...in which we fly the unfriendly skies, Lina's
strongest rival arrives on the scene, traps are
planned and set and they lived happily ever after.
By Stefan Gagne, Spoof Chase Productions.

orning came, as it usually did, shortly after dawn.  The Bigtop Bigtop Casino and Hotel was open for business again, as it was every day, every month, every year.
    Something felt different, though.
    The cries of delight and despair on the casino floor were more... muted.  Less jackpots were hit, and less people lost their shirts.  The odds of the games hadn't changed, but the chances of winning and losing were more normal now.  Now it was just an ordinary casino, not the extraordinarily surreal gambling locale for the rich elite it once was.
    "It's Luck," Myth explained, as the party exited stage left, after raiding the staff kitchen for anything resembling food.  "Her Talents kept this place swinging, and since she's sealed away right now for travel, the enchantment's gone.  She didn't make it self sustaining."
    "Doesn't seem nearly as fun without the tiger and stuff," Gourry added.
    "It's kind of sad," Lina said.  "Except that I really don't care.  She can revitalize the place when we get back.  SO!  Where are we going next?"
    Myth thought a moment.  "I think when I last saw him, he was living in a giant castle over in Ky..."
    "Chai?" Gourry asked.
    "No, Ky.  It's a sharper sound."
    "How's it spelled?" Gourry wondered.
    "K, Y."
    "Oh, you mean that stuff Aunt Belladonna used to have around when her gentleman callers gave her backrubs!" Gourry said, clueing in.  "So.. we're going to a country that makes jelly?"
    "Wait..." Lina said, realizing something.  "Ky, Ky... I've heard of that-- AAA!  That's on the New World!"
    "Yes, that's the place," Myth said.
    Lina stamped her foot.  "It's THOUSANDS of miles away, across the ocean and uncrossable mountains!  I've only ever seen it on a map.  We don't have the money, time or patience to go that far by boat, coach, foot or whatever!"
    "Maybe if we run really fast, it won't seem like as much time?" Gourry suggested, trying to be helpful.
    Now it was Myth's turn to smile.
    "That's just because the Sub Ways aren't in use anymore," she said, pleased with her contribution.  "I planned for this when we headed out to find Luck.  There's a Ways not too far from here, just a few hour's hike."
    Myth explained the Sub Ways as they traveled, through wholly unremarkable forests, towards nothing in particular.  At least, nothing obvious.
    "After the first.. well, technically the second Mazoku War, humans took a big interest in magic," she explained.  "The Dragons and Mazoku had left the world in shambles.  Something was needed to rebuild and defend humanity.  Sure, there was white magic and black magic, but those were prerecorded spells.  They were useful, but you could only do so much with spells designed for offensive attacks and defensive utility.  So, a new class of wizards rose, called Thaumatological Hackers.  Essentially, they hacked apart the solid building blocks of magic, a thing unheard of.
    "These were the ones who dared to reshape the spells to do new things.  One managed to channel the Dragon Slave into a single beam of darkness that could slice through anything for miles.  Another used a customized Restoration, specifically for repairing objects back to their original created state.  Some used white magic's healing to distort human flesh, trying to create new super humans...
    "The hackers weren't usually well liked by society.  They went outside defined lines, and did wholly dangerous things.  When a village in Sailoon was leveled in an experiment, hacker-wizards were banned from the country.  They lifted the ban later to commission an Oracle Mirror from the legendary Silverquick, a noted hacker of magic, eventually leading to a full repeal.
    "Silverquick was notable, but none were more popular, powerful or misunderstood than the commonly acknowledged master hacker.   The one above all.  His real identity, his real person, these aren't things that exist anymore.  Only the stories -- lost stories, occasionally incorrect stories -- remain to keep Merlin Giga alive."
    "Giga?" Lina asked.  "Wait.  You mean... Giga Lores, Giga Slave... the prophecy and everything else?"
    "I'm afraid I don't know much about the Giga Lores," Myth admitted.  "Those seem to have surfaced after Giga's death, and nobody fully understood what they were.  But when an accident with the Giga Slave eradicated an entire nation, all teachings of Giga were banned, and his spells were lost in a haze of misinformation.  Nowadays, few people even know that they exist.  After that, with Giga's influence on the society of wizard craftsmen gone, the hacker paradigm collapsed, and the era was over.
    "But before that mess, before Giga's disappearance, he was a master sorcerer.  He did things with magic that nobody knew possible, and he did not part with his knowledge; instead, he hoarded it, using it for great public works and utilities, but never explaining the mechanics of what he did.  He's responsible for nearly half of the ancient artifacts of power that turn up from time to time from the Golden Era of Hackers, including the Sub Ways.  Ah, we're here.  Hold on, I'll let us in, then continue..."
    Myth started to fish in her pack for something, hand hunting through the crumpled paper, spare pens and books.
    Coming to a full and complete stop, Lina looked at her surroundings.
    "I'm not impressed yet," Lina said.  "In fact, I don't see anything other than forest as far as the eye can see.  What's the big deal?"
    "You don't see it?" Myth asked, pausing.  "Look at the rocks."
    Lina studied the rocks.  Okay, there were a few lying around, almost hemispheres.  But they didn't seem to... okay, they were arranged in two groups of four, in a rough pair of brackets around an empty spot of land.  But...
    "Hey, I know what this is!" Gourry said, with a flash.  "It's a stone circle!  The fortune teller who lived down the road said there was one in the middle of town where ancient druids known as the C'oh Mutors worshipped patience.  They also sacrificed virgins."
    "Ummm... not really," Myth said.  "I mean, they were commuters and they did have to wait their turn to use the Ways, but virgins?"
    "Any story of ancient power gets a zest of intrigue when you toss in a human sacrifice," Lina said.  "You know, blood, needless waste, that sort of thing."
    "Ohh... good point," Myth recognized.  With a smile, she withdrew a small golden coin, and showed it off.  "Look, and behold!!"
    Lina squinted to read the dinky writing.  'Fare', it said.
    "So?" she asked.
    "So?" Myth repeated, confused.  "It's a Sub Way Token.  With this, you can open the Ways, and ride them.  Of course, it's only good for one trip and vanishes when you open the gate, so I had Luck enchant mine a long time ago to work over and over... illegal, but anybody who cared is dead now, so..."
    Tracing an S in the air with the coin's edge with a dramatic flick of her wrist, Myth stepped back, and waited.
    Nothing happened.
    "For a long lost magic, this really isn't very exciting," Lina commented.
    Myth traced the S a few more times, puzzled.  "Ehheh... well, it's been a long time, and nobody's maintained them in centuries-- Ah!"
    The S scratched itself into thin air, a glowing purple line that hung in space, emitting sparks of old magical malfunction.  But nevertheless, the letter did expand, becoming a circular gateway; bursting with light, then showing a dark interior.
    "Is this safe?" Lina asked.
    "Of COURSE it's safe!" Myth smiled.  "What could possibly go wrong?"
    ...thousands of miles away, an ear twitched.
    Already well on his way to Ky, Bugger felt The Question asked.  He glanced over at his traveling companion, who looked considerably better in flight, great white wings flapping slowly in the winds over the circle sea.  He just looked like a human cannon ball.
    "What is it?" Angela asked, noticing the strange look.
    "Seems our little bardlet's gone and challenged me," Bugger grinned.  "'ang on, I'll be right back."
    The Mazoku winked out of existence, a brief moment, before returning.  He looked concerned.  He didn't look concerned before.  It was concerning.
    "What now?" Angela asked.
    "I buggered 'er up, no problem, but..." he said, thinking of how best to break the news.  "We're wasting our time flying.  You're never going to believe what I found tucked away where nobody would look."
    "Don't tell me," Angela sighed.  "The wingless has led them to some long lost toy of human design."
    "The Ways," Bugger grumbled.  "Bleeding things caused us a lot of headaches way back when.  They're going to arrive before we do.  I can only pop around when challenged, so we can't go back and use 'em..."
    The Dragon tapped her chin, posing in thought as she flew.  "The humans rediscovering their dangerous toys.  The wingless arising, their bizarre Talents beyond our magic.  This is not boding well."
    "We'll get 'em, missy," Bugger said, clenching a dirty fist.  "One way or another, we'll get the mortal bastards.  This is OUR world, and our war.  Humans was just apes gone smart."
    The Ways were dim.
    Myth walked around, flicking tiny green globes with her fingers, trying to bring them back to life.  A few did, casting an eerie green light around the chamber, but not nearly as much as the original designer had intended.
    Still, it was enough to soak in the ambiance of magical power.  The chamber was a marvel of efficiency.  Is making a sign to put those words on and a stand to hold up the sign too much trouble?  Write the words on the air.  Can't light them just right?  They can glow.  Who needs walls?  Let them gaze into an unending void, and put up some metal rails to prevent them from walking into it; and who needs to hold the rails up?  Put them in their place magically, and they'll be solid as the mountains.
    The circular chamber, domed by a hemisphere of green globe lamps, was organized around a central platform, capable of fitting a medium sized coach or a group of people for transport.  Strange looking chairs were placed at each corner of... of the circle, good for people who wanted to ride in style.  Controls were nearby, highlighting possible destinations.  You rode until you chose to return to the waking world.  That was the Way.  All aboard.
    A simple, purple-lit sign read SAILOON STATION, greeting them as they entered.
    "Okay.  NOW I am impressed," Lina said, glancing around.
    "It's really colorful..." Gourry said, poking at a green light.  It floated a little, but wobbled back into place right away.  "How old is this place?"
    "Centuries," Myth said simply.
    "You had some problems getting in," Lina observed, facing Myth, who was busy fiddling with the controls of the transporter.  "Are you sure this stuff is going to work?"
    "Merlin Giga built them well.  They should hold for another thousand years," Myth explained.  "My token's probably the thing losing power.  The Sub Ways were key to helping mankind grow and expand in the era of hacker magic.  Without it, chances are people wouldn't have recovered from the war.... with travel around the world too difficult by ship or road to allow global commerce and communication, humanity was moving slow.  Too slow, Merlin Giga thought, and with the agreement of many nations, he set about to create a network of magical gateways, that within a short number of stops, could get you to the major cities of the time... oh, good, a map."
    Myth gestured to a large design, which Lina had first assumed to be some kind of abstract art; but the shapes were recognizable.
World Map : http://pixelscapes.com/slayers/map.gif
    "Whoa!  This thing covers the whole WORLD?" Lina asked.  "Most people don't even get off their home continent..."
    "Time were different once," Myth said.  "When the era ended, your northeastern continent locked itself off from the world with a barrier.  You guys destroyed the barrier by accident some years ago, right?  I remember writing about it in 'Lina Inverse and the Bible Quest.'"
    Gourry's jaw dropped.  He stabbed a finger at the map, poking the little purple light marking Testabourne.  "Holy cow, that's the city I grew up in!  So the stone circle there is really one of these gateway things?"
    "You're catching on fast," Lina remarked.
    "It's not that hard to understand," Gourry said proudly.  "I just wonder how those virgin sacrificing druids managed to make all this.  I guess they were really patient."
    "Gourry!!  The druids didn't.... no.  I'm not even bothering this time," Lina said aloud.  "Okay.  Enough chit chat.  It's neat and powerful and cool yadda yadda, now how do we get to Ky and bag the second wingless?"
    "Umm..." Myth said, tracing a path with her finger.  "We're at Sailoon's gate now... we'll link up to Zefielia--"
    "MY home country has a gate?" Lina gasped.  "Cooool!  I can track down mom and dad when we're done the quest and let them know how amazingly successful and famous I am!"
    "Oh, I'm sure they've heard about the cities you've destroyed by now," Gourry commented.
    Myth continued, while Lina tried to pull Gourry's ears off.  "Uh.. um.  At any rate.. we pass through Zefielia, into Nahao which doesn't technically exist any more as a nation, but that's okay since the Way Station is still there, and link finally over the mountains and into Ky."
    "Great plan," Lina said, letting Gourry's torture drop for the time being.  "How long will the trip take?"
    "Three stops, soo... with astral drag and transmission allotment, it'd beeee... nearly instantaneous," Myth said.
    Lina grinned, and hopped onto the platform, having a seat in one of the comfy chairs.  She pulled an in-flight magazine she had noticed in a side pocket out, and flipped through it.  "Hey, this issue is four hundred years old!  What a gyp."
    Gourry was glancing at his, too.  "'In the event of transspatial dislocation sickness, put your head between your legs and chant, There's No Place Like Home...'"
    Entering final destination information into the panel, Myth assumed her seat too.  "All set.  You guys MAY feel a bit... out of sorts, but that's normal.  Don't worry."
    "Out of sorts how?" Lina asked--
    --STREEEEEEEEEETCCHCHHHHHHHIHIIIIIINNGGNGNGGGGGG across a span of reality not meant to be pulled through like taffy in a puller as she was simultaneously in two places at once and felt the impossibility of it all--
    ...thousands of miles away, an ear twitched.
    Paradox, sitting in his workroom of time and space (for these were like mixing chemicals to him, and he would experiment from time to time to develop better means of control) thought he heard an ancient tearing at the fabric of dimensions.  A call that annoyed the hell out of him at one time, when it was popular to use the Sub Ways for travel, which he always meant to shut down for offending his sensibilities but never got around to--
    Someone was using the Sub Ways again!
    NOBODY knew about the Sub Ways anymore.  Nobody except the wingless, who had exceptional memory.  Even the Mazoku and Dragons didn't use them, since such toys were beneath them as human creations.  (Plus none of them had a token, since non-humans couldn't buy them, which was more likely the real reason.)  That meant...
    "She's moving fast," Paradox muttered.
    A voice behind him cleared his throat.  "And who might that be?" Xelloss asked, from his glass prison.
    "None of your business," Paradox passed off.  He'd have to report this.  His partner would want to know.
    --and pulled and pulled until the pulling stopped.
    Lina jerked to a halt, sweating and generally a surprised mess.
    "WOW!  That was fun!" Gourry said.  "Hey, can we do that again sometime?"
    "Did we even go anywhere?" Lina asked, glancing around.  The station seemed exactly the same!  Except...
    A simple, purple-lit sign read KY STATION, greeting them.
    "Yep, we're here," Lina said, hopping to her feet.  "Okay, Myth.  Now, where does.... Myth?"
    Lina looked at the chair that once held Myth.  All that was there now was a handful of dirt, scratchy and brown.  Smelly.
    The two leaned in close, examining the pile of topsoil.  Sinking feelings abounded.
    "Where'd she go?" Gourry asked.
    "Something's wrong," Lina said.  "Maybe the Ways got screwed up, and sent her to the wrong place... or maybe... she could be dead, Gourry.  Magical travel has some real drawbacks when it goes wonky."
    "But.. but she was such a nice person," Gourry said.  "Nice people don't die in stupid ways.  They die in good ways.  I mean, they SHOULD... no.  She can't be gone, simple as that.  Can't you do something?"
    "I've got absolutely no idea how to use this machine, Gourry," Lina said.
    "You've got to be able to do something.  You're a sorceress," Gourry said.  "You can make fire and throw ice and bring back the dead and stuff.  It's all magic, right?"
    "I know.. spells," Lina said.  "Sometimes I can make a little spell up, but..."
    "Isn't that the same?"
    Lina shook her head.
    That was why that era had all these fantastic inventions.  People swerved outside the safe and easy spells, to make new, wild magic.  Stuff that took a sharp left turn from the known.  In a rush, Lina felt... incapable.  What did she know?  She knew the basics of funneling power, she knew the cookbook recipes to make fire and ice and bring back the dead... what else?  She could improvise a little.  Just a little.  That was all most sorcerers knew.  What use was she here, facing something that supposedly was magic, but worked in a way totally alien to her?
    No.  Panicking and worrying wouldn't solve this.  Lina thought better instead of harder.
    How did those wizards of the era deal with things they didn't understand?  Everybody gets in on the bottom rung in magic, no matter what kind of magic.  When dealing with unknowns, you experiment.  With a little luck and a lot of wits and a spot of cleverness, the knowledge unfolds for you... or all that's left of you is a pair of smoking boots, but that's just the nature of the game.
    "Might as well try," Lina concluded.  She poked the nearest light on the control panel, and a list of functions popped up.
    Gourry peeked over her shoulder, to see what was going on.  "So you can bring her back?"
    "You've got me," Lina said, browsing the menu.  "But even a hacker has to start somewhere... maybe I can rig this thing to pull her out.  She saved our bacon back at the Bigtop Bigtop, the least we can do is return the favor."
    Asleep, but not sleeping.  Dreaming awake.  Floating in a limbo of her own design...
    Myth wasn't fully aware of where she was, or who she was.  She felt disconnected, off in.. her mind?  Another world?  Lost, regardless of where.  How did she get here?
    Chuckling, sharp and crystal clear, echoed in her ears.
    "Hello?" Myth said, or at least thought she said.  "Where am I?"
    "You don't know?" a voice dripped, black oil on dirt.  "Amazing.  It's been long, I admit, but not THAT long, Myth..."
    Shivers ran up Myth's spine, far worse than them running down her spine.  Up meant it went straight to her brain.  "I know you..."
    "I wonder how it is you got here?  An accident, perhaps?  How niiice," the voice said, smiling with waves of teeth.  "I'm coming for your little friends, you know.  I have plans.  Paradox already has the way prepared.  I'm so happy you could join me this soon.  Now I can take care of that loose end, right here and now..."
    Myth wasn't sure exactly who started screaming, but she felt it might've been herself.
    "What the hell is a 'General Protection Fault'?" Lina wondered aloud.
    "Maybe it means that it generally failed to protect something," Gourry said.
    Lina pulled at her hair.  "They COULD have documented this thing, or made it easier to use!  Best I can figure... maybe I shouldn't bother explaining it to you, Gourry, this is way over your head."
    Gourry recalled something.  "Actually, I think you should anyway.  I remember my Aunt Koirry liked to talk to me about things even if I didn't understand, because she said by saying them aloud, it helped her think about them."
    "That's... actually a pretty good idea," Lina remarked.  "Okay... take a look.  There's a space that the Ways use to store things called a 'buffer', a midpoint between two linked Stations.  We got through the Zefielia and Nohao stations just fine, according to the security logs I somehow managed to find... but inbetween Nohao and Ky, Myth got stuck at the midpoint.  See this flashing red point of light?"
    "Uh-huh," Gourry said blankly.
    "Red usually means 'danger'.  Whatever went wrong went wrong there, and that means if Myth is anywhere, that's probably it," Lina said.  "I could be wrong, but assuming I'm right, it's just a matter of forcing this thing to take what's in the buffer, and move all of it over here.  With me?"
    "No.  But keep going."
    "All I need to do is find the command that'll do an emergency transmission," Lina said, continuing to try and pick items off the menus on the screen.  "Which is proving to be pretty hard.  Every time I try to pick an advanced function, it asks for a password.  It's a sequence of five numbers, so I figure since Merlin Giga designed this, he'd have maybe turned a word into the numbers that relates to his magic... but nothing's working.  What are those blasted numbers??"
    "Have you tried '12345'?" Gourry asked.
    "Don't be stupid, Gourry, nobody would use such an obvious password," Lina said right before Gourry reached around her, typed in 1-2-3-4-5 and unlocked the advanced menu, the option for EMERGENCY BUFFER TRANSMISSION blinking red and ready.
    "..." Lina said.
    "See, I figure, a smart guy would go 'Other smart people would just say that 12345 is stupid and won't try it', so... that's gotta be what it is," Gourry said.  "Did I get it right?"
    "Yes... yes, you did," Lina confirmed.  "Um.  Thanks."
    "Aww, don't mention it," Gourry said proudly.
    Lina tapped the red button.
    A silent explosion flooded the chamber, as the platform jerked every bit of matter in its allocated space through the bonds of reality, depositing it not so neatly inside the circle--
    A snarling, malformed shape of black power had Myth in a strong grip, choking the life out of her.  In the low light, it was wholly impossible to make out what the thing was.  Maybe it was man-like, but...
    Gourry was already on the scene, Sword of Light activated and ready.  He sliced neatly through the appendages holding Myth above the ground, and she fell; the severed darkness flowed off her body, clumping back into the main shape, which howled in rage, and turned to face Gourry.
    "OFF!  EVERYBODY OFF THE PLATFORM!" Lina yelled, waving madly.  Myth rolled to the side, away from the Sub Way platform; Gourry jumped backwards, swiping at the thing's arm, as it came for him.  Once both were safely away, Lina spotted the EMERGENCY BUFFER STORAGE button, and pressed it.
    A silent implosion flooded the chamber, sucking the monster back to wherever it came from.  Then all was genuinely silent.
    Myth fought to catch her breath, now that she was somewhere with oxygen.  She felt content to sit down, recovering, skin white and eyes wide..
    "What was that thing?!" Gourry asked, keeping his sword ready, in case it came back.
    "Ni... Nii.." Myth started.  Swallow.  "Nightmare."
    "The Lord of Nightmares??" Lina asked.
    "No.. Nightmare," Myth said.  "Nightmare of the wingless.  The one that CAUSED the fall from the heavens..."
    Long pause.
    "Please tell me he isn't the one we came to Ky to fetch," Lina said quietly.
    "No, no.. he's someone else.  Definitely someone else."
    "Ooookay.  We'll deal with Mr. Happy Face there sometime.. MUCH later," Lina suggested.  "For now, how about a breather before we go looking for our next catch?"
    Nobody had any objections.
Click to continue...
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.