All "El-Hazard" references are copyrighted by AIC and Pioneer LD. This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
Qawoor Towles stood next to the airship’s portside railing and watched the endless desert landscape rush past. The sun’s slow descent toward the horizon spread shadows across the miles of dunes, and the sky was a vivid artist’s palette of Technicolor. Despite the breathtaking scenery, the memories of a wonderful time at the Spring of Arliman, and their imminent arrival at Floristica, Qawoor’s heart was troubled, and she had to look no further than her fellow priestesses for the cause.
Normally Shayla-Shayla and Afura Mann would be exchanging some good-natured teasing about the last few days. Up until today they’d both been in exceptionally good moods. They’d all shopped together, bathed together and partaken of the sacred rituals required of the Priestesses. Last night’s party had been a great deal of fun, with Sister Afura in particular loosening up more than usual. Given some of the tensions of the past year, the camaraderie had warmed Qawoor’s heart and given her hope that things would go more smoothly this time around.
Her hopes were dashed the moment she arrived at the airship. Neither Afura nor Shayla had said more than five words to each other. Not only that, but neither would so much as attempt to meet the other’s gaze. Afura, seated at the pilot’s position, had her gaze fixed squarely straight ahead; Shayla was standing near the front, statue still after several hours of flight.
Qawoor had tried to break the silence. “So,” she offered bravely. “Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine,” Afura said firmly.
“A-OK from here,” Shayla agreed.
“Okay.” Qawoor bit her lip and tried to come up with a better question. “Ummm…did something happen last night?”
“NO!” two voices screamed as one. Qawoor blanched and retreated under the intensity of the reply, then took her own current position and maintained her silent vigil.
“Something happened,” she murmured to herself. “I just know it.”
* * * * *
“Sit down,” Miz ordered, pointing at the dining table. “I’ll make some tea and you can tell me all about it.”
“What makes you think there’s a problem?” Afura demanded as she complied.
“Your face. You should see yourself in the mirror.” Miz returned from the kitchen and offered her old friend a cup. “Trouble with Shayla again? I thought you two were getting along better.”
“We are,” Afura said a bit too quickly. “There’s not a…” She hesitated for a heartbeat. “Well, it’s not really a problem, to be honest. At least I don’t know if I’d call it a problem in the general sense, you know. I mean, problems generally imply some sort of inherent conflict and Shayla and I, we’ve haven’t been fighting too much any more, things have pretty much settled down and we’re generally satisfied with the way things stand…” Afura’s cheeks suddenly turned bright red. “I didn’t mean it that way,” she added quickly.
“What way?” Miz asked.
“Never mind.” Afura rose to her feet. “I shouldn’t be bothering you. You have a husband and child to worry over. The last thing you need is me blathering on about something so completely meaningless and insignificant that I don’t know why I’m even…”
“Sit down.” Afura sat down. “Now,” Miz continued, “why don’t you take a sip of the lovely tea I made you, get your thoughts together, and tell me just what went on between you and Shayla?”
“I wish you hadn’t put it that way,” Afura sighed as she lifted the cup to her lips.
* * * * *
“It never fails,” Nanami grumbled as she stomped over to the front door of her restaurant. “Ten minutes after you close, and someone decides it’s time for dinner.” She pulled the door open with a deep sigh. “ I’m sorry, but we’re…”
“Hi.” Shayla-Shayla smiled weakly.
Nanami blinked. “What are you doing here?” she asked, opening the door enough to let her unexpected guest in. “I mean, I knew you guys were due in tonight, but usually you stay at the palace. Not that it’s any big deal, I’m sure I can find you something to eat, but this is just unusual.” She stuck her head outside and looked around. “Say, where are Afura and Qawoor?”
“Dunno,” Shayla mumbled as she flopped into a chair. “Have you got anything to drink?”
“Sure. Have some tea,” Nanami offered, pouring a cup from her personal pot. When her guest hesitated, she rolled her eyes and sighed. “On the house,” she added.
Shayla regarded the offering with a critical eye. “Haven’t you got any wine?”
“Yes, but it’s late and you’ve got an empty stomach. That’s a bad combination in my book.” Nanami nodded to the waitress who’d just arrived with one of her Shinonome Specials; the girl set the bowl down in front of the priestess and hurried off. “So, what brings you here?”
“I was hungry.”
“I’d say it was more than that. You have another fight with Afura?”
Shayla paused in her dining long enough to bless her patron with an icy glare. “What makes you think it was Afura?”
Nanami grinned. “Well, you intimidate the hell out of Qawoor, so it couldn’t have been her. The only person who gets this big a rise out of you these days is Afura Mann.”
“She DOES NOT get a RISE out of ME!” Shayla bellowed, rising to her feet and slamming her fists on the table.
“If you say so,” Nanami replied serenely. Shayla blinked, looked around the empty restaturant, then slowly sank back into her seat.
“I need to talk to someone,” the priestess softly conceded.
“Okay. Why me?”
“Well, who the hell am I going to talk to? The Lusty Lesbos?”
Nanami repressed a snicker. “No, it’s just that…well, I figured you’d go to Miz.”
“Afura’s over there right now.”
“Ahhh. So it does have to do with Afura.” Nanami noted.
Shayla started to fire off a retort, then sighed and stared down at the table. “Yeah.”
“Okay. I’ll listen. What’s up?”
Shayla took a long drink from her cup of tea, then sighed again. “We were at Arliman,” she started. “You know, the annual visit and all. We were all having a pretty good time this year…”
* * * * *
“…and for the first time since you’d left, we were starting to act and feel like sisters again,” Afura said. Her hands were wrapped around the warm teacup; her eyes were focused on the swirling patterns of the liquid as she trembled. “Shayla and I…we’ve been talking a lot lately. There was some…competition, I guess you’d call it. You know how it goes. We’re supposed to be equals, but someone usually ends up in a leadership role. I guess when you left both Shayla and I figured we’d be taking that role up.”
“It happens,” Miz nodded. “There were some truly legendary arguments among your predecessors, back when I was new.”
“Well, we’ve been working things out. Things have really improved. They have,” Afura emphasized, looking up fiercely at Miz. “And we’ve been working hard at making Qawoor feel like she’s a part of this. The way you did for me when I first came to the shrine.”
“All right,” Miz said. “You’re all getting along better. That’s good. So you went to Arliman…”
“We were having a wonderful time,” Afura sighed. “We shopped together, did the rituals, bathed…it’s a pity you weren’t there, because Shayla does this incredible impersonation of Fatora, you have to see it to believe it…”
“A great time,” Miz interrupted. “And then…?”
“Well, there was the ‘last-night’ party. You remember what they’re like.” Afura looked up. “Could I have some more tea?”
* * * * *
“Yeah, I remember,” Nanami said as she poured Shayla another cup of tea. “The one I went to with you guys last year was a blast.” She scowled for a moment. “I thought I had that catering contract locked down for sure,” she muttered under her breath.
“Does it always have to be about business with you?” Shayla growled.
“Most times,” Nanami grinned.
“Yeah.” Shayla sipped at her tea, then closed her eyes. “Well, this party was even more fun than the one you all attended. For one thing, those two sex-crazed lesbians weren’t around, so we could all relax and not worry about getting molested. God…”
“You know, they do have names,” Nanami said quietly. “You don’t have to keep referring to them like that.”
“Well, that’s what they are! You know that!”
“They’re people who happen to look at certain things a little differently than we do. Or at least, like I do.” Nanami gave her guest a long, appraising look. “You know, you do seem to obsess about that sort of thing…”
“Will you knock it off?”
“Just…knock it off. Please.” When Nanami nodded, Shayla continued her story. “Well, let me put it this way. This party was so good that Afura got drunk. Does that give you an idea of what it was like?”
“Afura? Drunk?” Nanami considered the notion and blinked. “That must have been something to see.”
“You should have heard her do that karaoke thing you all taught us. I didn’t think she knew songs like that…Qawoor never stopped blushing the entire time.” Despite her gloomy mood, Shayla smiled for just a moment. “It was…fun.”
“How drunk were you?” Nanami asked.
“Oh, I’d done my share of the bottles…hey! What makes you think I got drunk?”
“Lucky guess,” Nanami said in all innocence.
“Okay, I was a bit…tipsy, let’s put it that way. So at some point the party wound down, and we headed off to bed. Afura was still singing, I might add, and I want to know where she learned that song about “The Great Bugrom Gang Bang”. I don’t know how we did it, but we got to our room and started changing for bed. I was just about to put my top on when a pillow hit me square in the back. I turn around, and Afura is swaying there, laughing her ass off at me.”
“Afura Mann…Miss Prim and Proper…got drunk…and threw a pillow at you?” Nanami shook her head. “Gee, I wasn’t quite ready for the world to end. So what did you do?”
“I threw it back at her.” Shayla’s smile returned. “And the next thing I know, we’re having an honest-to-goodness pillow fight, no holds barred. And we’re laughing, and screaming, and feathers are flying everywhere, and I slipped on some and fell backwards, and Afura’s so drunk she loses her balance and fell on top of me. And then she starts tickling me and I can’t stop her because I’m giggling like an idiot…and then…”
“And then?” Nanami echoed softly.
* * * * *
“…something happened.” Afura buried her face in her arms. “I’m so ashamed,” she sobbed.
Miz went over to her friend’s side and wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay,” she said quietly. “It’s okay.”
“Hey!” Masamichi Fujisawa stood in the bedroom doorway, staring at his wife and their guest in utter confusion. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, dear. We’re just having a girl talk, that’s all. About sex.”
“Seh—seh—oh. Okay. Well…uhh…I’ll just…uhh…go on to bed, then. Let you two talk about…that girl stuff. Ummm, good-night, dear.”
“Good night, dear.” As the bedroom door shut, Miz smiled evilly to herself. “Works every single time,” she said quietly.
* * * * *
“Something happened?” Nanami scratched her head, puzzled. “Like what?”
Shayla’s eyes blazed. “Like…you know! That sort of thing!”
“What sort of thing?”
“Argh! Like…” Shayla grit her teeth. “I can’t believe you’re making me say it!”
“I can’t help it if you’re not being clear,” Nanami shrugged.
Shayla closed her eyes tightly. “I’m talking about…the sort of thing…that…you know…those two…do…with each other.”
“Dammit, Nanami! You know who! Fatora and Alielle!”
Nanami paused to consider. “Oh, those two.” She pondered the question a bit longer, then smiled. “Oh, THAT sort of thing! Okay! I get it now!”
“There are times I really hate your guts,” Shayla growled.
“So was it any good?”
* * * * *
“I…don’t know,” Afura said after a time. “Maybe. It was…special.”
“I’m sure it was,” Miz said quietly.
“I’ve never felt that way before. I don’t know if I can even describe it. I just…it was special.” Afura’s shoulders sagged. “And in the morning…I couldn’t bear to look at her, much less talk to her. I was utterly mortified. I think she felt the same way. And poor Qawoor…” She sighed sadly. “She had no idea what was going on, and neither of us were talking any more than we had to.” She looked up at Miz. “What can I possibly do to make things right again?”
“Well, for one thing you can stop making such a big deal out of it,” Miz replied crisply. “For heaven’s sake, Afura, you think this is the first time this has happened between priestesses? Look at the situation—three healthy young women stuck up in a mountain located in the middle of nowhere, next to no contact with the rest of the world except as needed. Frankly, it’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often!”
Afura’s face had gone from beet red to deathly pale. “What…are you saying?”
Miz smiled and shook her head. “It happens, Afura. For your information, your predecessor and the previous fire priestess… ‘something happened’ on a fairly regular basis. I used to wonder why they’d go off on ‘training missions’ and not come back for a few hours. Finally I followed them one day and discovered the truth.”
“Did you ever…”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Miz said a bit too quickly.
* * * * *
“More tea?” Nanami offered.
Shayla winced. “Wine? Please?”
“Oh yeah, right. I give you some wine, you get drunk and go all lesbo on me? No thank you, I don’t think so.”
“Don’t say that!” Shayla cried out. “I’m not…I don’t…I mean, I did but I didn’t…I…” One tear escaped from her right eye, followed by one on the left, and subsequently a mass escape ensued. “Oh God,” she sobbed, “what am I?”
Nanami smiled tiredly and placed a hand on Shayla’s shoulder. “You’re Shayla-Shayla,” she answered. “You’re the Fire Priestess of Mount Muldoon.”
“Thank you so much,” Shayla said through her tears. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Well…” Nanami shrugged. “So, do you have the hots for Afura?”
“How about Makoto-chan, then? How do you feel about him?”
Shayla looked away. “You already know that. You more than anyone.”
Nanami sighed. “Yeah, I suppose I do. Okay. You had a one-night fling with Afura. Does she have the hots for you?”
“I doubt it,” Shayla said gloomily. “She wouldn’t look at me or say anything to me the entire trip here.”
“She’s probably just as embarrassed about this as you are, I’d say.” Nanami’s face brightened. “Hey, what about Qawoor? You have a thing for her?”
Shayla slapped the table and rose to her feet. “WILL YOU KNOCK IT OFF?”
“Hey, don’t yell at me. You came here, remember?”
The fire priestess slowly sank back into her seat. “Sorry.”
“No problem.” Nanami grinned. “You just better hope Fatora and Alielle don’t hear about this, or you’ll never get rid of them.”
“You wouldn’t,” Shayla half-threatened, half-pleaded.
“Nah, I’d never do that. Now Makoto-chan on the other hand…”
* * * * *
“So what do I do now?” Afura asked, rubbing her eyes and trying to restrain a yawn. “I can’t let this just…sit there. How do we resolve it?”
Miz regarded her old friend with a crooked smile. “Well, the first thing you’re going to do is go to our guest room and get a decent night’s sleep. And tomorrow you’re going to find Shayla and talk to her about this.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Afura pleaded. “What do I say?”
“Beats me,” Miz said with a shrug. “That’s between you two. Boy I’m glad you two waited until I was long gone before expressing your feelings for one another. You two were bad enough as it was!”
“Miz, that’s not funny,” Afura said, a weak smile on her lips.
“Sure it is.” Miz motioned for her friend to rise. “And someday the two of you will be able to laugh about this. Now go to bed.”
“You really think we will?” Afura said sleepily.
“I’m sure of it.” Miz waited until the door shut before closing her eyes and sighing. “At least, I sure hope you will.”
* * * * *
“Look, it’s late,” Nanami said as she moved through the restaurant, blowing the candles out. “I’ve got a spare futon upstairs. Come on up and get some sleep. You’re exhausted.”
“Are you sure?” Shayla said hesitantly.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. I trust you. Come on.” Nanami scrambled up the stairwell, Shayla following slowly behind.
“Hey, no problem. Happy to help.”
“No.” Shayla blushed slightly and looked away. “For…trusting me. After everything I told you.”
“Hey, it’s okay. The spare futon’s over there.” Nanami rolled her bedding out along the floor and slipped out of her work clothes. “You’re such an emotional wreck over this one thing right now, I really doubt you’re capable of anything tonight.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Shayla nodded, smiling for the first time that evening.
“And besides,” Nanami continued, brandishing a very sharp-looking cleaver into the air. “You try anything tonight and I’ll cut your hand off.”
* * * *
The encounter took place in the Great Atrium of the palace.
“Hi,” Shayla mumbled, staring at a breathtaking mosaic that had never once succeeded in capturing her attention before.
“Good morning,” Afura nodded. Her gaze was fixed on a nearby fountain. Two nubile young women were holding a jug of water, letting the contents fall into the main pool. She wondered if Princess Fatora had commissioned the piece. She wondered why she was staring at it so intently.
“Look,” Shayla started.
“About…the other night?” Afura asked.
“I just wanted to say…”
“I’ve been thinking…”
Afura nodded again.
“It doesn’t mean…” she started.
“It’s not that…” Shayla offered.
The two priestesses slowly turned to face one another.
“You know…” Afura said, a smile slowly emerging.
Shayla nodded. “This is really, really dumb.” She grinned back.
“Friends?” Afura said, offering her hand.
“Yeah.” Shayla accepted it.
“Well,” Qawoor said as she walked up to her fellow priestesses. “Everything back to normal now?”
“I believe so,” Afura nodded, still smiling.
“As normal as anything around here gets,” Shayla agreed. “Well, let’s go pay our respects to the princesses.” As they headed toward the audience room, a thought occurred to her. “Hey, Qawoor?”
“Where were you last night?”
The water priestess shrugged nonchalantly. “Well, I went to our rooms, but neither of you ever showed up.”
“Yeah? So what happened?”
“Oh, I went and stayed with Princess Fatora and Alielle.”
Afura and Shayla froze dead in their tracks; their faces grew deathly pale as they slowly turned toward their fellow priestess, who met their gaze with a sly smile.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” she chided gently. “After all, nothing happened…”