This is not a series that starts after Slayers Trilogy; it's after Try, branching off straight continuity... although if you're expecting Original Flavor, it's not quite that either, while definitely being similar. You'll see.
Once upon a time...
Once upon a time there was a young girl named Lina Inverse. But you knew that already, didn't you? She is a legend, tried and true, a folk hero, a feared enemy, and a myth so widespread that Random Q. Peasant is more likely to have heard her name than Shaburanigdo's.
Of course, depending on who you ask, they could react the same way as if you had said Shaburanigdo, the demon king. (Assuming you believed in Shaburanigdo. Many didn't.)
To some, Lina robs from the rich and gives to herself, which isn't all that bad since those rich bastards deserved it anyway. To others, Lina storms in and blows everything up and takes everything not detonated, but they're all criminals and what whining they do doesn't matter.
Perhaps some proving examples are in order, before the fairy tale truly begins.
For starters, there's one sect which has a legitimate, justified reason to fear the legendary Lina Inverse...
Not that the head chef at the Golden Roast Side of Meat had a Lina-oriented worry, when he walked into his brand spanking new restaurant on a fateful Monday morning. This was, after all, his day to shine, to show the culinary world his art at the finest level of perfection, sauces so sweet as to draw a bee from a flower, meats so tender to make a poet weep... and prices so low, it'd blow his competition away.
Yes, for one day only, Grand Opening, the first day, it was All You Can Eat.
"Fire up the ovens!" the chef shouted, gesturing dramatically with a soup ladle, which wasn't as impressive as an army general's lance but would have to do. "Bake the bread! Cook the soup! We open in minutes, and we must be ready to face the customer with a smile and an appetizer! Soon, my legions, we will RULE THE RESTAURANT WORLD!"
"Yes, what is it, Harold?"
"It's Howard," the young, zit-faced intern said. "And, sir, no disrespect, I mean, we all understand your vision for the future of culinary art, but... well, me and the others were talking -- "
"Spit it out, Harold. A good bowl of chowder doesn't make itself and you're on company time."
"We want you to take down the sign advertising All You Can Eat," Howard summarized. "It's bad luck."
"'Bad luck'?" the Chef Overlord asked. Perking an eyebrow. "You stand in the mightiest kitchen in all of Sailoon and you worry about luck? We need no luck! God is on our side! FORWARD, MINIONS!"
"No no, it's not the kitchen," Howard said. "It's, you know... it's her. I mean, EVERYBODY who's anybody in the restaurant business knows you don't go and advertise all you can eat on opening day, because if you do... SHE will come. You know. Dare not say her name, and all. You know?"
The head chef tapped the ladle against his leg, thinking. Then it hit him. "What, that old wives tale?" he asked. "Bah! Don't trouble me with such nonsense. Lina Inverse does not exist! She's just a story concocted by our rivals worldwide to scare us out of DESTROYING them -- "
There was a knock at the front door.
"Ah, our first customer! I shall greet him personally!" the chef decided, vaulting over the salad bar and dashing to the door.
He opened it, the little bells jingling merrily as he did, and smiled away.
Four hours later, the little bells jangled again, as the patron made her exit.
The force of the door closing was too much strain for the poor solid oak table, which splintered and snapped in half from the sheer weight of stacked empty dishes. Those dishes then shattered on the floor, adding insult to injury to financial ruin.
The head chef, circles under his eyes, a few new wrinkles to his skin, stared wide-eyed in horror. A restaurant full of patrons, all waiting for their meals, but all the food had been EATEN... eaten by that... that...
He was ruined.
The chef tore the puffy hat from his head, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it repeatedly.
"CURSE YOU, LINA INVERSE!!"
Not that restaurant owners were the only ones who had something to fear from Lina Inverse. Even those of supposed Pure Science had a few issues with her...
Elsewhere, you see, in the blackest stygian abyss of the depravity of the soul, or at least a few miles from it, dark rites were being performed by men defiant to the will of God, skirting the edge of sanity, twisting the darkness to shape their motive into etc. etc. etc.
Despite being utterly cliche, it WAS an impressive sight.
A cavern, buried a mile underground, leagues away from the nearest city of Darata, five hundred feet by five hundred feet square. Extensive deathtraps were placed all along a near-endless maze, to ensure nobody made it this far; and if they did, the intricate series of mechanical whirling blades, spikes, razors and projectiles set around the priceless object would crush/kill/vaporize/liquefy/solidify/crush them all over again on sight.
On top of all that, even if they DID survive all that and made a grab for the cage where the treasure was held... the treasure would be destroyed before they reached it, so the would-be thief could do little but kick themselves for ever coming down here. Even the one who created these traps could never touch the artifact again.
Lord Noisemaker of the Dark Sect of Alchemists wouldn't have it any other way.
"I don't get it," his considerably less evil apprentice said. "You set it up so, like, the artifact gets destroyed if ANYONE takes it?"
"Of course, lad. I've explained this to you already."
"But it still doesn't make any sense, master. I mean, you spent thirty years making it, right?"
"Thirty long, hard years," Lord Noisemaker said, clenching a fist. "Studying the black texts of mythology and lies until my eyes grew red and bloodshot. Researching the behaviors of the genuine beasts first hand, coming close to death each time. Thirty years of backbreaking effort, to compile the single greatest collection of information on animals, beasts, monsters, gods, demons and Mazoku ever seen by human eyes! Embodied in a single stone shell of raw Orihalcon! Perfection in design and utility!!"
"And that IS the only copy, right?"
"Don't be daft, lad, it's not the kind of reference guide you copy off and sell in the supermarket next to the farmers almanacs."
"Then why make it so nobody can ever use it again?"
Lord Noisemaker grew frustrated. "For the IRONY, you nitwit! Haven't I taught you anything? If you compile such a powerful codex and then ensure nobody can ever use it for the rest of time while it sits protected and just beyond reach, the little buggers will beat themselves silly in anger! The sheer amount of idiots that'll die trying to get it will be the reward in itself!"
The apprentice still didn't get it. "So why not put an empty copy of it up there and keep that one for your own use? It's not like anybody'll ever know, yeah? They'll believe it's the real thing, and it'll still be ironic. Like, even more so, or something. Yeah?"
"It's the principle of the matter," the Dark Alchemist scoffed. "Belief is nothing compared to the reality of the world. This is thaumatological science, m'boy, not a puppet show; 'belief' is not how we work. It's results that matter, the reality, the facts and the truths. Not some flimsy concocted lie that the yokels swear by in ignorance. Now pack up the equipment and break out the map, I want to get home in time for a nice hot bath."
"Fine, fine," the younger alchemist said, starting to stuff various magical items into a sack. "Lina Inverse will take it, anyway. Always happens with hard to get at treasure. One time my cousin Marvin says he buried a thousand in gold on a desert island, and it turned up gone the next -- "
Lord Noisemaker bopped the apprentice over the head with his ceremonial staff with a knob on the end of it.
"WHAT did I just tell you?" he roared. "Don't go spreading that superstitious nonsense around here! Lina Inverse doesn't exist -- no simple girl could defeat Shaburanigdo, as they say she has, nor could she find the Clair Bible or beat the demon-beast Zanaffar or anything of that sort! And even if she did exist, she'd never succeed in getting it out of my traps! No mortal can!"
"So where'd it go, then?"
At the center of the five thousand linked deathtraps was a suspiciously empty cage, where the world's most accurate codex arcanum once sat. The heavy door to the cavern quietly latched shut, as if someone had just exited.
To say there was an awkward pause would be a grand understatement.
"......that doesn't prove anything!" Lord Noisemaker noisily shouted. "Anybody could have done that. We didn't see anything, after all! Now let's go."
"Didn't you say no mortal could -- "
"Shut up, boy, and resume packing. I've had a long day."
"What about the thirty years of backbreaking -- "
And the Master did hit his Pupil on the head, and he was enlightened.
As interesting as these examples are, historical types, when you mention the history of Lina Inverse to them, will cite one particular location as the nexus of her mythology. The most proving explanation for her power, her rise to fame, her glory. It was the country of her birth... Zefielia.
There are several reasons for this. First, the concentration of magic floating in the astral plane or through the ethereal void or the ley lines (depending on what school of magic you ascribe to) is unusually high. Second, the amount of warriors, crusaders, villains and mad wizards produced by Zefielia each year rivals their second most profitable industry (grapes of wrath).
In that country, the men are tough, the women are arguably tougher, the lawyers have silver tongues (sometimes literally) and the bandits are several degrees of difficulty higher than your average thug. People who live and work here usually have a higher importance in the world and get involved in history with unnerving frequency. It's a land of heroes and anti-heroes.
So, if you were to take a look at a scene unfolding there, you would see fifteen disreputable people of forcible monetary reallocation circled around a young girl. A typical mugging. Although the amount of trees that have been slashed clean through, scorched by green flames (some of which still burning) and a few stray body parts would suggest that this mugging probably had a bit more foreplay than you'd usually see in your typical highway robbing. History sat up and took notice. This is where things REALLY started...
The bandit leader, however, made no note of anything special -- because nothing was. "An average fight," he commented, keeping his longsword's tip pressed to the girl's throat. "At least I got some exercise. But you, missy, don't know who you're dealing with. I'm wanted in six and a half countries! We're some bad dudes, or at least extremely unkind, and I've been in this business longer than you've been breathing air! But enough of my longwinded monologue. You got something to say before we continue to do unpleasant things?"
The young girl, wearing a mishmash of armor, her halberd knocked aside, glared up at him. "You just got the jump on me, is all! Roy Balderdash, you cowardly DOG! I'll be back to collect the bounty on your head next time we meet, forsooth! You haven't seen the LAST of -- "
"No, no, no," Roy the Bandit King groaned, breaking out of his tough guy routine in genuine irritation. "Look, this isn't some backwoods dickwater country, where knights run around saying 'What ho!' and 'Forsooth!' okay? You live in ZEFIELIA, woman! Show some pride! Cliched dialogue isn't going to cut the mustard around here. Now try that again!"
"Your taunt!" the bandit ordered, nudging with the swordpoint. "Put some more originality into it. I can't take you seriously if you're going to act like some green newbie. Once more, with feeling!"
A large visible sweatdrop slid down the back of the girl's head. "Ah... I'm new at this, okay? I mean, it's my third quest, and I'd be on more of them if I didn't have to sneak out of the house to -- "
"TAUNT, damn you!"
"Y-You fight like a cow!" she blurted.
...Roy Balderdash (wanted in 6.5 countries) groaned, letting down his sword point. "It's no good. I'm sorry. Look, kid, you're not cut out for adventuring, okay? Go home to mommy and daddy. Play with your dolls. Or at the very least, pick on someone lower in the pecking order. There's only ONE mercenary who's ever gotten the best of me, years ago -- and you're nowhere near her level. Boys, we're out of here."
The whole gang turned to go, annoyed at the waste of their time. The young would-be mercenary scowled, scooping up the customized longstaff-blade, gesturing dramatically with it to the leader.
"Stop treating me like a kid! And I'll have you know I have very important parents! I'll train harder, and when I ret -- "
In a swift snap of a muscled arm, the weapon went from pointing dramatically to casually slung over the back of the bandit king.
"I think it'd be best for everybody if we took this," he said frankly. "You'd probably cut your own arm off with it at the rate you're going, and I can't honestly abide by that."
"H-Hey! Wait, I made that!" she protested, losing her bravado. "It's mine!"
"Eh, tell it to the judge," Roy suggested, walking off calmly.
The adventuress... fumed. Turned red. Stomped her foot, and said the first thing that occurred to her, a traditional protest against folks who had just robbed you...
"I hope LINA INVERSE gets you!!"
The bandit spun around, shaking the halberd angrily.
"You think that scares me?!" he shouted, losing the cool he had previously. "You think Lina Inverse scares me? Nobody's seen Lina Inverse in these parts for years! No man, no woman, no monster, no fairy tales scare me! Now GO HOME!"
Losing her nerve, the young girl ran off.
After a long pause, and with a prolonged sigh, Roy draped the weapon over his shoulder again. "Kids today. No respect for their elders, I tell you. C'mon, let's book."
A shadow watched from the treeline, as the bandits exited stage left.
Bandit camps follow a very specific design.
You find a good, immovable object such as a cliff, mountain or valley. Dig an underground area if there isn't a cave already available. Erect a fence, guardposts. Staff with a hundred swarthy lads with an itch for gold and a taste for blood. Sprinkle parsley, simmer for twenty minutes.
Roy was a smart bandit; instead of digging out a hidey hole, he just used a natural cave. First he had to run out all the ravenous bears with claws the size of your rib cage, but that didn't take too long, and the end result was a nice pile for stolen booty.
He tossed today's findings onto the pile, keeping the weapon he swiped from that girl to himself. Overviewed his holdings.
"It's not very much, is it?" Roy asked.
"Ah.. what, sir?" a subordinate responded, hoping this wasn't the start of another one of those moods which ends in dismemberment.
"This. It could be a lot more. It's not like there's any real force opposing us. Remember that idiot hero who came through, the one with six swords? Hah, took him out before he got to blade number four. Or the sorceress with the ... well, let's say very social attire. Handled. So why don't we have more loot?"
"Er. Begging your pardon, sir..."
"Speak freely, Johnson."
"Maybe it's because every time we try to mug someone you get bored and chicken out -- "
After, Roy cleaned off his sword and ignored the arm on the floor. "I wouldn't say chickened out," he corrected, politely. "But yes... it's a good point. I can see boredom. We need a challenge, something to really get us up and going. Wouldn't you say?"
"Aaa... AAA! ..aa, yes sir, yes!!"
"Good, good. You really should eat more, you know, you're white as a sheet," Roy said, tossing the sword away. He rarely used the same weapon twice. "What I wouldn't give for a REAL challenge right about now -- "
An explosion rocked the camp, and the screaming and running around waving swords began.
"What, already?" Roy wondered, twirling the stolen weapon into position, largely ignoring his men who were for the most part on fire or fleeing the scene. "The gods are prompt, I'll give them that. Let's have some fun, lads! Lord Dynero of the Holy Battle for Profit, don't fail me now!"
A shadowy figure -- because drama dictates that sort of thing -- stood at the entrance to the cave, cape flapping gently in the scorching hot winds that blew off what was left of the camp.
"Door's open, come in," Roy suggested. "Let me guess. Sir Roderick of Flan? No, no, too small. The Mad Wind Ninja of Ky? I hope it's someone relatively interesting -- "
The figure stepped into light, appeared in the haze. And Roy Balderdash's grip on his weapon weakened instantly. For once, his Zefielian country pride and cool disinterest in life in general (and other people's lives in specific) collapsed like a very quickly collapsing thing.
Light played off her orange hair quite nicely. The sun was mostly obscured by the sack of recently obtained booty she was toting, but despite that, there was no way to mistake her identity...
"Hel-LOOO!" she cheered, waving. "I'm here to stomp you into the dirt and take everything you have, Mr. Bandit. We can do this the easy way... or the LINA INVERSE WAY!"
Purple and yellow outfit flappy cape short sword gray boots and gloves long orange hair black headband no chest to speak of knowing smirk sixteen years of age or so extremely dangerous....
"...you've got to be KIDDING me!" Roy shouted. "Lina Inverse?!"
"If you call me 'the dragon spooker' or 'the enemy of all who live' it's going to go really badly for you," Lina warned... holding out one hand, as the flames of the camp twisted and bent in unseen winds, gathering into a single shining ball of flame. "Any last words? It's customary, you see."
"You're not her," Roy said quickly. Sure, some part of his brain instinctively was telling him to flee and/or kill her or both in reverse order, but his curiosity unfortunately won. "You can't be her! You haven't aged a day!!"
Lina Inverse kept her fireball at bay; a simple enough task for a sorceress as powerful as she was. "Hey, buddy, if that's some crack about my size -- "
"The gods have to be punishing me for wanting something exciting to do. That's the only explanation, isn't it? An anti-miracle! What ARE you? When I last.. met Lina was TWENTY YEARS AGO!"
She hesitated. The fireball flickered.
The bandit twirled his weapon into the ready position... wrapping an Astral Vine spell around the blade. (People in this land didn't survive long if they weren't packing steel and spell.) "I don't know who you are, but I'm not going to be beaten by Lina Inverse or any cheap imitator of her TWICE in this lifetime! Now DIE!"
Lina's focus snapped to attention, as she lobbed the fireball, and tried a dodge... vision slowing, as the bandit slashed through the spell easily with his charged weapon, blade following through on the swing, coming at her as sure as an arrow...
"...now, to recap," Lina summarized, stalking around the tied-up bandit king, tapping the naginata she'd nicked off him against her shoulder, "YOU say that it's twenty years or so since I last kicked your ass all over the Lord of Nightmares's green earth, right?"
Roy Balderdash wasn't quite sure how it'd happened.
He'd had the upper hand in the fight, and then... well, here he was, captured with instant ease. Like someone went to Point C while ignoring Points A and Point B and Point A.5. Lina had gotten him just as easily as she had so long ago, when he was just starting out in this business, even without that sword toting lunk accompanying her. The gods definitely hated him today.
Most men would fear for their lives at this new point. Roy was just deathly embarrassed. Which was, in a lot of ways, far worse.
"That's what I said. I was a younger idiot then, not the old idiot I am now," Roy repeated, in an annoyed tone. "Look, if you're going to capture me, at least do me the dignity of torturing me or turning me into the authorities or something, okay? This is humiliating. Besides, I'm not good at to this whole hostage-answering-questions role -- "
The blade of the staff pointed less than two centimeters from his nose.
"It's patently ridiculous," Lina said. "I'd have NOTICED something like twenty years passing. For example, I'd have to replace my boots at least once, yes? I haven't. Same ones I always had with the squeaky left heel. And there's no way I'm forty years old, even if I do look younger than I am! So if you're lying to save your skin -- "
"I think we've established that my skin's already out of my hands, yeah?" Roy said. "Would I lie to you? Strike that. Would I lie to you in THIS situation? I just know what I know. Where's that idiot swordsman, by the way?"
Lina looked around, seeming to want to answer that question.. but quickly shrugged. "Gourry's probably around here somewhere. He gets lost a lot. Hmm. Well, you're apparently delirious, so I guess I'll just get on with looting your bandit hideout and leave you alone."
Satisfied, Lina picked up her bag 'o previous plunder, and started to walk off to Roy's pile 'o plunder to further slake her thirst for profit. She twirled the staff up to carry it easier...
"About time," Roy grumbled. "I swear, I'll never live this down... Eh? Now what? Come on, get on with it!"
Lina turned again on the bandit, and pointed to the hilt of the bladed staff.
"Where'd you get this thing?" she asked.
"What, that? It's not even a very good blade. Probably couldn't cut mustard, let alone an enemy. I picked it off some girl earlier, what's it to you?"
Lina twirled the weapon in her hand, to study it under the light. Or rather, to study an inscription, written very neatly by someone who intended for it to be large and readable to others.
ANOTHER CUSTOMME BLADE OF FYNE P.G. MARKSEPERSONSHIPPE!! #1 IN A
(IF FOUNDE RETURN TO:
413 SORCERY BVD
ZENA, ZEFEILA 20878)
Gabriev? A relative of Gourry's?
It was a start, at least, if there actually was a mystery here. And if not, a good place to stop off for the night at the even lesser least. But at the lessest of the lesser least, it was more interesting at the moment than anything else.
In short, the distraction was enough to deter her from the loot. For now.
"I've got something to take care of," Lina said. "'scuze."
Roy continued to quietly cut at the ropes binding him with the hidden file he had tucked away for just such an occasion, not paying attention. "Great. Please go away. It's been a bad enough day with you arou..."
When he had looked up, Lina was gone. Hadn't left, hadn't opened the door to the cave (which was notoriously loud, since he never oiled it), she was just gone.
Roy cursed his existence again, finished the cutting, and shoved the doors open. Of COURSE his whole gang had run off. But he could regroup. And Lina Inverse or whoever that was would PAY for this.
Lina walked along the city street, scanning the addresses for number 413. She looked just like any other small girl in a sorceress's costume carrying a bag of magical artifacts and doodads and an oversized weapon, and oddly enough, it was a common sight in this city.
It was, after all, the Zefielian capital, and as mentioned previously was a breeding ground for the abnormally interesting. But like the others wandering around with purple skin or double headed axes or Thunderswords of Unholy Destruction +5, Lina walked casually and without much concern.
Okay, not ENTIRELY without concern. She'd focused intently on this silly little puzzle -- of course the bandit was lying, because it wasn't the sort of thing that could happen in a rational universe. Lina certainly wasn't... well, doing the math, she'd probably last bumped into that guy with Gourry when she was sixteen or seventeen, so she'd have to be thirty six or thirty seven now.
At that age, Lina figured she'd have grown some really nice breasts if nothing else, making the bandit's claims even more silly.
(But if you asked her what criteria she was judging with, she'd probably say something about her boots, not her bosom. Some things aren't best for mixed company. Or any company. Any company that likes to live out full and natural lifespans with all limbs and internal organs.)
Besides, today didn't feel any different from any other recent day. The sun was shining, she had loot, she was vaguely hungry and she felt A-OK. It's a day-in, day-out affair, questing for self gain and self amusement, and although she hadn't been on any major world-saving epic heroic adventures, she'd at least been content. Content to knock over a fortified dungeon or two, clean out a restaurant, kill bandits, that sort of stuff. Never really questioned the how or why, she just did it...
Mind you, here she was looking up one of Gourry's relatives. That was new. Doing something new felt vaguely exciting, which is why she dove on it so quickly rather than getting back to questing, since she could sense some artifact that needed pilfering a distance to the northeast, tugging at her...
Lina looked up at the sign. Then down at the blade. Then back up at the sign to make sure the universe hadn't turned itself upside down on its ear when she wasn't looking.
LINA GABRIEV'S MAGICAL GOODS AND ARCANE ARTIFACTS.
'Our prices are so low, they'll blow you away, and so will I if you shoplift! -- LG' a smaller sign read.
If the universe wasn't turned upside down and on its ear, it was at least lying on its side and sniggering at her.
Technically, she could turn aside. There was the slight tug of a new restaurant opening foolishly near Sairaag. All Lina had to do was turn around, forget this and move on with her existence. She'd be happier.
Instead, she stepped foot into the shop and changed what had passed for her life around.
But you know this scene, don't you?
There aren't many playwrights in the world of note, with the exception of a young William Rattlesword out in Sailoon, but that's okay, because there's really only six or seven plays in the world and they keep being jumbled around to keep people from noticing. And one of the events is the return of a hero after a long quest to find an impersonator warming his wife's bed among other parts of her. There's an argument, a lot of awkward moments, and eventually it either ends in a double homicide or someone quietly sulks off. (In William's plays, they never skimped on the fake blood, of course, so there wasn't much sulking.)
There's also the standard mistaken identity behind a curtain stabbing, the double suicide pact via miscommunication, and the pile of bodies lying around one poor sot who has to explain what happened to the entire royal family scene. And a bit with a dog. Everything else is just shuffling the scenery and putting on new hats.
But all this is besides the point of the here and now.
While Lina hadn't taken a wife, at least not in any respectable story, she had been impersonated as to her perception, and the scene played out perfectly:
Step one is for Lina Inverse to storm into the offending location, ringing the cheerful little bell over the door.
Then the proprietor at the desk turns away from her book, to give the standard greeting and warning of dismemberment upon suspicion of theft or counterfeit monies, but then everything goes wrong. Observe:
Lina walked into the store to see Lina. But by this point she was expecting that.
She was also expecting to see a version of her that was thirty six or thirty seven years old, and wasn't disappointed. An older, slightly chubbier and more tired looking Lina was there, in an ordinary housedress. She still had little chest to speak of, but by now that wasn't a primary worry.
"YOU!" Lina declared, pointing accusatorily.
"Me?" Lina Gabriev (for that was the name over the door) replied.
"Yeah, you! What're you doing pretending to me?! What's going on here?!"
"What are you going on about? Slow down. Deep breaths."
Lina slowed down, took deep breaths, then resumed absolute anger. "MY name is Lina Inverse!! Who do you think you are?"
"Ah... oookay," Lina G. replied, setting her book down. "Look, kid, ... for starters, that's the worst Lina costume I've seen. Secondly, you're not Lina Inverse. I was, and now I'm retired, thank you, I don't do autographs so please buy something or get out, okay?"
"COSTUME?! I'll have you know this was a hand me down from my sister!" Lina declared. "And you're the imposter! I'm Lina!"
"No, I'M Lina!"
"No, I'M LINA!"
"No, I'm -- wait," Lina Gabriev said. "Pause. Time out. We're going nowhere. Let's just relax, get our bearings and try this again, okay? I'd hate to be cliche about it."
Calm peeked out from where it was hiding and snuck up on the younger of the two Linas. "...right," she agreed. "One moment, then we can discuss this like sensible people. Okay. I'm good with that. We'll try again."
A moment passed.
"Anyway," Lina Gabriev started, "I'm Lina and -- "
"No you aren't!"
"Yes I am!"
And then the silent evil glares.
A voice, from the upstairs rooms, near the back of the store --
"Mom, what's all that -- "
"Don't forget you're grounded, young lady!" Lina Gabriev barked back up the stairs. "I'm just handling some deranged customer, stay put."
"..'mom'?!" Lina Inverse gagged. NOW it was starting to sink in beyond the usual identity issues. "I'm -- you're a mother?? And your last name is GABRIEV!?"
Lina Gabriev groaned, and stepped out from behind the counter. "Okay, see here," she started. "I can understand wanting to emulate a hero of yours, but this is going too far. And yes, I am married. Been married to Gourry Gabriev for seventeen years now. And yes, I have a daughter, who should know better than to go out adventuring -- that's hers, isn't it?"
The elder Lina snatched the weapon away from the stunned Lina. (Descriptive adjectives to differentiate Linas are required due to the circumstances, naturally.)
"I'll just dispose of this quietly," Lina Gabriev stated. "Now. You've heard the history of my life, proof in pudding, yadda yadda. Happy? Will you please go home now? Don't try to follow in my footsteps, adventuring isn't a good occupation for a young girl. Got me into a world of trouble I didn't actually need to get into. Take up business, it's actually more profitable in the long run."
"..." Lina Inverse wittily replied.
Issue closed, Mrs. Gabriev squeezed back behind the counter, and took up her book again. She got two pages in before the young girl spoke again.
"...that's it?" Lina asked. "I come in here with.. with this, and that's it? It's over?"
"What were you expecting?" Lina Gabriev asked, not looking up. "Facts are facts, I'm afraid. You're not Lina Inverse. It's just not possible in a rational universe, after all. But it's not my problem, so deal with it however you want. Consult experts, stare at the walls, run around putting fish in your hair and screaming, whatever works for you. But elsewhere, please. I have a business to run."
"You don't even care?" Lina asked. Her tone incredulous, but not angry; she was too shocked to really work up a good anger nerve. "You're calling yourself Lina, and you don't even care when something like this happens, when it walks right into your home? I don't get it. I mean.. maybe you could help me figure -- "
Lina Gabriev waved a hand, cutting the younger Lina off. She leaned across the counter, in one of those 'I'm going to make this as clear as possible' sort of gestures.
"I'm retired," Lina Gabriev said slowly. "Let's assume you are something more than toys in the attic. A clone, a copy, a time warp bent alternate universe Lina, a mirrored demon, whatever. That's very nice, but it's not my problem. My life is just fine without you and your problem, and I don't need to run off half-cocked on some investigation to find out what's really going on -- because odds are it's some dark power at work bent on destroying the world or turning us all into lampreys or whatever."
"But -- "
"I don't DO that anymore," Lina said. "It was a brief, very dangerous life, and it almost got me killed. After awhile I stopped caring about the profit and the glory and the power, not when you weighed the drawbacks. So... I stopped doing it. And I haven't looked back since. I don't cross the world on insane adventures which end up in me facing down a Mazoku Lord. I don't look for the pieces of the mystic whatsit and I don't hunt bandits. When enigmas come crawling, I turn the other cheek. Someone else can save the world, and apparently someone else does, or else I wouldn't be here right now. That's the way it's been ever since I retired eighteen years ago, and that's how it's going to stay. I don't know what answers you wanted to find here and it doesn't matter. Get out. Whatever you are, whatever explanation is behind this, I'll have nothing to do with it."
It's a unique sensation, your whole of reality and worldview crumbling around you like cheap plaster. Lina Inverse stood, feeling more fragile and confused than she ever had been, as the older woman tried to push her out of the store with the stoniest stare ever witnessed by human eyes.
She had the final word.
"Lina Inverse DOES NOT EXIST anymore except in myths and stories!" the woman declared. "There's only Lina Gabriev. Deal with it. And GO AWAY."
Lina walked out.
What else was left to do?
Meanwhile towards a bit later, a large amount of manpower and firepower was being purchased.
Lina had made one extremely fatal error, Roy Balderdash, Prince of Bandits, Bad Mutha Shut-Yo-Mouth Wanted In 6.5 Countries thought, as he tried to ignore the astounding number of zeroes on the final bill. She left him with all of his loot, all his resources.
Being a well connected dude, Roy managed to whip up a posse of a dozen hardened warriors with battle scars and bad dispositions in under an hour. All it took was a visit to the Goon Guild in town, some gold, and so on.
Getting the weapons was a little harder. Most of his previous gang, in fleeing Lina Inverse, took their swords. This time he wouldn't rely on such cheap measures. He was springing for the full deal.
Zefielia was a bit behind the times in terms of technology that was sweeping the rest of the world like spore mold, but there were still a few guns to be found. Nasty little things, hard to maintain and get parts for, but very effective compared to swords. You just point and fire and anybody with a blob of skill and 20/30 vision could use them effectively. (Not that Roy would use one personally. He felt in his bone that they weren't ... right. Not morally, they just felt wrong to a dyed in the wool swordsman like him.)
So, here he was cruising the city streets looking for a myth (although it was a myth who had tied him up and interrogated him, and Roy was a believer in believing in the impossible when it does something like that) with a gang of psychotic mercs armed to the teeth. All in less time than it takes to get a big dinner.
Now he just had to find her.
"Hey, boss," Goon #7 said, "We was wonderin' when we was gonna get paid for this gig -- "
"Shaddup, I'm thinking here," Roy replied. Because, well, he was. If HE was Lina, where would he be right now?
Robbing legitimate businessmen such as himself, probably. But that would take time to follow up on, since the local gangs were well hidden. For now, he could check the other possibility; that she'd be stuffing her face.
Thus, he turned a left when he could have turned a right and bumped into Lina Gabriev's Magical Goods and Arcane Artifacts.
If he had, he'd have noticed the loft above the shop, how the window slid open silently, and a classically designed rope made out of bedsheets tied together tossed out. A figure climbing down, and dashing off. Before returning to fetch a large, poorly made bladed staff from the trash before dashing off again.
Not that Lina was aware of any of this.
Assuming she was Lina.
No, Lina Inverse, for lack of a better name, was only aware of her staring into the bottom of a coffee cup, just to the left of dish empty dishes that once held fabulous chicken dinners. They hadn't helped her mood. They'd helped her hunger, but not much else.
Everything was wrong. Wrong to the core.
Lina fully accepted that something was wrong not when she talked to the older her, not when the strangers she talked to on the way here confirmed the date, but when she turned to make some asinine comment to Gourry and he wasn't there.
Maybe he was NEVER THERE...
Not there and she'd just noticed it now. None of her friends had been with her for her recent questing, adventuring, mishaps and victories. Just her, doing what she did best...
Lina had also rummaged through her sack of loot. She knew where it all came from and felt comfortable with that until she realized exactly how FAR APART those places were. Darata. Sailoon. Other cities, other countries. And that was just from TODAY. If it was today...
Today, she knew someone had foolishly opened a restaurant and said her name in vain and she was hungry so she cleaned them out and left, satisfied and nourished.
Somewhere an artifact was incredibly well protected and again someone called to her and she came and trounced the whole apparatus, then left with the goods.
And here, in her home country, someone or something knew her wrath would rain down on a bandit tribe, and it did. But then that bandit told her how long it had been, and then she'd started to realize things, culminating in... this.
She thought back, thought back hard. There was a long, bright time. A time with her friends... Amelia, Zelgadis, Gourry... quests, adventures, lots of fights, some really close calls. Rezo. Shaburanigdo. Phibrizo and Gaav, Valgarv and Dark Star...
And then... it got fuzzier. She hadn't noticed the transition until she studied it, had it pointed out to her. Now, she usually just coasted from event to event in fuzzy contentment. Moving through it like a dream you weren't aware you were in, not until you were jarred awake by the alarm clock. How did she get around to all those places so fast? She felt she had to go there so she did and she did what she had to do and never questioned it. Steal this, eat that, take this, harass him, beat up them, move on. Nothing felt wrong about it, not then, but now, now it was all wrong.
Right now, all she could be certain of was where she was. Fed, looking at an empty coffee cup and wondering what's supposed to happen now.
Oh, and a bandit had a gun to her head.
She looked around, aware of the large, swarthy men who were currently surrounding her with weaponry and mean looks. And the central figure, a fairly disbelieving but familiar bandit.
"What, that's it?" Roy Balderdash asked. "You just sit there while we take you down? You didn't even notice us coming in? What with the running and screaming of the other patrons..."
Lina made no reply. Just stared, with an empty expression.
"No, no, guys, put 'em down, this won't work," Roy explained to his confused, recently hired companions. "We can't just walk up and plug her. Not Lina Inverse, it's not right."
"Why?" Lina asked, in a soft, curious voice.
"Well, DUH," Roy said. "Look, I may want your blood on my hands, but not while you're just sitting there like a dunce. That's like shooting a tame bear or something. Can't you fight back? Whip out a spell, waste some of my goons, get into a tooth and nail fight that ends dramatically in your death when you make the one critical mistake I capitalize on, thus ensuring my glorious victory?"
(Goons #3-#8 sweatdropped. They hadn't signed on to be cannon fodder.)
"Why should I?" Lina asked, talking more to herself than them. "I guess I should. It's what Lina would do. I think I have to. But I don't understand why..."
Roy frowned. He didn't like this, not one iota. "What're you yammering about? Look, I don't WANT to waste you when you're.. obviously a bit out of it, but if you're not even gonna make an effort, I'm still gonna have to get on with business, you hear? I'll give you to the count of seven."
Lina Inverse made no movements. Roy fumbled over six and landed on five.
Trigger fingers itched.
Four went by without much action to speak of.
Two took a little longer to get out, just in case something exciting would happen, but nothing did.
A chandelier fell from the rafters of the restaurant, crashing onto the table. All the men stepped back in snap reaction; Lina only flinched. Eyes went up. Even Lina's.
The young girl pointed at Roy dramatically with her staff.
"I TOLD you I'd be back to collect the bounty on your head, forsooth!!" she declared. "And now I find you assaulting Lina Inverse? Not in my town! Have at y -- "
"Not HER again," Roy groaned. "Guys, shoot her."
"Wha?" the girl said, before bullets ripped through the rafters and the roof around her. She gave a panicked squeal, before jumping down and landing in the middle of the wild melee of knives and swords and gunplay and stuff that immediately broke out.
To her credit, she wasn't half bad at brawling against a dozen armed men. Bodies and furniture arced nicely in the air and broke against the walls around Lina, who just blinked in confusion at the chandelier wreckage, and the fray around her.
Truth be told, she was only dimly aware of her surroundings. A fight was going on. She wasn't quite sure who was involved or how to react. Plus, she was too busy thinking to take an active part, even though she felt a faint tug. The same tug she felt towards a restaurant or a bandit camp or a mystic idol or anything else Lina Inverse was associated with by folklore...
The girl waved her long weapon to keep the bandits at arm's reach, but was backed into a corner, and there's only one way to go from there -- directly onto all the pointy metal objects and flintlock barrels in front of you. Not a direction she was going to go in.
Roy, with one nasty cut on his forehead and an even more annoyed disposition, gave the order. "I warned you to stay home," he said. "And not mess in my business. But if you want to be a hero, you take your chances, I say. Guys, take her down."
The cornered girl screamed out the first name that hit her mind.
Lina's eyes snapped into sharp focus when the tug went from a gentle nudge to a shove from a charging elephant. Purpose snagged her like a fishhook and pulled her to her feet. Senses working overtime into alert and fully conscious of the present...
She got up so fast that her chair tumbled end over end until it tripped up some poor sot who happened to be riding by on horseback outside. Her table, already stress fractured, gave up the ghost and collapsed into a pile of dust and cheap glass.
Attitude flowed thick and fast as the waters of an aqueduct, as did power, sweet power as a ball of orange flame gathered in her hands... and a smirk targeted Roy in particular, as all the bandits started to notice she was no longer a turnip at a table.
"I may not be a math whiz," Lina explained, the turn on words coming to her lips with practiced ease., "But I think the odds are a LEETLE unbalanced. Consider me a force of nature to make sure things level off..."
Roy, being a smart bandit, immediately got behind his wall of goons and put his head between his legs and kissed his ass goodbye.
The windows of the restaurant exploded, spouting brief jets of flame as powdered glass sprayed wildly. The ground shook. Smoke billowed out. People outside wondered what the hell was going on.
Inside, what the hell was going on was obvious. Lina, hand still raised, from where it had just cast the fireball, watched as the smoke cleared... showing a pile of fried, unconscious goons, one fairly singed bandit king, and a very surprised young girl.
The girl could wait. First, she had Roy to deal with. Roy, who had ditched all safety in numbers attitudes and produced a Really Large Sword, squaring off against Lina.
"This is more like it," he admitted, with a manic grin. A thin white line of an aura closed over him.. playing magic from one hand, weaponry from the other, in the true Zefeilian way. "That's better. You and me, mano-a-womano, and you won't bag me as easily as you did this morning. You're the one I want, not the kid."
Amused, Lina drew her sword. It caught the light from residual fires with a near-audible PING.
The two made no motions. A half-burned menu wafted along in the breeze between them, the urban form of tumbleweed.
THEN they could fight.
To try and follow it from their perspective is impossible. Actually, to follow it from the young girl's perspective is even worse, but as she was clearing her head and staring in awe, this is basically what she saw:
Two experts proving their craft.
Swords clashing in sparks, defensive shields raising and shifting to deflect blows, small bolts of fire and ice and electricity skimming off the fight, causing havoc in the already crippled restaurant structure. The girl actually had to dive behind an overturned table to make sure she wasn't, like, killed or anything.
But eventually, someone made one wrong move, and that signaled the end. In this case, Roy had accidentally Zigged when he should have Zapped, and got a swordpoint to the shoulder in response.
In that moment, at the point of victory in purpose, Lina caught on. What she caught onto was so small, so incomplete, but it was enough to affirm herself. She was doing what Lina Inverse would do. She heard the call from this girl to save her from bandits earlier today too, and it was identical, the sensation, the cause. Lina Inverse was needed -- and the world provided -- in order to accomplish something. Just like she was finishing now.
Roy staggered backwards, against a wall -- the momentary stun enough to snap the flow of the fight like a twig. He stared in awe.. Lina hadn't even broken a sweat. She was INHUMAN. Fast, strong, powerful, maybe even more so than the first time they had met, when she relied on tossing magic from a distance and getting cover from her swordsman...
"What ARE you!?" Roy asked, bewildered.
"Isn't it obvious?" Lina asked, twirling her sword back into its sheath, and charging up another spell. "Everybody seems to know my name, or at least my deeds. Bandit-stomping, treasure-taking, food-eating, quest-completing, tomb-raiding, Mazoku-slaying, world-saving. I don't understand much right now, but I know who I am. I'm Lina INVERSE. That's what Lina Inverse does, that's what I do, and I do it WELL, and I like it. As for you -- "
A flick of the wrist, and a tiny ball of ice darted from her fingertips to the fallen bandit. He opened his mouth to protest, and then froze. Literally, in a large, comedic rectangular chunk of light blue ice.
"Chill out," Lina completed. Then thought it over. "No no, that's used. Cool off! No... 'You've been ICED!'. Ick, no. Ah..."
Lina Inverse turned, to address the only other person left standing.
It was the first clear look Lina had had at the person she just rescued. Something immediately struck her as familiar, something about the armor, the shape of it. Or the hair, orangey yellow, and familiar earrings...
The girl walked up and pinched Lina.
"OW! Hey!" Lina protested, waving her off.
"Just checking," she said. "Wow. I mean.. wow. Lina Inverse. It's really you, isn't it? The REAL Lina Inverse? I never bought that my mom was THE Lina Inverse, she just didn't seem the right type, never wanting to do anything heroic, all boring and conservative -- "
"Oh! Oh, I didn't introduce!" the girl realized, stumbling over herself for an apology. "Gomen nasai! I'm Penny Gabriev. Pleased to meet you!"
Penny bowed deeply, accidentally cleaving Lina's head in twain with the blade on her staff. Or rather, would have, if the blade hadn't been so poorly made that you could bludgeon a brick wall to powder with the edge.
"OW!!" Lina yelled again. And decided that maybe standing four feet or more away would be a really good idea when dealing with this new person.
"Uh, oops. Ha ha!" Penny laughed, trying to downplay it. "Um. So... wow! I mean, you just took out an entire armed gang and froze their leader in ICE! That's so cool!"
"Well, it's only cool in an elemental sense, since the ice spell is more of a metaphor of the damage that's taken from extreme cold -- "
"No no, I mean it's COOL."
"...yes, I was just explaining how the spell works," Lina said, not getting it. "Look, you're.. Lina In -- Gabriev's daughter?"
"Hai!" Penny said, bowing again (but not crippling anybody in the process). "Thanks for bringing my naginata back when that guy stole it. I made it myself, you know. Custom build for adventuring!"
"Uh-huh," Lina nodded along, trying to get her bearings.
"So, where are you headed next? Evil overlord's castle? Dragon's cave? Uh, can I come for a little while? If I go home now mom'll just ground me again."
It suddenly occurred to Lina that today she had discovered she probably wasn't human or at least wasn't existing wholly on the right plane of reality and that some Lina Inverse had married Gourry and had a kid named Penny and she should probably really be freaking out right now or at the very least be very confused and creeped out given that all this happened in the span of a single day assuming that she could accurately tell time given how awkward her memory had felt when she thought back to what she's done recently.
It also occurred to her that she was hungry again. This was an easier concept to wrap your mind around, and thus Lina considered thinking about it instead. There was a lovely restaurant a country over that seemed appealing...
But that's what she had done in days past, isn't it? Make like there's nothing wrong and move from dinner to dinner, conquest to conquest...
No. If Lina Gabriev, since that woman had no right to the name Inverse, refused to look into this, to find out exactly how it happened, then Lina Inverse would. It was a pretty clear cut problem: 'What the hell is going on?'. (In a lot of ways, it was philosophically the only problem mankind really was faced with.)
She'd have to find the answer. It'd be a lot like a quest.
Now she had a definite purpose, a purpose that filled her bones with fresh energy, with determination. It was a purpose that wasn't for someone elsewhere in the world called her out, gave her that 'tug'. It was for herself. The very idea of it comforted her tremendously.
Mind you, she still was rather hungry.
Lina Inverse turned to the girl who was the daughter of that other woman.
"Let's go get something to eat," Lina suggested. "And you can maybe answer some questions for me."
The silent, frozen bandit watched them go. He would've plotted revenge, but it was too damn cold at the moment.
A short distance away, time ticked by at regular rates, via the old wooden clock over the door. Dust settled as it always did on rows of books, wands, staves, staffs and sticks with knobs on the end of them.
Lina Gabriev turned to the next page in her book, right on the tick of the minute.
At exactly one minute and seventeen seconds, not a very round number at all, the door chimed to signal the entrance of a customer. A customer in long robes, with a walking staff that probably once held a large gem at the top, but now only had a jet black raven perching there.
"Welcome to Lina Gabriev's Magical Goods and Arcane Artifacts, let me know if I can help you," she said, not looking up.
"Help me?" the patron asked, from inside a typical hooded cloak to hide one's identity, which obviously meant he was someone important. The raven ruffled its feathers, an annoyed gesture. "No no, I'm afraid you can't help me. But you could help me find someone who can help me. Did a young girl pass through here recently? Orange hair, bad temper, gaudy clothing?"
Lina Gabriev still refused to look up or take an interest in the Mysterious Stranger. "Some kid came through here who thought she was someone she wasn't. Looked like that. Don't know where she went, don't care."
"No, I suspect you wouldn't. Thanks for your time anyway, madam," the patron said. "A few coins for your trouble..."
Lina snatched them off the counter before they had clattered once with practiced ease and dropped them in the mechanical register. She was still adept at the art of making money disappear. Then she resumed reading.
A lack of door chimes told that the patron hadn't left yet.
"Aren't you going to ask why?"
"Nope," Lina Gabriev stated.
"Oh, please. Please do. It's just not the SAME unless someone asks me why. It's like my day isn't satisfying and complete unless someone asks."
Irritated, the elder Gabriev set her book down, and turned to ask. "Fine, fine. WHY do you want to..."
The glimpse under the cloak surprised her. The patron waved one finger, in a 'naughty naughty' gesture.
"Ah," he replied. "That is a secret. Good day, Mrs. Gabriev."
And then he was gone.
The raven fluttered in midair a moment, before cawing fiercely at Lina, and flapping out through the closing door.
Lina Gabriev quickly got her breath back. Controlled herself. Forced herself to calm, to relax. Whatever it was, it didn't apply to her. He'd said so himself. So... she had nothing to worry about.
The impulse never founded itself to go after him. That would probably lead to a chase, which could lead to a fight, and then she'd make an enemy and be dragged halfway around the world on some damn fool errand...
She didn't do that anymore, she reminded herself, in absolute certainty, in the same way she knew her name. Not since then.
So, Lina Gabriev opened her book, and thought nothing more of it -- falling fuzzily back into the day to day routine, the events of her life, as they normally progressed. Not questioning things in the slightest.
"...really, it's not so much that I don't like my parents," Penny explained, hoping Lina was listening while she tore through a steak dinner like a ravenous wildebeest. "It's just.. well, supposedly Mom did all this adventuring as Lina Inverse. I hear about it all the time in legends and stuff, and it's really exciting and it inspired me to learn more about it, you know?"
"Mh," Lina replied, with a mouthful of beef.
"I thought, 'Penny, you don't have to sit around all day reading history books, you can BE history! Or at least something other than a merchant like mum wants.' I mean, I didn't think those words exactly, but something like that. Dad's the Captain of the City Guard after all, and he got to do exciting things even though he denied it and kept saying he was just doing what needed done, that's really very noble of him, did you know I patterned my armor after his?"
"Mfffmpmf," Lina agreed, slugging back a large glass of fruit juice.
"Well, at any rate, I decided to research weaponsmithing and fighting and so on, of course when mum wasn't looking so I wouldn't get in trouble because she really doesn't go for that sort of thing anymore and likes to discourage me, and I snuck out of the house for a few quests but I really haven't had much luck. So I figure I need to apprentice to someone who's really experienced, then I can go home and show them I'm very good at this and they don't have to worry and I don't have to sit behind the cash register for the rest of my life. Don't you agree?"
This time Lina didn't reply at all, trying to tear a particularly tough bit of meat off a chicken leg.
"But the problem is all the good schools for warriors, mercenaries, goons or heroes cost so much money, so I figured I'd go after some bounties and then I'd be able to afford it, except that to get a bounty I need training so I'm good at this but to get good at this I need to get money for the school from bounties. So it's not working out very well. Hey, are you going to eat that?"
Her hand went for the last drumstick.
With a flash, Lina's fork was embedded half an inch in the oak restaurant table, blocking the path. Her other hand was in with the knife, neatly spearing the side of the leg and flicking it into the air -- she ditched the knife and caught the leg perfectly in the same hand before taking a big bite.
"Yff," Lina said after the fact.
Penny's stomach growled, but she tried to put on a very cheerful, hopeful face. "So! How about if I apprentice to you, Miss Inverse?"
The meat got stuck in Lina's throat in surprise, and she started running the gamut of colors from blue to purple, which was a short gamut indeed.
"..is that a no?" Penny asked, a bit embarrassed.
Using her Lina Powers Over The Common Dinner, Lina forcibly coughed up then swallowed the chunk of dinner that was trying to escape in one motion. She breathed hard, pounding on her chest... then let loose.
"Apprentice?!" Lina asked. "Look... Penny? But I'm not exactly the sensei type, okay? And, I mean.. thanks for helping me out earlier in that fight, but you don't even KNOW anything about me!"
"Sure I do!" Penny said. "I'm a history buff! Lina Inverse. Rumored to have defeated Shaburanigdo, if he exists, along with a bunch of other Mazoku lords and you found the Claire Bible and apparently beat off some other dark god, but the details are fuzzier on that."
"Ah... okay, yes, that's me," Lina said. "Sort of. Look, I'm not even sure who 'me' is right now aside from 'Lina Inverse', so... the timing's not right, okay? Here I am, about to go on a big quest to sort out exactly where the last twenty years went and why your mom -- "
"I always knew mom wasn't really Lina Inverse," Penny agreed without having anything to agree to. "She's not the right type. But you are! The way you dispatched those bandits, I mean.. wow! Wow!"
"Just go home, okay?" Lina said. "I'm about to set off on a course towards danger and death and large monsters, knowing my history -- "
" -- which will probably mean crossing the whole world -- "
"I always wanted to see the world."
" -- and you're NOT coming!" Lina finalized. "No way, no how. You're too -- "
"Oi, stop interrupting me," Lina warned, waving a finger. "And... no, you're not too young, I was actually adventuring when I was younger than you. It's just that I work al.. well, no, I worked with Naga and then Gourry and the others and... it's just... I, uh..."
Penny smiled. A bit smug, knowing Lina had run out of reasons. "So it's okay, then."
Lina hung her head. "You're gonna get me in trouble with your mom..."
"I don't care," Penny said. "She's holding me back. This is what I want to DO with my life. I want to be the blade swinging hero who charges into the thick, beats back the army, and rescues the princess!"
...Lina just stared very oddly at the young girl.
"Ah, I mean, in a sense," Penny said. "There aren't many female warriors to base my life on, so I had to adapt and sort of roll with it and that's why I've got my dad's armor because finding armor for girls isn't too easy since they always make LESS of it, okay? I mean, there's you for a role model and I guess I've used you as one a bit but I don't like magic so it's not quite the same if you know what I mean."
"You're going to follow me if I say no or not, aren't you?" Lina concluded, after letting the Mistress of the Run-on Sentence finish.
"Jeez, of all the..." Lina started and stopped.
It did make sense. This was a country where half the population went on adventures, and the other half supplied those who went on adventures. It was the same dream Lina had, even before her age. Who was she to stomp on it? And having an angry Lina Gabriev running after her ... if the woman WOULD run after them. If she was apathetic enough to ignore a copy or a clone or an imitator of her running around, would she go after her wayward daughter?
But there was a spark there, in the young girl. Her father's clueless curiosity, her mother's ambition. Her father's eyes.. Lina turned away a moment, trying to put aside her friends, who had grown up and gone away while she.. somehow went on.
"I'd better explain something," Lina decided, while thinking about it. "About what's going on, and what I'm questing for. Then you'll know what you're getting into, and can decide then. Deal? Because I don't think I'm exactly the hero you're all fanboy.. fangirlish over."
"Huh?" Penny asked. (A single syllable, true, but it packed oh so much confusing and curiosity in a tight package.)
And Lina laid it down. She kept her voice low, since there WERE other patrons at this restaurant, who'd probably be a little spooked. (She was spooked herself, but could handle it better than the common man.)
How somehow, there'd been a gap in her life -- a gap where apparently she did all the things she usually did, but by herself, moving around in time and space, like she was asleep. How she hadn't even noticed the sleep until today, when she woke in the bandit camp. The revelations from her mother, the aftermath, even why she wasn't fighting back at the restaurant.
"Not until you called for me," Lina explained. "Then I snapped out of it. I felt like I had to do something, right there and then, and knew exactly what. And when I decided to quest, it's like I became fully aware... and in control. I haven't felt that weird pull since. I guess because I'm too 'busy' to respond to it. So that's what I'm doing... I'm trying to figure out what I am, and why."
Penny tried to parse it. She tried very hard; competing genes were telling her to take it in stride and order another meal OR to scratch her head and not comprehend. The hustle and bustle and noise of the restaurant didn't help her concentration much.
"So....... are you Lina?" she asked.
"I'm more Lina than SHE is," Lina scoffed to herself. She turned back to Penny, and leaned back in her chair. "I'm going to work with that assumption for now. I feel like Lina Inverse. It's a little hard to keep the weird factor under control, but Lina's good at that, so I'm handling it. But I've got no clue where to start looking or -- "
Her casual, nonchalant posture in her chair proved to be an Achilles Heel, as a passing patron accidentally knocked the chair out from under her.
Lina went sprawling, knocking her bag of stuff open and aside. The patron skipped twice before regaining his balance.
"Terribly, terribly sorry," he apologized quickly, and walked off, a black bird following him.
"...sheesh, some people," Lina grumbled, setting her chair back up again, and starting to pack her loot. "If I wasn't in such a mellow mood I'd fireball that guy. As I was saying, it could take a long time to do this, since I've got no starting..."
She trailed off, studying the heavy object in her hand.
"Point?" Penny guessed, attempting to play Complete the Sentence. "Err, square? Square one? Line? Place?"
"Hel-lo.. I forgot I had this," Lina said, placing the item on the table. "I lifted it out of some deathtrap dungeon earlier today! Good timing. This, now this might make a good starting place..."
It was a table on the table. To be specific, a small stone replica of a four legged circular table, the kind you'd probably expect to see at a meeting of druids inside a stone circle. (But not the 'sacrificial altar' kind of table.) All around the edges, chiseled in fine lettering, were the words 'Tabella Errante Del Monster'. The item glowed with a dull silvery power, which faded in proper lighting, but was visible as the sun had started to go down outside.
"Whoa... what's that?" Penny asked, reaching over to touch it. Lina batted her hand away.
"Careful! I haven't tried it yet," Lina said. "If you're going to learn from me, here's Lina's Rule #1 : Magical items can probably kill you if you even look at them funny! You got that?"
"Right. But I think it's some kind of codex. A guide to creatures in the world, made by an alchemist. Don't ask me how I know, I just do..."
"So.. you can use this to find out what you are?" Penny asked, hopeful.
"That's the idea!" Lina said.. carefully lifting it. "Man, this could be a short quest for a change that doesn't end in the near destruction of the world! I wouldn't be complaining, if so. Now how do turn this damn thing on? I don't see a button or a metaphysical trigger spell or anything..."
"Maybe you put it on your head?" Penny suggested, out of the yellow and/or blue.
"Don't be silly, you don't put tables on people's heads," Lina said. She placed the four legged item on her head to prove it. "See? Nothing."
The table's glow increased, flaring in a single moment -- activated. It stretched its legs, near impossible for a piece of carved rock to do, then spoke...
'Demiurge,' the table said, in a voice that could only be called stony. 'Unknown entity, religious significance. No extra data found, please install plug-in spell.'
"Wow! I knew it!" Penny cheered for herself. "I'm good with machines and stuff, you know, I made this weapon with an automated stone cutter from the local smith's shop and even though I didn't quite get it very sharp I..."
Lina blinked a few times, not following Penny's spiel. She lifted the table, studied it, then put it on her head again.
'Demiurge,' the table repeated.
She set the table down on the table. It was definitely alive and moving now, as it ... cutely scampered around, poking at empty dishes, and trying to get attention. A lot like a little lost puppy.
"What a weird little thing," Lina decided. "Kind of.. a wandering table of monsters. Um. I don't think it's got any info on... what's a Demiurge, Penny?"
"...and then I started it up, and my teacher was very impressed, until it exploded and covered the entire cafeteria in lava, and that's the last time I was invited to the science fair, but -- "
"Aaah! Lina?" Penny replied. "Hello, yes? What?"
Lina eyed the mobile table nervously. "Um... pick that up and carry it around. I don't want it in my pack. Now, we're going! Quests wait for no one, after all!"
Not nearly as nervous, Penny scooped up the mechanical/magical table, and got up. She took up her naginata. "So, where are we going? What's the first step?"
"A temple, I guess," Lina said, hoisting up her bag. "Maybe I can find a priest or a white mage to explain this. We've only got a noun and an adjective to work with, and they'll have to do. So! Onward towards... wherever it is we're going!"
The two crossed outside, to the town square. Busy, burly, and/or magical types got about doing whatever they were doing -- the night was going up and the sun had gone down, meaning an entire different breed of consumer/worker was ready and waiting. Lina paused at a streetlight, to consult a local map thoughtfully posted up near the bounties, help wanted ads, and carefully notarized death threats.
Penny leaned against the wall, watching her in confusion. "I don't get it. You want to go to a temple?"
"Is there an echo in here? Yes, a temple. If I remember this city right, there's two to Ceipheed, and a hidden one to Shaburanigdo on the other side of the -- "
"I think they burned down," Penny said.
"Burned down. No, wait... okay. The Mazoku temple burned down and one of the Ceipheed ones collapsed from disrepair, I think that was, um, seven years ago, and the third one just sort of closed up and left when nobody was bothering to go anymore and they couldn't afford to stay open. Yeah, that's right. I mean, everybody knows THAT."
"But.. they'd been open for CENTURIES!" Lina said. "Big sis used to work at the Temple of the Holy White Order of Ceipheed Flare Dragon as a janitor in between waitressing shifts..."
"What, the cults? Nobody believes in that stuff anymore," Penny said, with a shrug. Commonplace to her. "I mean, it's all just legends. There aren't any Mazoku or Dragons. Well, there's big lizards, but not the legendary god dragons or anything, and the elves were just a vertically challenged magically gifted race of humans, scientists have proven that through testing and -- "
"Well, fine! We'll go a few towns over, there's a -- "
"That one's gone too."
"Surely there's SOME organized religion within a fifty mile radius?!" Lina shouted, a little peeved.
"Y-Yes!" Penny said, backing down. "I mean... I think I know of one, it's kind of far away and my best friend's brother's cousin goes there but I don't think you'll like it -- "
"It'll have to do, whatever it is. Let's get going. What's the name of the place?"
"...the Unholy Cult of Zoamel Gustav."
Lina nodded, and walked about six steps before wobbling to a premature halt and twisting to face her.
"The cult of WHAT?!"
"It's sort of a religion," Penny said, sheepishly.
"...fine. Whatever!" Lina said. "Who am I to argue with bad luck? C'mon, let's hurry. A quest is a quest. That's Lina's Rule #2! When you're on a quest, that's all that you do, you quest with all the dedication and energy you can muster! Unless you get hungry and want to stop. Got that?"
"Got it!" Penny cheered, scribbling it down in a pocket notebook with a ballpoint pen, before giving an enthusiastic pose. "Let's go! It's that-a-way, to the west, two towns over."
The Wandering Monster Table perched on her shoulder mimicked it cutely in a way that made Lina want to pulverize the thing.
Lina rolled her eyes. Okay, maybe it wasn't the best questing team she could come up with, but it'd do. And the kid had spunk...
Overall, she could ask for worse. But enough talking. Lina had a mission to handle, a quest to do, and a large question to get answered by any means necessary.
She turned towards the west, and started to walk.
Across town, the janitor at a fairly trashed restaurant was busy putting up the unbroken chairs on the unbroken tables, and mopping up the water from a rapidly melting ice cube with a bandit in it. Janitors exist specifically to do this sort of work without getting all antsy about how it happened, so the circumstances didn't throw him.
Neither did the ominous stranger who had walked in, complete with hooded robe, and evil stare. But evil stares are usually signals for the hired help to beat it, so he fetched his mop and amscrayed.
The figure stepped up to the frozen Bandit. Sighed, in vague annoyance, and raised a hand -- a bluish gray hand of stone.
"Flare Arrow," he spoke quietly, using a lower level of the spell than he was capable of. The ice melted in an instant.
"...GEEHH," Roy Balderdash inhaled sharply. "It's HARD to hold your breath that long. Brrr. Thanks, Mister...?"
The chimera under the hood regarded him with an uncaring look.
"You are required," he said, "To take up a new career."
"Hey, I'm not THAT thankful," Roy said, rubbing his arms to try and get some feeling back into them. "I'm busy, anyway. A little vendetta to settle with one Lina Inverse."
"Lina Inverse...?" the young robed boy asked. Sounding almost curious... but dismissed it, quickly after. "I'm afraid this is an offer you can't refuse. Come with me."
"Aaand you are?" Roy asked.
"Commander of the Imperial Forces of Sairaag," he responded. "Zelgadis Greywers. And we were just leaving."
Before Roy could protest, a portal had been opened and skimmed through both of their bodies, and they no longer existed in the restaurant.
The janitor quietly resumed mopping. There was a lot more water around now, after all.
Book 2 | Fanfiction