Drunkard's Walk Detour
Slayers: Charm, Beauty, Destruction
A DW Fanfic by Murmur the Fallen
Doug gulped for breath as he laid his head upon arms folded on a table. When was the last time he felt so tired?
It was a shock when he discovered that there was no mana around; or at least, he corrected himself, none that was detectable to mage-sight. There were no nodes as far as he could tell. This meant that he had to depend upon his own personal mana generation abilities. He had gotten so used to drawing upon outside power that he no longer knew how to function effectively on his own resources any longer; at least not without that comforting knowledge that whenever he got in over his head, he could power up by tapping into a nearby node. Oh, joy.
He groaned and tried to slump in upon himself even more. He envisioned a never-ending headache as he continually drained himself of mana to fight battle after battle, never once being able to hold onto enough to leave this world.
Come to that, why was it that in nearly every world he had to fight all the time? Was he just a naturally violent man? Doug grimaced. No, that wasn't it. It wasn't him; it was the rest of the universe ganging up on him, bringing violence to him. That's the problem. Now if only the universe had a face he could punch . . .
"Hello!" came a cheerful voice from the world outside Doug's folded arms. He looked up and saw a small girl, somewhere in the range of seven to ten, with pink bobbed hair. She was holding a bowl of stew, which she placed on the table. "Please, eat!"
Aware of a stomach suddenly rumbling with hunger, Doug drew the bowl closer to him. Doug quickly began to eat the stew, at first blowing on it to make it cooler, then just shoveling it in. The little girl sat on the seat opposite Doug with little trouble; her legs left dangling on the tall chair. She watched him as he ate, smiling beatifically. When he was finished, she asked, "Was it good?"
"Good!" She nodded happily. "The best way to treat fatigue isn't with sorcery but with magic potions that restore electrolyte levels and help neutralize muscle acidosis."
Doug stared at her, surprised. The little girl smiled and explained, "I'm a doctor." She giggled. "My name's Kira and thank you for saving us."
"You're welcome, little lady," said Doug. "I'm Doug Sangnoir."
"That's a funny name, mister," said Kira. "Why Doug?"
Doug laughed. "Blame parents with a strange sense of humor."
"And how do you feel, Mr. Doug?" she asked, mock seriously.
"I dunno, Doc. Will I ever play the ukulele again? No, no, never mind. I'm fine." Doug ran through a brief mental checklist. Any missing limbs and other important protuberances? All senses a-okay? "Better than fine, really. I feel . . . good. Really positive."
Kira nodded enthusiastically. "Oh, good, it worked! I wasn't sure it would."
Doug ignored that, or at least tried to. He instead watched Kira, and observed certain signs that showed how her perkiness was, to some degree, a put-on. It was mostly in the eyes, which she blinked a little too hard and often. And then there was how her body would slump down slightly, only to be lifted back up again. He made a connection.
"So, how many people were hurt?" he asked.
Kira sighed softly, and nodded unhappily; her masquerade of energy pulled away. "A lot. But none of them are going to die. There were lots of broken bones, cuts and bruises. The worst things were the burns. I tried to do what I could to lessen the pain, but that's all I can do. We've sent to the nearest temple for healers and they should be here in a couple days. It was just tiring, Mr. Doug." She slumped down and laid her own head onto the table.
Doug sat there, feeling put upon. It's not as if they were going to die, really. It wasn't as if he needed to heal them. There would be people by in a couple days to see to them. He wasn't necessary. And if he did heal them, what would he do if more monsters came and he was too tired and drained to defend the town? Who would beat back the monsters and heal those that were seriously injured?
But these were rational thoughts, made after the decision was made and the deed was done. Doug had been told over and over again that he was much too rash and never thought through the consequences of his actions until it was too late.
"Take me to them," ordered Doug as he got up. Then, remembering something, he went to Kira and scooped her up in his arms. He pivoted slightly, and got her upon his back, his pack and helmet in one of his hands. "Hold onto my neck and then take me to them, um, please," he asked.
Kira nodded. "It's just down this street, Mr. Doug."
"Okay. So, how'd you get to be a doctor, Kira?" he asked gently; a little conversation to take her mind off the events of the day.
"My grandfather was a doctor, and he took care of me. He started teaching me all about his work, how to mix potions to cure things, stuff like that. He said that I had talent. When he died, I sort of . . . kept up the practice." Kira rested her forehead on the nape of Doug's neck. "You know, we sent a message to the capitol about this attack. They said that they'd send someone to investigate."
"Really? How'd you get a messenger to the capitol so fast? I was under the impression that it was a whiles away," said Doug, interested.
"Oh, there was someone that could do telepathy magic in town. He sent the messages to the temple and the capitol. Why? How else could we do that?"
Doug thought quickly. This was always an awkward time, when he first came onto a world. Should he tell people he came from another dimension, one where he was a trained meta-human operative of a global peacekeeping force? Did it make interesting coffee conversation? "Oh, is that right? Well, on my world we blah, blah, blah." Sometimes it turned out all right; sometimes it led to terrible consequences, like being hounded by annoying scientists with too much time and too many killer robots.
And so: stall and lie. Remember to laugh heartily. "Ha, ha, ha! Oh, of course! How silly of me. Yes, a telepath. Ha, ha."
"You're not from around here, are you, Mr. Doug."
"I travel a lot," he said noncommittally.
"Well, anyway, these are where the more seriously injured people are," said Kira as she pointed to a wooden restaurant that had only superficial charring on one side. A jaunty embroidered sign proclaimed it as the Dancing Dragon, complete with a picture of a happily grinning yellow winged lizard with, oddly, long blonde hair.
"Why'd you want to see them, anyway?" she asked as they went inside. The floor of the largish restaurant had been cleared of tables and chairs, and cots lined the walls filled with groaning or unconscious people. Many of them had bandages wrapped around them. Other people, presumably family and friends, milled around the patients. "Oh, do you know healing magic?"
"As it happens, I do." He set Kira down, took his helmet even more firmly in his hand, and spoke briefly.
It was, Doug reflected, a good day. Did good, kicked ass, healed people in pain; He was tired, but it was a good tired, a satisfied tired. World entries have gone much worse.
After he had healed the injured townspeople, much to their gratification, he had asked where he could bunk for the night. The owner of the restaurant mentioned that he had a room available on his third floor.
"It has a bed and everything!" said the owner enthusiastically.
"Uh, yeah," replied Doug before he dragged himself up the stairs.
"Remember to get plenty of rest and eat the broth I'm leaving here!" called Kira out after him. He nodded.
And so, feeling positive and optimistic, he went to sleep. The dream he had was, while not unpleasant, strange and confusing. Doug sat at a dinner table, a stroboscopic light shining in his face, running through the spectrum that splashed all over his face as the dinner table shuttled forward. Just behind the sickly rainbow light was a slightly translucent golden film covering a dark nothing.
"I suppose it's a sexual metaphor," said a voice beside him. Doug turned his head, slowly, and saw a beautiful woman with long, silvery hair and dusky skin. This woman seemed vaguely familiar to Doug, though in the dream he could not say why. She turned her own head and smiled at Doug. "But then again, I think nearly everything is a metaphor for sex."
Doug nodded, though he wasn't sure what she meant.
"Well, think about it. You're about to pierce through the membrane. Plow right on through and enter a new world. Right?" She smiled a smile that was both mischievous and knowing. "Who knew that you had defloration mania, you naughty boy."
"It's a bit overdone, to my mind," said a voice on Doug's other side. It was another woman, a woman with short, almost blue hair, dressed in white and blue armor. "Though I understand the impulse in referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey, it betrays a certain lack of imagination. I would have thought that Col. Sangnoir would be filled to overflowing with imagination, at least."
"What they're trying to tell you," said a third voice, another woman with pale skin and blonde hair, a beauty mark just under one of her eyes, "is that this is just your mind trying to come to grips with what you experienced when you entered this universe. What happened to you was something so outside your frame of reference, so far from your conceptual landscape, that you are forced to come up with tired analogies and imagery in order to understand even a tiny bit of it."
"That means you're too dumb to know what has happened to you, Colonel," said the shorthaired woman acerbically. "So just concentrate on the pretty patterns in the light and repeat after me: My god, it's full of stars."
"My god, it's full of stars!" said Doug; as the light disappeared and he went through the golden barrier and saw that it was, indeed, full of stars.
"Why a dinner table anyway, Doug?" yelled out the silver- haired woman from far behind him.
And Doug woke up, the memories of his dream quickly receding back into his subconscious. He got up from his bed and went to a stand with a bowl of tepid water. He splashed himself awake and got fully dressed, feeling vaguely insulted. He went downstairs.
"Good morning, Mr. Doug," said Kira. She sat at a table, her legs kicking merrily in the air. "And how do you feel?"
"I feel good," said Doug, as he sat at the same table. "Strange dreams, but restful."
"Oh? What'd you dream about?" asked Kira as she motioned for a server, who came to the table with a wooden bowl filled with a steaming broth. "It's good for you."
"Well," said Doug as he stirred in some pepper into the broth after an experimental sip, "I can't really remember it, but it was strange. I remember that." He paused for a brief moment, a powerful sense of déjà vu flowing through him. He shook it off. "Very strange."
"So, do you know why those monsters attacked this town?"
Kira shrugged. "Not really. It was probably one of those things. That's why the royal investigator's coming. Right?"
"Uh, right," muttered Doug as he stared deeply into his bowl, his face hidden by the steam. He rolled over Kira's offhand comment in his mind. It was just "one of those things?" Did that mean that those kinds of attacks happened a lot? Was everyone just numb to the destruction that frequent monster attacks made? And if they were so frequent, why wasn't the town better protected? A standing guard or at least even a wall around the town would have helped just a little.
Doug resolved to talk to mayor, warlord, grand high poobah or whoever as soon as he finished breakfast. From his preliminary reconnaissance of the town when he arrived, to the running battle he had had the day before, Doug thought that he could suggest a few simple additions to make the town better fortified.
Let's see: thick walls, towers, caltrops on the main roads, barbed wire, mine field, gun turrets, lowering the ground level of the surrounding countryside to make the town on an elevated surface . . .
Doug stared away in the distance, happily contemplating placing mass drivers in orbit for added security.
It was a week and a half before the royal investigators came to town. During that time, Doug kept busy. He spoke to the town's leaders about the building of a wall around their town, which they were curiously reluctant to do.
"What's wrong with a wall?" asked Doug, exasperated.
One of the town leaders sighed heavily and ran a hand through his thinning hair. "It's just . . . we have a reputation to maintain. We're known as the friendliest town in Sailoon. Walls are just so . . . uninviting."
"Wait, is that the reason?" said another leader. "I thought it was to help the flow of positive energy through the town by the careful arraignment of buildings and streets?"
"What positive energy?"
"You know, happiness and contentment and all that."
"How the hell can construction do that? The no-wall rule is to be inviting! No quasi-mystical happiness energy!"
Doug blinked. "Well, what you're inviting right now are more attacks. You need this wall to better defend your homes. Don't you care about that at all?"
"Yeah, sure," they said.
"Well?" demanded Doug.
Doug stalked off, thoroughly disgusted after nearly an hour of futile arguing. As he left, he heard the leaders talking amongst themselves.
"You know," said one, "I almost wish we'd been rescued by Lina Inverse. At least she wouldn't go on and on."
"Well, that's usually because there's nothing left of anything that she'd 'rescued' except a smoking, blasted crater."
Doug stalked on.
He spent most of the days helping to rebuild. He enjoyed working with his hands for something other than violence, something that he never seemed to do often enough.
At nights and when he could get away from the town without being seen, he tried songs that he thought might get him home, but it was a futile exercise. Either the songs weren't the right one or, perhaps more frighteningly, he did not have enough mana to active it. He'd tried the songs that he knew would take the least amount of energy from him first, so that if the town was attacked again after he tried a gate song it would leave him enough energy to fight effectively. That made the thought of the lack of mana in this world more frightening.
Those thoughts kept him up late at night.
Doug was in the middle of a non-broth meal when the news came that the royal investigators were now in town. He'd finally convinced Kira that even if it was healthier to avoid bread and other carbohydrates and stay on a raw vegetable diet along with her vitamin-protein broth, he needed variety in his food or he would kill again.
"I've forgotten the taste of bacon, Kira. That's not right at all," he had said. "Bacon is essential to my spiritual beliefs, as is buttered toast, coffee, pancakes, eggs and any number of things that, while might bring me closer to death, at least lets me enjoy the ride."
Kira had shaken her head in cosmic disappointment.
When the royal investigators came to town, finally, it was a bit of an anticlimax for Doug. It was a lovely morning and Doug yawned as he came downstairs. The owner of the Dancing Dragon, Marco Rusterman, was busy wiping down the tables.
"Good morning, Doug," said Marco, a burly man with short blonde hair and a thick beard. "Sleep well?"
"Well enough. So they're finally coming?" asked Doug.
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes indeed. The heralds came to town about an hour ago and told us the good news. It's not just any investigators the capital sent, it's the princess herself! It'll finally give me the chance to serve my signature feast!" Marco beamed as he wiped his hands with a cloth and went into the kitchen, whistling.
"Princess, huh," he muttered to himself. Marco came back with Doug's breakfast, which was filled with essential spiritual belief. "So what's she like? Does anyone know?"
"You don't know about the Princess Amelia Wil Tesla Sailoon?" Marco demanded, shocked.
"I told you, I'm new around here," said Doug.
"She's said to be a paragon of justice and peace," said Marco in that special reverential tone reserved for the royals.
"Oh, well, if it's said," said Doug, quietly sarcastic.
"She's supposed to be a genius at white magic. Sailoon City is the white magic capital, you know."
"Really?" Doug said, perking up. He briefly wondered what it was meant by 'white magic' but whatever it was, being a magic capitol meant books on magic, maybe even books on magic on how to get him home. That would save a lot of trouble.
Earlier yesterday, in a fit of frustration, Doug had tried to contact the Gods, something that he hated doing for any reason. His frustration and depression, however, had gotten the best of him.
When he'd finished his god-summoning song, however, a strange thing happened. Instead of a psychedelic light show or the overwhelming presence of one of those supercilious so-and-sos, nothing happened for about a second. Then, a voice, female, tinny and mechanical-sounding, said, "We're sorry but you are outside our service area. Please hang up and try again later. Thank you."
That had been very baffling and not a little frightening.
"And, of course, you're being honored by her for your bravery, Doug," said Marco, bringing Doug back to the present.
"There's really no need for that," said Doug modestly.
"Oh, we insist."
"Well, if you insist . . ."
Doug sat patiently as the Princess pontificated. He drifted in and out of reality, all the while trying to look interested. It was one of those skills that a Warrior has to pick up or else go insane.
"Love and peace!" said the Princess to the roaring townspeople. Doug nodded, trying to stay awake.
He had found the Princess Amelia to be unlike most of the royal elitists he had met in his time. She seemed a genuinely nice and caring person, though a bit on the naïve side. She certainly knew what her responsibilities as a leader was and was in no way arrogant. She was very energetic, exhaustingly so. She had dark hair that went just above her shoulders and she was dressed in beige trimmed in purple, complete with a cape. On her wrists and around her neck were small blue glass balls with a pentagram etched on them. Doug couldn't quite tell how old she was but he guessed that she was no older than seventeen and as young as fourteen.
And she liked to make long speeches on top of flagpoles. The crowd seemed to like it. Doug's attention went back to the crowd. Most of it were yelling and cheering softly enough when the princess was pontificating but absolutely roared and waved when she stopped. But there was one person, hiding at the back of the crowd, who did neither. Doug focused on him. He was, whoever he was, dressed in dirty white, a voluminous hood hiding his head and what seemed to be a mask hid his face up to his nose. Shadows from the hood hid the rest of him, but for some reason Doug got the impression that something was shining almost like metal. A masked man with metal near a VIP always made him careful. Doug made a mental note to keep an eye on this guy.
The Princess came to a natural pause in her speech. She leapt off the flagpole and, spinning in the air, landed her dismount, if not with grace, at least on her feet. The crowd clapped and cheered. Doug mental judges gave her a seven, except for the Soviet judge, who gave her a three and a grimace.
"My father asked me to give thanks to the brave hero who came to the rescue of this town!" said Princess Amelia. Doug stood up stiffly, not at all liking this bit but knowing it had to be done and endured. He stood next to her and turned to the crowd, trying not to groan out loud. He saw Kira in front of the crowd, yelling and carrying on as loud as the rest of them, which disappointed Doug. He thought that she was more sensible than that. "I give you this, the highest honor that we can bestow! On behalf of a grateful Sailoon Kingdom and the Princess Amelia wil Tesla Sailoon, thank you!"
"What I did, I did for one of them," said Doug, keeping his eye on Hooded Mask as he kneeled far to let the princess put a medal around his head. It was a pretty medal, he had to admit that, but mostly meaningless to him. He appreciated being appreciated but that's as far as it went. Maybe it'd have some more emotional connection to him if he spent more time in this world, but that was frankly something he didn't really want to happen.
Hooded Mask moved away from the crowd as Amelia wrapped up her speech. Doug noted that and then started surreptitiously watching any possible sniping positions.
"I promise you, people of Striderton, that I shall personally find the fiends that have fiendishly attacked our beloved land and show them the meaning of peace and justice!" said Princess Amelia. Doug found that a tad ominous, but that's because he was a paranoid man. With waves and thanks, the princess bound from the prepared stage and moved through the townspeople on the way to the Dancing Dragon where she had had rooms prepared. Doug followed her.
"Wasn't she wonderful?" said Kira by his side, looking after Princess Amelia adoringly.
"She was alright," said Doug. "Say, did you notice a guy standing just a little outside the crowd. He had on a hood and was all in this dirty white outfit. Maybe he's a townsman."
"No, I didn't see a thing like that."
"Yeah, ok. Let's see what this signature feast that Marco's been talking about is."
"I'm sorry, 'Dragon' what now?" said Doug, distressed.
"Dragon Cuisine!" said Marco proudly. "I've been cooking and preparing and preserving for over two years in the hopes of a special enough event and look! Serendipity strikes!"
"I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this," said Doug. "You've cooked a dragon."
"Yes. Why, don't they eat dragons where you're from?"
"No, not really." Doug thought of something. "Are we talking big reptile winged things. Breathe fire?"
"Talk and do magic and are strangely attractive to pubescent girls?"
Marco looked horrified. "Oh, no, no, no! Not those dragons! We don't eat any dragons that talk!"
Doug relaxed in relief.
"They're much too gamy."
Doug looked askance at Marco, but let that pass.
"No," said Marco, "the dragon I'm using came from a lake. Died pretty easily, too."
"So, uh, what makes Dragon Cuisine so special?"
"Well, beyond the taste . . ."
"Yeah, sure, go beyond that."
"It takes a year or so to truly prepare it. It takes a long time to drain it of poisons and make the meat just right and tender. And the time to cook it is extremely long. It's serendipitous that the princess came just as my Dragon was ready to eat."
And it was, Doug had to admit, a great taste experience. He still felt weird about eating dragon, but what the hell, if he could eat sheep brains he could eat this. But it tasted good.
Dragon meat seemed to accommodate itself to whatever dish it was part of, so that it was used in a wide range of dishes, from steaks to stews, from casseroles to dumplings; fried, broiled and baked.
Doug complimented Marco, apologizing about his doubts. The Princess was similarly impressed, saying how she'd always wanted to try Dragon Cuisine but never had the chance before.
People laughed as they ate, and talked in between stuffing bites into their mouths. They drank deeply from whatever was handy, as nothing clashed with the taste of dragon. Doug was no glutton, very aware that too much food made him logy, but he had to fight to stop eating.
It was late in the evening, much of the food gone and eaten, and many of the eaters gone staggering, wobbling, shuffling and waddling off to their bed. Doug sat at a table still, nursing a hot cinnamon tea, when he noticed the Princess surreptitiously going into the kitchen, all attention having drifted away from her as those that remained slipping happily into a coma. She picked up a still-steaming dragon steak. Doug, curious, followed her from a distance. He saw her sneak out of the kitchen and through the back door that led to an alley behind the Dancing Dragon. Doug watched her from an open window, hiding himself from her sight, as she stood in the alleyway.
"Zelgadis-san? Zelgadis-san?" she called out softly. Doug saw the shadows move and take on the now- familiar form of Hooded Mask. Doug tensed and got ready to jump out the window and save the Princess. But the Princess stopped Doug with her happy greeting.
"There are you, Zelgadis-san. Here," she said, as she handed Hooded Mask, or Zelgadis, the dragon steak.
"Thank you, Amelia," said Zelgadis, who pulled back his hood and pulled down his mask. Doug saw by the light of the kitchen and moon that this Zelgadis had bluish gray hair that looked wiry and metallic and a literally stony face with rocky protrusions. He smiled at the princess and took the dish. He sat on a wooden crate and balanced the plate on his lap, slicing the steak into first quarters, then into bite size cubes. Despite being in an alley, he ate his steak with impeccable table manners. "It's delicious."
"I'm sure Lina-san will be very jealous and violent when she hears about it," said the Princess, smiling. She sat next to Zelgadis, who scooted over to make room for her.
"Then let's not tell her about it," said Zelgadis. He looked guilty for a moment and said, "I'm sorry that I wasn't there with you while you made your speech. You know how I feel about crowds."
"I know," said Princess Amelia as she leaned against Zelgadis. "I saw you in the crowd."
Doug, feeling like a voyeur, left the two alone, sneaking away quietly so as not to disturb them. He walked through the large dining room and up the stairs silently, waving at Marco goodnight. He went into his room and changed. He went to sleep, feeling sad and nostalgic and alone.