A Slayers short story
By Aaron Bergman
Disclaimer: 'Slayers' and all characters belong to Hajime Kanzaka, Rui Araizumi, Kadokawa Shoten, TV Tokyo, Softx, and Marubeni
"Naga?" Lina trudged dolefully through the thigh-deep snow, looking at her taller companion through the corner of her eye and hating her more with each second.
"WHY THE HELL AREN'T YOU COLD?!"
Naga looked down at herself, adjusted the skull placed between her breasts, and asked, "Why should I be?" She shook her finger at the diminutive sorceress. "Now, now, Lina, surely you should realize that winter is only cold if you let it be cold. Once you grow up a little…"
Rather than pay attention to another of the heavily-endowed sorceress's rants, Lina looked down at the map in her shivering hands and growled, "This thing is trash! It says there should be a village right around here."
Naga, feeling a bit cut off, looked over Lina's shoulder and said, "Ah, yes. I remember you mentioning this little town. Tell me, why is it so important to you?"
Lina grinned and said, "Because of the infamous Bear's Eve Feast hosted every year here by the famous chef, Ivan Boskonovich!" Her statuesque companion blinked in confusion for a moment.
"What, if I may ask, is Bear's Eve?"
Now it was Lina's turn to blink in confusion. "You've never heard of it?" Naga shook her head, and Lina sighed. "It's like… a big party right in the middle of winter, a couple of days after the solstice. There's a big feast, a big dance, you give gifts to your neighbors, and later on, um, if you're old enough…" Lina blushed, and that was just begging Naga to laugh.
Strangely enough, she didn't, and that should have warned Lina that something was odd. Distracted by the cold and the water pooling in the bottoms of her boots, she completely missed the importance of Naga's next question.
"So why are you coming here to spend this… Bear's Eve?"
Lina told her 'boon comrade' why. This was a mistake.
A very serious one.
Ivan knew that anyone who chose to travel down the road was also choosing to commit suicide, in a word. If the cold and the wet didn't finish you off, then you'd probably meet some very hungry wolves, who were willing to accept the damage to their peaceful reputation in exchange for a quick bite on the run.
That's why, when Ivan heard the door to his inn bang open and turned to see who it was, his eyes didn't accept who it was for a few moments.
The moment he did, though, he rushed past the empty tables and swept Lina Inverse into a bear hug. "Lina! How are you? What are you doing here?"
Ivan loosened his grip a bit. "Umm… I am sorry." Then his enthusiasm caught him again, and he tightened his hold. "Oh, I'm so glad to see you again!"
"Ack!" Lina managed to wheeze out, "So, where's Aleksandr?"
A frown came over Ivan's face, and he said softly, "Lina, Alek is…" But his voice was swallowed by laughter.
"OHO HO HO HO HO!!! So that's his name!"
Lina sighed (not that hard to do when you're being squeezed like an accordion). "Ivan, this is Naga. Naga, Ivan."
Naga swept forward and held out her hand. "I'm so pleased to meet you. I've heard quite a bit about both you and your son!"
A shadow passed over the big man's eyes, but Ivan let Lina slither out of his grasp and laughed heartily… though not as heartily as Naga. "Ah, so this little one's been talking about me behind my back, eh? Well, I won't let that stop me from being myself!"
Lina looked around the lack-of-crowded common room and frowned. "Where is everybody?"
Ivan sighed himself. "It seems they've been scared away by the ghost."
Naga started. "Gh-ghost?"
"Yes, a ghost. It started about, oh, ten days ago, I suppose. At first, it was just in the great hall, but now it appears wherever there's a lot of people at once." Ivan sighed again. "However am I going to start cooking the feast, when I know that we won't be able to get enough people together to eat it?"
Lina looked… sharp, razor-edged; the sort of look that Naga knew meant something was about to happen. Just as her mouth opened, Naga clamped one hand over it and said over Lina's head, "Can you excuse us a moment?"
Ivan shrugged. "Of course, of course! I'll just go and get a meal together. Any requests?"
"Something very warm."
Only after the big man had walked into the kitchen did Naga relent and release her grip. Before Lina could say anything, Naga whispered, "I know that look, Lina, and this is one time you should let your common sense do the thinking! You were going to volunteer, for free, to get rid of this g-ghost for them, weren't you?"
Lina glared and hissed, "Yes I was! What did you want to do, ask them for money?"
"OHO HO HO HO HO!" Somehow Naga's laugh retained its soul-biting edge even as a whisper. "Of course I was going to ask for money. You've got a lot of growing up to do if…"
Lina raised her hand as if to slap the taller sorceress. "No, you've got a lot of growing up to do if you think that these people could pay us anything! Besides, they'd refuse if we just offered to do the job out of the goodness of our hearts anyway. Have you ever heard the saying, 'Too poor to buy paint, too proud to whitewash'?"
Naga smiled. "I have no idea how that saying is supposed to apply to this situation, but I'm so glad to hear you talking sense otherwise! And…"
Both of the sorceresses turned around to see Ivan beaming at them over a tray laden with food. Lina said, "Wow, that was quick."
"I was fixing something for myself, saw that I had too much, and was just about to stow the rest away for tomorrow when you stopped by!" Ivan smiled even more broadly. "So you see, this worked out for the best! You get to eat the excess, and I get to see how you like my new dish!"
Lina salivated visibly. "A… new… dish?"
"That… no one's… ever tasted before?"
As if by magic, utensils appeared in Lina's hand, and a napkin was at her throat. "Then let's eat!"
The utensils in Lina's hands vanished like an illusion, and she patted her stomach. "Ahh, that was sooo good. So, tell me, where's Alek? I can't wait to see him!"
Once again, a frown appeared on Ivan's face, and suddenly he seemed to bear the weight of a hundred lost years on his shoulders. "Alek… he… it was a wood chopping accident nine months ago."
"What?" Lina gave Ivan a disbelieving look.
Ivan stared down at his hands. "We thought he'd pull through at first, but then the gangrene showed… but by then, it had already taken root in his body. He didn't want to die like that." He shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. "He threw himself out of his window, and…"
Lina came around the edge of the table and threw an arm around Ivan's broad shoulders. "I… I'm sorry to hear that. Accidents happen…" She shook her head. "Could you show us to our rooms?"
Ivan stood up. "Of course, what was I thinking, just letting your things sit by the door when they could be in nice dry rooms?" He walked over to the sorceress's packs, hefted them, and started for the stairs. Naga looked at Lina, who was still standing by Ivan's now-empty chair.
"I don't want to talk about it." She started after Ivan, who was already halfway up the stairs. Naga followed, but not too closely.
Ivan stopped at the first door and opened it, carefully setting one of the packs inside. "Ms. Naga, this is your room." He walked to the next door and did the same with that. "Lina, this is yours." He turned around and grinned at both of them, though it seemed a bit forced. "Well now, I'm sure you must be tired from all that traveling, and I know I'm tired just watching you eat! I'll see you in the morning."
With that, he turned again and started for the end of the hall and the last door. After it had closed behind him, Lina walked into her room and threw herself on the bed, burying her face into the pillow. She felt someone sit on the bed beside her.
"I SAID I don't want to talk about it."
"Why not? Why was this Aleksandr so important to you?"
She turned her head towards Naga, who was shocked to see tears glistening in her eyes. "Because I promised him that I'd get him out of this podunk village!" Lina sat up, clutching the pillow to her stomach. "I said, 'Wait until next Bear's Eve, I'll give you the best gift I can think of!' I… I kept my word, why… why didn't he keep his?!"
Naga, her eyes uncharacteristically solemn, gathered the other sorceress into her embrace. "Lina, you've got a lot of growing up to do, but… even you know that these things happen. Death… it happens. It hurts for a while, but then you just move on. I hate to say it, but you do forget what she looked like, or what she sounded like, or the way her favorite perfume smelled…"
Lina pulled back a bit from Naga and looked at her. "Who are you talking about?"
Naga rubbed at her face. "Nobody… don't worry about it. But take what I'm saying to heart, okay?"
Lina nodded, then tossed the pillow aside and gave Naga a hug, because it looked like she needed one.
It seemed the thing to do.
The snow piled up against the windowpanes, inevitably covering the darkness with white.
Lina grinned voraciously as she took in the food spread across the table. "Whoa… that's a lot of food!"
Ivan said grandly, "I find that the most cheerful thing in the world is a big, hearty breakfast first thing in the… never mind." He smiled kindly as he watched Lina start at one end, obviously determined to be at the other end by the time she was done.
The squeak from the top of the stairs, however, implied that there would be a bit of competition for Lina's endeavor. "Lina, how DARE you start without me!" A black-on-flesh phantom flew past Ivan's line of sight and alighted at the end of the table away from Lina. "You've got a lot to learn if…"
Naga dodged the fork that Lina threw while suggesting, "Less talk. More eat."
With that, the two set to with gusto.
Once they were done, Lina sat looking at the bare plates and gnawed bones scattered across the table with dismay. "We haven't left any for Ivan! What have we done?"
Naga chuckled, a welcome break from her usual laugh. "Are you actually worried about your figure, Lina? Never fear, you could eat eight times this and never gain an inch, especially in your… more vital measurements…" Naga ducked yet another fork, and a sudden yelp sounded behind her.
The statuesque sorceress turned around and quickly spotted the trouble: the fork had spanged into the door just as someone was opening it, no doubt causing the poor fellow a great deal of distress. Naga raised one hand in a brief wave to the stricken-looking man. "Oh, I apologize for the rudeness of my friend, dear sir. She can't help her lack of culture…" A fist smacked into the back of her head.
The newcomer looked confused for a moment, then shrugged and said, "Now, I never could hold a grudge against beautiful women."
Naga chose to interpret that as directed towards her. "Oh, he has manners and he's handsome! What's your name?"
The newcomer turned and met Ivan's bear hug with one of his own. "Uncle!"
"Why are you here?"
Andrei's expression turned solemn. "It appeared again last night, Uncle, in my house while we were eating."
Ivan looked shocked. "No!"
And then, before Naga could do anything but watch in horror, Lina's mouth shaped the words she'd been dreading.
"We'll take care of this ghost for you."
Both of the men looked at each other, then shook their heads.
"It's our problem."
Lina stood up. "It strikes me, Ivan, that I haven't gotten you a Bear's Eve gift; so I'll do this as a present from me to you."
Both of the men looked at each other again, then, to Naga's horror, they slowly nodded in assent. "I guess, if you put it that way… sure."
Lina rubbed her hands together. "Great!" Then, she looked at Naga. "So, where do you think we should get started, partner?"
"This is where the ghost appeared, eh?" Lina looked at Andrei, who nodded.
"Yes. It appeared in a small flash of light, and said, 'Don't be afraid!'"
"So what did you do?"
"Screamed and ran up the stairs."
Both Naga and Lina exchanged a Glance. Andrei said defensively, "Well, everyone knows what this ghost does to people it catches!"
"Tears 'em limb from limb, then drains all the blood away!"
"And who has this happened to?"
"Um…" Andrei looked at the floor of his house and dug one toe into the ground. "Nobody…"
"Right… that's about what I thought." Both of the girls started looking for clues, and found one.
"There's nothing here."
Naga nodded. "Yep. No indication that this is just some prank, no sign of an illusion, so it has to be a g-ghost…"
Lina rubbed her chin. "Now, the only problem is finding the thing."
Naga held up one hand. "Wait a second. Didn't Ivan say that the ghost only shows up at large gatherings of people?"
"Yes… hmm…" Lina's fist punched the air. "Yes!! We can hold the Bear's Eve feast and catch the ghost at the same time!"
Naga eyed her short companion. "I admire your enthusiasm, Lina, but how do you propose catching the gh-ghost?"
Lina smiled slowly. "Aw, heck, that's easy…"
This had been one of the best Bear's Eve Feasts ever, or so everyone but the old-timers said; the food was good, the beer was better, the music was grand, and as for the two women helping to serve the meal… well, at least one of them wasn't flatchested.
Lina's face was hurting from holding her smile. "Yes?"
"When does the gh-ghost show up? I'm feeling a little… overdressed."
Lina looked down at her own costume, which consisted of little more than a furry skirt and a bear-fur shirt. "This is overdressed? …Sorry, forgot who I was talking to. And be quieter with that talk about 'when does the gh-ghost show up?' That'll make the ghost show up even…"
The torches on the wall suddenly dimmed, and a few screams echoed from the corners. Lina finished her sentence mechanically. "…faster."
"WhOOoo is hEeerre?" Lina looked over at Naga, who nodded and began the casting that they'd planned. She looked a little pale, but…
Lina sprinted to the opposite side of the room. "Yo, big Mr. Scary, over here!" With a chill down her spine, she felt the still-incorporeal ghost focus its attention on her.
All of it.
All of a sudden, the voice sounded very familiar…
"Aleksandr?" Lina heard the spell from the other end of the room come to a crescendo, and she yelled out desperately, "NOOO!!!"
The fine net of magic cast its mesh through the room, hunting for the soul that had trespassed on the world of the living. What it caught writhed like a pike, thrashing and threatening to tear the seemingly fragile spell asunder. It held, however, and constricted slowly, gradually forcing the soul to become visible to everyone.
All of the people in the room gasped in shock at the sight of the young man floating ten feet above the floor. Naga looked around at the crowd, looked across the room at Lina, whose face matched the pallor of the ghost's, and quickly realized who that boy had to be.
Aleksandr, the boy that Lina had promised to meet… on this very evening.
Looking him over, Naga could easily tell what the fuss was about; even at fourteen or fifteen (her best guess as to his age) he had been very handsome, with a thick tangle of hair and a wistful smile on his face. Right now, that smile was directed towards the short red-haired sorceress.
Lina scrambled past all the stunned villagers and hopped up on the central table, stretching out one hand towards the phantom boy. The spirit's lips moved slowly. "Hi, Lina. I kept my promise… thanks for keeping yours…" Then, the cords squeezed the spirit out of this world and into the next, leaving only memories behind.
Lina looked over at Naga, who was having a bit of trouble with her snowshoes. "Yes?"
Naga struggled out of the snowdrift and kicked it, sending white flying everywhere. "Don't you think that, maybe…"
Lina shook her head. "Naw. One thing's for sure, Lina Inverse isn't going to be about regrets! I'm gonna live for the future because, by Ceipheed, the future is all we've got!"
Naga looked down on Lina for a moment, then said, "That reminds me. I never did ask for an explanation of 'Bear's Eve.'"
Lina sighed, her breath spreading like smoke on the crisp air. "According to local legend, the local winters are a lot worse then everywhere else in the world because there's this big spirit-bear that goes to sleep whenever the evils of the world become too much for it to bear. No pun intended. We all party and exchange gifts on Bear's Eve to remind Bear that, despite all the evils of the world, there's also good in it as well."
Then, Lina's expression turned sly, and she poked Naga in the side. "And don't think that I don't know about your little 'activities' while everyone else was sleeping after the party."
Naga fidgeted uncomfortably. "I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about."
Lina rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah right. As if I didn't know that we were the only ones in town that had enough gold to throw into chimneys in the first place; and… I know for sure that I sure didn't do it." She tried to keep her face straight, and almost failed. "The laugh was a dead giveaway."
Naga shook her head and let loose with one of the aforementioned laughs, shaking snow from all the trees nearby. "OHO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO! Lina my dear, for all you know it could have been… a jolly fat elf!" Then, improbably, she started running in her snowshoes, keeping on her feet through sheer desperation. Lina shook her fist at the fleeing sorceress and started running herself.
"Yeah, right! Why would a jolly fat elf laugh like THAT?! Just admit it, Naga!!"
"I ADMIT NOTHING! OHO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HO…"
Authorís notes: All this came from the moment I noticed Naga's and Santa's laugh were… similar.
To put it politely.
I typed this up in one day and edited it the next, so forgive any glaring grammatical errors as mere haste.
And now, for the bit of hentai strangeness that came to me while ruminating on this idea!
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