"Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right here I am, stuck in the middle with you." - Stealer's Wheel, Stuck in the Middle With You
Mazoku do not dream. This is a rather elementary fact, since Mazoku do not sleep. What need does a creature that does not exist on our plane have for sleep after all? The Mazoku, beings of purely negative astral energy, have no real need for any of the trappings that fetter mortality from birth to death. This is both a blessing and a curse. A Mazoku can drink any normal mortal under the table, since they are only dumping whatever they drink into the infinite void of astral space. However, they cannot become drunk. This causes alot of problems at the millenial Dragon/Mazoku mixer, which has forever banned the usage of alcohol, and which the Dragons still refuse to acknowledge ever happened, but which may have been the direct cause for the War of the Monster's Fall.
Have you ever seen a hung over dragon?
Red may indeed have been Mazoku, but having a physical body, he therefore had to have a hand in its upkeep and maintenance, lest he find himself in a deplorable state (like rigor mortis) of being.
To put it another way, Red may have been Mazoku, but he alone among the Mazoku dreamt.
He grinned confidently and took in his enemies scattered about the battlefield. The blonde man was crumpled at the base of the rock face where he'd impacted, Gourunova flickering out like a match in the wind. The man of rock lie prone in a puddle of his own blood, the annoying little brat he'd saved from death staring at his blood on her hands. Interesting image that. Might have to keep that in mind... it would make an exquisite painting one day. He chuckled quietly to himself about the irony of a Dark Lord who enjoyed painting. A Mazoku creating... how deliciously blasphemous.
"It doesn't matter how just you are.. in the face of overwhelming power, you are helpless."
He let loose a terrifying laugh and began to gather his power, to obliterate them all. This had been fun, and he was somewhat saddened that he could not let them live... they had put up a valiant effort, and they were only trying to survive, just like him. Still... they'd defied him, and were deeply involved in Hellmaster's plans, and frankly, it was either him or them.
It really wasn't a choice at all.
A voice cut into his concentration, and he looked up, momentarily surprised at the power he heard in that tiny voice.
Mina Inverse was advancing on him, power gathering in her hands.
No... thats not right... this was not Mina... Mina wouldn't... this was...
He narrowed his eyes and gripped his sword in both hands, shifting to a guard stance.
"Sword of cold and darkness, free thyself from the heaven's bonds."
"The power of the Lord of Nightmares huh?" How... did he know this?
"Become one with my body, one with my power, and let us walk the path of destruction together."
"Come on!" he growled, his muscles relaxed, preparing for the coming strike.
"Power that can smash even the souls of gods. RAGNA BLADE!"
A immense, corruscating blade of pure darkness formed in her hands, dwarfing her several times. She hesitated, took a deep breath, and then charged.
"Yaaaaaahhhh!" she screamed and then leapt into the sky, that impossible blade of nothingness held high.
"SWORD OF DARKNESS!"
He leapted into the air with her, bringing his massive blade up to parry her downward stroke, outwardly laughing, inwardly...
Inwardly he rebelled against this. One of them was going to die.
The blades met, and then her sword cleaved his like butter, a terrible shrieking agony lit his chest, a pain more terrible than he'd ever known, his very being boiling off into chaos. He gripped her arms and stared disbelievingly into her eyes, betrayal and grief marking his stunned visage.
Her eyes held no sadness or pity.
They held only determination, and anger.
He screamed out his torment as he fell like an angel cast out of heaven, burning both inside and out.
His eyes opened with a start. Only iron determination prevented him from jerking up in shock. For a moment, he could not remember where he was, then his eyes fell upon the smoky remains of the previous night's camp fire. Something warm and soft murmured into his side, and he tensed for a moment before looking down.
His gaze lit upon a mess of bright red hair, and he stared in confusion for a few moments, caught up in the terrible images from his dream... what had it been? A possible future? The long dead past? He wasn't sure, but it all seemed very familiar to him. Soon... soon he would know what his place in the world was. All this time he had walked through this life, not knowing, his size and his attitude setting him apart from everyone else, even time avoided him it seemed. Surely there was a reason...
He looked down again at the sleeping girl at his side. At some point during the night, she had crept closer though he was at a loss to understand why. More importantly, he hadn't awakened when she touched him, she was so familiar to him.
Without really intending it, this stubborn, immensely intelligent and powerful, yet strangely innocent girl had become an intimate part of his life. He had very few things that remained constant over the years, --even when he'd ruled over the Black Hills Bandit Gang, he'd never really known any of his subjects. They'd been a mob really. His mob, undoubtedly, but a mob none-the-less. A mob of strangers linked by one overwhelming ideal.
Yet he'd taken no pleasure in the wealth he'd plundered. It had simply seemed a byproduct. The inevitable result of what was really important.
Yet even that had paled with time. Ultimately he'd become bored with it, stuck in a rut... the same old thing.
Why then did this girl hold such fascination for him? He had to admit, he'd not been bored once since his journey, though often he'd been infuriated, irritated, or just...
They fought almost constantly, but there was a sense of... closeness to their bickering... their arguments were comfortable... like the weight of the sword at his side.
He slowly put his arm around her protectively and gripped his sword still in its sheath at his other side. He did not know what the future held, but he could sense a malevolence gathering about him, and a tension winding tighter and tighter within.
Frowning in determination, he stared out into the nearly impenetrable grey fog of dawn, the mists of destiny mirrored by the early morning haze... the weapon he entrusted his life to at one side...
The woman who had captured his heart at the other.
"Explain to me again how these two are going to help us fight against Gaav, Amelia." Lina, whose patience had long since run out, was glaring death at the diminutive monarch, who for her part looked hopelessly at the two in question.
It had been this way for days. Langdelin... well... Sir Langdelin had been engrossed in what he called his "holy duty" to convert Gourry to the worship of the noble monstrous Zomelgustar. How exactly the Great God Zomelgustar could be both noble and monstrous was something of a mystery, but the young knight's zeal and conviction far outweighed any logical fallacy he might be generating.
His unfortunate target's resolve against converting was bolstered by the fact that he could only understand about one word in five in the vehement young man's speech, and what he could understand made less impression on his mind than a bird dropping would make on the Chrysler building. He salved both the Knight's feelings and absolved his own guilt at letting the boy ramble on while simply smiling and nodding occasionally; a tactic which served him well through the many confrontations he'd had with his wife over the years. Unfortunately in this case, the tactic made Langdelin assume that he was getting through at least somewhat to the older warrior, and this made him redouble his efforts to convince him of the rightness of his cause. The end result was that Langdelin had basically been talking nonstop for the last 3 days, pausing occasionally for such unavoidable nuisances like breathing, eating, and plugging his ears whenever his companion let loose with her assault upon the ears and sanity of any who might happen to be within earshot.
For her part, Hydra merely tried to unsuccessfully gain the attention of her fellow traveling companions with tales of her past conquests (which Lina was convinced had all been successful because the victims no longer wished to hear that hideous laughter) and generally extolling upon her own virtues. Lina had given up thoughts of suicide in favor of just putting the young Hydra out of everyone's misery.
"H-how much farther is it to Filia's cottage, Miss Lina?" Amelia interjected, hoping to forestall the coming storm.
This was not a tactic likely to work.
"Oh... I'd say about 300 years... excuse me... I was talking in relative terms. About 3 days."
"Oh I don't think its going to be all that long, Lina." Gourry interjected, casually scratching his head.
"Oh really, jellyfish brain... and why is that?" Lina growled, this last bit of idiocy pushing her close to the edge.
"Oh... because she's right there." he pointed offhandedly at the speck he'd been watching grow ever larger by the minute.
Lina blinked, then goggled at the sight of a golden dragon moving at full speed towards their party. Amelia smiled happily at the thought of seeing one of her friends again. Gourry waved cheerfully, and Hydra looked somewhat confused.
Langdelin smiled grimly.
"GOD'S BLOOD! THE DEMON HATH SENT ONE OF HIS MINIONS TO THE FIELD OF WAR!" he kicked his horse into a startled gallop and flew like a demented arrow loosed by an equally demented archer towards the large set of bushes the golden dragon had landed behind.
"No! Langdelin! That's a-" Lina let out a startled cry just a bit too late... any words she may have said were drowned out by the trumpeting warcry the rapturous Paladin let loose with. He charged into the bushes waving his sword around in arcs that threatened to decapitate his unfortunate mount.
"Oh... my..." Xellos giggled to himself, covering one eye with his white gloved hand.
Lina stared at him in shock... when the hell had Xellos gotten here?
A faint glow emanated from the thick set of bushes, followed by a confused man's voice.
"Your pardon milady... hast thou seen an evil dragon pass by this- dear Zomelgustar! Where are your cloth-"
A startled, outraged shriek filled the air, followed by a resounding crash that shook the ground.
The cover of bushes suddenly exploded skyward as a north bound flight 001 Langdelin Express made its maiden voyage towards points unknown, trailing leaves in his wake.
The horse wandered out with what appeared to be a smug look on its equine face, followed by a deeply blushing dragon priestess carrying a large mace over one shoulder and her cloak over the other.
"One word from any of you... and you'll be joining that.... that..."
"Calm down, Filia... none of us saw anything... you just clobbered one of the people who are helping us. What... ARE you doing here anyway?"
Xellos cleared his throat. "I... appraised her of the situation. I figured it would save us some time."
Lina turned on the grinning trickster. "You... you mean we came all this way for NOTHING?"
"Oh my... I must have neglected to tell all of you. Was that wrong of me?"
"XELLOS!!!" Filia thundered, ready to refute the claim that she'd gone ANYWHERE at Xellos' prompting.
"Why Miss Filia, I had no IDEA you were a natural blonde!" Xellos opened his eyes and gave her a decidedly lecherous look.
Any thought she might have had of refuting anything other than Xellos' right to continue existing was immediately shoved out of her head.
In the ensuing chaos, Lina dazedly realized from the amount of damage being done to the surrounding landscape, that if they could harness THIS kind of ill-will and use it against the Chaos Dragon...
"Gaav wasn't going to have a CHANCE." she mused out loud as she ducked a blast of Filia's Laserbreath (tm).
A thunderous sneeze woke Mina out of her peaceful sleep. She yawned and stretched lazily. She didn't particularly want to wake up... she'd had... well... she blushed faintly... very vivid dreams for some reason.
She looked over at Red, who stared off into space suspiciously.
"You ok? You aren't coming down with something are you?"
"Mina, I've never been sick a day in my life... parts that I don't remember excluded of course."
Mina shrugged. "Happens to everyone eventually. I wouldn't worry too much about it... we..."
She stopped and frowned to herself. Her own feelings aside, she had to remember that she had no idea how the meeting between her mother and Red was going to go. She might... she might have to choose sides.
"We what, Mina?" he asked her curiously, putting on his overcoat and grabbing his sword.
"Er.." she supposed there was no way to avoid it... she just had to hope for the best and deal with whatever happened when it happened. "Mom lives just a few miles from here.."
He frowned irritably. "Why didn't you say so? We could have gotten there last night."
"I didn't say so because I was tired, ok?" she snapped defensively. "I didn't really want to deal with... with whatever comes of you meeting mom when I could barely keep my eyes open."
"I gave you my word I wouldn't harm your mother. Do you still doubt-"
"I'm not worried about you hurting mom..." Mina looked in the direction of the town where she'd grown up, frowning thoughtfully. "What she's going to do to you... THAT'S what I'm worried about."
Red arched his brow in surprise.
"Your mother is a powerful sorceress, right?"
"Well... she used to be the best. She's retired now. Why?"
Red scratched his chin thoughtfully, staring at the plain wooden door with a small plaque that read simply "Gabriev Residence". "I don't know... I guess I just expected something more grand... less..."
"Suburban?" Mina remarked.
She sighed. "Mom and Dad weren't really the best as far as saving money. With their appetite, they had to keep adventuring just to keep their plates full. After mom... quit being a sorceress, she started teaching magic, and dad became a guard. We weren't rich, but I never wanted for anything."
She turned to Red and fixed him with a withering glare. "Now you be on your best behavior. No rude comments, no threats and for L-sama's sake, NO MORAL DISCUSSIONS. You hear me?"
Red blinked, then gave her a decidedly evil grin. It was a grin that said, "I'll humor you because you're cute, not because I'm particularly afraid of your wrath."
She sighed. "Somehow your expression doesn't fill me with confidence."
Turning resignedly, she knocked loudly on the door, then waited, dreading the expression on her mother's face when she answered the door.
She knocked again.
More of the same.
She gave Red a confused look. Her mother hadn't traveled more than a few miles from her home in the entire time Mina had known her. Red frowned, then knocked hard enough to shake the whole building.
Mina winced. The metal plaque was now looking distinctly the worse for wear. Mom was going to have a fit.
Still no answer.
A shrill voice called out from a nearby fence.
"What's all that racket! Honestly, salesmen these days... no sense of propriet- Why bless my soul... Mina dear! I haven't seen you since you and your mother had that little tiff and you ran off! With a man no less... hrrrm... he's a big one ain't he?"
Mina and Red turned to see a blue haired old lady with glasses that were about 3 sizes too large for her tiny wrinkled body, let alone her wizened face. She waddled up while stroking a cat that looked like it definitely wanted to be elsewhere, as well as rid of the hideous red ribbon tied around its neck.
"Who the hell is this, Mina?" Red whispered.
Mina for her part, smiled widely and embraced the old lady (much to the cat's annoyance) who patted her arm and gestured to Red without a second glance at his monstrous size.
"Mrs. Fenwick! I haven't seen you in forever!"
"Come deary... come... lets go inside... I've got a pot of tea on (this was hardly a coincidence... little old ladies ALWAYS have a pot of tea on... it may be the secret to their longevity) we can have ourselves a nice little chat. Bring your little friend along."
Red gave the old lady one of Gaav's patented "confused mazoku lord" looks. Little? Chat?
"I don't know Mrs. Fenwick... I really need to find mom... do you know where she is?"
"Now now... there's always time for a little tea. We can talk about that in a little while afterwards."
"Now see here..." Red started. "We really don't have time for this! We need to..." he droned off, blinking rapidly.
The old woman had given him a myopic yet strangely terrifying glare. The cat leapt out of her arms and retreated for higher ground. The air seemed both too thick and far too thin at the same time. He could swear he heard lightning striking in the distance.
"I said, there's always time for tea young man." she intoned, in words that could not possibly be refuted. If they had been written, they could only have been done with a chisel, a hammer, and a large amount of stone.
Red looked like he was about to say something when Mina kicked him as hard as she could in the shin. He shut up momentarily and gave her a hard look, but Mina shooshed him with a glare.
"Of course we've got time for tea Mrs. Fenwick. We'd be happy to share a cup."
Mrs. Fenwick beamed, and the aura of destruction was gone like it had never existed. The cat peeked around the corner to see if the large man was a large soot spot on the ground and was somewhat disappointed to find him still in one piece. He was being led reluctantly into the house by Mina as she followed the old lady who terrorized its existence. For her part, Mrs. Fenwick nattered on about the weather and the state of her health and other nonsense that was important to these two legged food providers.
Red gave the feline a stricken look, as though he were being lead into a trap.
The cat could sympathize, and so immediately did what a sympathetic cat does and began to wash itself unconcernedly.
"Here you go young man." Mrs. Fenwick beamed and handed Red a small tasteful teacup on a plain white saucer. He took it carefully in one palm and tried to figure out how the hell he was supposed to drink from something he could easily crush between thumb and forefinger.
"Er... thank you Mrs. Fenwick."
She blushed. "Oh aren't you such a nice boy. How's your tea, Mina dear?"
"Wonderful, Mrs. Fenwick... so where is mom and dad?"
Mrs. Fenwick continued on as though she hadn't heard her. Mina sighed, then nearly spat her tea out into Red's face as Mrs. Fenwick produced THE ALBUM.
"Oh you really MUST see this, young man. Mina was such a precious little girl... I had these pictures done up by an honest-to-god sorceror, being such a close friend of the family and all... I'll admit it was alot like watching my own grandchild grow up." she sighed.
"Really..." Red leaned across the table and into THE ALBUM. Mina choked on her tea, then shrank down into her chair, wishing she could just disappear off the face of the planet.
Red stared into THE ALBUM with a straight face... the only indication of the things he saw contained within a slight widening of the eyes as each picture passed by. It didn't help that Mrs. Fenwick had taken up a running commentary on each picture.
"Oh... isn't this precious... this is when she was 4 years old... she was pretending she was a sorceress fighting off bandits, but she all she could find was an old towel for a cape... so she goes running around outside..."
"Oh, and THIS is when she was 6. Mina loved the rain and she used to run around completely naked... doesn't she have the cutest little bottom?"
"She most certainly does."
"Oh and THIS is right after..."
Mina snatched THE ALBUM from Mrs. Fenwick's stunned grasp and clutched it to her chest in a death grip that would have required a tractor to loosen.
"I don't think we need to see anymore of these old photos Mrs. Fenwick."
"Oh I don't know Mina... you were a very... photogenic child." Red gave her a wide and decidedly lecherous grin.
Mina glared death at him, the effect somewhat ruined by the fact that she was also blushing redder than an extremely fat man after a hard workout. Pre-heart attack of course.
"Mrs. Fenwick... I appreciate the tea, but we really must find my mother... its a matter of life and death."
Red rolled his eyes. "Oh... NOW it's a matter of life or death."
Mina glared at him. Then hissed through clenched teeth. "It will be in a second if you don't shut up."
Mrs. Fenwick grinned. "Oh how cute... Mina's all embarrassed... my, you've certainly grown up into a fine young woman."
She sighed. "I don't know where your mother ran off to... though she was in a big hurry. She asked me to look after the rosebushes... they are sooo pretty this time of year don't you think?..."
Mina gave Red a defeated look. Red frowned, then looked thoughtful.
"I don't suppose she said when she'd get back did she?"
"No... I'm sorry dear... you could stay here for a while... I could air out the guest room I suppose..."
"No thats all right Mrs. Fenwick!" Red and Mina looked at each other after their impromptu chorus. Then looked at Mrs. Fenwick and grinned apologetically.
"Well if you're sure..." she didn't sound convinced.
Then she brightened up. "Maybe she went to go visit that nice chimera boy... I do wish he'd visit at least once... he was so well mannered and polite...."
"Chimera?" Mina frowned. "You mean Uncle Zelgadis? I haven't seen him since I was a little girl."
"My how time DOES fly... it doesn't seem too long ago you were trying to extort money out of the local youth gangs-"
Mina slapped her forehead and shook her head dismally.
"Heh... now why does THAT sound familiar?..." Red mused, rolling his eyes.
Mina looked up suddenly. "Wait... I've got it... Zelgadis used to be a traveling companion of my mother's. If ANYONE would know who you were besides my mother, it would be him."
Red looked thoughtful. "Hmm... the name sounds vaguely familiar... describe him..."
Mina frowned. "It was a long time ago... but I remember he used to wear a grey cloak whereever he'd go... he's got stony skin, and metal hair, but he's not ugly... he was actually kinda handsome, in an exotic sort of way."
Red's eyes widened. The man made of stone! Another piece of the puzzle! There could be no doubt... this Zelgadis was the key to his past.
Seeing Red's reaction Mina smiled. "Well then... it's settled. All we have to do is find Zelgadis Greywers."
"So where is this Zelgadis?" Red mused.
Mina sighed. "Thats the problem... he's kinda reclusive. Mom used to visit him from time to time, but she never told me where they-"
Mrs. Fenwick beamed. "If you're looking for that nice Chimera boy, you can do me a favor and bring him some of this. He took a liking to my special blend of tea, and I make it a point to send him a package of it every year."
Mina and Red stared at Mrs. Fenwick like she'd grown a second head.
"Don't look at me like that... the Sailoon postal service is really quite efficient. Mr. Greywers lives in the Katatoe mountains. He really should get out more... a young elegible bachelor like him puttering around in the mountains all by himself... its not healthy I tell you."
Red and Mina looked at each other dubiously. Mrs. Fenwick was a nice old woman, but she had a habit of beating reality (and the occasional traveling salesman) with a large knobby stick until it conformed to her very narrow view of things.
"Er... sure Mrs. Fenwick... we'd be happy to take Zelgadis some of your tea." Mina stammered, scratching her head. For his part, Red just looked resigned... this woman was scarier than anything he'd ever seen before.
Red frowned. "The Katatoe Mountains huh? I wonder what's going to get in our way THIS time."
Mina started to argue with him... then simply sighed and looked resigned as well. There was no point in arguing with him.
Fate just seemed to be working against them...
Or at least, a certain individual - who shall not be named - who has stolen Fate's ID badge.
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All original, creative-type stuff on this website is copyright to Chris Cuellar and Teresa Dietzinger, 2002
"Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right here I am, stuck in the middle with you." - Stealer's Wheel, Stuck in the Middle With You