...in which old enemies taunt each other, fortunes
are won and lost, strange bedfellows are made, and
plenty of clowns are set on fire.
By Stefan Gagne, Spoof Chase Productions.

oad travel is a hard life, wandering from town to town, living on a small income and having to put up with mediocre food.  But not for holders of the exclusive Diner's Club Card, a miracle of modern economics that permits you to live a life of luxury.  Providing discounts and ease of payment with prepaid credit, as well as exclusive tables and services, your mealtimes will no longer consist of expensive tabs and splitting up the bill among the various heroes in your party!  Instead, they will resemble this one.
    "A table, my good man!" Lina said.  "I believe you have a table set aside for us?"
    "Eh?" the waiter asked.
    Lina held up her shiny new Diner's Club Card.  "See?"
    "What's that?"
    "It's a Diner's Club Card."
    "Oh," the waiter said.  "I understand."
    Lina turned to her companions, Myth and Gourry, with a knowing smile.
    "The company went under a day or two ago in a state of bankruptcy," the waiter said.  "We got word of it today.... didn't you know?"
    "What?  No, no, this.. this is valid!  This is my MEALTICKET!!  It's--"
    "We only do cash from now on.  Makes life more convenient," the waiter said.  "So, can I seat your party?"
    Lina pulled a handful or non-rare coins out of her pouch, and counted out enough money to maybe buy half a glass of milk.
    "It's okay, Lina!" Gourry said, taking advantage of the opportunity.  "We've still got my Meals-Ready-To-Eat!"
    "AAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" Lina said calmly.
    After the small group left the restaurant, the waiter returned to the table he was serving.  He had to hold his nose; whoever this guy was, he smelled like three week old cheese.
    "Will fere fe anyfing elf, fir?" the waiter asked.
    Bugger leaned back in his chair, smirking evilly.  "Naaah, I think I've 'ad enough," he said.  "Seems she has, too.  Check, please?"
    The same scene, compressed down, projected into a sphere.  A sphere at the center of a room of clocks, the space having no set dimensions.  All clocks ticking in time, precise and unyielding, each second a small rumble through what passes for the floor.
    A man stood in front of the sphere, watching Gourry and Myth hauling an unbelieving and extremely angry Lina Inverse out of the restaurant.  It amused him greatly.
    "See?" he said, turning to address a larger glassy sphere, off to the side of the room.  Flowing robes, weaved from the stars and galaxies, turned with him.  His smile was menacing, mischievous; a cat playing with a mouse in a trap.  "Already her quest is turning sour.  Even with the just Mazoku and the Dragons hounding her, odds are she'll turn away from this fool's errand.  How little your plans have come to!  To think you were once one of the most feared and enigmatic of the Mazoku, and have fallen this far -- not only into a lowly human state, but into the clutches of the one who has sworn to destroy you!!  How do you... like those.... HEY!  I'm talking here!!"
    Inside the prison sphere, Xelloss was busy reading a comic book with kitties and bunnies on the cover.  "Hmm?  I'm sorry, were you saying something?"
    "And where'd you get that?!" Paradox demanded.  "Magic and substance can't get out of my reality bubble!"
    "Oh, this?" Xelloss asked.  "Well, come a little closer, and I'll tell you....."
    The wingless master of time and space walked up to the sphere.  Xelloss leaned over, to whisper conspiratorially...
    "THAT IS A SECRET!!!!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, bowling the time wizard over.  Then he smiled.
    Normally, Paradox would be an imposing individual to a mortal.  He was a master of Talents that modified space and time, and took it onto himself to guard them from modification; by people other than himself, at least.  He could really ruin your day, if not your life, if not the destiny of you and every descendant you MIGHT ever produce if you crossed him.
    But Xelloss knew some important things most wizards who stumbled into Paradox's path did not, as he had annoyed Paradox many times previous, when his spellwork had wobbled the shaky foundations of reality.  It annoyed Paradox greatly if you did things to his sphere of influence that he reserved for himself.  If you bent history in funny directions, he got angry.  If you popped a bubble of reality to make a new fragment of space, he got angry.  And most enjoyable of all; if you absolutely refused to react to him the way he wanted you to, he got so angry that he turned into the pimply faced high strung geek you used to laugh at in school.  A very nasty and potentially dangerous geek, but what a show you would see in the process!  Assuming you survived long enough to enjoy it!
    Chuckling, Xelloss let the simple illusion spell that gave him reading material fade away, dusting off his hands.  "You know, you really should lay off the coffee, Paradox-kun.  It makes you so tense!  That's bad for your health."
    "You're the one who should be worrying about his health, stupid human!!" Paradox roared, which would have been dramatic if his voice hadn't cracked partway through.  "I don't believe your audacity.  One of the most powerful beings alive, now powerless under MY lock and key, and you're making jokes!  Aren't you the least bit worried about how I'm ruining all your plans and hold your now-mortal life in my grasp?!"
    "No, not really," Xelloss yawned, big and exaggerated.
    "May I ask why, then?" Paradox asked, in the same tone one would say 'What would you like on your tombstone?' without meaning pizza.
    "Why I'm not worried?"
    "Of course!"
    "Well, I'll tell you..."
    "...that is a secret."
    "AARGH!" Paradox snarled.  "You're mocking me again!"
    "Am not."
    "You're NOT?"
    "No, mocking you would be if I asked if those were your mystic wizard's robes, or if the second hand clothes store was having a sale on women's bathrobes from the third century," Xelloss said, pointing to Paradox's garb.  "Mocking you would also be wondering if you meant to get that haircut, or if you accidentally shoved your head into a pool of piranhas.  Which would explain the--"
    "Shut up, shut up, shut UP!!!" Paradox demanded, letting fly a bolt of time from his hands, tossing Xelloss's mind into confusion with the temporal disorientation.  "You're my prisoner!  You should damn well be acting like it!"
    "Gghh.......'kay," Xelloss said, righting his neurons.  "Oh, eeek eek, help me, I'm in such danger, whatever will I do, I'm afraid, lord Paradox of the Wingless, Overseer of Space and Time!"
    "That's better," Paradox said, not catching on.
    Lina looked inside the little pouch.  One compartment held a souplike substance that was supposed to be chicken.  The other held a rough, chunky goo that was supposed to be soup.  She prodded each with her cheap tin spork, noting how the dents only refilled themselves after a few seconds, the 'food' giving off a small cloud of pungent green gas.
    Gourry was already gleefully spooning.. whatever it was into his mouth.  "S'not bad," he said, "Once you get by the layer of jelly."
    Myth turned purple.  She hadn't moved a muscle for a few minutes, spork hanging an inch away from her food.
    "That's it," Lina proclaimed, tossing her Meal Ready To Eat aside.  "I quit!  Someone else can draw the wingless.  I am NOT moving another step until I get some decent food."
    "Huh?" Myth asked, snapping out of it.  "Wait, but... it's just food!  Oh... you're joking.  Okay, I get it."
    "I'm not joking," Lina said.  "C'mon, Gourry, let's beat it."
    "But.. but the Lord of Nightmares--"
    "SHOULD be sending bread from the sky or at least a juicy steak!" Lina said.  "What does she think us heroines run on, anyway?  Gruel?  We need protein, carbohydrates, lipids, minerals, vitamins and sugar!  You can't go out and defeat evil and save the day on an empty stomach-- STOP writing that down!"
    "But.. but it's a good speech," Myth said, pausing in her notetaking.
    Lina composed herself.  "Look.  You're a wingless, right?"
    "Uh, yes.  We established that..."
    "You've been around for thousands and thousands of years," Lina said.  "You're one of the first eight beings ever created in the history of time before time was an applicable notion.  You have powers over stories, Talents beyond human understanding.  ...so can you whip us up a dinner or what?"
    "Uhh..." Myth mumbled, thinking.  "I just.. I really just write stories, you know.  Feel them, hear them, write them, spread them.  Mythology.  I don't know how to cook."
    "What about your Talents, then?"
    Myth thought a moment.  "Well, I don't LIKE to use them outside passive storylistening, because that sometimes causes a lot of problems, and it'd make Paradox angry if I write something like 'And then the city explodes', not that I would actually ever do that because I'm not that sort of girl, but--"
    "You can CHANGE stories?" Lina asked.
    "It's very hard," Myth said.  "But I can guide them.  Nudge things around a bit.  A little bit is safe, usually."
    "Can you write that bread falls out of the sky?  Or perhaps a full course banquet?"
    "Food can't fall from the sky just because I say so, it's not Reasonable," Myth said.
    "Something small, then.  Anything that results in food.  Anything.  Don't make me beg."
    Myth chewed the end of her stylus a moment, listened to unheard voices, then took out a fresh page from the back of her book.
    "There's some food not far from here.  I'll steer events in our direction.  Ahem... 'The Tale of Robin the Butcher,'" she recited, writing.  "'As Robin's coach trotted down the road, a fresh load of fish from the recent port town of Nesmith in the back, he felt confident in the day's profits.  So confident, in fact, that he.... took a turn left when usually he went right, to take the.. scenic route back home.  On the way there, he passed by a small group of adventurers, and having pity on the small underdeveloped one who seemed so hungry, he gave them a few fish to have for dinner--'"
    The butcher hauled a small roll of fish, wrapped in paper, out of his cart, and passed them to an unbelieving Lina.  "Here ya go," he said.  "Take care."
    "'--and as he rolled down the road, out of sight of the adventuring party,'" Myth continued, writing quickly as the cart turned a corner, into the forest, "'He felt pleased at a job well done, a merciful act.  And upon returning home.... he... kissed his his wife as he came in the door, as he had been frosty to her lately and now realized he should be a more caring husband and their marriage stopped being on the rocks and he got a really big profit and stuff.  The end.'"
    Lina looked at the fish in her arms.
    "Um... good story," she said.
    "I don't do that too often," Myth said, rolling up the page and storing it in her pack.  "But when I do, I like to put in a happy ending.  Sort of a nice payment for helping me out."
    "A happy ending indeed... indeed!" Lina said, coming to the delightful realization that she was holding a full meal.  "Gourry, whip up a cooking fire, it's feast time for Lina!"
    "Right-o!" Gourry smiled.
    An hour or two later, stomach filled, Lina remembered something.
    "WHO'RE you calling underdeveloped?!"
Click to continue...
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.