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Title: Shadows on the Ground (Chapter 1)
Fandom: Slayers
Rating: PG
Genre: Mystery/Action
Words: 49,000 total (6,500 this chapter)
Notes/Warnings: A sequel to The Sun, Half Covered. Story may have a Zel/Amelia bias, but I think it can be read as friendship.
Summary: Amelia and Zel visit a foreign country to seek out a conspiracy against Saillune. Meanwhile, Lina and Gourry are hired to track down a stolen manuscript, one that may be one of Rezo the Red Priest's. These two plots cross unexpectedly, causing trouble that could lead to war.
Disclaimer: Slayers copyright Hajime Kanzaka/Rui Araizumi/Kadokawa/TV Tokyo/Medianet and this derivative work was created without permission.

Next Chapter

"Thank God it's finally over," Zelgadis said. Mayor Bartalan and Astin had brought Claire Sholei -- or, perhaps he should be calling her Kilarei sim Sholeiba -- out, and the contingent of guards from the nearest large town were helping her into the mail coach. It had a bit more of a look of two gentlemen helping a woman with her hands full than two guards making sure a semi-bound prisoner didn't make a break for freedom, but this was Saillune. "Are we done here?" Zelgadis said. He'd sent his letter to Prince Phil ahead, with the message to send the guards down to escort a prisoner. But he'd had a longer report waiting for the mail coach as well. 

"Disappointed?" Amelia replied, watching the prisoner with an expression that Zelgadis couldn't quite describe. 

"The place wasn't so bad, but I'm no investigator." 

"What makes you say that? I thought you and I did quite well for ourselves. We caught the saboteur, and saved the town. Not to mention helped to heal some of the animosity between humans, beastmen and chimera." 

Her heart wasn't in it, Zelgadis could tell that much from the way she said it. When they first met, she would have said that with a fiery conviction that their work was done, and they could ride off into the sunset on white horses, and things would be peaceful in their absence. From what she had said earlier, now she had realized that it was more like trudging off the battlefield, tired and wounded, but having gained ground and still alive to fight another day. 

Not to mention a lot of that new town unity overlaid the sudden realization that they had had a spy in their midst, that the enemy might not be the funny-looking neighbors, but the mysterious and enigmatic other, the foreigners over the hills, yet far too close. 

Zelgadis just nodded, not bothering to contradict her. Perhaps I'm developing a soft spot -- cynicism would be kicking her when she's down

"Excuse me, Mister Graywords?" The coachman had taken the mail sack out and was holding a letter. "This is for you." 

"Thanks." Zelgadis took the letter from him, and used his dagger to break the wax seal and slit the envelope open. 

"Wow, a letter?" Amelia said, suddenly looking interested. "Who's it from?"

"It's from Lina," Zelgadis said, skimming the letter. "I wonder why she didn't just contact me directly. Oh, wait... she was hoping this would catch up to me in transit." He frowned. 

"What is it, Mister Zelgadis?" 

"She's up north, near Atlas City," Where he had been himself less than a month ago. "Someone out there is auctioning off some things, and they claim to have some of Rezo's old notes and books." 

Zelgadis held the paper in his hand, staring at the words. Ever since Sairaag was destroyed -- the first time, by Copy Rezo, not the second time by Hellmaster Phibrizzo -- Zelgadis had lost all hope of ever finding out the exact procedure for turning a human into a chimera. From what he found out later, there were many variations -- a lot of sorcerers had just tried to reinvent the fireball, working from the spells used to make nonhuman chimera. As a result, there was no one spell, but one for each sorcerer amoral, arrogant, or just plain crazy enough to do it. Zelgadis had hoped to reverse-engineer whatever Rezo had did, but studying the magic this past year, he had come to the conclusion that without the original spell, it would be like trying to reconstruct a library from the ashes. 

Lina hadn't said what was in the books. In fact, she had said that Rezo had written them in a code and obliquely admitted she couldn't read it. Rezo's shorthand was a nightmare to read, designed for a blind man with a twisted sense of humor. Zelgadis himself could read it, but not well, and not easily, but hopefully enough. Certainly enough to get the gist of the book and figure out if it would be helpful to him. 

He'd only wished he'd heard of this before he left. He could have stayed, and waited... or snuck in to check the books out himself. And left Amelia to solve the Redcliffe problem herself, and reinforced that his cure was more important than his friends. 

"Really, when?" Amelia stood on her toes and peered over his shoulder. 

Zelgadis looked at the letter again, glancing at the date, then swore under his breath. "Two days. There's no way I'll be able to cross the sub-continent in two days." Why couldn't they have done it all those months when he had been in one place, right on top of them? Hell, if he had known they were so close, he would have even offered his assistance for a bargain rate in figuring out what the damn things were.  

Amelia frowned. "Well, maybe you can contact Miss Lina out there; she said where she'd be, right? Get her to act as your agent . Bid on the book, and, if it's useless, she can resell it." 

"I'd need to use a spell to get a hold of her in time," Zelgadis said. 

"Well, that's no problem." Amelia smiled at him, and took his hand. "Miss Leigh knows the vision spell. We'll just send something up to the north and the Sorcerer's Guild can ask Miss Lina to contact us when she can." 

Zelgadis let her lead him to Leigh Halimeda's place. "Miss Leigh! Miss Leigh!" Amelia called at the door. "Can you do us a favor?"

"We could knock first, you know," Zelgadis said. 

"Oh, right!" Amelia reached to knock at the door when Leigh Halimeda answered. 

"No need for that, Your Highness," she said. "What seems to be the problem?"

"I was wondering if you could cast the Vision spell twice," Amelia said. "With my help, if you'd like, of course." 

"Twice?" Zelgadis raised an eyebrow. 

"Well, I need to check in with home, too," Amelia said. "Especially after this week -- Daddy or Uncle Christopher might have heard something about the Jarei situation."

So they were up to a 'situation' now. Still better than what Mister Galatei was calling it. All the more reason to get out of this part of the country before the words started getting more menacing. Zelgadis had spent this long keeping his hide intact by avoiding any trouble he could -- it wasn't his fault that trouble followed him around when it wasn't out pestering Lina Inverse. Perhaps Amelia could be talked into returning to the capital, or checking the northern mountains for ruins. Or something safer than dashing into political trouble. 

"I sent my report back with the coachman, and the first letter should be working its way to the capital now. Are you that worried that something will happen before it gets there?"

"Well... yes, I am," Amelia replied. 

"I think I can manage that," Leigh replied. "What's the other one for?"

"Oh, Mister Zelgadis needs to check with a friend of ours." 

The three of them walked inside, and Leigh cleared the dishes off the table. "Donla is running errands for me. Since Claire... well, since things settled, I've been a bit shorthanded, so my apprentice is filling the gaps." Leigh shrugged. "A shame. She really should learn this spell soon. It's damn useful." 

All the same, Zelgadis was kind of glad Donla wasn't in the room. Considering the last argument the two had gotten into, he'd rather she not eavesdrop on his and Lina's conversation. "Would you like to go first, Amelia?" 

"No, you go ahead, Mister Zelgadis," she said. "Mine might take awhile, and it's almost lunch time." 

"Right. Well, I need to get the Atlas City Sorcerers' Guild." He stepped back and, with a nod to Leigh and Amelia, watched the two of them begin the spell. He'd never seen someone cast the spell outside of the Hall of Visions most places that had access to magic used. It was a lot more work, clearly, without the amplifying effect, but the image of a sorceress, young, and in rather plain looking robes, took form. Probably whoever was on duty to take messages, though it looked like she was more interested in reading her comic book than in waiting around for calls. Zelgadis cleared his throat, and she jumped off her stool, double taking at his appearance. "Um... Atlas City Sorcerers' Guild. Who are you looking for?"

"Lina Inverse. Is she in town?" Zelgadis crossed his arms. <I>Another useless flunky</i>

"I... let me check..." the young sorceress ran out of range of the spell, and Zelgadis had to fight the urge to point out that the spells weren't maintaining themselves. Thankfully, someone left the record book she had gone for near enough to hand that it only took her a moment. "Inverse, Inverse... I thought so. She's in town. She's not staying at the Guild though, thank goodness. People are a little worried, ever since what happened last time, with Masters Damia, Tarim and Halcyform."

"I remember; I was traveling her back then," Zelgadis said. "Look, can you tell her that Zelgadis Graywords wants to talk to her, and that he'll try again tomorrow, at an hour noon." That should be comfortably before Lina ate lunch, but well after breakfast, for a minimum of complaining about interrupting her and Gourry's meal. 

"All right, can do, Mister Graywords." The young sorceress bowed to him, almost comically, then ended the spell herself. 

Zelgadis sighed. "I'll bet the message doesn't get to Lina."

"Don't be such a pessimist, Mister Zelgadis." Amelia said, dragging a chair over to face him, then sitting down. "I think we better wait until after lunch to do the next one. Maybe until Miss Donla gets back. That's a lot more draining than I thought." 

After lunch, which they had with Miss Leigh and Miss Donla, Amelia was about ready to try again. This time, though, Miss Leigh insisted on doing it in the workroom, and getting out a number of magical amplifiers. "I forgot how strenuous this spell can be," she said. 

"You've always done it before, when speaking to the capital," Amelia replied.

"Yes, but then I had Claire helping me. She had a knack for this kind of magic." 

They both paused, a bit awkwardly. It was hard to believe that the priestess had been a traitor -- had, quite possibly been so since she came south to Redcliffe. It was unsettling. She hated subterfuge. She'd always been a fan of the melodramatic, flamboyant villain, not the sneaky backstabbers. If Jarei was so upset about something, why not just say so? Or be like Xoana (not that she really wanted anyone to be like Xoana) and build up a giant army? Probably because Elemekia would just squish it before it ever got large enough to harass Saillune, but still. It was just so out of the blue. Why, just before she left, the Archmage of Jarei had asked her to come visit. 

"All right, we're ready for you, Your Highness." Miss Leigh had shoved -- or had Mister Zelgadis and Miss Donla shove -- the table aside, and had drawn a chalk circle, maybe a pace across, on the floor. She, Miss Donla and Mister Zelgadis stood in a ring around it. 

"Thank you," Amelia stepped forward. "I need to talk to the castle. We've got our own Hall of Visions. They should be expecting to hear from me." 

The spell felt much smoother this time, with three people, magical amplifiers, and whatever standing enchantments and residual magic the workroom had absorbed in its lifetime. She saw Miss Donla glancing to either side, to imitate Miss Leigh and Mister Zelgadis. Amelia straightened her tunic, and almost wished she had dressed up today. On the other hand, anyone could look impressive in a beautiful, well-made dress; a real princess could be a princess even in her traveling tunic and pants. 

To her surprise, the person who had been waiting for her message was her Uncle Christopher. To others' surprise as well. She saw Miss Leigh's eyes widen, though she kept the spell going. "Hello, Uncle Christopher." This was enough to clue in Miss Donla as to who the man was, and she might have stopped the spell right there if Miss Leigh didn't put her hand on her apprentice's shoulder. 

"Hello, Amelia," he said. "I trust you are well."

"As well as can be expected," Amelia said, "given the circumstances. Has the news reached you yet?" 

"It has. Someone made sure Mister Graywords's report was sent on a fast horse to the capital. I was expecting you to call, which was why I thought to stay close until you contacted us."

"What's going on out there?" Amelia asked.

"Well, Ambassador Rafael maintains that the priestess was not acting under the King's orders, and the Empire's intelligence service knew of nothing to suggest hostilities between Jarei and Saillune, though I'd imagine that no one wants to assume blame for this." 

Amelia nodded. That was how politics was apparently done. If you were caught, it was either someone else's idea or a horrible misunderstanding. Sometimes both -- it was why her father had never the patience for diplomacy, and let Uncle Christopher do most of the work, ever since Grandpa got too sick to do much. Daddy was happy to spearhead grand projects of international cooperation, like the expedition to the New World that Miss Filia had accidentally-on-purpose ruined, and send out ultimatums when people were openly hostile, but he didn't deal well with all the shades of grey in between complete cooperation and open hostility. 

What would probably happen was that, after a stay in the capital, and defrocking by the Temple, Miss Sholei would be escorted to the border and asked not to come back. And, no one -- or at least, no one in Saillune -- would know what really happened, whether it was some reactionary faction from Jarei trying to make trouble with their neighbors, someone who had tricked Miss Sholei into thinking they were from Jarei, or the Jarei government itself. 

"Do we have an ambassador in Jarei?" she asked her uncle. 

"Not since they signed the treaty with Elemekia. We've just relied on our people within Elemekia's capital. They've never been a problem before." 

"Well, it certainly is now," Amelia said. "I don't even know what Jarei is like, besides that it's on the edge of the Desert of Destruction, and they have a young king." A young king that occasionally showed up on the lists when some of her father's advisors talked about potential marriages. Mostly advisors that thought Big Sister Gracia would be back any day now from her training expedition, rather than the ones that kept telling her to act like she would be the one inheriting the throne someday, rather than her sister. 


Amelia looked thoughtful. "We ought to send someone to check it out. And do you know, the Archmage invited me to visit there?"

Mister Zelgadis must have caught on to what she was implying, since he was burying his face in his hands. Miss Leigh gave him a sharp glance, and he steadied up. Her uncle caught on as well. "Amelia, are you quite sure that's wise? Given the current climate-"

"-given the current climate, we really need to know what the political situation is in Jarei," she interrupted. "And we don't have anyone qualified as a diplomat within a week's travel, and between Mister Zelgadis and I, we've taken down things more dangerous than small countries, and we were invited. Plus, I think the Temple of Ceipheed will guarantee both of our safety, considering they are still embarrassed by Miss Sholei." 

Uncle Christopher held up his hands. "One of these days, I need to teach you the value of delegating your duties. Your father was like that as well." 

"So that's a 'yes', then?" Amelia said. 

"It seems like I don't have a choice -- you can go. I'll start making the arrangements, then contact you." 

"Excellent. Bye, Uncle Christopher." 

Amelia waved as the image of her uncle winked out. She caught Mister Zelgadis looking dour -- or, more so than normal. "You know what I think about this idea," he said.

"I want to bring whoever is really in charge of this to justice." 

"You know politics doesn't work like that." Mister Zelgadis glanced at Miss Leigh and Miss Donla.

"We'll leave you two alone to finish your discussion," Miss Leigh said. 

"Miss Leigh? Miss Donla?" Amelia said. "I hate to ask, but..."

"No one will hear about what you and Prince Christopher talked about from me," Miss Leigh said. "Or my apprentice, either," she added, with a look to Donla. 

After the two had headed into the other room, Amelia started to speak. "I'm sorry for dragging you out here, and I'm willing to go alone to Jarei-"

"Oh, hell, no," Mister Zelgadis said. "You'll get into trouble if you don't have someone there watching your back and holding you back. I'm starting to think that's a full-time job." 

"I did pretty well here in Redcliffe," Amelia said. "I didn't make a single speech about Justice, no matter how tempted I was. And there was only one time I tried a dramatic entrance."

"Two," Zelgadis said, holding up two fingers. "Remember the night of the storm?" 

"That wasn't a dramatic entrance, that was a charge." 

"Still," Zelgadis crossed his arms. "Most people here like you, our spy and saboteur excepted. More than that, most of them are deferential towards you. Not only are you the princess of the whole damn country, you're the one who set all of this," he waved a hand, evidently meaning to take in the scenery behind the walls of the workroom, "up. You've said it yourself; a lot of these people would be homeless if it wasn't for you. That's going to make things a bit easier than heading off to some foreign country where even the people who might be allies are doing it for their own reasons, and a lot of them probably don't care much for you." 

"I've travelled before," Amelia said. 

"As Amelia, mostly, not as the Princess of Saillune. The last diplomatic mission I've seen you go on, you ended up washed out to sea on a boat. Before that, you ended up a hostage in Xoana."

"Which was your doing, if I recall correctly," Amelia interjected. "And the thing with Miss Filia and the tsunami was nothing anyone could have predicted. If I had known Miss Lina was in town before I showed up, then maybe I might have expected a tsunami would occur. Maybe. The point is, I've grown up, really I have, Mister Zelgadis. I'm not the little girl who thought that the villains had to wear black and kick puppies for fun. For that matter, I've worked with some pretty sketchy people when we shared a goal." And she wasn't going to name names here. "Even a mazoku like Mister Xellos. I think I'm ready for this." 

Mister Zelgadis sighed. "If I refuse, you'll just go alone, won't you?"

"It needs to be done. I can see if I can find someone here to accompany me if I really had to -- maybe Miss Donla would be willing to interrupt her studies." 

"Well, it's not like I need to be anywhere. Lina's getting Rezo's notes for me. Or she will, once I get a hold of her." 

Amelia paused. "What about your school? I thought you were doing so well at the Guild."

"Amelia, I'm not learning anything there that I couldn't pick up by just staying in one place and really going over a good library. I thought I might learn something new, something I couldn't get from a book or trading secrets with you and Lina, but," he shrugged, "not especially. And I don't care if I'm a member of the Sorcerers' Guild or not. It's not like I'm in civilization enough to enjoy the benefits, and I can probably get access to the libraries for a lot less effort than putting up with another couple of years of school. So I'm not going back. I tried, and it's just not working." 

"I'm sorry, Mister Zelgadis," Amelia said. "But I am glad you're accompanying me." She smiled at him. 

"Because you need someone who knows how to think sneaky?" Mister Zelgadis said. 

"Because I'm going into a foreign country, and I like having one of my dear friends, who I trust with my life," Amelia replied. 

Lina Inverse didn't much care for magic guilds. Sure, she kept up her dues, just in case she needed something. It wasn't like they charged all that much; the rates were mostly set for those ivory-tower research sorcerers who took in students to make a living, rather than a successful traveling sorceress like her. And it let her keep an eye on things back in Saillune. Never let it be said that having advanced knowledge of where Prince Phil might show up was not a good thing. 

But, all the politics -- even ignoring the whole mess with Halcyform that had happened a couple of years ago -- and the stupid titles and the robes. WHile she could appreciate a good cape, perhaps sprinkled with occult-looking designs, and some talismans, she saw no reason to go all out with the silly hats and robes and color-coding and such. If you were going to dress up or look intimidating, she reasoned, you might as well look good while doing it, instead of like someone wearing a very expensive bed sheet and his mother's fancy hat, in a color that some idiot had picked because he had some questionable ideas about adorable young sorcery prodigies. 

But, anyway, while she might object to the pageantry of the Guilds, and the stupid internal politics, and having to listen to stuffy old mages talk about research that only they cared about, she liked having access to some of the facilities. Like now. It had taken her note weeks to get to Zelgadis, since he had taken up traveling again. Now that she knew where he was, it would only take minutes to see what he wanted. Normally, she could have just passed a note via Amelia, who had just given him some charm that worked as a small Vision spell, and who most of the time stayed in one place. But she was with him. And about damn time, too, given how Amelia had that crush on Zel, and Zel... well, who knows what Zel really thought, with him being Mister Stoic and all, but he seemed to like Amelia, not that he'd ever even say anything. 

Gourry was with her, of course, even though she knew magic, except for the kinds that were being hurled at him or helping him out, was about as interesting to him as watching grass grow. On the other hand, he did like talking to Zel, and it wasn't that often that the two men talked nowadays. Sure, they could have dropped in earlier, but there were always new places to go, buffets to get kicked out of, and bandits to teach the meaning of fear. And, ever since Gourry had returned the Sword of Light to the Overworlders, magical swords to track down. 

It was almost the time Zelgadis had asked them to call him back at. Lina stepped into the Hall of Visions, greeting the attendant. "I have an appointment. Lina Inverse, eleven o'clock."

"And your bodyguard?" the young mage looked at Gourry.

"He's with me," Lina said. "Don't worry about him."

"So how's this magic stuff work?" Gourry asked. 

"Do you really want to know?" Lina answered. It was hard to tell what he'd actually remember -- in most cases Gourry held onto the things she told him about magic about as well as a sieve held onto water, but you never know when he'd bring some detail up at just the right time. 

"If I didn't, I wouldn't have asked," he replied. 

"So, there's this spell, Vision, that lets you talk to people who are far away. Useful, right? Only it's a really complicated spell. Even a genius sorceress like myself would have problems managing it on her own. In a pinch, you can use a special magic item, like a crystal ball, or have several sorcerers work together, but the best way to use the spell is to build a special room, and enchant it to help the spell, so you only need one caster." Lina watched him for a reaction. 

"Oh, I get it," Gourry said. "So, this will let you talk to Zel, right? What if he doesn't have one of these hall of whats-its where he is?"

"Well, he had to have something," Lina said. "Normally, Amelia gave him something to let her talk to him, but that only works between those two."

"Is that why she gave him her bracelet?" Gourry asked. "I thought it was just because she likes him. I suppose if she likes him, she'd want to be able to talk to him, huh?"

 "Yeah, that's right. But she's with him, so he can't just ask her to relay the message. So, he must have either gotten some general item, or he's got other magic users helping him."

"I see. So, we're gonna call him, then?"

"No, we've got to wait until he calls us. It's hard to call to a bunch of people you don't know. If it's a Hall of Visions, though, you can just use the spell to get there, and whoever is there can answer." 

The attendant, who had been filling out the log book, thrust it towards Lina. "Sign here please, Miss Inverse," she said. Lina did so. "It's nearly time. Your call should arrive soon." 

Indeed, it wasn't long before the whole place started lighting up like it was covered in fireflies. The attendant took her place and started chanting a spell that would help the signal come through. In the center of the room, an image started to take form: ghostly, and monochrome, but definitely Zelgadis. Lina could see a bit of the background, Amelia and two sorceresses she didn't recognize holding up the spell on his end. "Hi, Zel."

"Lina. Gourry. Long time no see." He nodded to them, a warm welcome from the chimera. "Your letter said you'd found a book that I might find interesting."

Lina shifted her weight. He wasn't going to like the news. "Yeah, Zel, about that..."

"What is it, Lina?" Zelgadis was never one to miss the hint of bad news. 

"Well, most of the stuff for the auction was stolen on its way to Atlas City," Lina said. "Gourry and I are getting paid by the Atlas City Sorcerers' Guild to hunt down the bandits, though." She grinned. There was something classic about stomping bandits. No real ethical concerns, no nearly impossible to win fights, sometimes little surprises to keep a sorcery genius and her partner on their toes, but nothing worse than finding out you just accidentally picked a bandit gang that was spectacularly unsuccessful. 

Plus, the Guild had said she could keep any coins, minus the ones the merchant caravan had claimed, and the profits from any items no one claimed in thirty days. Not quite as good as freelance bandit-stomping, when she would have kept everything (well, split with Gourry, but she handled the money in the partnership), but she was also getting paid a nice fee from the Guild itself, so even if the bandits didn't have anything worth it, she'd still come out ahead. 

Best of all, it wasn't likely to lead to any serious trouble for her. That was one of the problems with being a sorcery genius: every little two-bit magician and minor demon thought that if they managed to knock her off her throne, they'd get instant fame. Which was true, of course, but most of them had about as much chance of winning that as winning the lead role in the Saillune Ballet. Gourry had the same problem: Zangulus had been the first in an irritating barrage of swordsmen, pikemen, axmen and even a literal fanboy all trying to beat him in a fight. 

Zelgadis sighed. "I don't suppose you can let me know when you get those books back. At the very least, I could tell the Guild if they really have one of Rezo's books."

"Sure, Zel. Heading back to the city yourself, or are you and Amelia off to Saillune?" She grinned at him. 

"Actually, Amelia and I are heading to Jarei. She's got business out there, and I offered to keep her out of trouble."

Very interesting. "That's nice of you, Zel," Gourry said. 

"Sounds romantic," Lina grinned at Zelgadis. "Given up on your cure and going to chase something else, huh?"

"Cut it out, Lina. This is because I gave you and Gourry a hard time last time I saw you, isn't it? I'm waiting for that book you found." It was hard to tell if Zel was blushing through the spell. 

"Whatever," Lina grinned at him. It was good talking to Zel again, and he did seem to be in higher spirits than usual. Having some company and something actually going right in his life was doing wonders for his mood. "I'll check in with you again once I find the book." 

"Thank you, Lina." Zel nodded at her. "If you find anything out, tell me." 

"Sure thing, Zel." Lina grinned at him. "Tell us if the food is any good. We don't normally head out near Elemekia, and we might be missing something."

"Have fun on holiday with Amelia," Gourry waved. 

Zelgadis grumbled something that might have been a response to that. "Good bye, you two." The spell ended abruptly. 

"He's a bit of a sour puss, isn't he?" Lina said, as they walked out of the Guild hall. 

"He is better than he's been," Gourry replied. "I don't think I've seen him this happy in a while." 

"I'm surprised you remember that far back," Lina replied, gently punching his arm. 

"I'm trying very hard," Gourry said, frowning.  "It was just that one time I forgot."  

"I know, Jellyfish, I'm just teasing you," Lina grinned. "You know, I heard there's an all-you-can-eat-for-a-silver-piece restaurant in town that opened since the last time we visited." Which was a crucial trait; everywhere else in the city tended to be suspiciously closed or full when she visited more than once. 

"Sounds good to me," Gourry said. "So, who are the bandits in the area?" 

"Three gangs," Lina said. "Mostly pretty far away from the city -- maybe a couple of days' walk." 

"We better eat even more, then. The food probably won't be as good in the villages." 

Amelia was already starting to pack. Mister Zelgadis, having never taken his clothing out of the bag, sat on the bed in Mister Galatei's spare room and watched her. "If I had known I'd be doing diplomacy," she said, "I would have packed more clothing." 

"Why do you need all that?" he asked. 

"Well, it's a matter of looking the part. It's sort of like how Mister Gourry wears his armor, even if he's eating lunch. You know he's a swordsman that way, just like you know Miss Lina is a sorceress because she's got a cloak and all those gems on her shoulder guards, and her Demon's Blood Talismans. The nice dresses mean I look like a princess." 

"I still think they could look a bit more practical, while still looking princess like," Mister Zelgadis said. "If you got into a fight..." 

"I guess it's to show I have people to do my practical stuff for me," Amelia said. 

"Well, you can buy them in Jarei," Mister Zelgadis said. "And you might be a princess, but you're also trying to be a diplomat." 

"What about you?" Amelia asked.

"What about me?" Mister Zelgadis asked. "I have clothing, and my supplies. I don't need any more."

"Well, you're traveling as my..." Amelia paused, not quite sure how to complete the sentence. 

"Your what?"

"I don't know. What would you like to be? A bodyguard, an assistant, a sorcerer, a diplomat?"

"Your friend. Who doesn't dress up." Mister Zelgadis crossed his arms. "Trust me. I'd look ridiculous in court clothing. Like one of those dancing bears or something."

"I'd think you'd look cool, Mister Zelgadis. You'd do the mysterious thing quite well, and that could work for you." Amelia said. Really, he would look rather dashing, she thought. Zelgadis naturally projected a confident aura. Though, if he felt silly, it probably wouldn't work as well. "Though if you like, we could always dig out the robes the Sorcerers' Guild gave you. Sorcerer's robes are always appropriate." 

Mister Zelgadis didn't answer that, at least not verbally, though the snort he gave probably counted as a no. "Why do I need to dress up, anyway, if I'm not going to be representing Saillune or the Royal Family?" 

"Well, because it's just appropriate," Amelia said. "And I'd like you to." 

Mister Zelgadis sighed. "No tights. No ruffles. No velvet or extra embroidery. And I want a belt to hold my sword." 

Amelia grinned. "Thank you, Mister Zelgadis." She wanted to hug him, but she held back to just give him a pat on the arm. And she was almost finished with packing as well. "Do you know anything about Jarei?"

"They're a pretty old country. Used to be a major power, before Phibrizzo settled in the Desert of Destruction a thousand years ago. There's a lot of old ruins down there," he said. "I've checked out a few, after I returned from the Outer World."

Amelia frowned as she folded her spare cape into her trunk. "You aren't in trouble around there for grave robbing, are you, Mister Zelgadis?" 

"No," he said. "What kind of question is that, anyway?" 

"Well, I remember how you were in the Outer World," she said. "Before Miss Filia got us all heading to the Temple of the Fire Dragon Lord, you were pretty intent on busting open every ruin, temple and library in town."

"That was because I was in a hurry," Mister Zelgadis said. "When I have more time, I'm a lot more careful about things." 

"Well, that's good. I'd hate for you to be arrested for something you'd did a while ago." Amelia said. 

"I'd hate to be arrested period." 

"Do you remember Archmage Nasim Awel?" Amelia asked. "We met him at the Guild a couple of weeks ago." 

"Yes," Zelgadis said. "He didn't much like me." 

"Oh, you're so sensitive, Mister Zelgadis." 

"I'm not sensitive," he said. "A lot of people aren't comfortable with chimeras." 

"That's different from not liking them. Maybe he was just a bit surprised by you. I'm sure once he got to know you, he'd be fine. And that doesn't mean that everyone in Jarei thinks like that. He was originally from Sairaag, if I recall correctly," Amelia said. "I don't think I've met any native Jareians." 

"And Claire Sholei," Zelgadis added darkly. 

"She was raised in Elemekia," Amelia said. 

"She also was willing to sell your project out to the Jareians."

"To a faction from Jarei. We're going to see if her thoughts represent Jarei or not."

Mister Zelgadis said nothing, but he nodded. 

"What was your sense of the people, then, Mister Zelgadis? Since you actually went there. I know Jarei was pretty egalitarian, even back in the old days, before the Kouma war. Saillune modeled a lot of their laws when it was founded." 

"How so?" 

"Well, property laws, and inheritance laws and so on. There were some places back north that only let a woman inherit a title if she had no brothers or sons, back then. It's a lot better now, but back then, having ruling Queens and Duchesses and Countesses was a radical idea. Jarei had even inheritance. They still do. In fact, they've got a pretty strong tradition of women warriors." 

"I see," Mister Zelgadis said. "I didn't much pay attention to the people, I confess. They seemed like people to me." 

"Mister Zelgadis," she said. "That's not helpful at all." Amelia closed her trunk, leaving out a piece of note paper and a pencil. "I'm going to start making a list of what we need to do before the coach leaves tomorrow. Do you mind if I send your measurements ahead?"

"Not at all," Mister Zelgadis pulled out a piece of paper from his pockets, after some digging. It was pretty worn, but had a set of numbers written out in black ink, in Mister Zelgadis's neat handwriting. 

"You keep your measurements on a piece of paper?" Amelia asked, with a raised eyebrow and amusement in her voice. 

"I hate tailors," he replied simply. "If I need to replace some of my clothing, and it still fits, I see no reason to have to submit to being measured again. And this way, I can just order it, then pick it up with no fuss. It's not like it takes much to make a simple pair of pants and a tunic." 

"That's true," Amelia said. "I just can't imagine you caring, after the fuss about the clothing you just put up. I'll just send the list ahead to the Temple of Ceipheed at Jarei City. I have some other instructions for them as well." 

"Like?" Mister Zelgadis asked.

"Oh, just making sure we have a guide prepared," she said. "I'll be right back. I can probably manage the message myself, but I might need some amplification from Miss Leigh's workroom."

"Remember, no lace, no ruffles, no tights-"

"I remember, Mister Zelgadis. Don't worry so much." Amelia grinned at him. 

"I wouldn't worry so much if I didn't think you liked making me your fashion doll. I remember Femille," he said, "and don't say that I looked pretty there."

"All right, I won't." Amelia said. "But you did manage to fool everyone there, including the Queen and Mister Miwan."

"That's because most of them were men in disguise. They probably had forgotten what a real woman looked like. "

"So they'd be even better at spotting another man, dressed up." Amelia grinned. "But you'll look like a man, I promise, Mister Zelgadis. I wasn't planning anything like that. On my honor as a champion of Justice. So I'll be right back, all right?" She left before he could get in a retort. 

Next Chapter


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Becca Stareyes, Invoking Urania

December 2013

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