mental department, he knew enough, after travelling with Lina for more than two years, to be able to predict her habits. She was like a small dynamo, a ball of fire, and also a creature of habit. He knew she would no more miss breakfast than he would - not even when she was experiencing 'that time of the month'.

He thought about what they had been through together. They'd had a lot of fun times, and also unsettling ones... Like that lingering feeling of something important, something neither of them remembered, after their run in with Phibrizzo and the Lord of Nightmares. Even now, another series of improbable adventures over, they were still no closer to finding out what it was.

Ah well, they were still travelling together, that was something at least.

The blonde swordsman was halfway through chewing another mouthful of breakfast when the scream came from out in the streets.

A woman's scream, a mixture of surprise and shock. Gourry wondered again where Lina was as he pushed his chair back from the table and left a few coins in payment for the meal as he left the inn.

People had begun to gather around the well that stood outside, watching an unseen drama with great interest. His height allowed him only a little advantage as he stared over the heads of the onlookers, trying to see what was going on.

"What's happening?" he finally asked an old woman who stood nearby.

"They say there's someone down the well," the grey haired woman told him kindly. "Probably our lads had a bit much to drink and his companions gave him a dunking." She clicked her tongue. "I do hope that they are alright, whoever they are. Sometimes these silly pranks can get carried a bit too far."

"Maybe I can give them some help then," said Gourry, and began to push his way through the gathering. Lina would be so proud of him for all the good ideas he was coming up with today!

He emerged from the growing gathering to see several men were already hard at work pulling the rope and bucket up from the depths while a middle aged woman, probably the source of the scream he had heard, peered down into the well with a worried expression.

Gourry approached her. "I heard someone scream - can you tell me what's going on?"

"Oh, it's just awful," said the woman, tugging at the green kerchief that held back her light brown hair. "There's a girl down there in naught but her shift. We don't even know if she's alive, or..."

"A girl?" Gourry peered over the edge of the well, following the woman's gaze. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom below, he felt his heart clench in his chest, and he let out a shout of his own. "That's no girl, that's Lina!"

"You know her?"

"Yes, that's Lina, my..." He didn't finish the sentence as he realized that every moment he spent chatting was another moment Lina was spending down in that dark well. "LINA! HANG ON!" He turned towards the men who were pulling up the bucket. "Is that the best you guys can do?"

He had meant the question to be mild, but it didn't seem to have the right effect, judging by the fearful looks they were giving him. Gourry saw the rope begin to slip from their hands as they stared at him anxiously.

"No, no, NO! Don't let go!" he screamed, agitated beyond anything he had ever known. "Give me that, let me help..." He snatched the rope, winding it in his fist and lent his strength to theirs. They pulled and pulled until finally the brightness of Lina's hair came into view, a flame of hope to Gourry's anguished heart.

"Lina!" He left the rest of the village men to tie off the rope around the well frame as he rushed to Lina's side, lifting her cold, wet form from the bucket, not really seeing the state she was in, blinded by relief to all but the one thing that really mattered to him: that her chest still rose and fell with shallow, rhythmic breaths.

"Oh..." said the woman in the green kerchief, "my poor child, what has happened to you?"

Gradually other information began to register in the swordsman's brain, the fact that Lina was wet with more than water, she was slimy, and smelled rather strongly of vomit, the source of which appeared to be staining the thin nightgown she wore. Her hands and feet were tied, and she also wore a gag, wedged tightly between her teeth... how she had managed to throw up without drowning in her own vomit was really quite an accomplishment.

But why? Why was she like this? Lina had some strange ideas now and then, but even Gourry knew she wouldn't have tied herself up and thrown herself down a well, or... wait, what was this? A tiny, fluid movement caught his eye, then another, and another, slipping pallidly, nearly invisible against the milky whiteness of Lina's skin.


Lina hated slugs.

"No..." he whispered, running his hand over Lina's cool skin, flicking the creatures off. Lina hated slugs. The thought played itself over and over in his mind as he continued to pick them off her, becoming near frantic as their number never seemed to end.

"Excuse me, young man..." The woman in the green kerchief again importuned him with meaningless chatter.

"Not now, can't you see they're all over her?" Gourry whispered in quiet torment. "Nothing scares her, I've seen her face monsters as tall as houses, but she doesn't like slugs... I have to get them off - she hates them, you see, more than anything else. She hates them." He brushed more of the creatures away, awed, sickened by their number, not caring that he was getting them on himself, only that he was removing them from Lina.

"Listen to me..." Two work roughened hands settled on his shoulder armour, pulling his face down nearer to hers. "I understand that. But you might want to think about taking her inside, and getting her warm."

"Oh... You're right, yes, of course you're right - how could I be so stupid?" The last part was rhetorical - or at least it usually was when Lina said it. "Come on Lina," he told the unconscious girl in his arms, "we can get you cleaned up much better at the inn."

Lina was going to kill him, Gourry thought.

He ran his wooden comb a final time through the silken strands of the sorceress' flame-dark hair, savouring the crackling smoothness of it, the way it fell in a glinting cascade of copper metallic strands straight down to the floor. How bright it was, brighter still against the wood grain of the tub in which she rested, finally clean from her ordeal.

And that was why she would kill him. Because he had done it all himself, from wiping her down with salted water to kill the last of the slugs that clung to her, to washing her pale body and her long red hair clean of their slime and her vomit. It had all been his doing.

Not that there had been time for him to stare, to notice what nice skin she had, white and fine as one of Filia's best porcelain tea sets, so fine that tiny blue veins showed through at her pulse points, fragile as spider webs. There really been all that much time either for him to notice the fact that her 'underdeveloped' chest might not look nearly so underdeveloped if she didn't insist on wearing that silly yellow band strapped across it. He'd been far too busy taking care of her to notice all of that. Really.

It was probably just as well that Lina had stayed unconscious through it all. Although he was grateful for the escape from the red-headed sorceress' fury, the blonde swordsman was more than a little worried, since he had been sure she would wake up when he was finished, if not before. He had imagined that maybe her mind had gone to another place to wait for the nightmare to be over. It was a good theory, especially for him, but so far she hadn't stirred.

"Come on, Lina," Gourry whispered, taking one of her limp hands in his own. "Your fingers are getting all pruney. I guess I shouldn't have left you in there so long. But I wanted you to feel really nice and clean again... I know how much you hate... all that. Well, come on, bathtime's over..." He stared at the unresponsive sorceress for a few more minutes. "Hmph," he finally concluded, "look's like there's no way for me to get you out without getting wet myself, is there?"

He looked about the room as he planned his next move, blue eyes coming to rest on the pile of towels he'd secured from the baths. He got up and spread a few on the bed, then scooped the diminutive redhead from her cooling bathwater. He marvelled again at how small and fragile she seemed in his arms as he carried her across the room, trying to keep his eyes just on her face. She looked so restful and lovely now that a little colour had come back to her cheeks from the heat. Lina was actually pretty, he thought, pretty yet somehow still sad... as though the fear of whatever had happened could find her even in the place where she was hiding. Gourry wondered how it could be that sadness made her prettier still. He thought about how polishing his old swords with a rough whetstone made the edges keener, but prettiness was not a sword...

Was it?

He set her down gently on the layer of dry towels he had placed on the bed, piling the rest over her so she could dry off, hopefully without getting the bed too damp. At least her hair had managed to semi-dry before the fire.

Shrugging out of his wet shirt, Gourry grabbed the last of the towels for himself. Truth be told he'd had nearly as much of a bath as she did, although not quite on purpose. He rubbed his skin roughly, then pulled on a clean shirt from his travel bag, before returning to Lina's side.

He pulled up a chair beside the bed, and regarded her solemnly. "Lina," he begged her softly, "Lina, please wake up. You're safe now. I'm here, I'll protect you." His voice caught on the last words as they sank in. That was just it - *he* was her protector, *he* had failed her to keep her safe. A sick feeling grew inside of him as he realized she could just as easily have been dead right now. The fact that she was not dead owed nothing at all to his care or skill with a sword, only to the simple conclusion that whoever had done this obviously did not want to kill her.

Not yet anyway.

His broad shoulders shook for just a moment before he controlled it, biting his lip hard as he stared down at his sorceress. His Lina. That had been what he was about to say to the woman at the well: "That's Lina, my Lina..." His Lina, with red hair and a temper to match, and a face that got all screwed up like a demented elf's when she didn't get her way... with a laugh that broke through sadness as if it were made of glass... with eyes like strange and beautiful wine, that made him drunk and giddy every time he looked into them.

He had come so close to losing her even before this, too close for his comfort. In that moment he had discovered just to what point his imagination failed at creating a world in which he was living without her.

He simply could not imagine it.

And so, for Gourry, there was really no other choice but to do better. For Lina's sake, and for his own.