The journey back to Sairaag was relatively uneventful, for Lina had rid the route of bandits earlier. They reached Sairaag soon enough, and Lina couldn't wait for Sylphiel to begin cooking. She couldn't think of anyone who was more skilled in the culinary, save the royal chefs in Seyruune. Those people were simply… Lina had no words to describe their talent.
"So, Sylphiel, what's for dinner?"
"It's barely evening, she pointed out. Dinner won't be ready for another-"
Lina bared fangs and snarled at her, red eyes fiery. "How long?"
Sweatdrops were shared all around and Sylphiel backed away slowly, twitching grin on her face. "I meant to say for another hour or so. I'll…I'll start right now!" Sylphiel grabbed Amelia by the wrist and dragged the princess away. "Amelia can help me chop the ingredients!"
Amelia protested, wanting to talk with the young girl who was, by the way, staring at them with stunned amusement.
"Let's call this payback for earlier when you hauled me away to find spiders and mice," the former shrine maiden hissed, panic in her lapis eyes.
Amelia, believing in divine retribution, reluctantly followed, although Sylphiel did hear her mutter something about pregnant women, Lina, pregnant Lina, and the annihilation of the entire world. Once in the kitchen, Sylphiel heaved a sigh of great relief. She was truly excited about Lina's pregnancy, but it was making the powerful sorceress even more bitchy and violent than usual. She had once thought that an impossible occurrence.
"Well, now that we're out of the way of a fireball, let's get cooking. Her bottomless-pit-ness is hungry and gestating and must be fed at all costs."
Amelia raised an eyebrow at that comment, but said nothing and instead got to work chopping the onions and carrots a various other vegetables passed to her. After all, it wouldn't do to piss off the woman who was willingly feeding them. And for free, for that matter. Added to the fact that Sylphiel was wielding a huge chopper, never mind that it was for the whole chicken lying on the huge wooden chopping block.
"Lina, don't you think you're being a little hard on Sylphiel? We did just come back from a trip and Sylphiel must be very tired. And it is her house…"
"And you think it's a walk in the White Capital park to ferry around this heavy little hitchhiker?"
Gourry blinked and found himself staring into enraged eyes that were dangerously narrowed and gleaming with violence. He remembered seeing such eyes once when he was a little boy and had a nightmare involving a throng of famished mazoku. Wisely, he backed away several steps, his hands held out in an attempt to placate his extremely temperamental wife. He absently mused on his good fortune to have left his armour on. Sometimes laziness did pay off.
"But if our kid's heavy, it only means that you're being such a good mother and taking really good care of him and making sure that it grows big and healthy and…um…"
Gourry's eyes darted left and right as he rambled, wondering why the two former shrine maidens were taking so long in the kitchen. They were never around when he needed saving. And even when they were, all they did was sigh and step aside as Lina sent him flying past.
"Hey, Lina, you're really hungry, right? Why don't you stay in that chair and I'll go help Amelia and Sylphiel!" Without waiting for her reply, he sped off into the kitchen, leaving his annoyed wife in Sylphiel's living room, with no one for company save the stunned little girl they had promised to return home.
"Are they always like that?" Deimia asked, not having seen one pregnant woman so feared before.
"Idiots, the lot of them…" Lina mumbled, crimson eyes still sparking with violence. "I feel like blowing something up right now!"
Deimia sweatdropped and wondered if following the previous examples before her would be a good idea. "Um, Papa always said that if you want to blow something up, don't do it in the house. Especially if it's not your house."
Lina arched one slim brow at the little girl. "Are you trying to tell me something, kid?"
Deimia gulped at the glare aimed her way. "Um, no, of course not! Just musing that Papa occasionally tells me such things. I think it's because he once had a customer who was in a bad mood and accidentally cast a fireball around and blew his shop down, that's what he told me-"
"I repeat: are you trying to tell me something?"
Deimia could see fangs. She stumbled from the chair, in a rush to get to the door. "I think I'll go pick some flowers for Sylphiel-san, to thank her for taking care of us and feeding us and all!" The last few words trailed out of the open door, where the girl had disappeared out.
Lina sighed and rested her head in her palm, elbow propped on the table. "Was it something I said?"
"Dinner is served!" Sylphiel announced as she carried out a huge steaming stew pot of…stew. Amelia followed close behind, two extra large platters of meat and vegetables. Gourry brought up the rear with another two platters heaped with fish and poultry.
"Chow time!" Lina exclaimed gleefully. She grabbed her cutlery immediately and waited for her 'servers' to set down her food. She waited.
They didn't put the food down.
"What are you waiting for?!"
"Hey, Lina, where's the kid?"
"Gourry-san, she has a name!" Amelia scolded, appalled at his lack of manners.
"I know! I, uh, forgot it, that's all."
Had it been anyone else, Amelia would have lapsed into a lengthy speech on the impoliteness and injustice of forgetting a child's name—especially a child who was currently under their guardianship. But this was Gourry, and Amelia, while over-enthusiastic when it came to upholding justice and all things good, understood her friend well enough to know that his lapses in memory were just that.
"You're right, Gourry-sama, she's gone!" Sylphiel scanned the room—which was actually not as large as it sounds—but to no avail.
"Ah, the brat just went out to pick flowers. She'll be in when she wants to. No put the food on the table! I'm hungry!" She wailed.
"Lina-san! You let a small child out of your sight?!" Amelia chucked the two platters at Gourry, who staggered under the weight and imbalance. She ran out to find Deimia.
"Sylphiel!" Gourry stumbled back, trying to balance four gigantic platters using only two arms.
"Oh no!" She unceremoniously dumped the pot in Lina's arms and rushed to Gourry's aid. She managed to save the food before any fell to the floor, and placed the platters on the table with a relieved sigh. But the pot she had left with Lina was fresh from the stove, and while the petite sorceress was accustomed to blazing fireballs, steaming stew pots were totally foreign to her and she screeched.
"L-sama!!! Sylphiel! You chucked a red-hot pot in my hands!!!" She almost dropped it, but remembered just in time that painful as the pot was, it contained her dinner, and plunked it down on the table with a loud 'thunk'. Food out of danger, she resumed her tirade. "As if it's not enough that my feet are swollen, you have to give me hands to match?!"
"But Lina-" Sylphiel began backing away from her, not caring that there was a table separating Lina and herself.
"Gourry! It's all your fault! If you hadn't tripped on your own bumbling feet then Sylphiel wouldn't have to save my food and she wouldn't have dumped this boiling pot in my hands and it wouldn't have made them all blistered and swelling to match my feet which are all puffy because I'm pregnant because you put this baby inside me!!!"
Amelia had just entered the house with Deimia in tow, and was marvelling over Lina's excellent lung volume. Did she really say all that in one breath?
"Wow," Deimia remarked, equally awed.
Sparkly-eyed, Amelia wished for that amount of lung power to supplement her speeches. Sometimes Lina was just amazing.
"Ahem," Deimia coughed politely. "I'm sorry if I caused any of you to worry. I wanted to thank Sylphiel-san for having me here, so I went to pick some flowers." She held out a small bunch of wildflowers and pretty weeds, smiling somewhat sheepishly. "I did tell Lina-san that, though…" But she saw Lina turned her head sharply to glare at her and quickly continued, "But I'm terribly sorry all the same that I made all of you worry!"
Gourry laughed and patted her on the head, ruffling her pale hair. "You scared us for a moment, but we're all glad that you're safe." He crouched down beside her. "Those are beautiful flowers! Where did you find them?"
Deimia beamed at him. "They weren't all that far from Sylphiel-san's house. I didn't want to stray too far in case I got lost again… I found some beneath a tree, and these," she said, pointing to a pair of bright yellow blooms, "I found kinda hidden by a big bush!" She handed the flowers to Gourry stalk by stalk as she told him where she'd found them and how.
"Wow, you worked really hard finding all of these, didn't you? Sylphiel, they're really pretty, aren't they?" He handed them to Sylphiel, who, after a brief moment of amusement, received them.
"Thank you so much, Deimia. I'll go put them in a vase and display them on that window ledge."
"You're welcome," Deimia murmured, a faint blush tinting her fair cheeks pink.
"You must be really hungry, right? I remember you said you finished up all your cookies and one of Sylphiel's apples." He grinned and hoisted her high into the air, before swooping her down onto a chair. She giggled and laughed as she sailed through the air.
"Do it again! Do it again!"
A lop-sided smile on his face, he scratched the side of his head. "Lina's hungry. She's eating for two now, you know? Maybe after dinner. Okay?"
Lina watched her husband and the tiny imp of a girl. He was so good with children, she thought. Before the Hellmaster had revealed himself to them, Gourry had taken it upon himself to shield the little mazoku from harm. He'd befriended all the children they came across on their journeys. And hadn't he been the first one to come across Amelia all that time ago? He was so likeable, he never really had to use any charm to make friends, to have the ladies chasing after him. Even with Lina, he hadn't tried charming her with slick words and cunning tricks and expensive presents. He'd just been his usual courageous, heroic, self-sacrificing self. And she'd just fallen for him.
She knew that she'd been acting like a veritable shrew on and off ever since she got pregnant. She was glad that her friends, while wary, were understanding enough to ignore her shortened temper and tolerate her increasingly volatile moods. She also knew that Sylphiel didn't have to be so nice to them—her especially.
She knew that the ex-shrine maiden had once harboured feelings for Gourry. And Lina thought briefly that she would have made a better wife for Gourry. After all, Sylphiel could cook wonderful meals, she could manage a household, and she certainly had a much sweeter temperament. She didn't wander around on extended journeys that tended to end in death and devastation and plots to end the world. Or take over it. Sylphiel didn't blow things up just because she was pissed off—and indeed, how often did Sylphiel get really angry? The woman had such enviable control over what little temper she had. And like Gourry, she was a natural when it came to handling children. Sylphiel and Gourry would have made such a couple, like something straight out of a picture.
And that was why she'd been so utterly confused when she realised that Gourry didn't want Sylphiel, but her. Lina. The same Lina who blew up inns, bandits, demons and allies alike. The Lina who would snap at anyone if they simply tread on her toes. That very same woman who thought that food and gold and treasures were the very things holding existence together. Gourry preferred the partially-crazed redheaded sorceress with the seemingly limitless powers, who made it a habit to get herself in all sorts of life-threatening situations when most girls her age were learning the wifely arts or at least occupying their time with something less destructive than blowing up the world.
Her amour-shielded heart melted when she thought about her blond knight with the impossible memory and incredible skills with a blade. He was really something, no matter what she said out loud. She knew that she treated him really horribly sometimes. And he loved her despite all that.
"Hey Lina, you okay? I hope we didn't make you wait too long. We really tried to cook as fast as possible."
Snapped out of her thoughts, she found Gourry looking at her, concern making little creases between his brows. She smiled brightly at him and gave him a quick kiss.
"Thank you for being so sweet."
Stunned, Gourry simply sat there, staring like a rock. Then he grinned. "No problem. Comes with the husband package." Her moods really shifted these days, he mused, but a happy Lina was far better to have around than a pissed-off one. He began piling foods that he knew she liked onto her platter before helping himself to the feast set out before them.
They polished off all the food before long, and Deimia—hungry as she was—was stunned at the vision of Lina eating. She'd never seen anything quite like it before. The little redhead just seemed to eat, and eat, and eat, and eat, and there was no end to how much she could stuff into her mouth. She knew that Lina had a baby growing inside her and that she'd have to eat more than usual to make sure that the baby had enough food, but really. Lina was taking even that a bit too far.
By the time they finished dinner, the sky was dark, and there was no way that they were going to be able to locate Deimia's father so late. There was no choice but for the child to stay over for the night. Not that anyone really minded. Deimia seemed to be having too much fun to feel lonely without her father. Gourry—true to his word—had continued playing with her after dinner had settled in his stomach. He swung her up and down and performed dives and great leaps. Deimia laughed until her sides ached. It was like when Papa had extra time after a delivery and took her on a wild Ray Wing trip.
The moon was high in the night sky when she yawned and curled up in Gourry's arms. "Mm, goodnight Papa," she murmured as she slipped into sleep.
Gourry gazed down at her and stroked her hair as he carried her to Sylphiel's guest room. There was a small bed that she had found unwanted in a heap outside someone else's house. Not knowing what to do with it, the gentle maiden had brought it back to her house and stored it in her guest room. After all, one never knew when one's friends might have children. Or when she herself might have a few.
Sylphiel had changed the sheets when it was confirmed that Deimia would be staying the night. He laid the slumbering girl on crisp, cool, candy-coloured sheets and gave her a little goodnight kiss. She sighed for her Papa again with a sleepy smile and fell silent once more. He tucked the pale pink blanket around Deimia and shut the door silently. He wondered if his and Lina's child would be as sweet as the little girl lying in Sylphiel's kiddy bed. He hoped so.
Then, he joined his friends and wife in the living room, where they chatted and laughed and shared stories and concerns and jokes. It was deep into the night when they finally retired. Sylphiel quite happily took the sofa—she was the hostess after all, she told them—and let Lina and Gourry have her room. Amelia shared the guestroom with Deimia. There was a comfortable futon there that Sylphiel aired fairly often, given her friends' propensity for unexpected visits.
That night, they all slept peacefully. The nightmares that had plagued them recently left them alone. The night was silent and still, the air sweetly cool. They slept deeply and dreamlessly.
The following morning, after breakfast, they made their way to the little town nearby, where Deimia had said she lived. The path to the village was bustling since it was rather late in the morning. They had sought their beds way past midnight after a late night of merrymaking and their sleep had been to good that by the time they woke up and ate breakfast, it was close to noon.
When they reached the village square, Deimia pointed excitedly to landmarks she knew well and to several shops that she'd visited before and liked.
"That's the apothecary that Papa goes to sometimes and sometimes he brings me along too! They have some really strange stuff and it smells weird, but I love going there!" She pointed to an old wooden building, wrinkling her nose delicately at the smells emanating from it. Then she pointed to a cheerier building. There were dolls and stuffed animals and various other toys behind the glass window.
"That's the toy shop! Oh, I love it there! Sometimes, if Papa's really busy, he'll leave me there with the lady and I get to play with the toys all day long until he's done!" She jumped up and down as she pointed at yet another place. "The candy store!!!"
"And where does your Papa live?" Amelia asked, for once finding all the energy Deimia was exuding a bit tiring.
"Oh, right. I missed the village so much!" She tugged lightly on Gourry's hand—which she was holding—and lead him towards a shop constructed out of bluish-grey stone. "That one," she said. "That's Papa's shop. We live at the back."
Lina strode to the shop, noted the well-crafted lantern hanging off the wall and the simple but beautiful sign that proclaimed it 'the Glassware Shoppe', and knocked on the plain door.
There was no answer.
Lina looked to Deimia for an explanation and the little girl shrugged. "Sometimes when Papa's very focused on what he's doing, he doesn't hear what's going on around him. Just go in. Papa won't mind as long as you don't disturb him while he's doing something."
Lina entered, pushing the wooden door. It opened easily. A crystalline tinkle alerted her to the little glass bell attached above the door. It was clear with translucent swirls of tangerine and butter yellow.
Immediately a wave of heat hit her, and beads of sweat began pouring down her face. She blinked in surprise, musing for a moment that this must be what it felt like to be caught in the path of one of her fireballs. Then Deimia groaned and stomped to a panel set onto the wall. She pressed one of the buttons and immediately, there was a wash of coolness. Lina sighed in relief, noticing from the similar sounds behind her that she wasn't the only one enjoying the respite from the thick, sweltering heat.
"It activates a spell that keeps customers cool while Papa works, without actually affecting Papa's glass while he shapes it. Papa forgets to switch it on sometimes. He must be in his workshop." She padded over to a door hidden in a slightly darkened corner of the shop and entered.
Lina peered inside and saw a silhouette of a man magically crafting glass. The flames were very bright, and she shielded her eyes from the glare.
"Deimia?" He dropped what he was doing—though since he was using magic, everything remained floating in midair—and ran over to his daughter's side. "Deimia!" He enveloped her in a hug, stroking her hair as if to tell himself that she was really there.
"Papa, I'm so sorry that I ran away! It was a stupid thing to do and I promise I'll never, ever do that again!"
"My little Deimia, you've come home, and that's all that matters. Come, tell me who these people are? Are they customers?"
She shook her head. "They're the nice people who found me and took care of me and brought me back home. They made me dinner and breakfast and let me sleep over because it was really late when we finished dinner. The nice man played lots of games with me!"
He stood up and brushed imaginary soot of his fingers. "Thank you all so much. You have no idea how much Deimia means to me. She is all that I have left, now that the rest of our family is dead. We're all alone now. Thank you for taking care of her and bringing her home. You are good people."
"Um, she's been a pretty good kid, so it wasn't any trouble." Then Lina smiled craftily. "Although, if you want to give us a reward, we definitely wouldn't mind…"
"Oh, I have to reward you for your good deed." He disappeared back into the room full of flames and returned with a leather pouch in his hands. He stumbled over a large pair of metal tongs and jostled the bag. Lina heard the tinkling sounds that hinted of coins and her smile widened. Mentally, she rubbed her hands together with glee.
He untied the pouch and carefully removed a figurine of a smiling little girl. "For you," he told Lina. "To represent your future as a mother." He plucked out another glass ornament from the bag. This time, it was a garden, complete with tree and rope swing and miniature shrubs and flowers. He handed that one to Sylphiel, who happened to be right behind Lina.
"You look like one to appreciate this," he explained.
"Thank you," she whispered, cradling the glass like a precious jewel. "It's beautiful…"
He dug into the dun-coloured leather bag again and produced a castle with turrets and battlements. "For a majestic and regal young lady such as yourself. May you find your prince charming."
"Oooh…" Amelia melted at the romantic thought and the delicate little figurine of what looked exactly like her home.
"Last, but definitely not least, thank you for making my Deimia so happy." Gourry's gift was an elaborately crafted miniature sword. It was fully detailed and almost ethereal-looking when a ray of sunlight lit it. "Good luck in protecting your lady," he said with a small smile. "She is a very special woman."
"Yes, she is," Gourry agreed. "She is everything to me."
Lina spluttered when she realised that their reward were the little glass ornaments. She was sure they would fetch a pretty high price if they sold them, since the workmanship was exquisite, but she was disappointed nonetheless. Especially since she didn't really want to sell her glass figurine.
He tied off the pouch once more and kept it back in the workshop. He led Deimia out of the room and shut it. Then, he whisked the baby blue bandana from his head and wiped his face with it. "My hair gets in my face otherwise," he explained with a smile.
When back in the main part of the shop, which was brightly lit, Lina gasped in surprise at Deimia's father. He was very good-looking. Slightly wavy hair fell to his shoulders, where they curled gently. He absently tucked one midnight lock behind his ear and tucked his folded bandana into the front pocket on his working apron. Then he reached behind him and untied the apron strings. He draped the heavy garment over a chair. He was dressed in a simple tunic and loose trousers. Both were a deep sapphire blue. And when he smiled at them, his eyes twinkling with laughter, she saw that they were the same luminescent shade as his daughter's. He also looked quite young to have a daughter Deimia's age.
Gourry fought back a twinge of jealousy as he saw Lina admire Deimia's father. But then he saw Amelia and Sylphiel do the same and rolled his eyes in resignation. Besides, the man didn't even seem to notice the effect he had on women, and so Gourry decided to forgive him.
"You can call me Phii," he told them. At their raised brows, he shrugged his shoulders. "I had strange parents. One of them decided that Phiilix was a fine name."
"Ah, okay, um, Phii-san," Sylphiel said demurely. "I was wondering if you have a padded box for me to keep my little garden. It would be horrible if it were to accidentally get broken…"
"Unlikely, since they were crafted with magic, from a magical crystal. But all the same, to play things safe…" He handed them each a velvet-lined box perfectly sized for their ornaments.
"Magical crystal?" Lina repeated. "I didn't sense any magic from them."
"Ah, but their magic is very subtle. But still magical. I found them in a place full of magical energy."
"You do excellent work!" Amelia exclaimed. "I'll bet Daddy will request something from you when I show him this!"
Phii laughed somewhat sheepishly. "Surely you don't think I'm that good."
"You're amazing!" Amelia beamed. "And you're pretty intuitive too! I live in a castle, and Sylphiel-san loves plants, and Gourry-san is a swordsman! Well, he's currently without a sword now, but we're on a journey to fin him one!"
"Really? How useful it must be to have a swordsman on a journey with you."
"Gourry-san is very skilled! In fact, he used to be the wielder of the Hikari no Ken!"
"I've heard of that sword. It's supposed to be a very powerful magical sword. I wonder if I could craft a replica of it…" He mused.
"We're looking for a new magical sword for him."
"Why a magical sword?" Phii asked, curious. He arranged some merchandise in his shop front window as he spoke, angling them to best catch the light.
"Because we seem to attract all sorts of mazoku along our journeys," Lina snorted. "Can't imagine why they always flock to us…" She muttered darkly.
Phii smiled widely once more. "That's because they can sense your power. You're a very strong sorceress, aren't you? The power emanates from you." He gave his display a cursory glance, and satisfied with it, turned his attention to the rest of his shop. "Such power… It must be really something to wield it." He turned to face them. "You must be really something to wield it."
"Of course. I am the one and only Lina Inverse, sorceress extraordinaire." Lina had many traits, both good and bad, and modesty was definitely not among them.
Phii laughed. "The little bit of magic in my trinkets must be almost like a joke to someone like you, then. Still, I hope you enjoy them."
Lina looked down at the little figurine and smiled softly. "They're beautiful," she replied quietly. "Thank you." And then she shut the box with a velvet-muted snap.