ina Inverse had many loves in life.  There was the love of looting a bad guy of all his incredibly valuable possessions, and the love of learning a really cool new kind of magic, and of course the love of a luxurious inn with soft beds and room service.  But after going without dinner AND breakfast, she only had one true burning desire; food.
    Yes, there was that whole 'escaping the city guard so that we don't get thrown in prison' thing, but that took a backseat to Lina's need to get some chow.  So when they were looking for good hiding places, she instinctively sought out a little hole in the wall diner, dragged her two companions inside, sat them down and had ordered a couple square meals in the time it takes most people to get their shoelaces tied.
    Gourry, however, continued to watch the entrances and exits nervously.  "This isn't the best place to hide, Lina..."
    "Life IS risk, Gourry," Lina said, waving a chicken leg like a teacher's pointer.  "We're on a very important mission, and that means we have to go that extra mile into the danger zone, putting life and limb at risk for the greater good!  Besides, if I don't get some protein I'll be a mess all day... what're you doing?"
    The third companion looked up from her writing.  "Um.. I'm just taking notes.  Don't mind me."
    No proper introductions had been given yet for the girl they had picked up along the way; or rather, bumped into along the way at speeds clocked on an upwards of twenty miles an hour.  Swept along like a bath toy in the ocean, she had floated into the mess with ease.
    "Who are you, anyway?" Lina asked.  "We saw you at the market trying to be a scary old fortune teller, right?  I recognize that face.  Without the makeup, that is."
    "Oh... um," the girl said.  "It's a long story, really..."
    "If I recall, you were shouting something about 'Bewaring the Forenight of Chaos,'" Lina said.  "And something about a gate... wait.  How did you know about that??"
    "About what?" the girl asked, confused.
    "About... Giga's Gate," Lina said, trying to keep her voice down in the semi-crowded establishment.  "The spell you were referring to!  I accidentally cast it the other night."
    "Oh, so THAT'S what I felt!" the girl said, to herself.  "I guess it makes sense..."
    "I'm confused," Gourry said, not for the first time, and definitely not for the last.
    "I think I can explain a bit," the girl said, closing her book and setting it on the table.  "But you'll have to trust me.  Okay?"
    Lina glanced at the title, hastily etched on the cover; 'Lina Inverse And The Chaos Factor'.  Weirder and weirder.  "Trust later, explanation now," she recommended.
    "I'm a storyteller," the girl said.  And that was true; she did have a bard's uniform on.  "And a story writer.  You can call me Miss.  It's been my role in things for a long time... but I've been in a slump lately.  There just aren't any good epics out there nowadays.. except yours, Lina!  I've been writing about you for these last few years, and it's good stuff, some of the best writing I've done.  Did you hear 'Lina Inverse and the Journey of a Thousand Reflections'?  I finished it a few days after you finished your quest for the Mirror Lores.  It's been doing well with audiences!"
    "I.. don't think I have," Lina said.  But the title did seem familiar...
    "I was going to try to tag along this time, get a real first-hand account of what goes on, and maybe write the best Lina Inverse story ever," the bardess said.  "But... you got arrested.  So I had to do something.  Um.  I take it you broke out of jail on your own?"
    "Easily," Lina commented.
    "Oh.  Okay, then at least things are going now," Miss said.  "Mind if I tag along?  I won't get in your way, I promise, I'm just here to chronicle your journey."
    "That still doesn't explain the weird bits," Lina said.  "How did you know anything about our last outing?  I've never seen you before!  And you knew about that gate spell, didn't you?"
    "Yes.  No!  No, not really..." the girl said, trying to make up her mind of how to explain it.  "How to explain this... it's so much easier to explain things when they're like a story.  Can we just call it instinct and let it go at that?"
    "Rats.  Okay, then... I've got.. a talent, I guess you could call it," Miss replied, quieter, to keep anybody from hearing.  Lina and Gourry leaned across the table, or at least across the food, to hear.  "I can feel the shape of stories.  That's the best way to explain it.  If it's just a sort of outline of a notable story, something happening elsewhere in the world like a boy going on a trip to find his lost cat, I just get sketchy details, but.. your stories, I see a lot more.  Not everything, but a LOT more.  So after that tale finished, I had this feeling that there was a gate, you see, and unless you went through it, the next story wouldn't happen.  And... I felt, in the story, that a soothsayer giving a warning was just the event needed to start it all rolling, you see, and... did it work, by the way?"
    "Oh.  But it worked, didn't it?  I mean, not IT, but it.  In general.  Worked out right."
    "...yes," Lina admitted.  "So.  You've got some weird psychic power that lets you spy on people, is that it?"
    "Spy?  No no no..." Miss defended.  "I don't mean any harm, I just.. write and spread tales.  Myths and lore.  That's all.  If I could tag along with you, I could write a really good story!"
    Lina nodded, letting that soak in, and sat back to finish off her chicken and think about it.
    "I don't get it.  Can you explain all of that again?" Gourry asked.  "Lina, why are you choking?"
    Gagging, Lina coughed a bit to clear her airway, then gave Gourry a severe bonking.  "No, we can't explain all of it again!!"
    Rubbing his head, Gourry looked a bit sheepish.  "How about a summary, then?"
    "Okay.  Summary.  Summary I can swing," Lina said.  "She's a magic bard and wants to follow us around on our quest to draw the wingless.  Got it now?"
    "Oh, okay," Gourry said.
    "Excuse me, but... what did you say your quest was?" Miss asked...
    "Hmm?  Oh, we're drawing the wingless.  No, we don't have any idea what that means either," Lina said casually.  "I suspect we'll figure it out at some point.  The Lord of.... someone said we'd get aid, which of course we haven't gotten yet...  hey, are you going to eat all of that salad?  Thanks."
    Miss sat back in slight terror as Lina took her food.  Not because she was hungry, but because she was hearing words not heard from anyone else in quite some time.
    "Uh... I think I know what it means," Miss said.
    Lina paused.  "You do?"
    "It's a long story, but.. are you really on a quest from the Lord?  The Lord of Nightmares, I mean?"
    "We seem to be.  Why?"
    Miss swallowed hard.  "Looks like my hopes of simply sneaking into your party to write a story aren't going to be enough.  If what you say is true... I think I'm actually supposed to be your aid."
    Pockets are not meant for storing things.  Only stupid cattle unable to understand fashion stick objects into their pockets.  Elegant ones use other means of storage.
    Beastmaster Zelas-Metallum knew this by heart, which is why whenever she wanted something, she pulled it out of a nonspace of her own design rather than lug around a heavy bag or, god forbid, put things in the pockets of her stylish wardrobe.  She poked around in nonspace, hunting for the thing she sought, and pulled; an illustrated book appeared in her hands, with a happy medium of flashy special effects and tasteful magic.
    She found it vaguely appropriate to be performing her next task inside Xelloss's home.  If he was smart, he would have it kinked for some kind of audio/visual link; how she loved to tease the prey!  Perhaps he would do another funny thing on learning her plans.  Perhaps he already predicted her plans.  Either way, it would be enjoyable.
    Flipping through the book, she browsed the pictures and vital statistics of each Mazoku under her sphere of influence.  She needed one appropriate to the task at hand, just the right tool, just the right irony.  Such droll things they were, the lesser Mazoku, with no sense of fun about them...
    There.  That one.
    She stroked the picture with a slender finger, a burning smoke arising from the page as she did.  The incantation came freely.  "Lord of damp days, self-proclaimed heir to the frustrations of humankind... I summon you, one named Bugger."
    The coming was not flashy, nor was it tasteful.  It was the magical equivalent of a fart.  A weak cloud of smoke, unimpressive and rather pathetic, with a disgusting smell about it.  A manlike figure was there, slumped over in an overcoat that probably hadn't been washed since the first Mazoku war, some flies buzzing about his person.  The man gave a ragged cough, trying to work up something out of its throat.
    "Bloody 'ell, I hate that," the Mazoku who called himself Bugger muttered.  He looked around, scratching his head.  "Just sitting there minding my own business, and someone comes along and summons me.  Soditall, soditall.  Who's it now?"
    "I," Beastmaster said casually.
    "Oh, hell," the man groaned.  "You're gonna destroy me, aren't you?  Bleeding runny death in the nines.  Just the thing to cap off a perfectly miserable day..."
    "Contrary.  I have a task for you," Zelas-Metallum said.  "Well suited to your questionable talents."
    "Always 'appy to serve, mistress."
    "No you aren't."
    "...'course not, but if I say that, I'm fried toast, right?"
    "Your task," Beastmaster continued, not confirming nor denying that, "Is simple.  There is one named Lina Inverse who is on a quest.  You will... inconvenience her.  What she plans is a thing that must not be done."
    "I ain't no assassin, ma'am," Bugger reminded her.  "T'ain't my specialty.  Not that I gots anything against dyin', it's a lousy way to go and I'm all for it, but--"
    "Inconvenience her however you please.  Dissuade her, distract her away, collapse her will to go on, destroy her, the method doesn't matter," Beastmaster said.  "She must not complete her quest.  See to it."
    "Right.  That I can manage, mistress," Bugger said.  He patted his pockets searching for something, and pulled out a handful of dirt.  "If there's one thing the old bugger's good at it's really bringing down someone's day.  I'll get on it right as rain, you'll see."
    Nodding simply, Beastmaster sent the Mazoku off to play.
    Miss looked more and more unnerved as Lina tried to dig information out of her.  It was less like a casual meal and more like an informal interrogation.
    "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
    "Try me."
    "I really mean it.  It's--"
    "I said try me, didn't I?  Let's go.  Right here, right now," Lina said.
    "I can't explain here!" Miss said.  "There's too many people around."
    "Then you're not coming with us," Lina said.  "For all we know, you could be some kind of Mazoku plant.  Or maybe a friend of an old friend of ours who liked to keep secrets.  Right, Gourry?"
    "Huh?" Gourry asked, having lost track of the conversation minutes ago.
    "Just smile and nod your head."
    He smiled and nodded his head.
    "And Gourry agrees," Lina finished.  "Besides, we can't go out on the street until the heat's off.  I give it an hour more.  Why can't you tell us here in the meantime?"
    "It's not a story for everybody," Miss said.  "It's a special one.  Um.. I don't know much about magic, but could you, like... make everybody deaf?  Or.. no, that wouldn't work... I don't know.  Do something so only you and Gourry hear it."
    Lina had a dinner roll while thinking that one over.  "'kay," she agreed.  She stood up on her chair, focusing on the few patrons and workers in the diner, and concentrated.  White magic, not her specialty (despite having gotten very proficient in it recently) flowed to her fingers. "*Enhance Calm*..." she cast.
    The diners, one by one, yawned and started to drift off to sleep, unaware or at least uninterested in the fact that they were napping in midmorning.  Soon, the entire restaurant was out like a light, save the three at Lina's table.
    "Wow..." Miss admitted.  "Creepy, but... that'll work."
    "So, can you tell this big story now?" Lina asked.
    "But isn't he.... erm..."
    Light snoring floated up from Gourry's open mouth.
    "I don't get it... I didn't even cast it on Gourry," Lina said, weirded out.  "Long boring stories just have that kind of effect on him I guess.  Go ahead, I'd have to summarize for him later anyway."
    "I'd hope it won't be boring, but..." Miss trailed off.  She cleared her throat.  "I'll warn, it's a strange yarn.  But maybe it's what you want to hear.  One second, I need to prep for a telling session."
    Posture shift; just a smidge, enough to not slump as much, to have her head up higher.  Hands folded in front of her, not in her lap.  And her eyes locked on Lina without feeling like they were locked, just a long stare, a stare which said : I'm talking to you.  Right to you.
    "My explanation for why I know about your quest is a bit long, so please, bear with me.  This story I know starts, literally, at the beginning," Miss started.  "There are a lot of stories told about the creation.  Every religion has one.  The Evilanians think that Shaburanigdo vomited the universe into a congealed heap.  The Holy Order of Ceipheed, on the opposing hand, believes that originally the universe was a tiny point of light, which expanded to become Ceipheed the Dragon King, who breathed life into the world with an exhalation of his divine breath.  A lot of others believe the more common story, that the Lord of Nightmares crafted the Dragons and the Mazoku, then gave them a world to hold their eternal struggles on.  The beasts of the land came next : rabbits, bears, lions, butterflies, lizards, and finally, man.
    "Those are all good stories, and to hear their tellers recite them is to hear the truth.  But the truth is subjective.  This is the way I see the truth; subjective it may be, it is a truth.  And very relevant to understanding what the 'wingless' are and how they came to be.
    "In the beginning, there was only the Lake of Chaos.  It was not a world, it was not a dimension; it simply WAS, beyond any definition we can give it.  In the lake lived the Lord of Nightmares.  These are names we have given these things now, as a result of events that transpired.  In the beginning, these things had no names.  I will call them by the ones we are familiar with.
    "With me so far?"
    Lina nodded slowly.  "Go on."
    "For reasons never explained by the Lord, the first thing to be created was a magnificent world.  It was not this world that you know; it was a world of ideas and notions, running wild, flowing like the waters of Chaos itself.  This world was beautiful in itself, but lacked shape, in the way a river running straight with no rocks and no fish lacks substance, save the water.
    "To give it shape, the Lord created eight creatures.  They had two sets of two appendages, and one nub with senses on it.  They had two wings, although what these were used for had yet to be defined; perhaps the Lord put them there for aesthetic reasons.  We'll never know, I'm afraid.  The Lord spoke onto them that this world was theirs to do with as they wished, provided that they never broke two rules.  One, they must not try to make another of what they were; second, they must not try to destroy one of what they were.  Then she let them be, going silent.
    "To the beings, new and excited with life -- existence, rather -- they were not concerned with these rules, because none of them knew what it meant to create or destroy another.  They couldn't break a rule they didn't understand, they rationalized.  So, for indescribable time, they frolicked in the world, shaping and reshaping it randomly, chaos being their nature as it was the nature of their Lord.
    "Each invented an aspect which defined and named themselves, a trend that one of them started and the rest picked up on.  They reveled in this new thing called identity, theorizing that this must be why the Lord put them there.  They now could tell each other apart and try to be different from each other.
    "One of them, who grew to be the most beautiful of the eight, took his time in naming himself.  After awhile, he invented a strange concept.  It was very new and exciting, and completely foreign to the others.  They didn't mimic it, of course; it was his claim to name, and to take it would to be non-unique.
    "Then he attempted to destroy one of the other eight winged ones.  He had finally figured out how, working past the ignorance they shared of this thing called 'death'.
    "The Lord, enraged as much as it was possible for an emotionless being to be enraged, pulled them from the world, all eight.  It was the punishment for breaking the law, the whole group blamed.  They fell, until they landed on a new world; one that could not be shaped and reshaped, one that simply WAS what it was, and bound them to horrible, restrictive physics.  Their wings were gone; burned up as they entered this world.  Eight frightened and lonely beings, nearly powerless in an alien world.
    "And THEN the Mazoku and the Dragons arose, and began their eternal war.
    "Mind if I have your glass of orange juice there?  My throat is dry."
    Lina blinked several times.  "Wha?... uh, yeah.  Go right ahead, Miss."
    "Thanks," Miss thanked, taking a big swallow.  "Ahh.  Much better.
    "Anyway, the wingless were confused.  Why were these new beings here, and threatening them?  One figured it was because, and this is mere speculation, the Lord had decided her first creations had proven themselves unsuitable.  Taking the two extremes of them, since they were mostly grey-area things, she developed a race of Good and a race of Evil, and set them to fight, to prove which was the stronger.  Or perhaps neither would ever fully win the war, proving that they are equally powerful.
    "None of this mattered to the eight wingless, who were caught in the middle of this fray.  They knew destruction now, and that they COULD be destroyed.  They ran.  They hid.
    "Many, many years passed, years being a new concept they would have to deal with, and the Mazoku and Dragons were so injured that they had to go into hiding as well.  Neither side could be considered the victor.  The world was quiet, and very, very dead, damage caused in the war extreme.
    "A few of the wingless managed to find each other again, and band together for strength.  Eventually life returned to the world.  Plants, animals... men.  Time passed.  Human civilization grew, more bold and vivid than any of the simple ideas the wingless had imagined, and they had to find roles in it that fit their names.  A second Mazoku War -- chronicled by humans as the first, incorrectly -- raged, and civilization was knocked down a peg once more.  Humans, like the now wingless, were not able to do much about this other than be caught in the crossfire and try to survive long enough to outlast the skirmish.
    "Humans survived, being a strangely adaptive and capable species, and rose again, in time.  The original eight wingless lived on in this new world, only glimpsing their original home in dreams; perhaps this is why she is called the Lord of Nightmares now.  I only know of two of them, the other five lost and unknown, possibly even under new names.  And that's where we are today, and specifically, where I am today -- since my name is really pronounced 'Myth', and I am one of the original eight, now wingless.  I meant to not be a bother to you and simply write your travels, but I started getting actively involved yesterday, and it looks like I'm in with both feet now... I suppose you might think this tale a flight of fancy, or of insanity.  But truth is subjective, and this is a truth, at the very least.
    "That's all there is so far to the story.  I hope I told it right.  Did that explain what you wanted explained, Miss Inverse?" Myth asked, curiously, shifting out of her posture, back to being a meek little bardess.
    It took Lina a few moments to realize the telling was over.
    "Ah.... good story," she said, not sure what else to say.
    "I told you it was a little strange," Myth reminded.
    "I know, but..... no, no, wait, that doesn't explain everything," Lina said.  "Okay.  So the 'wingless' are apparently a race of creatures that were made before all the others were made.  Somehow, all eight of them.. of you are still around today.  I can accept that; I've heard stranger.  But what does the Lord of Nightmares want me to DO, exactly?"
    "Draw us," Myth said.  "I think she intends for you to draw us together.  As in, gather us... like I said, I don't know where many of them are.  Apparently we're needed, all of us.  Which is strange, I mean, none of us have had any contact with the Lord of Nightmares since that day... truth be told, we're all a bit frightened of her.  I am, at any rate."
    "Gather eight minor god type folks together," Lina confirmed.  "That sounds deceptively easy.  It's just a missing persons hunt, right?  We're not talking about raiding deathtrap-loaded temples or anything."
    "I.. doubt a lot of them will WANT to be found, much less brought back to her," Myth said.  "We didn't exactly part on good terms, remember?  I know for a fact that two of us -- I don't know what names they have now -- will resist with everything they have.  The one who caused the fall, and his partner."
    "Oh, resistance is something I'm used to," Lina said, cracking her knuckles.  "I can be REAL persuasive..."
    Myth got nervous.  "I'll go voluntarily, there's no need--"
    "I meant for the others, of course."
    "OH!  Oh.  Heh.  Okay."
    "Now, the important question... questionS... would be these," Lina said, counting off on her fingers.  "One.  Why bring you guys back together?  What purpose does the Lord of Nightmares have?  Why does this relate to the Giga Lores, anyway, why not just have her order you people to go for some family meeting?  Why do *I* have to do this?  And... umm... what am I leaving out?"
    "I know one thing I want to know," Myth said, remembering her recent encounter with Lina, and the backache that still lingered.  "Why do YOU have the same wings we used to?"
    Lina's cape twitched slightly.  "Erm.  They're the same?  The EXACT same?"
    "I recognize the orange spots and gold designwork," Myth said.  "It's been a long time, but those are definitely the kind of wings we wingless.. had.  How did YOU get them?"
    "Ah.. they just sort of showed up one day," Lina said.  "Another question to add to the stack.  Worrying, but... you know...  this actually is a better start than I usually get in this kind of thing."
    "Really?" Myth asked.
    "Oh, definitely!" Lina said, smiling.  "I mean, usually I'm running for my life or only have half the facts I need, or I have no idea what my next step should be and so on."
    "But... you are running for your life, you only have half the facts you need, and you don't have any idea what your next step should be," Myth said, confused.
    "Ah, not true!" Lina corrected.  "My next step is to kick Gourry under the table to get him to wake up..."
    Gourry jerked awake.  "Six!  Square root of two!  Hansburg!... uh.  What's going on?"
    "Second step is to try to explain this to him," Lina continued.  "And then... we're going back to the palace.  Or rather, YOU are.  You're in with both feet, remember?  Time to pull weight as part of Lina Inverse's team!"
    "Uh..." Myth said, now very unsure of the situation.  "I'm just a writer, really, even if I have.. an unusual past.  Just because I'm one of the wingless doesn't mean I'm a force to be reckoned with.  I don't even know magic."
    "You don't have to," Lina said.  "You just need to fit into a maid's uniform..."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.
Feels awkward dropping a narrative in my narrative, but...