long the way, Gourry asked an important question.
    "So where are we going, anyway?" he wondered.
    "Haven't you been paying attention??" Lina scolded.  "Honestly, Gourry.  We're going to... well, we're en route to.. where are we going, Myth?"
    "Eh?" Myth asked.  "I forgot to tell you?"
    "See?  I'm not the only one who didn't know," Gourry pointed out.
    "We're going to visit an old friend of mine," Myth said.  "One of the wingless.  Not many of them have settled down anywhere, because after surviving two major wars, you tend to want to stay mobile to avoid having your home destroyed... but she opened up a little business on this road a few decades ago.  She's probably still there."
    "Probably keeps a low profile, right?" Lina asked.
    Gourry kept an ear to the wind.  "Does anybody else hear music, or is it just me?.."
    Along the road, in the middle of a peaceful forest, someone had erected a gigantic red and yellow striped tent, with flags from every corner, trained animals putting on shows, and of course extremely loud organ music, of an oompah oompah nature.  This was a structure that absolutely did not seem to fit, something you would not expect to see in the smack dab middle of nowhere.  It went beyond tacky, straight through to the other side, into the realm of the surreal.
    It was a circus.
    "THIS is your friend's little business?!" Lina asked, shocked.
    "...it seems to have gotten bigger," Myth admitted.
    "No... no, it makes sense!" Gourry said, in a flash of inspiration.  "Business type people come along here all the time.  There's a fork in the road back there that goes in three directions where we saw wagons coming from, and I think there's another one a mile ahead, so this is a crossroads of a lot of traffic of people who have a lot of money and stuff!"
    Lina stared at him.  "That.. makes sense."
    "Yep!" Gourry smiled.  "No doubt all those rich people want to feel like a kid again and go to the circus!"
    "It's a CASINO, Gourry!" Lina said, pointing at the open tent flap.  "See?"
    ...except that inside, there was the ringing of bells, and calling of numbers in games of chance.  In fact, dozens and dozens of rich people were inside, rolling dice, pulling slot machine handles, playing cards, and so on.  And of course there was the gigantic, brightly colored sign up front that read "BIGTOP BIGTOP CASINO."
    "Oh," Gourry said, noticing the sign for the first time.  "That too, then."
    "Who are we looking for, anyway?" Lina asked.  "Let's get on with it."
    "The manager of the casino," Myth said.  "Come on, I'll introduce you."
    "We have to go inside?" Lina asked, horrified.
    "How bad could it be?"
    Lina had thought the open-air market in Sailoon was a mob scene.  It was tame compared to this.
    Sedate.  Calm.  Peaceful.  All words which completely failed to describe the Bigtop Bigtop, which had all the fun of being trapped in a hailstorm whipped up by a hurricane, but with larger, human body sized hailstones.  People wandered from table to table, clutching racks of gambling chips, trying to get to wherever luck seemed to be running highest.
    Myth had wandered off, saying she'd try to track down her friend, and that they should wait down here for her.  It was for the best; she told Lina earlier how the wingless might be less than thrilled to see her, and breaking the news gently to this one would help things go smoothly.  This left Lina to loiter around the casino floor.
    Lina hadn't been in very many casinos.  There was the resort complex at the Island of Ultimate Despair, but she was too busy trying to prevent the ultimate darkness from consuming the world to bother trying her hand at craps.  Still, she had at least known what a casino should be like, in spirit, and something wasn't clicking here.  It was too frenzied, too chaotic, too fast paced... too many gleeful shouts of joy from big wins, too many groans of agony at big losses.
    That was aside from the various circus animals nearby.  When a tiger jumped at her, she managed to leap up in surprise and cling to Gourry's head with every limb at her disposal.
    "Mphmhpmh," Gourry said.
    "Big cat," Lina babbled.  "Big cat!  Big cat!"
    Gourry managed to pry Lina off his face enough to breathe.  "It's in some kinda cage, Lina!  Calm down."
    "Eh?" Lina asked, risking another look.  Sure enough, there was a shimmering, more or less transparent set of bars around the animal.  She relaxed a bit, hopping down from her perch.
    "That's a pretty neat idea, actually," Gourry said, tapping the cage, despite a nearby sign reading PLEASE DO NOT TAP THE CAGE.  "That way you can see the animals without stuff being in the way.  My dad took me to the circus once, but we were in the back row.  I don't think I've ever been this close to a AAHH IT'S GOT ME IT'S GOT ME--"
    "They probably should space the bars a bit closer together, though," Lina observed, as the tiger reached through to give Gourry a big 'ol hug, claws extended.
    Someone also should have hung a sign on Lina, reading PLEASE DO NOT TAP THE SORCERESS, since she turned to sock the guy who tapped her on the shoulder in a reflex action.
    The clown ducked.  "Whoahoo!  Definitely a newcomer to the Bigtop, if you're THAT jumpy, Lina Inverse!"
    Lina forced herself to relax, realized that was a contradiction in terms, and gave up.  She looked at her would be attacker.
    It's not often you find someone with a cherry red nose, bone white skin, and flaming orange hair unless they have some kind of horrible skin disease.  Clowns manage to do the same thing with makeup and not look like they have leprosy, which makes them a delight for children of all ages.  This one even had a little horn, which he honked playfully at Lina.
    "Welcome to the Bigtop Bigtop Casino!" the clown said.  "I am Chuckles, Master of Clowns.  How may I entertain you, oh jumpy little bandit-killing sorceress?"
    "You know me?" Lina asked.
    "Word does get around," the clown smiled.  Then again, the makeup ensured that he was ALWAYS smiling, but something in his tone suggested a genuine smile underneath.  "Especially for one as... interesting, shall we say, as you.  So, have you come to blow up the casino?  Or maybe just rob everybody here?"
    "What makes you think I'd do that??"
    "'Where Lina goes, chaos follows,'" Chuckles the Clown recited.  "'Evildoers beware, as well as innocent bystanders, for none escape the wildly erratic wrath of the underdeveloped bandit-stomping magic user, Lina Inverse!'"
    Lina made a fist.  Nay -- TWO fists.  "Why, I oughtta--!"
    "Na ah ah!" Chuckles warned, hopping backwards, and pointing dramatically to a sign across the room.  "House rules."
    Lina tried to peek over the heads of the crowd, reading what she could.  "'Noe Fightinge Inne The Casino Under Penaltie Of Ejectionne,'" she read.
    "We run a peaceful establishment, for what it's worth," the clown said.  "I merely was making jest, and besides, I did not write those words.  They're from a story I read once, 'Lina Inverse And The Red Priest of Doom'.  By the way, is that the fabled Gourry over there being mauled by our kitty?"
    "Huh?  OH!  Gourry!" Lina remembered.
    After prying a worse for wear Gourry away from the tiger, Lina cast a few quick Restorations on his minor injuries, and batted his cheeks to get him back to consciousness.
    "Big cat.." Gourry mumbled.  "Eh?  Wha?  Where am I?"
    "Such antics!" the clown smiled.  "Lina, your travels NEVER fail to amuse.  For now, I bid farewell."
    "Yeah, yeah, push off," Lina muttered, examining Gourry further as Chuckles cartwheeled out of sight.  "You okay, Gourry?"
    "I think so," Gourry said, fingering a few two inch deep grooves slashed into his armor.  "Boy, those things have GRIP!  I'd hate to bump into one in a dark alley.  Where's Myth?"
    "She's still trying to find the wingless," Lina said.  She noticed a nearby gambling table, and got an idea.  "So, we might as well make best use of the time... follow me."
    Lina Inverse led Gourry through the thick crowd, muscling her way to the table.
    It was a common game back in her country.  Five coins would be flipped by the 'dealer', and you bet on the final outcome of the coins, with heads being a one and tails being a two on two of the coins and heads as a zero and tails being a three on the other three coins and every other turn one coin would be removed at random based on what the value of the last round was divided by two after applying the modified rules and guidelines based on the number of players at the table and the phase of the moon along with orientation towards magnetic north.  And whoever guessed right wins all the money.  Lina remembered her math teacher using the game in school to teach basic addition and division, until the teacher was fired for winning an upwards of 300 gold from her students in the process.
    "I'm a master at this game," Lina noted for Gourry's benefit.  "We've got almost no money left, but I bet I could gamble that up to a LOT of money, and then we wouldn't have to starve!"
    "But we've got the Meals Ready To--"
    "Meals Ready To Eat IS starvation," Lina said.  "Hush.  I must concentrate and sharpen my wits."
    Okay, Lina thought.  The moon is waxing in the third phase.  We're facing... she cast a quick spell to check... east south east.  The dealer is left handed and we're on the fourth cycle of coin removal with the last value a four.  Therefore, the probability runs highest on.... six!
    Lina took her entire change purse, meager as it may be, and dropped it on the square marked 6.
    "Lina!  That's all our money!" Gourry gagged.
    "Don't worry!" Lina said, giving a little thumbs up.  "Just watch.  Within minutes, we'll have enough for a huge feast, comparable only to that of royalty!  You see, when you add up the hours of the day according to the supplementary rules, and involve--"
    "Eight!" the dealer announced, sweeping Lina's bag into the house coffers.
    "--....." Lina finished.
    "We're broke," Gourry observed the obvious.
    "We're broke," Lina repeated.
    "Wait!!  I've got it!"
    "What?  What?" Lina asked, desperately.
    "Umm... nothing," Gourry said.  "We're still broke."
    A gilded carriage rolled to a halt before the entrance to the Bigtop Bigtop.  Its sole occupant, a lady of wealth and taste, stepped out.  The carriage rolled off to who knows where, despite not having a driver to guide the horses.  Nobody commented.
    If there was one thing Angela was good at, it was making an entrance.  Many eyes fell on her elegant silvery gown, and her perfectly styled hair, watching her enter the casino, in instant jealousy.  The crowd unknowingly parted for her, gamblers pressing closer to their tables to give her more personal space, not even looking up from their cards or coins or dice.  The bar, placed off to the side of the casino, was fully occupied; nevertheless, three people felt the urge to get up and leave, giving her plenty of room to have a seat.
    Perhaps it was a waste of her powers as a Dragon to make herself this comfortable, Angela thought.  But how could she properly observe the Lina Inverse phenomenon, as she had recently nominated herself to do, if she was not comfortable?  It made no logical sense.  Sipping a glass of fine wine, complements of a bartender who didn't even remember pouring it for her, she watched the mayhem.
    Lina was there, at a table, gambling like a common human.  It wasn't an activity that the Dragons fully understood; why voluntarily throw your money away, putting faith on the law of probability to get it back to you?  Chance was rigidly and mathematically defined.  It SHOULD be.
    Something was wrong, however.
    She knew it immediately.  Chance was not very rigid here.  There were a lot of big winners, people hitting lucky sevens many times in a row, or having the ball roll into twenty four black at every spin of the wheel.  That should not be.  In addition, there were many people who could go broke in seconds, losing everything to bad luck.  Someone was affecting the well laid out laws of probability in this place, warping and distorting them...
    Was it Lina?  Or one of the wingless?  Either way, it was concerning.  She expected as much, really, what with humans having such unpredictable natures; give a human power, and you will get powerfully unpredictable natures.  A dangerous thing to the Dragons, and even to humans themselves.  Angela would have to take it into consideration in her mission...
    A scuffle broke out in the casino.  Angela levitated herself a few inches, not enough to be conspicuous, but enough to see what was going on.
    An angry, quite verbal man in a dirty coat was being thrown out of the casino.  There was some argument about harassing the other customers, and some expletives hurled, and finally the man was thrown out of the tent.
    It was a man Angela recognized.  If not his name, at least his aura...  The man peered back inside the tent angrily, and for a moment, their eyes locked.  Dragon recognized Mazoku recognized Dragon, in a flash, before the man walked away, out of sight.
    When Myth finally returned to the group, she mentioned that her friend was 'a little reluctant to go'.
    Lina fingered the jelly jar of mystic power, tucked into a pocket of her cloak, as Myth led the group upstairs, to an office on the second floor.  Lina was figuring on some resistance to this mission; if all she had to do was travel around, what use would her powers be?  Why would the Lord of Nightmares bother asking her to do this if any schmoe could?  Lina was ready for a fight, if need be, to trap the wingless and take them with her.  She should have warned Gourry of this, so he could be ready as well, but that would tip her hand early, and they were almost there...
    With every ounce of courage and magic ready on tap, Lina stepped into the office and was hugged.
    "HIEEEE!!!!!!!!" the bouncy woman squealed, glomping Lina like a l'il teddy bear.  "You must be LEEEENA!  I heard sooo much about you!  Are you really here to get all of us back together and stuff??"
    "gkk," Lina replied.
    The woman let go, and hop / skip / bounced back to her desk.  If you could paint a picture of her, it would be that of a sensible, modern businesswoman; tall, well styled hair, no-nonsense clothes.  But her expression was that of a seven year old girl in a warehouse filled with free lollipops.
    "My name is Lady!" the woman said.  "But that's only to other people.  You can call me Luck!  Lady Luck, get it, TEE HEE!  I'm excited!!"
    "Wow, you're one of those wingless people?" Gourry asked, since Lina was too stunned for comment.
    "I am I am!" Luck giggled.
    "And you own this place?  It's really swell.  I like the tigers, even if they tried to eat me."
    "Gosh golly GEE!  I'm so happy you like the place.  I wanted to make a place where people could win a lot of money and have a lot of fun!" Luck said.  "It's my pride and joy!!  And it's so colorful and it has a lot of happy clowns!!!  So Lina what do you think!!!!"
    Lina could FEEL her teeth develop cavities.
    "It's.. interesting," Lina said.  "So, um... ready to go?"
    "Well, gee, I dunno..." Luck said, her emotional coin flipping to the other side, sad and mopey.  "I really wanna, because I miss my old friends, but... I don't waaaaaanna leave my casino!  It'll be so lost without my protection!  The world is a cold dark place that hates me!  WAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!"
    Her desk blotter started to saturate from the twin jets of saline coming from her eyes.
    Fireball flinging magical maniacs or tentacled monsters.  THOSE Lina could handle.  But a grown woman bawling like a baby... she had absolutely no clue how to deal with this situation.
    "Uh, miss... I mean, Lady.. Luck," Lina said.  "It's very important that you come with us, so--"
    "Okay!!!" Luck said, her mood swinging in the opposite direction, the water bill unpaid.  "I'll go.  I guess it'll be a shame and stuff but I can just close the casino for a few weeks!  BOY this is going to be FUN!!  We'll leave tomorrow you can stay for free tonight at the casino hotel I still have some things to take care of and stuff and right now I'll go pack BYE!"
    A Luck-shaped cloud of smoke was left in the air over her chair, which was spinning from the launch speed.  She was off, presumably to go put all her worldly possessions in a suitcase.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.