“This inn has been a lot nicer than the ones we’ve been staying at.” Min said as she spread butter on her toast.
“Well, we’re getting closer to Atlas City.” Attie explained as she cut into her pancakes, “We should make it there today. It’s no wonder the lodging is getting better.”
“Thank goodness we’re nearly there.” Min sighed, “I hate traveling, and with the increase in the number of demon attacks this just keeps getting worse!”
“How are you even my daughter?” Lina asked as Attie and Zel laughed.
Gourry, meanwhile, indicated the jug of milk on the table beside Lina, “Could you pass me that, Adena?”
Lina dropped her fork as she felt as though he had just winded her. “Who?” Sylphiel asked as she looked up from her poached eggs.
“My sister.” Gourry said as he pointed at Lina.
Lina mechanically grabbed the milk and handed it to Gourry, “Excuse me.” She said quietly as she got up and walked out of the inn, followed by Attie.
They quietly walked away from the building and then Attie put a hand on her shoulder. “I thought that the medicine was going to help.” She said.
“Help as in prevent it from getting worse.” Lina said, her voice heavy, “But it won’t make him better again. And since it had been a few days I guess I was stupid enough to think it would heal him.”
“Not stupid.” Attie said, “Hopeful.”
Lina smiled warily and patted her hand and did her best to put on a brave face. Yet she was rattled, deeply. Gourry had looked at her and hadn’t remembered who she was. What would happen when the memory loss became permanent? “Come on, these episodes don’t last long, and when we get back he’ll be back to his usual lug headed self.” Lina said as she pushed her worries away. She simply couldn’t do anything about them now.
Attie looked uncertain, but followed her mother into the inn. Gourry smiled at them when they came in and sat back down, “Welcome back.” He said as he grabbed Lina’s hand.
“Miss me?” Lina asked, as she wondered if he knew who she was now.
“Nah,” Gourry said, “It’s just you have a habit of getting into trouble whenever I’m not around, Lina.”
Lina smiled in relief and ran a hand through his hair. He looked at her in surprise, “You okay? I mean doesn’t saying something like that deserve a smack?”
Lina gave him a quick peck on the lips, “I’m letting you off easy for once. Just don’t expect this to be a habit.”
“Wow, Atlas City sure didn’t change much since the last time we were here.” Lina commented as they walked through the streets.
“Yeah, I bet we could still find that old inn we used to stay at.” Gourry replied.
Usually Lina would make some witty retort about him not being able to remember, but these days it just seemed to be in poor taste. “We should check and put our stuff up, and then we’ll see about tracking down Nigel.” Lina said instead.
“I can help with that.” A new voice said, and the group turned to look at the woman who was approaching them with flaming red hair.
Lina’s eyes widened in recognition, “Rubia?” she asked.
Rubia nodded, “It is good to see you again, Miss Lina. Mr. Gourry. It looks like you’ve added some family since we last met.”
Lina shook her head incredulously. Rubia barely looked as though she had aged a day! “These are our daughters, Min and Attie.” Lina said, “And some friends, Sylphiel and Zelgadis.”
“It’s good to meet you.” Rubia said, bowing slightly.
“And this is Rubia.” Lina explained.
“The woman who was involved in the incident with the sorcerer’s guild? And the woman who owns a greenhouse?” Min asked as Attie shook her head in exasperation.
“How do you keep track of all of those stories?”
“Yes, that’s me.” Rubia said quietly, “Come with me, please. There is much I have to tell you regarding Nigel and what is happening.”
Lina looked at her warily, and wondered how she had known about Nigel. Had he already caused trouble for the city? “Right behind you.”
The group seated themselves in Rubia’s cozy sitting room completely unaware that they were being watched by Xellos, who carefully masked his presence as he observed them. After talking with Greater Beast and taking some time to think on his newfound freedom, he had decided that the best course of action would be to gather more information. So he silently observed the group as Rubia doled out tea and biscuits.
Once she had ensured that everyone was taken care of, she smiled warily and said, “So I suppose you’re wanting to learn what happened to Nigel.”
“Yes.” Lina said, and from the way she sat in a guarded stance on her seat, Xellos decided that age had not weakened her. Her companion was another matter. Xellos could sense that he was more ill than he let on. And as for their daughters, Xellos had observed Attie enough to know her strengths and weaknesses and knew not to consider her much of a threat. Min, on the other hand, was a complete unknown.
“He’s here, actually.” Rubia explained, “In a state of extended sleep.”
“What?” Gourry asked.
“Really?” Min asked as she brightened, “But how did you perfect it?”
“Please remember, not all of us waste our precious time with books.” Attie chimed in, “So why don’t one of you smart types fill Dad and I in?”
“It’s just like what it sounds,” Lina said quietly, “It’s like being put under a sleep spell, except one that doesn’t need to be cast every eight hours or so, and it also preserves the body so that it does not age or require nutrition, though whoever is put in an extended sleep can be brought out of it at any time, though it will be like they haven’t aged a day. I know some guilds were experimenting with this, but I didn’t know any were successful.”
“I don’t have much to do with the guild, so they wouldn’t have learned about it.” Rubia explained.
“But why did you put Nigel in such a state? And how did you manage to do it?” Zelgadis asked. Xellos smiled a little. In his human form the man was no longer the warrior he once was.
“How is the easier question.” Rubia said, “I gained his confidence and then betrayed him by poisoning his food.”
Gourry looked at Lina, who remained calm, as the rest of the group suddenly put their cups down. “And why did you do that?” Lina asked as she casually took another sip.
Somehow, Rubia had perfected the art of smiling when sad, and she did it then as she explained. “I’m like your daughter, Dianna. Yes, I know all about her.”
“You have a shard of Shabranigdu within you?” Lina replied, her voice tight.
“Yes.” Rubia said.
“And you control it so well.”
Rubia nodded, “I think, being a copy gave me strength over him that other humans do not possess. It is a struggle. And I don’t want it to be anymore.”
“What do you mean by that?” Zelgadis asked.
“I mean I want to gather the people who remain who house him in their souls, and then I want to put them in the same state I put Nigel in. All of them, including myself.” Rubia explained, “Then in sleep I will not have to bear this burden, and no more people will be harmed by him.”
The result of Rubia’s pronouncement was a loud, noisy, jumble of voices as everyone started talking rather loudly at once. Xellos smirked. He was right not to trust Rubia. It would seem that in her case, the human element truly was too corrupting, and she was at risk of walking down the path that Gaav had. In any case, eavesdropping had proven to be fruitful for the Mazoku, allowing him the clarity he needed to determine who to follow. And so, without revealing his presence, he reverted to the astral plane.
“Enough! Let me talk.” Lina yelled to be heard about the fray. She took a breath as she felt everyone’s eyes on her, and then she looked at Rubia, “This plan has merits, but it’s also crazy. What if the Mazoku find where you are stored and try to revive you?”
“That’s why I ensured that you would return to Atlas City.” Rubia explained, “I can’t think of any family better prepared to keep watch over us.”
“And what makes you think we even want that burden?” Lina snapped.
“Excuse me,” Sylphiel said, quietly but firmly, “But one of the people housing Shabranigdu is just a boy, he’s only six. Surely he can’t spend the rest of his life in extended sleep.”
Lina felt her heart tighten as she thought about Charlie. Morris’ son. Morris’ son that Luna was protecting so that one day Charlie could go home to him, and once again Morris could be with his child. He could talk to Charlie. He could hold Charlie. He could be with Charlie. While she would never be with Dianna again because Morris had set the mob on her. Once more, the desire to hurt Morris as she had been hurt rose as a blind rage filled her, and she couldn’t think about anything beyond the desire for revenge.
“Horrible as it sounds, this would be a blessing to those of us who house him.” Rubia explained as she locked eyes with Sylphiel, “Knowing that we are safe from hurting people.”
Gourry looked at Lina and reached out to hold her hand, and then he looked at Rubia, “I think we’re the wrong ones making the decision. For you, Rubia, you’re an adult. And for Nigel this may be the best. He has murdered and hurt so many people already it is likely impossible for him to turn it around. But Charlie is too young to make that decision.”
“At the same time, Charlie does have the potential to kill and harm others and destroy the world.” Min said somberly, “So it’s all of our business. And he can’t do what Rezo or Luke did if he’s in extended sleep.”
“I know it is drastic.” Rubia said, “Remember what I am, though, a copy. And I have the technology to make more copies here in my basement. We can make a copy of Charlie and the others.”
Rubia’s words cut through the thick rage that Lina was feeling, and she put her hand on the necklace she always wore. A copy? “But they wouldn’t have their memories, it’s basically creating someone’s identical twin.” Lina said.
“Things have progressed since I was created.” Rubia said as she looked at Zelgadis, “And the person who developed a spell to transfer memories from one body to another is in this room.”
Zelgadis looked up, and then he appeared uncomfortable with his research being referenced. But then it wasn’t exactly a secret that he had gotten his human body back by separating the blow demon and rock golem elements from his skin samples and then used it to make a copy of his original body, and then transferred his consciousness from his cursed body to the copy. “It’s doable. Like Gourry said, though, I was an adult, and I knew the risks when I did it.”
“I can’t say I agree with the ethics of copies at all.” Min said.
“All of this, really, is rather sketchy to me.” Attie added.
“I wouldn’t have gotten my body back without the use of making a copy, granted, it was one of the scariest things I’d ever done. Some people have criticized my method and said I essentially killed myself in the process.” Zelgadis said quietly. “Back to the situation at hand, I think Lina has a point about how practical this is. We could spend the rest of our lives guarding you, but once the Mazoku race finds out, they will hit us, and hard. It just seems too risky.”
Bells started to chime, and Rubia stood up in alarm, “Someone has breached the basement.”
Rubia took off, and everyone got up and followed along behind her, until Xellos materialized before Lina and Gourry. Rubia, Sylphiel and Min continued on to the basement, unaware of Xellos’ appearance. Attie and Zelgadis were another matter, and they stopped to face their foe. “Lina.” Xellos said. “It has been awhile.”
“Xellos.” Lina said, as from beside her she felt Gourry grab his sword. Technically between the four of them they had Xellos surrounded. But then, it was Xellos.
“I have orders to kill you.” Xellos said.
“I see.” Lina replied. She wasn’t really surprised.
“It’s rather bothersome really.” Xellos continued as he pulled a flask from his pocket, “My time is valuable, so I’m offering you this to save me some trouble if you will.”
“What is that?” Lina asked.
“The cure for what ails Gourry.” Xellos replied. “I’ll give it to him, if you make this easy and lay down your life.”
Lina felt as though she had been punched in the gut, “Why should I even believe you?”
“What makes you think I would even let her do that?” Gourry asked, incensed.
“Suit yourself.” Xellos said as he pocketed the flask, “I didn’t think it would work, but it was worth a shot.”
Lina snorted as she tried to project confidence and tried to not be distracted with her worries on closing the door to curing Gourry, “You all must be rather scared if you’re asking this of me.”
In a flash Gourry moved so he was in front of her, his sword in between Lina and Xellos, causing the Mazoku to abandon his attack. “We need to get to a place with more space.” Lina said as she turned and started to run as she thought about all of the times she had gotten out alive because the Mazoku she was fighting allowed her to get to a space where she could cast her big spells. Yet she was doubtful that Xellos would afford her such a luxury.
“Do you think I’m going to let you do that?” Xellos asked as he disappeared and rematerialized before her. He sent shockwaves in the opposite direction, and she heard Gourry cry out as he fell to the ground. Her heart lurched, but she couldn’t make it to him. Zelgadis crouched beside him, and she focused on finishing her spell to get this over with as soon as possible.
The spell was on the tip of her fingertips when she saw the dreaded corkscrews start to form. In a flash Attie raced in front of her. Lina’s heart leapt for a moment, but then she realized that she was holding the Sword of Amplification, an object they had recovered after Luke and Milina had died. It could absorb spells, even ones cast by Mazoku, and then release them. Was Attie going to try to absorb Xellos’ corkscrew attack?
Xellos backed away as Attie’s sword absorbed his attack, and he found himself having to dodge Gourry, who had thankfully recovered enough to lunge forward, but Xellos retreated to the astral plane. “Damn.” Lina said as she saw Gourry clutch at his side as he retreated a bit. He was injured. And Zelgadis wasn’t getting up from where he was. Had he been hurt by the shockwave attack as well and she hadn’t realized it?
Before Lina could check on everyone, she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up, and she turned around to find herself face to face with Xellos. Her spell was mostly complete. All she had to do was say the power words to activate it. Yet she found herself hesitating. What if the secret to healing Gourry died with Xellos?
Instead of releasing the spell, Lina backed away as Attie charged at Xellos and released his attack back on him. Xellos retreated again, and the corkscrews pulverized the wall instead, sending dust and chunks of rock everywhere. Attie yelped as some of the debris hit her hand, causing her grip on the sword to falter as Xellos appeared again. This time he sent flames hurling towards Lina, and Attie twisted awkwardly, attempting to block the attack with her sword but with her grip on it was so poor she couldn’t quite make it, and had no protection from the spell that hit her instead of its intended target.