Morass

BY : RoseThorne
Category: -Misc Anime > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 278
Disclaimer: I do not own Slayers and do not make any money writing this.

Morass

by Rose Thorne

Disclaimer: Slayers is owned by a bunch of folks who aren’t me. I’m borrowing them for my perverse pleasure, much as Xellos borrows emotions for his.


The peace of the mountain that loomed above the foothills where Zelgadis was hiking was broken by a rumble that shook the land so hard that at first he wondered if it was a volcanic eruption. He hadn’t thought this was a volcano, and there was no smoke, though it was rumored to have an abandoned temple beside a reservoir at the top—his goal—so it could be. He knew some cultures had once worshipped the fire gods they thought resided within volcanoes.

The noise gave him just enough warning to Raywing into the air, right before a massive mudslide hit; he couldn’t understand what had caused it, as there hadn’t been rain in the area. He didn’t have time to find out—he didn’t get high enough in time. The remains of a massive tree, propelled into the air by the seething mass of debris, grazed him, its jagged broken branches scraping painfully against his chest. He was sent careening, the spell broken.

Downward. Right into the earthen maelstrom, and it sucked him under.

Desperate, he managed to cast Windy Shield, the only spell he could think of strong enough to shield him. But debris and mud were trapped inside with him, whirling due to the spell, and Zel couldn’t break through the tumble of rock and mud beyond his shield. All he could do was fight to survive. Keeping the concentration for the spell wasn’t easy, the mud blinding and deafening him, coating his skin and every crevice, making it nearly impossible to even breathe, but he knew without it, he’d be crushed by the sheer force of the moving earth, stone skin or no.

As he was swept along, Zelgadis lost all sense of direction, the force of the slide buffeting him. Time became meaningless as mud coated his throat, leaving him desperately rasping for breath even as each wheeze brought in more. He could sense larger pieces of debris smashing against the shield, threatening to overwhelm it, and the magical cost of the spell was a fast drain on his reserves.

The shaman wasn’t sure he could hold out, barely maintaining enough concentration—one bad hit could leave him crushed by a boulder, buried permanently in a grave no one would ever find. The thought was terrifying, and he fought against panic.

Just as he thought he might lose the battle to keep the spell going, the movement of the earth surrounding him changed, slowly grinding down to an oozing, shuddering halt, leaving him trapped beneath the surface.

His only chance of getting out was casting Raywing again, but only if he could determine which way was up. A wrong guess would leave him deeper in the mud, and with his strength flagging and magical capacity pressed to the limit, he wouldn’t get a second one.

Gathering his wits, Zelgadis concentrated, forcing the Windy Shield surrounding him to push outward, hoping it would be enough. After an agonizing stretch of seconds, a hint of fresh air reached him… wafting from his feet. He let his spell dissipate and quickly cast Raywing in the split second before the muck could completely engulf him, propelling himself out and away from the mudslide blindly, unable to wipe the mud from his eyes with coated hands. He was fortunate not to hit anything. It took several to find dry land by checking whether the earth held beneath him.

The spell sputtered out, his magic burned out, and all he could do was collapse, coughing up mud, to his hands and knees. The taste of earth was joined with the taste of his own blood as he hacked the debris from his windpipe. What little strength he had left him, adrenaline spent. A wave of pain swept him into unconsciousness.


Zelgadis came to with a jolt. He was still blind and deaf, his eyes caked with mud, his ears full of it—and, he realized, he couldn’t even smell; it had apparently even invaded his nostrils. But he could sense someone or something was near him. He could barely move, his limbs lethargic with pain, with the mud starting to dry and solidify. He was helpless to defend himself from a possible foe.

His head was lifted slightly, and water trickled into his mouth—a person, then? He gulped at it, cool and clean, removing the remnants of filth from his taste buds. The water stopped too soon and he tried to ask for more, unable to do much more, unable to tell if he had even managed intelligible words.

Then his stomach roiled, and whoever it was pushed him to his side just before he learned he’d swallowed mud as well when his stomach forcibly rejected it. The acid burned, his throat already sore and damaged. The heaving seemed to go on forever until his stomach was finally satisfied.

Zelgadis was almost ready to succumb to exhaustion, until the impossible happened—a voice in his ear, whispering.

“You do get into the most interesting trouble, Zelgadis-san.”

Of course it had to be Xellos. He wanted to be relieved, but the Mazoku was generally trouble. Xellos could decide to help him, or could make things worse. Or both.

Zelgadis tried to ask Xellos how he could hear him, but only managed the first word. It was strange to only know from the vibrations of his own vocal cords whether he was speaking.

“How did I find you? Hm, well, I’m a bit… attuned to you, so when Lina-san’s Dragon Slave burst the reservoir at the top of the mountain, I sensed your distress. You’re rather lucky you were on this side of the mountain, really. The other side is even worse. She certainly causes a lot of damage!” The Mazoku even managed to sound gleeful in a facsimile of a voice.

That wasn’t the answer he wanted, but it explained how the mudslide had occurred. He doubted the temple he was seeking had survived Lina, which meant his quest for whatever lore it might contain was over. He hadn’t realized she was in the area—he had parted ways with the others, and had been travelling alone for the last several months.

He also didn’t know what Xellos meant by ‘attuned,’ but wasn’t sure he wanted to.

But Xellos wasn’t done. “Or did you mean how can you hear me? It’s rather simple to use vibrations. Despite the mud, your eardrums are undamaged.”

That was a relief; he probably had enough other injuries to worry about.

“Really, I’m surprised you managed to get out of danger yourself. Anyone else would have perished, though it took all your magical capacity and energy to survive. You are rather helpless right now, and with that thick layer of quickly-drying muck encasing you, by the time you are able to help yourself you might have even more difficulty.”

Zelgadis wanted to prove him wrong, and tried. He tried to move, and found that not only was it difficult due to exhaustion, but the mud was adding resistance. Judging by pressing his thumb and forefinger together, there was at least a centimeter of mud coating him, perhaps more in different places.

And magic… he knew he was spent. The Raywing had barely held together long enough to find a place to land.

Even breathing was difficult, and he was sure he had breathed in more than he’d managed to cough up. He may have survived, but being helpless, particularly with Xellos around, wasn’t healthy.

But Xellos wasn’t done. “Fortunately, I’m quite willing to help you, Zelgadis-san.”

The shaman knew better than to trust that—Xellos’ idea of help, more often than not wasn’t at all. The Mazoku generally had an ulterior motive, and Zel couldn’t even defend himself this time. Time had taught him wariness.

“So untrusting.” How he managed to get the inflection of mock hurt in his voice through eardrum vibrations, Zelgadis had no idea. “I can at least clean you up a bit. Regardless, you’re in no position to refuse.”

That was hardly something that needed to be pointed out, but was nonetheless frustrating. Realistically, even at full strength Zel knew that he wouldn’t be in a position to refuse a being as powerful as Xellos—something he tried very hard not to think about most of the time. He couldn’t help also being curious as to what would lead Xellos to decide to help him at this particular time, though he was also certain he wouldn’t like the answer.

He decided to ask anyway, hoping he managed the ‘why’ through his pained throat.

“Well, why not?”

A fantastic non-answer, but at least it wasn’t a ‘secret.’ That usually implied weird Mazoku plots. Regardless, Zelgadis didn’t trust his intentions.

With that he felt his body leave the ground, movement through the air—quicker than Raywing, unless his senses were lying—before he was dropped into water. For a moment he panicked, until he realized he wasn’t sliding fully underwater; it stopped at his chest, and he was seated against what felt like a riverbank of some sort, with a gentle current sliding across his body. A stream, perhaps?

“Not all of this is mud, unfortunately. If allowed to dry, you’d be in a bit of trouble. Perhaps pursuing a new career as a garden statue?”

Zelgadis wished he could glare, since that was the most of a reaction he’d be able to manage. He worked his fingers together, the layers of mud slowly thinning.

He was suddenly pulled off balance as Xellos pulled off one of his boots, then the other. He almost slipped under the water, but the Mazoku steadied him.

“What are you doing?” he managed to rasp.

“Your clothing is coated, inside and out,” Xellos answered simply.

Zel sensed his sudden proximity and flinched, but the priest only unclasped his cloak and peeled it and his pack away. Literally peeled, as the fabric stuck to him slightly, proving Xellos’ point. The burden of his pack lifted with it.

His fingers were at least partly clear of mud, and he brought his hands up with some difficulty, fighting against exhaustion to try scraping away the mud covering his eyes. He managed to smear some of it away, but not enough to open them. Even that much movement hurt, but he tried again, managing to open one eye. But he had to close it against the glare of the sun on the water, the world too bright.

Xellos helpfully wiped more from his face, getting enough off that his other eye was free. Zelgadis squinted, trying to let his eyes adjust, not fighting when the Mazoku grabbed his hands, one at a time, and peeled his fingerless gloves off.

“I admit I’m surprised you were caught in that mudslide in the first place.”

It was strange to see Xellos, who didn’t bother with the facade of talking, hearing his voice without seeing him speak. The words took a moment to sink in, and he remembered getting hit.

“Tree hit me.”

He brought a hand to his chest, remembering the pain, and found holes in the fabric of his shirt, one that stretched across his chest. Zel peered down, but could only see mud and debris clinging to the skin underneath; he couldn’t tell if it had broken the skin.

That was, until the Mazoku reached forward and pulled at a piece of debris, and Zelgadis hissed in pain. Blood joined the murky water. It was a piece of branch imbedded in his skin. The world spun a little, and when it stopped he found himself shirtless, Xellos examining the area of the wound.

“Not life-threatening,” he said with a sort of mocking cheer. “But probably uncomfortable. And with all that muck in the wound it could become an issue.”

Dark spots were obscuring his vision, and each shallow breath seemed to try to suck his awareness away with it. The shaman knew he was on his way to unconsciousness, but he struggled against it anyway, not certain whether to trust Xellos.

The Mazoku’s face appeared in his swimming vision. Zel could hear him, or at least sensed the vibrations, but for a moment they made no sense to him. Sense returned to him in time to comprehend the last of it.

“—won’t do anything untoward, Zelgadis-san.”

His mind groped for meaning, finding it with difficulty. Zel hoped his guess at the beginning of the sentence was right. His tenuous hold on consciousness slipped, and Xellos’ face faded into darkness.

Zelgadis had snatches of awareness, of water rushing around him, of gentle hands, a soft voice. When consciousness returned, he was warm, no longer in the water, and he could feel the muck that had encased him was gone. He was surprised to be able to feel its absence, but apparently even his stone skin could feel suffocated.

Despite that, his limbs felt like lead, his energy sapped. The sound of a nearby river permeated his hazy awareness, and he realized breathing came slightly easier, his nose clear of mud as well. His lungs still ached and he couldn’t take in a lot of air, but it would take time for his body to handle whatever he’d breathed in, assuming it could and he wouldn’t have to cough it up.

This would be a new test of its healing capabilities, Zelgadis realized bitterly, and he would probably keep finding ways to test it, with his luck.

When he tried to open his eyes, he had to close them against the glare of the sun—that was why he felt warm, he realized. The sun’s rays and warmth had seeped through his stone skin.

He flinched when something heavy draped across him, opening his eyes to find Xellos peering at him, his face too close, his eyes partly open and revealing his true nature. Zelgadis felt pinned, like an insect at the mercy of an entomologist.

“Ah, good. You’re conscious. You certainly took a beating, Zelgadis-san. Cracked ribs, some internal injuries. I don’t suppose you have enough magic for a healing spell?”

Zelgadis was too exhausted to even shake his head. “Burned out,” he murmured.

“Of course.” Xellos sighed, drawing back a bit. “Perhaps your natural healing abilities will handle it. For the moment, you’re in no danger.”

He wasn’t sure he wanted an expansion on ‘for the moment;’ he couldn’t do anything about it anyway.

“Why—”

His voice broke, and it was suddenly hard to breathe through the coughing and fire in his chest. Zel couldn’t even hiss in pain when he was pulled into a sitting position, but after a minute the coughing eased. Something touched his lips, water trickling in, and it helped clear the muddy taste that had invaded his mouth again.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked when he had caught his breath. It was unsettling to have a creature like Xellos helping him through a coughing fit, of all things.

Xellos tilted his head, easing him back to the grass. “Doing what?”

 

“Helping me. Isn’t this beneath you?”

Part of him expected to be told it was a secret, for this to be the prelude to Mazoku manipulation.

Instead, Xellos frowned slightly. “Well… It would be a bit disappointing if you were to die in such an ignoble way, I suppose. As for the other, perhaps should take you to Lina-san… though she may not be happy to see me! Or you, given that she is something of a prude and you’re naked.”

Zelgadis had managed not to notice that in the time he’d been conscious, and the exposure added another layer of helplessness, one he felt in the pit of his stomach like lead. He was surprised when Xellos stood and removed his mantle, draping it over him like a blanket—even more by the fact that he could feel the fabric draped across his skin more than he could even feel the grass at his back. Faux fabric, he realized. He tried very hard not to think about that.

“Although, you’re a bit of a prude yourself,” the Mazoku chided lightly.

Zel suddenly remembered his earlier comment about Lina, about her causing the mudslide.

“Lina cast Dragon Slave?”

Xellos crouched next to him. “Ah, yes. I did mention that, didn’t I?”

“Why?”

It was a bit more diplomatic than asking what Xellos had done, and easier for him to say. His throat and chest still hurt, exacerbated by the coughing fit, each breath painful, lending credence to Xellos’ theory he’d cracked a rib.

Xellos rubbed his head, at least feigning a sheepish look. “Ah, well, you see… It seems the temple atop that mountain was infested by giant slugs! There’s a species native to this area, you know.”

Zelgadis gaped at him for a moment; perhaps, had he not been caught in the aftermath, he would have found it mildly amusing, but he rather doubted it. The damage this prank had done was on a different level than most of the others the Mazoku had pulled. He’d nearly died in the unintentional aftermath of a prank; it felt like a bizarre metaphor for his life. An ignoble way to die, certainly.

“You’re going to kill me someday,” he muttered finally. “And it won’t even be on purpose.”

Xellos turned away, gazing off into the distance. Zel could’ve sworn he moved slightly before that, almost a flinch. Probably a trick of the light and his exhaustion.

“That is not my intention, Zelgadis-san.”

“That’s the point.”

A wave of fatigue crashed through him, and he couldn’t keep his eyes open. What was left of his adrenaline was long gone, the ordeal and his injuries catching up with him. The steady sound of the river seemed to fade in and out with each breath he took. Zel tried to fight it, though he knew it was a losing proposition.

He felt the cloak being adjusted more snugly around him. A hand touched his cheek, and he could feel it as though his skin wasn’t stone.

“Rest, Zelgadis-san. I already promised I won’t do anything untoward.”

The hand didn’t move, just resting against his face, almost a comfort. And though Zelgadis didn’t trust the Mazoku… he didn’t distrust him now. He stopped fighting, let his awareness fade.

Much later, he woke to the early morning sunlight trickling through a canopy of trees that towered above him. Zelgadis found himself in an old-growth forest beside a well-kept fire. He sat up with minor difficulty, his ribs still pained, confused. Xellos was nowhere to be seen.

Underneath him was a brand new bedroll. Pooled in his lap was a well-made blanket. He realized he was partly dressed, pants made of good quality fabric—even underwear, which was more than a little embarrassing. He hadn’t even stirred. He didn’t have a shirt on, and he found the gashes across his chest had only mostly healed. The shaman could only guess that burning out his magic had slowed his body’s natural healing.

The scent of something cooking caught his attention, and he moved closer to the fire, nearly tripping over boots—also new—and his pack on the way. Near the embers was a pot of stew; just the sight made his stomach growl. He searched through the pack for a bowl and spoon, setting aside what looked like a folded map.

The stew looked hearty, and it would help him recover, giving his body energy to work with. Zel didn’t even care that it was almost too hot, not slowing down until he had tucked in a full bowl and was well through the second. Then he opened the map, and nearly dropped the bowl when he saw the doodles.

A Z to mark where he was, halfway across the continent from where he had been. And symbols from Zelgadis’ personal shorthand, which he’d developed from a mixture of dead languages, on other parts of the map—“demon temple,” “abandoned library,” and the like.

Zel set the bowl aside and fished his journal, discolored from mud, from the pack. He flipped through it, unease shifting to dismay when he found notes throughout. “Already destroyed,” “Not the Claire Bible,” “Very helpful, Zelgadis-san!” next to his notes on rumors of Claire Bible manuscripts. The very ones he’d been on that part of the continent to check out.

At the very end, a longer note. “I quite enjoyed deciphering your code. Well done! Payment enough for my help. In fact, more than enough—so I’ve replaced your damaged equipment and clothing for you. You may appreciate some of the places I've marked on the map.” Followed by a crude chibi doodle of the priest himself.

Zelgadis wanted to scream.


I've been working on this for a while. I've even started a new chapter of Detour. Tentatively optimistic I'll be writing more.



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