o, though the brave adventurers did set forth towards the castle.  And as they approached it, their skin did crawl with goosebumps, a prickling static in the air unlike any they had felt before.
    "The hell is this?" Lina inquired.
    "It feels like a Talent.." Myth realized.  "Drama must keep a field of dramatic energy around his home at all times.
    "A what?"
    "From what I remember... his Talent is to make life more interesting," Myth said.  "More wild and strange in ways that make life really... cool?  This is hard to explain, but..."
    "Hark, fair Lina!  I see the target of our quest ahead!!" Gourry said, pointing at the large castle that lurked in the mists of mystery.  "Give good cheer, for the journey is near end!"
    "...I think I see what you mean," Lina said.  "Gourry?  Are you feeling okay?"
    "Why, never better, good sorceress.  Why do you ask?"
    "Because you're talking like a dashing swordsman out of an early fable, that's why!" Lina pointed out.
    "Honestly?" Gourry asked, surprised.  "I have not detected anything strange in mine speech.  Whateverfor could you mean?"
    "I don't think Gourry's mind is strong enough to resist it," Lina said.  "We're going to have to try hard to avoid turning into the sort of people that could conceivably swing across the room on ropes with knives between our teeth, gesturing at things and giving longwinded speeches.  Now, onward towards victory!!"
    Myth gave forth a sound of minor discomfort.  "Ah.. yeah.  Victory.  Got it."
    In the dark Castle of Doom, wherein the very shadows elongate with the passing of the hours in ways most unsettling, newfold horrors are being developed in secret rooms in which secret men plot their devilish ways.
    "This will not do!!" the lord of the keep howled, overturning a table covered with easily breakable objects, which shattered on the floor in loud mannerisms.
    His hired lackey, the one and only Naga the White Serpent, agreed.  "Lina Inverse has gone too far.  She tricked me into thinking she had retired then when I finally obtain work, here she is again on some big journey!  We must punish her for trying to leave behind her strongest and most powerful rival and ally!!"
    "Whatmore, she dares to impede on my domain," Lord Drama said, pacing his throne room, cloak a-swirl behind him.  "I will not be returned to the Lord of Nightmares for whatever punishments she continues to seek.  Have we wingless not fallen far enough?  I have found a niche in this world of humans, and none shall remove me from it!  If I must, I will seek the council of the dark one of dreams to prevent this!!"
    "There is no need to go so far as that, my lord," Naga said.  "For I have devised a trap of such cunning that not even the sorceress Lina Inverse will be able to escape it!"
    "You have?" Drama asked.  He settled into his throne, one arm firmly on each armrest, fetching a nearby flagon of mead.  "Tell me of this trap, so that I may partake in its genius, Naga!  You have been a valuable asset so far in the cause of Drama."
    "Thank you, my lord by hire," Naga said, bowing in honor.  "And, OBSERVE!!"
    Thunder roared outside, despite a lack of thunderstorm, as a table arose from the floor, hidden until now.  Upon it, rolled in scroll form, was Naga's Plan.  She snatched it from the surface, letting it unfurl with glamour and style.
    "MY PLAN!" Naga announced.  "First, I will have several hundred of the Faceless Minions attack them in the lobby..."
    The mighty gates of the Castle of Doom were felled in a single blow from the genius sorceress, Lina Inverse; a blast of power suitable for rocking the terrible castle, dust unsettling from every surface as the iron doors went a-crash into the lobby.
    "Ah... I didn't think they'd make that much noise," Lina admitted, slightly embarrassed.  "So much for the stealthy approach."
    "I prefer a stand up fight!" Gourry announced, drawing his sword.  Light glinted off the blade's surface, a sharp sparkle that went PINNGGGG... audibly.  "Bring on the evil hordes!  My trusty blade has seen me through worse days than this, indeed!!"
    Uttering a war cry of the ancient Testabourne honored warriors, Gourry stampeded into the dark antechamber.
    "Maybe while whatever's in there is eating him, we can go bag Drama," Lina asided to Myth.
    "I... think I'll sit this one out," Myth said.  "Stay off to the side and write.  Um.  You don't mind, right?"
    "Considering you don't know magic and would probably fall over if you tried to swing a broadsword?  No, not at all," Lina said.  "But stay upwind, it's probably going to get messy."
    Lina skulked into the castle, taking her time.  Her partner stood in the center of the room, beckoning the nonexistent enemy.
    "Cowards!" Gourry declared, shaking his mighty forearm in taunt.  "Show your yellow backs, curs, so that I may strike thee down!  We are here to take your lord and master, and none shall stand in the path of our holy quest, as mandated by the Lord of Nightmares herself!!"
    "But if you want to stay hiding, it would make our jobs easier," Lina added.
    And in response, a laugh seemed to float out of the dark shadows of the stonework itself...
    A figure in black, stylish and beautiful, arise from a balcony on the second floor, to look down upon the adventurers.
    "How easily you walk into my trap, Lina Inverse!!" Naga the White Serpent declared.  "Perhaps at one time we were allies, but today, this is no more!  I will not go easy on you or your errant knight!"
    "'tis words of battle, yet I will persevere!" Gourry responded, voice most manly.  "As too I feel it to be tragic that one-time friends must be pitted 'gainst each other in the field of battle, so be it!  As the winds of change sweep in ways most foul, such things as--"
    "Time out!  Stop the music!" Lina said, making a T shape with her hands.  "Naga?  Gourry?  Have you BOTH lost your minds?  Look, we can work this out.  Just let us talk with Drama about what's going on, and see if he wants to come with us.  There's no need for any of this stupidity."
    "My lord Drama has already decided on such matters," Naga said.  "And he has decided against.  Will you leave the property quietly, or shall you be destroyed here and now?"
    Lina groaned.  "Okay, fine.  C'mon, Gourry, let's book and think up some new strat--"
    "We shall never stand down in our eternal vigilance!!" Gourry declare, closing a fist in power.  "Gourry the Bold will overcome any obstacle you might rain down upon us, White Serpent.  I dare thee!"
    "GOURRY!" Lina yelled.  "Shut up!"
    "VERY WELL!" Naga spoke.  "Guards!  SEIZE THEM!"
    And from every entranceway, every hiding place, every nook and cranny they came; scores of armed men, each wearing the finery of the House of Drama, as well as helmets that concealed their identities.  They advanced on the pair, weapons drawn, ready to do battle.
    "Oh.. goody," Lina said.  "Faceless Minions.  No, I guess it wasn't complete without a couple zillion of those..."
    "HRRRAAH!" Gourry shouted, as he charged into battle.  Swords clashed on swords, sparks kicked up, enough to set a thousand fires of righteousness ablaze with the fury of a warriors honor!
    Lina was too busy climbing the tapestries to worry about it.  She kicked off against the wall, landing on the balcony to face Naga.
    "You're under the influence of the castle, aren't you?" Lina asked.  "That's why you're acting... well, no, you usually act like an idiot.  But this is a bit much, even for you."
    "Hark and beware, Lina!  I will never let you pass!" Naga declared, drawing her sizable blade.  "HAVE AT THEE!"
    Lina was confused.  "What, you want a swordfight?  Come on, Naga, that's not how sorceresses duel."
    "Draw thine weapon, or I will strike thee down in your cowardice!" Naga requested.
    "Oh, fine, whatever," Lina grumbled, taking her butterfly sword out of the scabbard.  "Let's get this over with already."
    And so, the battle raged; brother against brother, friend against friend!  A clash of titans!  Of...
    No, no.
    This wasn't working.  Myth, in her hidey hole, kept trying to write the scene of sharp metal being swung around like so many dead cats and couldn't get words down that didn't sound horribly cheesy.  Drama was screwing up her writing ability, instead of her mind.
    She'd have to simply remember everything in hindsight once they were away from the castle, and write it down then.  Myth didn't like to overdo a story.  The trick, she saw, was to put in enough hooks -- a fight between friends, a couple hundred bad guys in one room, and so on -- hooks that other people would pick up on and amplify.  Occasionally, while traveling, she'd overhear two people in a bar talking about this guy who once had his leg bitten off by a crocodile.  When Myth wrote that story, it had only been his toe because it really had only been his toe.  Humanity took care of half of her job for her, really.
    If she kept writing like this, though, she'd get an unbelievable tale, which would become a WHOLLY unbelievable tale after being passed around.  That would ruin her book about Lina.  No, better to do these things with a calm mind.  Besides, she wouldn't be able to write with her hands tied behind her back like this.
    "Aaaa!" Myth yelped, realizing just now that she was being hauled away by a couple of the Faceless Minions.  (One of the many dangers of thinking too hard when you're busy trying to avoid being killed in battle.)
    "Lord Drama has plans for you, bardess!" the guard announced.
    Swordplay was not Lina's forte.  She was better than most, but not nearly a master.  Fortunately, the White Serpent was neither.
    "You have improved, Lina Inverse!" the White Serpent said, in what was probably the seventeenth dramatic sword-lock-together-pause-so-they-could-taunt-each-other.
    "No I haven't," Lina said.  "I haven't even been practicing!"
    Naga shoved away from Lina, assuming a battle stance.  "However you may claim your own superiority, the fight is still mine!"
    "What are you TALKING about-- HEY!" Lina yelled, as the felt her sword yanked cleanly out of her hands by a weaving of air.  "You're not supposed to steal someone's sword with magic, you putz!"
    "OOOOOHHOOHOHHOOO!!  You're so naive, Lina!" the White Serpent laughed, catching the smaller blade by its handle.  "In battle, the clever mind and those strong of might are the victors!  If you want your precious blade back, follow me!"
    Naga the White Serpent then twirled, and dashed down a nearby corridor, cape fluttering behind her.
    Lina took off, in hot pursuit.  "Naga, even if you are under weird mind control... I'm gonna wring your neck!!" she promised, and followed her quarry into a large room, stepping into--
    The net swung sharply upwards, snaring Lina and hauling her twenty feet into the air before she could react.  Below, Naga started a mighty laugh.
    "OOHOHOHOHHOOHOO!  You fell for such an easy trap!  Just as I had expected of you," she said.
    "Whee, a net.  Big deal," Lina said, readying a fire spell to cut the ropes.  The flames licked the silvery cord, and... nothing happened.
    "Ah, but can the master sorceress escape a net woven with fibers of Orihalcion?" Naga asked.  "Your magic is negated, your army defeated!  Even now, your knight is being overwhelmed by my forces, and your bard has been captured!  Your travels have come to and end!!"
    Lina sulked inside the net.  "Well, this bites.  So what now, Naga?"
    "My Lord wishes a word with you before your demise," Naga said.
    Then she realized.
    The Villain explains all of his plans to the newly conquered heroine.  Then the heroine goes into the easily escapable deathtrap and is left alone...
    "Okay," Lina said, smiling with all teeth.  "Let's go meet him."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.