With This Ring
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Some cursed treasure leads Lina and Gourry much closer than either intended... in a way that just ends up pissing Lina off. (Lina/Gourry)
"It won't come off." I tugged some more at the ring, but it wasn't budging. "Someone get some soap. Or oil or something."
How did I end up in this situation? Well, it was simple. Gourry and I -- and Amelia and Zel, who happened to be with us -- were teaching some bandits the meaning of fear and recovering some loot for our troubles. Anyway, they had one of those stupid hideouts that goes all to pieces as soon as you launch one good Fireball. So, I told everyone to grab what they could and just stuff it in their pockets, then run like hell. And I put some rings on, because it's easier to carry them on my fingers than have them take up space in my bags. And I had already lost my gloves -- don't ask. Plus, what if I needed to punch someone?
Most of them came off fine -- I do have delicate fingers after all -- but the one on my right ring finger was stuck fast. I tugged at it some more.
Amelia looked at it. "You know, Miss Lina, it looks almost like a wedding ring. You don't think the bandits stole it from some poor married couple?"
"Now I really want to get it off," I said. "I'm too young to be a married woman."
Amelia looked at Zelgadis, who had brought the soap, and a basin of water.
"I don't think gold washes off that easy," Gourry said.
"I'm not trying to wash it off, Jellyfish," I told him. "The soap will make it slippery enough to slide off."
"I knew that," he said. I doubted it. "You don't have to be so mean about it."
"Just finish gathering up the loot, Jellyfish. Then we can see if the town has a reward out for these bandits."
"This one's not coming off. I got a stuck ring, too, Lina," Gourry said.
I sighed. "Then get over here and make with the soap." Honestly, I might have to ask to borrow a jeweler's tools to break the rings. Which would be annoying: the gold would still be worth something, but the rings could have some value of their own. I looked closer. "Zel, Amelia, give me your opinion?"
"Are they jewelers?"
"Of course not, Gourry. But they're mages."
"Um... Miss Lina...?" Amelia gave me a curious look.
"What is it? I think this thing is enchanted," I said. Which could explain why I couldn't get it off. Especially if it was cursed or something. At least I felt fine.
"Cursed?" Gourry said. "Get this thing off me!"
"I didn't say it was cursed, jellyfish for brains." Just thought it Was it my imagination, or was he actually getting smarter?
"You did say it! I'm not deaf, Lina." He was starting to scrub his hands, in an effort to get the ring to fall off.
Zel cleared his throat. "You two have been doing that since you got back to the inn. Lina, you've been reacting to things I haven't heard Gourry said. And now Gourry's doing it too."
Amelia nodded. "It would be almost kind of like an old married couple... if it wasn't kind of creepy, actually."
Well, thank you for that, Amelia. I looked at Gourry. Was he really reading my thoughts?
"Maybe if you thought quieter, Lina," Gourry said, frowning.
"Could it be the rings? They do kind of look like wedding rings..." Amelia said.
"Who the hell would think it was a good idea to make wedding rings that gave you mind-reading powers?" I asked. I've never been married, but that just strikes me as a terrible idea. People have a lot of dumb thoughts, and I'd get sick of hearing them, especially when I was trying to think.
"And they are enchanted," Zelgadis replied. "So they're doing something."
"We could test it?" Amelia said. "Mister Gourry, turn your back."
"Why? Why?" Well that was definitely an echo I was getting.
"I don't think we need to, Amelia. I think you two are right. Which raises the question -- how the hell do I get this thing off?"
* * *
I gave a tug at the ring. Still stuck. I look over to see how Gourry was faring. Gourry?
"Mine's still stuck, too, Lina."
I looked over to Amelia. "No good."
She sighed, cleaning up the various bits of white magic stuff she had accumulated to boost the spell. I had even offered her use of my Demon's Blood Talismans -- it wasn't like Amelia would run off with them -- but she had pointed out that they probably wouldn't help with the kind of spell she was trying to cast.
And, of course, anytime I think something magical -- which I do a lot, because I am a sorcery genius, after all -- I had Gourry bugging me to explain. Which was wearing on my last nerve. "You could ignore all the magic talk," I told him. "Or thoughts. Whatever."
"But what if it's important?" Gourry said. "When you explain things, I try to listen, even if I don't always get it."
"Let Zel and Amelia and me handle it," I told him. "If we stop to explain things every time you have a question, we'll be here for years." And, if Gourry remembered it all, he'd be on his way to cast spells on his own.
"I don't want to cast spells. I'm fine with my sword."
So don't listen when I'm thinking magic thoughts.
"Well, it's hard. You do it so loud."
I wondered if he was getting as annoyed with me as I was with him.
"I can't really help it, Lina."
Of course not. Whoever designed these rings was going to get a punch in the face, even if I had to learn necromancy to do it.
Amelia waited patiently. "I have one more idea," she said. "Well, two."
"What are they?" I asked.
She held up two fingers. "The first is to head for Saillune City. We still have the largest magic circle in the world. If we can't break apart the spell with that amplifying the magic, then nothing will get through."
"Short of just amputating the fingers," Zel added.
"But it's on my sword hand!" Gourry clutched his hand to his chest and backed away. "I don't want anyone cutting off my fingers."
"Me either." Sure, it was the type of thing that added to a legend -- Nine-Fingered was a pretty cool title, and you could make up all kinds of stories about it. Like tossing your finger into a volcano to save the world from a dark sorcerer. But I think I have really cute hands, so like hell I was letting Zel near them with a knife.
"Mister Zelgadis, that wasn't helpful," Amelia said.
"Cute hands? Well, I guess so..."
I looked over at Gourry, turning red. "Stop listening to thoughts like that!" Was that supposed to be a compliment? I didn't know if it was or wasn't, but a girl likes some privacy.
"Sorry, Lina. What's compliment mean, anyway? I was trying to be nice."
"Oh?" Amelia said. And now I had Amelia, Champion of Sticking Her Nose into Others' Business in the Name of Love on my case.
"The other option, Amelia. Because I'm about ready to lose my temper." See how generous I can be? I even offered her a warning.
"She's really serious, Amelia." Gourry said.
Amelia took a step backed. "Right. Well, maybe if we knew where the rings came from, we could get them off. There's a temple and a sorcerer's guild in Naviel, which is only a couple of days' walk from here."
"Instead of brute forcing them, we can finesse them off." Zelgadis nodded. "That could work."
"Right. So let's head to Naviel." Before this whole thing drives me nuts.
* * *
Less than twenty-four hours later, and my friends were lucky I did remember something from that time Martina cursed me: don't cast spells on people you're magically bound to. At least, not without a damn good reason.
They were coming damn close, though. I could probably get away with threatening Amelia. It had been her idea, when I started complaining about Gourry thinking too loud, that we all start singing. Her logic was that if we were all thinking about the same words, I wouldn't be bothered by extra noise.
Which... well, that did work. Especially since she and Gourry started singing, which forced me to join in or just end up with the song in my head anyway. And then glare at Zel while he pretended that he wasn't connected to this impromptu band of minstrels until he stopped with the stoic act and started singing.
Surprisingly, all of us can carry a tune. Well, I'm not surprised about me, and I knew Zel could, and Amelia's probably actually had music lessons as part of her princess training, but who knew Gourry actually did a decent job at holding down the bass line?
Of course, now I have a bunch of drinking songs, folk songs, and things I suspect Prince Phil wrote in his spare time stuck in my head. And every time I get them out, then they get stuck in Gourry's head. Gee, thanks, Amelia.
"She meant well," Gourry added.
"I know she meant well, but it doesn't change the fact I now know fifteen verses of 'Merry Maids of Sairaag'." Some of them which were things that really shouldn't be thought of sober. Who knew folks songs could be so dirty?
"Speaking of, Lina, I don't think I understood what-"
ASK ZEL, NOT ME, I thought back as loud as I could. Let's face it, there are some things a man should just know, and I didn't want to plumb the depths of Gourry's mind any more than I had to. Let Zel figure out if it was just a case of some bard's clever wordplay go flying over the head of Gourry. "And if you must think, do it out loud, so I'm not having one-sided conversations." And that way Amelia and Zel could suffer with me.
"Only if you do the same thing," Gourry said. "You've been thinking a lot of mean things about everyone, you know."
I wanted to kick him. "It's because being angry at the idiot who made these damn rings isn't exactly productive." Not unless he was within Fireball or screaming range.
"I just wish you'd relax sometimes. I don't want you to be angry."
"Yeah, well, who asked you?" I said. We were about halfway to Naviel, and had stopped in a town for the night. "I'm going to have a drink before I go to bed. Maybe that will fuzz things out." Even finding some bandits didn't seem appealing -- that was what got me into this mess, after all. It's a horrible thing, when a young woman can't even take simple pleasure in stealing from thugs who make their living from theft.
Zel and Amelia were walking 'a safe distance' behind us. Probably because both of them knew I was in a foul mood. Amelia took a couple of steps up. "Miss Lina. Are you sure that's smart. With your temper-"
"What's wrong with my temper?" I said. Well, more like shouted.
"Right now? It's so short to be non-existent," Zel replied. "And I'd rather not be run out of the only inn in town because you blew it up."
I thought about kicking Zel, but decided against it. My boots just aren't that sturdy. Gourry put his hand on my shoulder, and I looked up at him. I could feel his concern radiating off him -- well, you travel with a guy for years, and you get to know his moods, but this was like I was concerned too. Which made it hard to be angry, though I certainly did try. "Quit that," I told him.
"Quit what?" he said. He did take his hand off, though.
I sighed. Like hell I was going to say what I was thinking in front of Zel and Amelia. "Never mind." How come he could calm me down while I had spent the whole afternoon ready to spit nails and Gourry was still happily trotting along by my side?
"Guess I don't get mad easily."
Right. "I still want that drink. I had some weird dreams last night." Which were probably Gourry's fault.
"Hey, I had weird dreams too, you know," he replied.
"Maybe they were a shared dream?" Amelia offered. "That's kind of-"
"Amelia, drop it," I told her.
"Just be careful you two don't get twice as drunk thanks to this," Zelgadis replied.
"Yes, Mama-Zel," I rolled my eyes. "If you really want, you can babysit us so we don't end up plastered."
Zelgadis shrugged. "I have my own matters to take care of." Which might well be his way of getting some time away from the rest of us.
"I'll just go take care of the inn rooms," Amelia added, skipping off before I could tell her otherwise. Oh well, it wasn't like she wasn't paying for things through Saillune's long purse strings.
I looked at Gourry, who looked at me back. "Come on." I said. "Let's see what's in the tavern."
* * *
Turned out the tavern actually had pretty decent food. I mean, it was standard 'pub food' -- sandwiches and potatoes and fried things and giant portions. Well, giant portions for most places, but not quite big enough that we didn't order several each. It was also hot and perfectly cooked. And the booze wasn't bad, though I'm not much of a drinker. After traveling with a borderline alcoholic, you realize how dumb most people are when drunk.
Never mind. I've repressed most of it, for good reason. Add in that Gourry got even more forgetful when he drank, and I much prefer food to drink.
"I don't remember that."
Of course you don't.
The other plus was that both Gourry and I know better than to get distracted when there's food that might get cold -- or get eaten. So dinner was a mercifully quiet affair. We even finished before Amelia and Zel showed up again, so I didn't have to listen to them complain because they're too slow of eaters. That left sitting there in a pleasant after-dinner glow and waiting for them to finish. I was actually feeling much better, since there's nothing like a good meal to improve the mood.
Of course, then Gourry noticed the waitress. She was the same person who brought us our food, but, like I said, both of us were too busy enjoying the aroma of a fresh cooked meal or five to pay attention to the person with the tray. She had our food and wasn't a threat, so what was there to notice?
But when she was bringing out Amelia and Zel's food, Gourry and I were done. "What smells so good? Oh, it's Zel's dinner. Hey, that waitress is kind of cute... wonder what she looks like from the front?"
I stepped on his foot. Hard. Of course, then I felt pain, but it was totally worth it.
"Lina! I didn't say a thing!"
I held up my hand, the ring clearly visible. "But you were thinking it, you pervert." Stupid Gourry. I didn't know what he could do instead, but dammit, it hurts when he does shit like that.
"I'm sorry, Lina."
"Quit that," I said. "I'm going to my room. Just... shut up and don't think. It shouldn't be so hard for you." I shoved the chair away from the table and stomped towards the door. Our inn was across the street and Amelia had told me where the door was.
Stupid Gourry. Stupid, stupid Gourry. Okay, he doesn't do stuff like that often -- or at all, really, recently -- but you think I like being reminded that when people call me 'cute', it's usually because they think I'm some kid that's pretending to be a grown-up sorceress? I mean, I am adorable, you know, but sometimes I want to be the kind of cute that turns men's heads.
Gourry with his stupidly long legs had followed me. "Lina?"
"I don't want to talk to you now," I said. "Go away before I forget that fireballing you will hurt like hell."
"Lina... you know, ah... you'd make a cute waitress too."
What? Seriously, what? I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be complimented or offended. I mean, I knew he was being sincere, but... "What the hell do you mean by that?"
Gourry shrugged. "Thought you might like to know that. That it would make you feel better, and you'd know I'd meant it."
Well, yeah, but I didn't know what you meant by it?
"Well, that if you were serving food, I'd think you were cute. Or without the food, really." Gourry gave that little laugh, that meant he was kind of embarrassed and really had no idea what he was saying.
I eyed him. "You're drunk, aren't you?"
"You know, if you want to give a compliment to a girl, you sure are terrible at it."
"Ah, you're right." Another laugh. "How about this?" He took my hands in his, kneeling to bring our faces level, and I went red, and not just from the cold evening air. I felt... well, I didn't really want to think about how I felt right now. Nor how much was what that ring was giving me from Gourry.
"Lina..." he said. "I would always notice how pretty you were, even if you were carrying in a giant feast with dessert, and were letting me eat it all. Though then I might think you were sick or something..."
Dammit, Gourry. You really are terrible at this. "Look," I said. "It's been a long day. I'm still going to bed. Try to be quiet."
He shrugged. "I have to mend some of our packs," he said. "Will that work?"
I nodded. "Sure."
* * *
I was still dead tired after that night, thanks to the dreams. No, I don't want to talk about them. Amelia tried to get us to sing again, and I told her that I would shove her songbook down her throat if she started even humming, and that went for Zel as well. It was a good thing we were only a half-day to Naviel by foot -- we could make it by lunch, and then get someone to take the damn rings off. I didn't want to think about what we'd have to do if that didn't work. I might actually be willing to cut off my finger if we had to walk all the way back to Saillune City.
"Gourry, you have a song stuck in your head."
He nodded. "I know that."
"Well, stop it, before it gets stuck in my head. Especially since you only know the chorus."
"Maybe if you know the rest, it won't be so annoying?"
"No. It will still be annoying. Because then it'll be stuck in my head, not that it isn't already. And then I'll-"
I don't know which of us noticed the birds had stopped making noise, or which of us heard the underbrush rustle. But Gourry had drawn his sword and I brought up my hands, ready to cast a spell. Zel and Amelia were ahead of us, but either they heard or they didn't. Zel and Amelia could take care of themselves for anything short of a mazoku attack.
I nodded. "Well," I said, "are you the guys we beat two days ago, or are you some new batch of idiots?" Bandits really only had numbers and intimidation by their side. Good thing I intimidate better and magic doesn't care about numbers.
"Damn you, that hideout took us months to build!" came a voice from the trees.
I cast a Freeze Arrow at the voice. "Maybe you should have built to last, then!" Gourry stepped to the side, ready to take on the bandits who had tried to take advantage of my blind spots. I cast a Dil Brand towards the center of where the crowd was, and then moved to the right, picking off the stragglers, while Gourry covered the left.
I caught a flash of something and Gourry was behind me, fending off a blow from another thug with his sword. He ducked, and I Flare Arrow'd the goons behind him. Really, bandits aren't a challenge at all any more. Pathetic, really.
So, of course we won. I even avoided setting the forest on fire -- well, nothing I couldn't quickly put out, as a responsible civic-minded person who doesn't want to breathe smoke for hours.
I was going through bandits' pockets, hoping that I'd find gold and not something disgusting, when I saw Zel and Amelia watching me. "What? I didn't see you helping out."
"We didn't need to," Amelia said. "You and Mister Gourry were incredible."
"Like a ballet," Zelgadis agreed. "A true show of partnership."
"You didn't even notice the rings," Amelia added.
"Just shove it and help me loot these guys," I growled. Like I needed to listen to them wax poetic about how Gourry and I can work together.
* * *
So, we finally showed up in Naviel, and dragged Gourry and the rings in front of a priest. He took one look at us and said, "I"m sorry. I don't do elopements. Too many messes."
I waved at Gourry. Later. "We're not eloping. My bodyguard and I put these gold rings on by mistake, and we can't get them off."
Gourry nodded. "And I think she's going to snap if we don't get them off."
"This isn't going to involve any silly ritual?" I asked. "Because I am very short on patience." Which was actually not so true. I had taken out a lot of my frustration on the bandit gang who had been so stupid to keep rings like this, after all. But if I got any nonsense, even my freshly renewed patience could be depleted. "Plus, we do have a priestess here, who can spot any bullshit you throw at us" Amelia waved from her place near the door. Zel was off... again. I swear, he does this on purpose to remind us that he could leave if he wanted. The fact he always comes back to let Amelia pay for his inn room really undermines his case.
"Ah, no. I actually remove as many of these darn things, that I have the circle prepped." The priest removed a piece of parchment from a drawer, with a magic circle I didn't recognize drawn on it, and set a glass bowl over it. He added some candles and some incense, and I really wondered how much was the standard methods to invoke the elements and how much because some people just think all magic circles needs water and fire and funny-smelling smoke. If he drew an athame, I was drawing the line.
But he didn't. "Please, take off your gloves, and clasp your ring hands over the bowl"
I looked at Gourry. "You heard the man. Give me your hand." I was already tucking my glove into my belt for now, and held out my hand. Gourry took it, wrapping my small hand in his.
The priest put one hand on my wrist, and the other on Gourry's. I saw his lips move, but couldn't make out the words of the spell. I felt the ring grow uncomfortably hot and painful, and almost jerked my hand away but for the grip on my wrist. There was a flash of light, and I heard two plunks as something hit the water. The priest released us, and both Gourry and I cradled our hands to our chests. I looked down, and noticed my finger had blistered. "You could have warned us about that!"
"Your tension would have hindered the spell." The priest reached in and removed two golden rings. It felt like the damn thing had melted off my finger, but the ring still looked whole and ready for the next unsuspecting sorceress.
"Give us those back. I want to smash them into little pieces as a lesson to magical artifacts everywhere."
"What are those anyway?" Amelia asked.
The priest shrugged and handed me the rings. I wrapped them in a handkerchief before putting them into my pouch. I wasn't taking any chances on the rings get stuck on me again. "They were created as a weapon against mazoku over a thousand years ago by a local sorcerer. It was thought that they could be used to channel positive thoughts directly into a mazoku. Of course, what usually ended up happening was the human wearer would go insane. Some things are not meant to be experienced by a mortal brain. But a lot of young couples find them and think it's romantic to be able to hear each others' thoughts."
"People are crazy," I said. But it explained why the priest had been ready to go on the ritual. "So, you get a lot of unhappy couples in here trying to get the things off?"
"Something like that," the priest said. "I can usually tell who will patch it up by when they throw in the towel. It helps to get them off soon before you resent your partner. Two days is a new record, though. Usually people keep them through the honeymoon."
Gourry and Amelia put their hands on my shoulders. I guess they thought I was going to do something to the priest. They had such little trust in me. "We weren't using them as wedding rings."
* * *
"Hey Lina?" Gourry said as we were walking back to our inn.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm glad we got those rings off."
"Me too," I told him. "I like you better when I don't have to listen to your thoughts."
"Though it was pretty handy in the fight," Gourry said. "Like having a second set of eyes."
I stopped walking. "I didn't notice anything like that." Well, not quite. More like I always knew where Gourry was in a fight. Which...
well, I'm used to having him by my side. We know how the other moves.
"Maybe it was just me, then" Gourry said.
"What else did you notice?" I asked. How the hell did he pick up more than me? Well, besides that Gourry has pretty good senses in general. He might have the memory of a piece of holy cheese, but he's not blind.
He thought for a moment. I braced myself for stupidity. "You let me get the last onion ring when you were getting mad at me over the waitress."
I rolled my eyes. "Then you owe me an extra onion ring for dinner tonight. Two -- for interest. And I intend on collecting."
And so I did.
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