This story was written for the wonderful Steven P.P., who "won" me in a charity auction for Haiti last year. Please note that this piece takes its cues from the epilogue of the sixth novel and has some dialogue modeled off of that. Anything recognizable is drawn from there. It's set between Slayers Revolution and Slayers Evolution-R and contains spoilers for Revolution, so you've been warned!
And, as always, Slayers doesn't belong to me but to Hajime Kanzaka, Rui Araizumi and the companies that represent them.
"Tea for Two"
Their journey to find a cure for Taforashia didn't last long the first time. It lasted approximately three hours, 37 minutes and 23 seconds. That was when Lina nudged the rather hefty lunch bill to Amelia's side of the table and declared that they would be returning to the Saillune royal palace.
"Why?" Pokota demanded in a shrill voice that nearly shattered the water glass that Zelgadiss had the unfortunately luck of picking up at that moment. Cracks immediately spread over the glass, water spraying through the small leaks. With a long-suffering sigh, he set it down.
"Because, despite all our optimism, we forgot that that Saillune has the best library on white magic in the known world, Lina explained. Unless we take a boat ride toward the temples of the Golden Dragons to the south, and I have no intention of doing that again, we're better off sticking close to here and doing research."
"Lina-san does have a point," Amelia conceded. "We don't know what kind of jar we're looking for."
"And," Gourry pointed out, "before we left, the cook told me they were having roast duck tonight!"
Lina's eyes sparkled and she grabbed his hands. "You mean the one with the mint sauce?"
He nodded excitedly. "Uh huh!"
"Then it's settled!" Lina shoved back from the table. "Back to the palace we go! Come on, Gourry! Amelia's paying for lunch!" She yelled as she hauled Gourry out the door with her.
Amelia slumped in her chair, fighting the urge to bury her head in her hands. Some times, it just didn't pay to be royalty.
Four weeks, two days, five hours and 17 minutes after leaving Amelia with the lunch bill, Lina absently rubbed the back of her neck. When the words on the ancient page in front of her blurred, she pulled off her reading spectacles and rubbed her eyes instead. She tossed the glasses down and absently wondered when she'd gotten old. She snorted. That was a stupid thing to even think. She wasn't even 20 yet was she? Lina glanced furtively at the calendar affixed haphazardly to the wall. No, her birthday hadn't arrived. Thank goodness.
She stretched, hearing her spine crack as she forced herself out of the hunched position she'd been in all morning, a stack of rejected books so tall that they threatened to topple on her within an arm's length of her. Staying in Saillune had seemed like the right decision more than a month earlier. Hell, it probably still was. It didn't change the fact that they were nowhere closer to figuring out what they were suppose to do next than they were when they landed on Phil's doorstep again.
Lina tilted back in her chair and watched the sunlight filter through the windows, settling upon a tea cart that was by the desk. When did that come, she wondered. Amelia was helping Sylphiel tend to the last of the wounded. Pokota was spending a good deal of time with Prince Phil arranging the aid that Taforashia would need once the spell was lifted. Zelgadiss had disappeared, and Ceiphied only knew where he was. Probably in some other library in the city looking for his cure. Gourry, not interested in books at all, hung out with Phil's guard to keep in shape.
It was, she realized, the first time in quite a long time that she was completely alone. Lina closed her eyes and savored the peace with a low hum of pleasure.
"Would you like some tea?"
It was only sheer luck that kept her from tipping the chair completely over. The legs landed on ancient wood with a loud crack and Lina gaped at the person suddenly occupying the chair across from her. "Xel "
"Ah!" Xelloss held up a finger. "You are going to call my name in indignant surprise then demand to know why I'm here. Then, I will have no choice but to reply that it is a secret, to which you will threaten me with bodily harm. A most charming thing indeed considering I have no mortal body."
Lina gritted her teeth and forced herself to remain calm. "Then, Xelloss," she managed in a frostily polite voice that would have made her sister very proud, "why are you here?"
"Do I need a reason to have tea with an old friend? Shall I pour?"
It's you, Lina thought a bit bitterly. There's always a reason. "Fine. Cream and "
"One lump of sugar." Xelloss prepared her tea exactly the way she liked it and slid the china cup across the desk.
"Thanks." Lina picked up the cup, held it to her lips, then froze. She pulled it back and studied the benign liquid.
"I assure you, Lina-san, the tea isn't drugged in any way."
Lina sighed, hating that she was so transparent to him. But, drugs and poisons weren't Xelloss' style anyhow. No, if he wanted her dead, she wouldn't exist at the moment, much less drinking tea. She took a sip, peering over the rim of the cup as Xelloss served himself a cup.
"Well, aren't we civilized," Lina observed after a moment of quiet drinking. "Hard to believe the last time we talked, you were busy trying to kick our collective asses."
"Now, Lina-san, don't be patronizing," Xelloss scolded. "I know you are more intelligent than that."
Okay. So, he wasn't going to pretend he didn t know what she was talking about. Good. That gave her something to work with. "I was wondering when you would show up, to be honest," Lina admitted. She put the cup down. "Thanks."
"For?" Xelloss smiled.
"You're going to make me spell it out, aren't you?" Lina leaned forward and tried to remember that her sister had literally beaten politeness into her. "Thanks for seeing through the ruse in Wizer's dungeon."
"It was quite obvious, that," Xelloss conceded. He set his tea aside with a bit more grace.
She sat back, her pride ruffled. "It's been eating at me why you were so interested in Taforashia, but I suppose if the Mazoku wanted anyone to destroy the world, they'd rather be the ones to do it and not Zanaffar."
"It's not so much that. You do recall, of course, what my mission was when we first met."
"Yeah, other than helping Phibrizzo, you were destroying Claire Bible manuscripts." She blinked, then it hit her. "You didn't care so much about Zanaffar, but making sure what Duclis discovered from the manuscripts didn't get out into the public!"
"It would have been quite the disaster indeed if Gioconda had truly understood what Duclis found out," Xelloss admitted, "but, she was heading down that path anyhow. Beyond the mage tanks, she would have sought to mass-produce Zanaffar armor, as you well know. Lesser Mazoku wouldn't be able to take them on, and it would have been up to me to clean up the mess. It would be quite troublesome."
"So, in other words, we get rid of Zanaffar so you don't have to get your pretty clothes dirty."
The corners of Xelloss' mouth twitch with a smile, and Lina sat back, pleased. She absently circled the rim of her cup with a finger. "You know," she said pleasantly, "I really do hate it when you use us like this."
"Lina-san, even you should know by now that those humans who are beyond the ordinary are the mere playthings for the Gods and Mazoku."
"Beyond the ordinary?" Lina's eyebrow raised, and she flashed him a grin. "Why, are you flirting with me, Xelloss?"
Xelloss gave her a mysterious smile, his eyes opening slightly. Am I?
Lina froze for a moment, surprised at the curl of warmth in the pit of her stomach. Then her laughter rang out, echoing in the empty library. She picked up her cup again and frowned when she drank her tea, now cold and bitter. "So, the day's saved and we're having tea like old friends."
"You have to admit, it is a refreshing change beyond Zelgadiss-san s scowls, as nurturing as they are, Amelia-san's justice speeches and Gourry-san not even remembering me."
Lina gave a snort of appreciation. "Poor Xelloss. Constantly undermined, as you say, by mere humans. So, what are you up to now?"
"Oh, just passing through on the way to my next assignment. I think you'd be greatly interested in it, actually. It does have to do with a mutual interest of ours."
All of her senses suddenly went on high alert and Lina lowered her cup slowly, meeting Xelloss' slitted gaze. "Oh, really? Care to tell me about it?"
Xelloss turned his wrist elegantly, almost as if he was studying a watch. He set his cup aside. "I do apologize, Lina-san, but it looks like our teatime is over."
"Over?" Lina slammed her cup on the desk, cold tea sloshing over the rim and splattering on her notes. "It's not over until I say it is!"
"On the contrary, Lina-san, it is." Xelloss flashed her, by under any other circumstances, what could be considered a beautiful smile. Neither one of us are having much luck by sitting in Saillune having tea.
Then her world suddenly went dark.
"Lina? Are you OK?"
She lifted a hand unconsciously, the cool leather of her glove feeling blissful against her flushed face. After a moment, she blinked an eye open to see Gourry looming over her, a fat book in his hands.
"Taking up reading there, Gourry?" she murmured.
"These books fell on top of you. I was grabbing you to go get some lunch and heard the books topple over." He sat back on his haunches and set the book aside.
She let him help her sit up and surveyed the library. It looked the same as it had earlier - piles of books stacked up everywhere, a cup of tea on the desk, her scribbled notes piled haphazardly. "I thought I was drinking tea," she commented.
"Were you?" Gourry craned his neck. "Looks like you finished it."
Lina waved off his help as she got to her feet, lunged across the desk and grabbed the cup. He was right, the cup was drained dry. "But, I didn't finish it," she commented, turning the cup upside down. "And my notes ..." She picked up the papers. She had spilled tea on them before, but they were pristine now. "Xelloss ..."
"Xelloss?" Gourry asked.
"Don't you dare ask who ..."
He held up his hands in a peace gesture. "But, you were alone! I swear!"
"He can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. I'm sure as soon as you came running in that he left."
"It doesn't look like anyone's been here at all, Lina."
She narrowed his eyes at him. "He was here. He even had tea with me."
"But, there's just one teacup."
Lina looked at the tea tray and saw that Gourry was right. Only one cup was on the desk. The other three were turned upside down on the tea tray waiting to be used. She picked up the teacup Xelloss helped himself to, turning it absently in her hands. It was ... She shook her head and rolled her shoulders. It was very much Xelloss.
Neither one of us are having much luck by sitting in Saillune having tea.
"Are you OK, Lina?" Gourry asked, frowning at her.
I suppose I get the message you came to deliver, Xelloss. But, could you have done it without dropping books on my head?
"I'm fine," she said. She put the cup aside and flashed him a grin. "I'll race you to lunch! Then, we need to find the others. It s time to go jar-hunting!