The Slayers: Lina Zelgadiss Xelloss Gourry Amelia Val Filia Sylphiel

~*~ Seyruun Summer High Jinx Special! ~*~

Part One

June and July

The bicycle ride out of town for five miles to the lake went without a hitch. For once the weather was on their side, blazing hot while the cool breezes flew past. The four boys locked up their bikes as soon as they found their camp and stripped down to swimwear (and t-shirts for some). Gourry and Val raced to the water splashing and diving into the icy wetness and swimming out to the floating island to sun themselves.

"Come on in!" Gourry shouted and waved to his friends left ashore.

Zel waved back and shook his head. Xelloss looked at him quizzically, "Don't you want to swim?"

"No. I mean, yes I would, but I can't. I sink like a rock. It's okay. I'll just cool my feet and relax here. Go on," Zel flapped his hand at Xelloss, sending him on his way.

"Um… I don't know how to swim, actually," Xelloss mumbled and turned away.

That surprised Zel, "No kidding? You seemed to know everything, do everything and now…"

"Now… what?" Xelloss asked dangerously. He watched Zel quickly fly into a Karate kick, which he dodged then turned, catching Zel's foot and giving it an upward push, flinging his friend over and down into the water with a splash.

"Gah!" Zel gasped for air and righted himself. "You're just an average wuss!" He smirked then flew at his opponent again, this time kicking Xelloss' feet out from under him beneath the water.

Catching his balance moments before hitting the water, Xelloss spun around and clipped Zel's shoulder with a punch.

From the floating island, Gourry and Val were watching the show with amusement and talking.

"Yup, Zel told me 'bout Kagome and Inu breakin' up. Too bad," Gourry said.

"Yeah, that's why I don't push nothin'. This couples-crap don't last long," grumbled Val. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing his bangs out of his eyes.

"Got that right. I can't think of any exactly 'right' couple right now,' Gourry agreed.

"Just one," Val chuckled deep in his throat.

"Huh? Who's that?"

'Over there, look…" Val pointed back to shore.

Xelloss and Zel were leaping and splashing one another at the water's edge. Xelloss had been leading Zel through a Karate training session, landing punches, dodging kicks and remaining untouched. Zel appeared to be angry and frustrated.

SPLASH!

Finally Zel's quickness caught Xelloss off guard and he tripped him. Xelloss over-compensated, caught his toe in some rocks and fell down into the shallow water wearing a shocked expression.

The pantomime continued with Zel rushing to his friend's aid, hauling him to his feet, and questioning him. Gourry's keen eye sight could make out what Zel's lips were saying, and he repeated for Val's sake, "Ah…'Sorry, are you okay?'…He says that over and over…and over… Now Xelloss is shakin' his head and sayin' 'How did ya do that? Yeah, okay…'"

Smiling, Gourry watched the two guys plod wet and shivering back to camp. "I see what ya mean. My brother and I were like that once. Real close," his eyes welled up slightly and voice cracked. "Fightn' and all. That's what ya meant, right?"

Val nodded, "Yeah, guess so. They'd both kill me if I suggested otherwise, wouldn't they? I meant that they get along amazingly well. I've listened to them talk together completely involved in some science lab or somethin' and I couldn't understand a word… When we pulled that prank on Xelloss, Zel there relived every moment though the other guy's eyes, like the roles were reversed. He made me sit down with Xelloss and apologize and explained like how he suffered. I think it hurt Zel more than Xelloss! I mean, he really lets down his guard around him like no other—I don't know, when one of them finally gets a girlfriend, I hope she understands that she'll get them both or end their friendship."

Gourry and Val swam back to shore. Noticing that Gourry seemed a bit low, Val said, "Sorry if I made ya think 'bout …yer past stuff."

"…Not that…" Gourry mumbled, uncharacteristically glum.

What then? Val thought about what he'd said and suddenly knew, "Lina. Gourry, I wasn't mean'n Lina. She's not in love with either of them, I know it. I was there in the house and kin tell. She treats'em like… brothers she can push around and tease a bit, but she don't flirt with'em. Shit, Filia's more of a flirt than Lina, and ya don't see me gettin' all bent out of shape over it."

The two guys met eyes a moment before Val continued, "Well, not much. I know she don't mean nothin' by it. And you do too. When Lina means somethin' emotional, she blushes and mutters. Like when I tried to pin her down and tell me 'bout you savin' her… Whoa…she lost the a-bil-I-tee of speech!"

He could tell his words were helping, since Gourry was looking relieved as the other two wet kids returned from squeezing out their t-shirts and leaving them in the sun to dry. While they dug through their bags to find dry shirts, Val continued in conversation with Gourry at the picnic bench. "I wonder what I'd be like if I'd gotten to know my bothers and sisters. I'da had an older brother like you did…That's why I'm gonna be livin' with those two. It's like family…like it matters if I don't come home some time, or miss my turn doin' dishes or need ta talk…or laugh. 'Course without Rezo there, it'll be different. He could control Xelly-boy over there or at least reign him in some. And Zel, he's liable to…I dunno what happens to him without that stress hangin' over him."

Gourry nodded, "Zel's changin' some. Not Xelloss, though. I like him, ya know. He got me back my family heirloom! I juss don't think I'll ever get him."

"Xelloss? He's not so com-plee-ca-ted. Zel, now that guy's layered."

"Zel's, okay. I know him pretty good and he's a true as they get. Xelloss, I've never been able to completely trust him for some reason. I get the feeling he's always up ta somethin'…"

"That's because he probably is!" Val laughed. "But ya worrin' 'bout Lina an' him too much."

"Some…lots," Gourry chuckled humorously.

"That's 'cause he does with Lina what you'd like ta, huh?" Val watched Gourry nod silently.

"Not exactly…" Gourry said at last.

"Betcher glad she's back at home again…"

"No kiddin'…" Gourry smiled. "I had some real bad dreams… Lina's so close to Zel, ya know? And Xelloss, he looks at her like…It pisses me off. Lina told me that if he tries anything again, she'd kick his butt outta Seyruun. She's not very..."

"Ro-man-ti-cal-lee in-clined? Yeah, fer sure. And you?" Val asked.

"I'll wait."

"You really like her, doncha?" Val asked.

"Ah… there's no one like her…"

"Ya didn't answer my question, but it's obvious that ya do.'

"Hmmm, I guess it is. Even she knows, though she'd never say anything."

Val clapped him on the shoulder, "Well, that's good! She rejected Xelloss out-right. She'd let ya know if she didn't like yer attention at all, so don't worry. Her silence is like ac-cep-tance."

Gourry smiled, "Yeah, thanks. I think so too."

"Think what?" Xelloss asked cheerfully joining the other two guys at the bench and fussing with his hair.

"Think you're a twit, of course. Why'd you even ask?" Val smirked.

"Oh, I was just surprised to find out that you guys did any thinking at all!" Xelloss smirked back.

Val was about to return a snappy retort, when Zel dropped a heavy bag on the table. "I'll start lunch if you guys help unpack this stuff."

That of course silenced the jibes. For a while…

Ribbit, ribbit…ribbit, ribbit…

"I hate bugs…"

"Of course. Just ignore them," Zel's sigh blended into the hiss of the grasses in the night air.

"Be a man, Xelly-boy!"

"I AM! I just HATE BUGS! And the ground's hard."

"Not as hard as my fist, now shaddup!" Val snarled.

Slap!

"Gottem!"

Slap, slap, slap!

"Grrrrrrrr… they are eating me alive!"

"Good. Then you'll be quiet and we can rent out your room at home."

"Gour-ry?"

"Huh? What's up, Xelloss?"

"Is this fun we're having? Tell me. People do this for fun? My butt's sore from riding, my ankle from that damned rock, I'm dirty and need a shower, my hair's gonna look like hell in the morning, not to mention the blood-sucking mosquitoes and the…mmmphf!"

"Thanks, whoever shut him up," Zel sighed.

Gourry's low voice rose over the squealing beside him, "My pleasure, but he's stronger than he looks. I can't hold his shirt in his mouth much longer."

"Too bad. Xelloss, stop whining and turn over and shut up or we'll tie you up and leave you here to rot!" Zel growled.

Contrite, Xelloss spat out the cloth and sniffed, "I just needed to vent a little. I'll be fine."

"I don't care. Just be quiet!"

"Hmmm. What's this?"

"Nothing."

"Oooooo- kay."

Sometime later, Val let out a bloody-roar, "AAARGH!! Get it OFF ME!"

He was sitting up on his sleeping bag batting at his hair furiously. Xelloss languidly reached over and disentangled a small frog from the long green hair.

"Ah! WHAT WAS the damned thing?" Val shook.

"Nothing," Xelloss smiled.

"NOTHING?! That's SOMETHING in your hand!"

"Zelgadiss called it a 'nothing' when it hopped on me so I tossed 'nothing' into the air and just now…pulled 'nothing' out of your hair," Xelloss smirked.

Val glared at the guy smiling beside him, reeled off a few curses and flopped back down into his sleeping bag.

"Okay…" Xelloss snickered as he snuggled into his bag. "I SEE…This IS fun…"

~*~

Lina and Amelia had been busy planning and scheduling the band for rooms at cheap motels, t-shirt printing, and another appointment with Macross recording studio during their two-day run of gigs in Atlas City.

Filia joined in the planning session and insisted that they schedule in a visit—no, a VACATION to Wolfpack island 'while they were already at the beach' and a stop-over at the clan for an overnight and visit with little Quinny. "He's gotten very attached to Val and I want him to know you guys too!"

"Fine with me, but this will play havoc with Val's work schedule," Lina said putting down the calendar at last and grabbing a handful of potato chips. "So, there's the plan for the rest of June, July, and those parts of August we trail the Seven around. That leaves the last part of August open when Sylphiel's gone to Japan with her mom for doing whatever."

Knock, knock…

"I'll get it!" Amelia assured her. "Must be Miss Sylphiel fashionably late."

"Oh, and Val's going to the Ancient Clan ruins in August too," Filia added, scribbling in a few more notes on the calendar.

"Hi everyone, sorry I'm late, but Zangulus called to find out when he's needed to come over and practice Zel's song. I didn't know but told him to call Xelloss tonight. They get back tonight, right?"

Sylphiel collapsed on the floor next to Amelia. Amelia knew this work had to be done and if the guys could play, the girls could have their own overnight party. The mayor was thrilled to have them all over, and so they were going to finish the plans, hot tub a bit, eat dinner then… party on!

"HA!" Lina laughed. "I bet they rode home as soon as the sun came up and are sleeping the rest of the day!"

"Miss Lina!" Amelia smiled. "What makes you think that? Mr. Gourry's an experienced camper and Mr. Zelgadiss and Mr. Val aren't particular and…"

"And the big wimp's probably kept them all awake whining about the poor accommodations and his hair," Lina sighed.

"No kidding," chuckled Filia. "Poor Gourry. He's such an easy going guy and probably too nice to clobber him good. Not Val though. By the way what special thing should we do for Gourry's birthday?"

"I'll make his cake. I've always wanted to make him the most special one…and…if that's okay with you, Lina?" Sylphiel asked tentatively.

"Might as well. Let's see, looks like we can be at Wolfpack by then. He likes camping so it should be a camping trip under the stars with plenty of food. I'll see what Zel add to the plan, better yet… what Xelloss will do for me… and get back to ya," Lina finished.

"Camping? I was looking forward to the luxury of a fancy resort. Oh well, for Gourry's sake…" Filia sighed wistfully, then shook it off and added, "Hey, who cares about them anyway? I'm ready to soak with those jets on HIGH!"

"Yes!" cried the others, leaping up and scampering out the door and up the path to the enclosure.

~*~

It was agreed. After the beach gigs, the Slayers would take a vacation, one night on Wolfpack Island, the next at Filia's settlement, one night at home, then off to Atlas City for more jobs and the recording session. Whew! July was gonna be hot!

Wolfpack island…………………………………….

"Oh…Mr. Xelloss this place is… amazing! And you really have never been here before?" Amelia asked, transfixed by the natural beauty of the forest-covered hill behind the cove where their boat was being unloaded.

"Ah, that's right, Miss Amelia. This was syndicate headquarters for my…for Zelas and, until recently, I was not a part of that cozy establishment," Xelloss said smiling calmly.

"Yeah, why spoil the mood by bringin' yer kid along?" Val mused.

"So, tell me again why we had to bring all this camping gear when a perfectly lovely resort stands empty 200 yards away?" Filia asked, glancing meaningfully at Lina.

"Because Xelloss got the 'camping spirit'. Thanks loads, Zel," Lina grumbled.

"You're welcome, but you have Gourry to thank as well, Lina. He made our last camping experience worth repeating. Yes, our Gourry's a regular Boy Scout…" Zel began. It had been Lina's idea, this camping out stuff for Gourry's birthday, but Gourry didn't know about any birthday celebration plans.

"That's Eagle Scout, Zel. I'm more of a scout co-leader now fer my brothers. So, where do we set up camp? It's gonna be lunch time real soon and…" he lowered his voice to Zel, "Ya know what Lina's like if we make her wait."

Xelloss raised an eyebrow, "Well, according to my map…we follow that trail to the right around to the other side of the cove and into the woods. Shouldn't be too far."

"How would YOU know, does that map have mileage too?" Lina asked testily.

"Ah…no. I think maybe those picnic benches over there would be far enough for now, hmmm?" he smiled at Lina, who nodded in return.

Zelgadiss was all ready to try for the woods, but Gourry stopped him with a hand. "We oughtta stick together."

"You mean cave in to Lina's every whim? Why do I feel like I'm walking on egg-shells around her? We're men, dammit, and if we want to hike first and eat later then we should have an equal vote too!" Zel argued.

"Ah…um…you've got the food, Zel, and Lina's lookin' for it so, if ya don't mind, I'll take it," Gourry offered.

Zel passed him the sacks and called out, "I'm following the trail Xelloss pointed out. See you later." In an instant, he was out of sight.

Heading over to the picnic tables, Gourry was accosted by Amelia, "Is he okay? Did something make him mad?"

"Who? Zel? Ah, he's not hungry and wanted to walk some. We'll meet up on the trail." Then, seeing that Amelia was still straining to see Zel's retreating figure, he added, "Why doncha help me get the food out so we can get started sooner?"

"Good idea, Mr. Gourry! Mr. Xelloss already has the tablecloth laid out, so I'll find the plates and cups…"

"Tablecloth!?" Val snorted. "This ain't no camp out! It's a fairy party agin!"

"There's nothing wrong about eating off a clean table," Sylphiel said supportively.

"Thank you, Sylphiel," Xelloss smiled appreciatively. "Maybe you and Filia would like to collect some wild flowers for the table?"

"Xelloss, you idiot! You must be kidding! Start passing the food around, sit down, and shuttup," Lina ordered. "Gimme that one of fried chicken to start, why doncha?"

Halfway into her third course, Lina was all smiles and conversation. "So, Filia, you've been here before. Tell me about the place."

"You know, I didn't get to see much from the helicopter. Mostly wet, dark rock…Val?" Filia jabbed his shoulder to tear his attention away from Amelia's story about their hot-tub adventure.

"…And then…ha, ha… it was sooo funny! Lina's bathing suit just sorta dissolved…you know the stretchy Lycra part falls apart after awhile if the chlorine damages it?"

"No… I didn't," Val said, a leerish smile spreading across his face.

"Well it does and we were jumping around when the top and bottom separated with a rip and…"

"VAL!" Filia snapped.

"Huh? I was listenin' to Amelia tellin' how Lina's bathing suit fell apart. Did ya bring a new one Lina?" Val grinned.

Filia looked at Lina, who was already on the move. Before Val had a chance to stop her, Lina had his face in his salad and was growling, "No! I'm wearin' yours with a t-shirt. Got that? Good. Now, tell me about this place!"

Val shook the lettuce free with a toss of his head. "Rocks, rocks, and, guess what? Yeah, more rocks. Oh, and wolves… I was at the ree-zort end playin' ninja."

"Mr. Val? Aren't there some nice beaches too?"

"Must be 'cause the po-lice hauled their boats onto the shore someplace over there."

"Are there many wolves here still, Xelly? I was told they were mostly killed to make the resort safer," Filia asked.

"Wolves? Oh, yes, Filly. Lots still. I think the syndicate was actually bringing in new breeding stock to make them particularly blood-thirsty."

"Nonsense. I mean seriously, Xelloss. Isn't that wolf-dog of yours the last of the natives from this island?"

"Beast? Not the last. As I was told, a pet dog, gutsy guy, made friends with a young wolf bitch and the resulting half-breed pups were mostly killed. Beast was saved and made into a pet, mine initially, but I wasn't fond of dogs, I'm afraid. He does seem to have attached himself to Zelgadiss in his old age," Xelloss poured himself some tea from a thermos and tilted his head toward Filia.

"Tea? Yes, thank you. You should try using honey rather than so much sugar. It's possibly better for you."

"Okay, but put in lots. I like it sweet!"

"I like honey. It's the best bee-puke you've ever tasted!" Lina said, dunking a cookie into her soda.

Xelloss scrunched up his face, "Lina, you can be so vulgar at times…"

"Ooooooo, Mr. Sensitivity," Val chuckled. "Good cookies. You mak'em Sylph?"

"Uh, huh… It's that special recipe I tried in fall. The secret is to…" she began.

"Oh, no, Miss Sylphiel!" Xelloss smiled. "You must learn to keep your secrets."

"Spoken by the master…" Filia observed.

"Well, I'm done. Where did you say Zel's run off to, Gourry? Xelloss' path? We'd better go see if he's fallen into a trap or something. Come on!" Lina commanded since her stomach was now filled and was bored with the company, not being the center of attention.

Clearing the papers and crumbs, tossing the garbage, and packing up the remainder was accomplished in a matter of minutes, then the group gathered the rest of their gear and headed off on their adventure.

"I love smell of the fresh sea air," Sylphiel said aloud to no one in particular.

"Yeah, that reek of dead fish and rotting seaweed can't be beat," said Lina.

"Miss Lina!" Amelia cried. "I smell no such thing!"

"Oh? I suppose you prefer the stench of sweaty bodies all oiled and broiling in the sun mixed in as well?" Lina added with an impish grin.

"It depends WHOSE body it is," giggled Sylphiel.

"Umm, the damp salty tang off the ocean can be quite stimulating as well," Xelloss smiled as he brought up the rear.

"To a fish…" Filia said. "I prefer the woodsy smells, personally. Are we camping in the cove by the water or up in the forest?"

"Ah, the forest, if we follow the path to the end. No smelly fish there!" Xelloss said.

"Just wet wolf…" grunted Val. He and Gourry were shouldering Zel's portion of the load as well, and even if eating part of it had lightened the burden somewhat, the packs still felt uncomfortable.

"Hey, ah…I see Zel…um…dancing in the water, I think," Gourry said as he waved to the tiny far-off figure.

"Dancing? Zel? Maybe you need glasses, Gourry. 'Course, I can't even see him," Lina said squinting into the distance. "Oh, yeah, sure. That's him all right, with a long stick."

"Practicing for his first lesson with the great swordsman, Kenshin Himura," Xelloss said. "Just a guess…"

"He's starting lessons with HIM? Why didn't he tell us?" Lina demanded.

"I could be wrong…" Xelloss said in a low voice and dropped back again. Perhaps Zel wanted no one to know that. Ah, well, too late for that. The secret was out of the bag. However, Zel didn't look too upset when Lina marched up to the water's edge and asked about it. Lina rolled up her pant-legs and joined him in a walk along the shore.

It didn't take long before everyone was doing the same thing and enjoying the soothing regularity of the ebb and flow of gentle waves and cool splashes.

"So Xelloss…Now where did that goofus get off to now. I swear, if it isn't Zel it's Xelly off on a quest of some kind!" Filia commented with a shrug. "Val? Val, so what do you think lives in the forests here? It's an island so not many animals live here, huh?"

"Must be something big if there're wolves. That is… unless the syndicate fed their enemies to 'em, heh, heh…" he chuckled.

"Oooooooh, that's awful, Val!" squealed Sylphiel, then as they all caught up with Zel and Lina shouted, "Lina! Did you hear that? It might even be true!!"

"Then you'll be happy to know that Zel's got his cellphone," Lina said. "Nerd…."

"Um…me too. Be prepared, ya know. Someone could break a leg or get sick. I packed a first aid kit with bug repellant too," Gourry added.

"You expecting a bug infestation in the forest?" Lina asked.

"Maybe…"

"Did you bring a gag too?" Zel asked.

"A Gag? Like a joke, Mr. Zelgadiss?"

"Nah, he means somethin' to silence the big whining bug, and I'm not talkin' insect here either," Val patted Amelia on the head. "Hey, you growin'? Sure yer are! Yer 'bout the same as Lina now, or maybe it's those shorts that make yer legs look longer."

"Was that a compliment coming from you Mr. Val? Thanks! I have grown some. I need some new clothes. I barely fit in these," she said.

"Let me see…" Val stopped and turned her around. "Don't change nothin' for me."

Blushing from all his attention, Amelia cleared her throat and hopped away from his searching eyes. "Oh…you're such a kidder!"

Lina watched the odd duo with interest. "Hey, Zel, go see if Amelia's okay. Why? Because she looks flustered and Val had his big fat hands on her, that's why. No, I don't think he's messing around, more like messing with her head. Now go chat her up and see if there's a problem."

"Of course, madam. At your service oh fearless leader…" Zel shook his head, but walked back toward Amelia anyway. "So… "

"Yes, Mr. Zelgadiss?"

"Something…bothering you?" Zel stammered uncomfortably. "Lina thought that Val might have embarrassed you."

"Lina thought? How about you? Can't you speak for yourself?" asked Filia as she sidled up to Amelia for the same reason Zel had.

"Filia, I wasn't speaking to you, but for your information, I was talking to Gourry and not watching Val and Amelia carrying on…or worrying about them either. As Amelia's made clear to me on more than one occasion, she's a big girl now and can take care of herself. I was only passing on Lina's concerns as her mindless lackey." He gave Amelia one quick glance, then turned away to walk alone awhile.

"Well, that was interesting," Filia mused.

"No it wasn't," Amelia said with a touch of irritation. "I never even got to talk to him! I NEVER get to just talk to him, and he NEVER approaches me first like that!"

"What I meant was…he talks to Lina and to me with ease, but when he speaks to you, he gets all nervous. That means that…" Filia begins.

"It means that we don't get the opportunity to talk together very often so that when we do he has trouble getting started. That's all, Miss Filia!" Amelia snapped and skipped off to join Zelgadiss on his lonely stroll.

"That too…" Filia whispered to herself. "Because poor Mr. Zel gets distracted when he looks at you, Little Miss Amelia…"

Amelia ran up alongside Zel and asked breathlessly, "So, do you think both Mr. Val and Miss Filia are so bored that they have to pick on you and me for something interesting to do?"

"Ah…that's a possibility I hadn't thought of. We must be the types that attract busy-bodies that can't seem to mind their own businesses," he smiled.

"Yes! We seem content and at peace and some people just can't stand that, I guess. Like…Mr. Xelloss. He's another one always creating chaos somehow. By the way, do you know where he might be?"

"I believe he mentioned something about finding a bathroom…"

"Out here? Maybe he decided to go all the way back to the resort…or… you don't think he went on ahead to the camping area, do you?"

"How would I know?"

"Well, he's been gone over half an hour. He might be lost. Shouldn't we go look for him?"

"No. I don't. He has the map. I'm sure he can find his way around just fine. He's a big boy now, Amelia. Don't worry…"

"LOST?" Sylphiel's wail could be heard from one end of the cove to the other. "Did you say Xelloss is LOST? What if he's hurt or sick or…"

"Or the WOLVES have gotten him?" Val snarled in her ear, causing her to release a near-deafening scream.

"Oh, Amelia…Zel…we've GOT to FIND him!" she cried.

"Oh for the love of … Sylphiel, calm down!" shouted Lina above the din. "Zel, why don't you go…"

"No! I'm not hunting down Xelloss. He can go to the bathroom all by himself, Lina. I'm not…I repeat, NOT going to go look for him! OH, no…and you are not going to bat your eyelashes and get Gourry to go do your bidding either!"

"Come on, Sylphiel," Amelia said grabbing her friend's wrist. "I'll go with you. We'll stick to the path and go back the way we came and see if he went that way…"

"Oh, shit…" Zel hissed. "Amelia, stop. Why don't you and everyone else start heading up the trail to our campsite. It can't be far and it gets us closer to making some progress…"

"Then you'll go back and look?" Sylphiel sniffed, eyes welling over with tears.

"Of course he will," Amelia assured her. "He's the fastest person here. He can run all the way back to the boat launch and back before we get turned around. If anyone can find him…if he went that way, Mr. Zelgadiss will certainly find him." And with that vote of confidence, Zel had no choice but to plod on back to the beginning of the trail, where he of course knew he'd find Xelloss.

A few minutes later, Zel waved, "Everything all right?"

Xelloss put away his cellphone and nodded, "A-O-K! Say, Zelgadiss, taking a stroll in the wrong direction, are you?"

"Yes. I prevented the Amelia-Sylphiel Justice corps from dragging everyone this way looking for you. Hopefully by this time they've all managed to find our campground."

"Oh, that's good isn't it? By the time you and I show up, all the hard work should be done!" Xelloss chortled.

"I just hope that they've all worked out who sleeps where so I don't have to listen to the arguments," Zel sighed, falling in step with Xelloss.

"Yep! Like I said, all the hard work will be over with!" He smiled and Zel chuckled in agreement.

"Let's see if we can guess… I'll be stuck between…either you and Val or you and Gourry since none of the girls trust me. Right? You will be next to me and… Lina… or Amelia, depends on who wins...Hey ouch! stop hitting me!"

"Well, cut out the teasing, then. I think that Lina will have a line drawn, maybe a tree felled as a barrier, to separate the 'boys' side from the 'girls'," Zel smiled smugly.

"How boring…plus that won't work well with what I have planned…" Xelloss winked.

"Of course not."

"Indeed…Of course not," Xelloss smiled. "That's why I suggested to Gourry that he offer an alternate plan. Coming from him, everyone will find it completely innocent and safe."

"Oh, of course. How did you fix that, if I may be so bold?"

"You may…but you know…that…that's a secret!" Xelloss smiled.

~*~

"Here they come AT LAST!" Amelia cried. "And, Miss Sylphiel, Mr. Xelloss has all his parts attached, too!"

Sylphiel push out of Amelia's supporting arms and flew to Xelloss, bursting out into tears of joy, "YOU'RE ALRIGHT!" sniff, sniff… Í was SO worried that some awful creature had caught you and… and…"

Lina snorted, "No such luck…He's practically immortal. Zel? I need your opinion here. Gourry suggested we draw for places to sleep and strangely he already had… ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?! "

"Everything looks fine to me Lina. I don't really care where I am since I probably won't be getting any sleep. I'll be setting up the cooking supplies, unless you need my vital opinion on another subject?"

Lina gave him a dark look then brightened, "Nah, go ahead. I got other fish ta fry!"

However, Lina's fish would have to wait. Zel perked up and turned away.

"What? You hear something I don't?" Lina asked.

"Yes. Xelloss, we should go meet the dinner delivery service. No, the rest of you should remain here," Zel said with a sly smile rarely seen on his face.

"What do you suppose it is, Lina?" Gourry ventured. "Ah… I can see a helicopter landing beyond the trees."

"It has to do with food and… that's enough. Get the table ready!"

"I thought Mr. Zelgadiss' pack was a little light for carrying dinner for eight," Amelia mused. "Leave it Mr. Xelloss to utilize helicopters for a campout!"

``````````

"Thank you for making this more difficult landing spot at the last minute," Xelloss apologized to the pilot. "Ah…put that over there… Careful! That's very fragile! Sylphiel's masterpiece! Zel? How many parcels? Everything then? No, we'll be fine tonight, thank you."

"Have fun, kids," the pilot smiled. "I'll be a phone call away if you have any kind of emergency."

"Thanks!" Xelloss waved him off.

"We'll need help carrying this stuff," Zel sighed, tired from hiking and hauling already.

"We'll make two trips, then. Mustn't risk spoiling the fun!"

"Oh, yes, the fun…Fine."

"Oh, goody! This will be a surprise for sure," Xelloss smiled and started down the hill to the campsite with Zel loaded down bringing up the rear.

`````````

"Wow! Zel, that's a lot of food," Gourry gasped with admiration.

"One more trip for the piece de resistance," Xelloss smiled. "Filia, Amelia, go ahead and start spreading out the goodies. We'll be right back in a jiffy. Lina? Everything meet with your approval?"

She smiled, "So far, so good… as ordered."

"Your wish, is my command…always!" he smiled and skipped off behind Zel to pick up the final load from the helicopter delivery.

Gourry looked askance at Lina.

"What? You don't think he'd try and pull off something with out me knowin' about it, huh?" Lina asked, raising one eyebrow.

"Oh… it's okay then," he smiled.

```````

"So whaddya think?" Lina asked Gourry between bites.

"All my favorites, Lina. Thanks guys, I… really didn't expect you'd all remember it was my birthday and all."

"Mr. Gourry! Just because your birthday doesn't land on a holiday doesn't mean we'd forget YOU!" Amelia chuckled softly.

"All we need is a cake," Val said. His golden eyes met Xelloss' nearly invisible purple ones. "That's your cue to pull one out of the air magically."

"Oooo-kay. Sylphiel? For my next act, I'll need a lovely assistant. Female, sorry, Zelgadiss," he smiled.

Zel simply rolled his eyes.

Xelloss directed her out of sight where they carefully removed the beautiful cake creation from its packaging and decorated it with lit candles. They both stood back and observed the result a moment. "Lovely…" he smiled. "Shall I carry it in? Okay…you can carry the presents, yes? And start the song too?"

"Happy birthday… to yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu. Happy birthday… to yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu… Happy birthday… dear Gour-reeeeeeeeeeee! Happy birthday… to yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!"

He was most terribly pleased. Lina had directed Xelloss concerning which favorite foods to serve, and Sylphiel had poured every ounce of feeling into creating a multi-layered cake that melted in your mouth with each bite. "Oh, Gourry dear, I made it just for you!"

"She hasn't given up on Mr. Gourry!" Amelia thought to herself. "She must be VERY persistent!"

All his closest friends were there—happy, not fighting, and surrounded by the great outdoors and a spirit of adventure. It was perfect. He was melting in the warmth of their shared joy.

"Ah, Gourry, now don't ya do all soft and mushy on us," Val chided him. "Hang tough, man."

"Here's another present to open," Sylphiel offered him a flat one.

Gourry ripped off the paper, "New bass strings, thanks. How many sets are there? Ten? That should do me for the summer!"

"Hey! Open mine next!" shouted Lina, shoving a heavy one onto his lap.

"Hmmm, I wonder… okay, I'll open it, " Gourry smiled and carefully removed the paper. After all, Lina had wrapped it with her own fingers. "New CDs!"

"Uh, huh, for next time I stay over. I don't wanna get stuck listen'n to your sister's crappy pop-tart diva again," Lina grinned.

"Next time? Yeah…" he grinned.

~*~

"So, now what?" Filia asked, squirming to find comfort inside her sleeping bag. "Xelloss? I'm sure you have some good stories to tell."

"Why thank you, Filia. I was saving a few for a night like this. Tales from the high school?"

"No school reminders!" Sylphiel squealed.

"How about the time Gaav and I went fishing. Now those were the best of times and the worst of times…"

"Don't be silly either…"

Woooooo OOOOOHooooooooOOOOOOOooooooooo!

"W H A T W A S T H A T ??????!!!!!!!" several kids voiced together.

"Wolves," Xelloss said in an eerie low voice, then more cheerily he added, "but they sound far away. Don't worry, everything will be all right!"

He sat up and wrapped his dark blanket tightly around his bare shoulders. "Wolves are interesting animals, actually. One of 35 species in the Canine family, very alert, cunning animals active both day AND night! Of the canine family, only some foxes can climb trees, so if you're REALLY worried…that one looks easy enough to climb, Filia."

She didn't think so.

"Anyway…" he continued his lecture. "Wolves travel in bands that arise from family groups of as many as 30 individuals. Oh, they don't all hunt together, Filia! A single member of the family starts the hunt with the others of the pack lending a tooth or claw as needed later. They probably know we're around because of that acute hearing of theirs. Of course, they hunt mainly by scent and usually obtain their prey by swift and open chase. Not much room for that around here, eh?"

"Can we c-c-change the subject, Mr. Xelloss?" Amelia said in a tiny voice.

SWOOSH!

"W-w-what was thaat?!" squealed Sylphiel.

"Bats," Xelloss supplied before anyone else knew what was flitting overhead. "This island is also known for its cave-dwelling bat colonies. Filia? Are you paying close attention? You are at the top of the list to be the conservator of my little island here…"

"MY island now…or at least my clan's," she corrected. "What list?"

"Yours, of course…" he acquiesced graciously. "Why, my list! I recommended you to the directorship position. As the spokesperson to protect the rare and endangered species of this self-contained island; when you've finished school, that is."

"Hey, that sounds like a good job for you!" Gourry congratulated her.

"Actually, it does…" Filia said suspiciously. "Thank you, Xelly-poo, for thinking of me…"

"You are most welcome, Filly-boo. Now, a story Ahem," he cleared his throat and put a finger to his lips in thought. "Got one!"

"Long ago, before this island was inhabited by the syndicate, pirates used its natural caves for hiding from the Seyruun Navy and stashing their ill-gotten goods."

Xelloss paused to stir up the coals and send sparks flying and a couple tongues of flame shooting into the air. He checked to see if everyone was listening. Lina's eyes reflected the fire and burned bright with anticipation; she loved pirates! Zel was lying on his back staring up through the trees, and listening for something. Val's eyes were closed and his face relaxed and calm. Gourry was intent on watching the fire. Amelia and Sylphiel were scrunched up close together, eyes glittering and expectant. Filia was watching for bats, gazing upwards, eyes on the alert. Good. He had a captive audience.

"The pirate known and feared above all others was known as, Yami–no-Hito…man of darkness. He was, ah… Japanese mostly, I believe. His ship was long and painted smoke-colored so it was nearly impossible to see in the fogs which hung densely around the island. That's why we're up here, by the way. It gets quite damp camping by the cove, Rezo told me," Xelloss said in passing.

"He was the man responsible for bringing the wolves to the island…"

"Rezo? He must be REALLY old then, huh Zel?"

"No. Xelloss was referring to the pirate," Zel muttered.

"Oh…right…" Gourry sighed. "So what was the island called back then?"

"Good question! If we could see the caves, the name would make sense, but we're not in the right place. From a ship at sea the upper-most rock outcropping often can be seen sticking up out of the fog. If the pirates were in the caves…in those rocks… fires lit… with smoke and light flickering from the largest openings, it would look very much like a human scull with glowing eyes. Thus the name… Island of No Return…"

"Sounds like the name of a 'B' horror flick to me," Lina said.

"Of course the place was surrounded by some terrible rocks that messed with ships too," he asked to satisfy the skeptics.

"So, Yami–no-Hito brought wolves to the island both to frighten unwanted visitors away and for his men to test their mettle in hand-to-hand combat, that is, hand-to paw…"

Woooooo OOOOOHooooooooOOOOOOOooooooooo!

"AH!" screamed Sylphiel and Amelia both.

Filia slid under her covers and whimpered, while Val, on full alert, sat up tension showing in the line of his jaw. "Sounds like just one…not far off."

"NO use bringing along the whole family if the prey's going to resist…" Zel muttered to himself. "Besides the wolves get fed here, father told me. I wouldn't worry. Ah, Amelia…you can let go of my arm now."

"But, Mr. Zelgadiss! No one's been here to feed them, HAVE THEY?!"

"Oopsie! Well, it hasn't been THAT long. And I'm sure there's plenty of natural food," Xelloss began in a strained voice.

"I'm sure," Zelgadiss sighed. "Please, Amelia, let me get up. I have to, um… visit the bathroom…"

"Oh, sorry! Isn't it awfully dark?"

"Light, dark…doesn't change a thing…"

"Here then, take my flashlight. I'll feel better!" her voice wavered with concern.

"All right…" he sighed and took the small cylinder from her hand. Flicking it on, he used the dim glow to find his way to the path. Once out of sight of the camp, he withdrew a much bigger one from under his sweatshirt, turned it on, and ran up the path in the direction where the helicopter had landed earlier.

Woooooo OOOOOHooooooooOOOOOOOooooooooo! Woo, hoo, hoo,HooooooooOOOOOOOooooooooo!

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!"

"Poor Mr. Zelgadiss! He'll be eaten alive!"

"It's probably not a good idea for him to be out there all alone. Separate the smaller, weaker one from the group then…Grrrrrr snap!" Xelloss demonstrated using two hands like gaping maws.

"I notice you only say that about him after he's left, " Filia pointed out.

Woof, Woof, WOOOOOHooooooooOOOOOOOooooooooo!

"I-I think it's getting closer!" Sylphiel wailed.

Wooooooh! Pant, pant…snarl…

"Oh Gods it IS!" Filia joined in with the rising hysteria.

"Oh, my, that doesn't bode well for our missing friend," Xelloss murmured.

"MR. XELLOSS! DO SOMETHING!" Amelia cried.

Moving quickly to the side and around behind Filia, Xelloss replied softly, "As you wish…"

Woof, Woof, Wooooooh!

Pant, pant… snarl…

WOOOOOHooooooooOOOOOOOooooooooo!

Pant, pant… snarl…

The huge snarling wolf burst out of the darkness, leaping high over the coals, flames licking at it's pale underbelly. Gourry crouched protectively over Lina and blocking the beast's path to Amelia and Sylphiel to one side, while Val dove in front of Filia, effectively putting himself between the wolf and Filia and Xelloss and, as it turned out, Zel.

Pant, pant… whine, whine, lick, lick…

OOF!

Val took the full force of the animal's weight in the chest, knocking him flat on his back.

"Oh!" chuckled Xelloss as reality settled in on the others. "Val just might get licked to death!"

Sweet, dear old Beast, released from his cage by Zel, followed his favorite boy down the path to a collection of all his missing pack. He slathered Val a minute, then Xelloss, then finally made his way to his goal, Zelgadiss, whom he nuzzled and whined over in joy. Beast conquered all and found his boys unharmed; he was a happy dog, a satisfied dog, and a very tired dog. While Val and Lina were taking turns chewing out Xelloss for his practical joke, Zelgadiss slipped into his sleeping bag with his wolf rug at his feet, and instantly fell asleep. It had been a very long day.

~*~ End, Seyruun Summer High Jinx Special, Part One. ~*~