n Testabourne, where the weather is clement and the people are honest as the day is long, there is a saying.  "You can always go home again."  Yes, they heard that usually the phrase went 'never go home' but didn't understand why, when family was where the heart was; and the food, and the bed, and the money, and the chores, and the values and such.
    The Sub Way ride over to the country was uneventful.  Myth was extremely hesitant to use the Ways again, after her last encounter.  The only person who could convince her was Lina, who apparently now knew more about the Ways than Myth did, who just rode them without trying to fiddle with them.  She demonstrated how there wasn't a buildup of improper matter in the flow buffer as spot-checked along the network links and route-traced back to their point of origin.  Myth had no clue what any of that meant, but figured Lina knew best, and off they went.  Large beasts failed to show up along the way.
    As predicted, the Sub Way Station for Testabourne let off in the middle of a stone circle, placed off to the side of a city park.  Quaint little cottages and small businesses lined the paved streets, with horses going cloppity-clop along the way.
    Gourry inhaled the faint smell of sea air.  "Ah.... home," he said, relaxing immediately.  "New Piper's Cove.  It's good to be back.  I left when I was fifteen, you know."
    "It's been awhile, then," Lina said.  "Do you think anybody will recognize you?"
    "Hello, Gourry!" a passing pedestrian called out, waving.
    Politely, Gourry waved back.  "Hi, Mrs. Radinov!  How's the fortune telling business?"
    "Oh, it'll be going strong for the next six years until the fire," Mrs. Radinov simply said.
    "That's nice.  I'll see you later, okay?"
    And the gypsy woman walked off.
    "..." Lina said.
    And that wasn't the first one.  A butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker were next up, each exchanging brief greetings with Gourry, as if no time had passed.
    "Eating well, then?" the butcher asked.
    "Oh, definitely.  I've been having Meals Ready to Eat lately."
    "That's not very good nutrition," the baker responded.  "Come by the shop later, I'll get you some good bagels and cream cheese.  Anything for my old newspaper boy!"
    "So, who are your lady friends?" the candlestick maker inquired.
    "Oh, this is Lina.  She's a sorceress.  And that's Myth, she's a bardess."
    "Lotta 'esses," the butcher guffawed.  "Ha!  Definitely foreigners, then.  You're here for Koirry-san's wake, then?"
    "Uh-huh.  Are you attending?"
    "Attending?  I'm providing the pork cutlets!  It's going to be a full spread of all her favorites."
    "Really?  Even the marinated ones?  I LOVE those!"
    And so the conversation degenerated into extremely small talk, until all of them parted ways, business to attend to.  Gourry kept his smile up, genuinely happy to be back.
    "Ah.. a very... friendly people," Myth said.  "I don't think I've been in Testabourne recently."
    "Really?  When was your last visit?"
    "About... two hundred years ago," Myth said.  "It's progressed a lot.  I wasn't allowed to tell any stories here last time because I was a girl."
    "Ummmm..." Gourry said, thinking.  "That's actually still a law.  At last check.  I don't think the Bard's Guild would give you a temporary work pass.  You could tell stories on a non-paying basis, though, from what I remember."
    "What about sorceresses?" Lina asked, curiously.
    "Same thing.  But don't worry, it's not like this place doesn't like women working or anything," Gourry defended.  "Mrs. Radinov's got a great fortune telling business.  And there's Osono the cook, and a few maids I know, and some waitresses..."
    "I get the picture," Lina said.  "We're going to draw a lot of attention dressed like this, aren't we?"
    "What makes you say that?"
    "The strange looks I've been getting-- there's one now," Lina said, indication someone walking by, carrying groceries.  It wasn't much, just a side glance which happened to linger a few moments too long for comfort... and then eyes back on the sidewalk in front of him, like nothing happened.  "I take it seeing a sword and wizard's outfit or a bard's costume on women is an oddity?"
    "Don't worry, don't worry," Gourry insisted.  "We'll be with my family most of the time.  And they're not like most folks.  They're nice to everybody!  Except Dad."
    "I'm telling you, the reason why the economy is down is because those Atlas City bastards keep sending their poor down here begging for jobs when they should be sticking where they belong!" Mr. Gabriev ranted, little specks of foam forming at his mouth.  "We should just stuff 'em all into oxcarts and ship them back upstream where they belong, with the rest of--"
    "Oh, you don't mind Father, dear," Mrs. Gabriev smiled sweetly at Lina.  "Would you like more lemonade?"
    Family life was scaring Lina.
    Her family was never... normal.  Her dad was a traveling salesman, and the most she really remembered about him was that he had a mustache and smelled like wagon parts.  Mother was a city councilwoman, and tended to be off doing civic duties, leaving raising Lina mostly up to her older sister.  Plus, there was magic practice, and small quests to get herself in practice for later in life...
    The first thing that struck Lina upon entering the Gabriev household was a plant.  Literally, because hanging ferns were EVERYWHERE, and she didn't duck in time before noticing one.  Apparently, Gourry's mother had a green thumb of sorts, and horticulture figured greatly in the decorations.  The house almost was a jungle.
    Despite that, the furniture was so... CLEAN.  Spotless.  The sofas had not a crumb or fleck of lint, the shelves were dusted, the lemonade glass sparkled.  Even the dirt in the plant potters was clean.  You could almost smell the soap, through the thick odor of fern, and the occasional pocket of smoke from one of Mr. Gabriev's cigars.
    Plus, Lina had to cope with Mr. Gabriev's occasional insanely paranoid rant ("You know the government is keeping us from allocating tax money to cheese fermentation where it belongs? The bastards!"), and crushingly cheerful housewifey hostessdom from Mrs. Gabriev ("Oh golly gee, we're so happy to see you!  Do you want a homemade oatmeal cookie?")
    Gourry fit in like a round peg in a round hole.  He was already on this third glass of lemonade, and so far he hadn't even acknowledged his father's rumblings.  And what's more, he was happily describing everything they were doing in frightening detail.
    "So it seemed that there was this giant black monster inside the Sub Ways, and it was trying to kill Myth here.  But I cut its arms off and Lina sent it away," he said, in an uppity tone you might use to describe recent game of baseball.
    "That's nice, dear," Mrs. Gabriev said, refilling Gourry's glass.  "So, Miss Myth, you're one of the first beings that ever existed in the world?  That must be a very interesting occupation for a young lady, donchaknow.  You must get to travel a lot!"
    "Uh... uhh..." Myth babbled.  She lost her grip on the situation a half hour ago.
    "Female bards!" Mr. Gabriev foamed.  "What's next, giving command of an entire sailing ship over to a teenager or something weird like that?  SAUSAGES!  I WANT SAUSAGES, MILDRED!"
    Lina leaned over, to whisper to Mrs. Gabriev, casting a few nervous glances at the elder Gabriev.  "Uh.. is he okay?"
    "Who, Father?" Mrs. Gabriev asked, at a normal conversational volume.  "Oh ya!  He's just had a wee bit too many of his pills today.  Normally, he's much more talkative, yaknow."
    Gourry munched on a cookie.  "Mmm!  You've sure got a way with asparagus and cookie dough, mom."
    "I knew they were your favorite," Mrs. Gabriev glowed.
    Lina felt vaguely ill.
    "So, what are the arrangements for Aunt Koirry's wake?" Gourry asked, casually.
    "Weeeell, we got most of the family together.  Couple of your cousins couldn't make it, and your sister's off with Adam who knows where, but I bet she's happy, so that's good.  Most of your aunts and uncles will be here.  Oh, if only your Grandpa Raudy -- mayherestinpeace -- could be here to see this.  Or Grandpa Mortimer."
    "Ma, Gramp Mortimer isn't dead.  He was just sleepy."
    "Oh!  Oh, how my mind wanders," Mrs. Gabriev giggled.  "I forgot, he's going to be there, ya."
    "I was wondering... can I deliver the eulogy?" Gourry asked.  "I'm not much of a writer, but maybe I could say something good for Aunt Koirry.  We were pretty close."
    "Ya, you were.. I remember you always liked to spend time over at Aunt Koirry's when she lived in town."
    "Ma, she never moved out of New Piper's Cove," Gourry reminded.
    "Oh deary me!  I had forgotten.  Ya!  Uncle Ned bought her house, yaknow.  Probably going to put up a family shrine there or something..."
    Lina started looking for the nearest exit.
    It wasn't that Gourry's family was mean, or unpleasant to be around.  It was just... weird.  Weird to her, since she never really saw family as being much other than a few people who happen to be living together, and here was Gourry rapping away with his mother as if nobody else in the room existed.  Lina felt like a fifth wheel.  Maybe coming along to the wake wasn't the best of ideas--
    "So, Lina, are you Gourry's new girlfriend?" Mrs. Gabriev said, from out of a blue so blue that you could hurt your eyes just looking at it.
    Lina, who had poured enough lemonade down her throat to be feeling severe bladder discomfort, came very close to losing control.  "What?!"
    Gourry turned slightly red.  "Uh, mom--"
    "Oh, he was quite a ladies' man in his early days!  Such a handsome boy," Mrs. Gabriev said, patting Gourry on the head.  "Why, girls were lined up around the block to hit the town with him!  He didn't do much actual dating, yaknow, but he always was so polite with them.  Are you two going steady?"
    Lina talked without thinking.  "NO!  We've just been going on quests for the last few years, not--"
    "Oooh, partners, then!" Mrs. Gabriev said.  "I always said that was the right way for Gourry to go, off to find his fortune with a nice girl to help him along the way, just like that very nice whatsername.  Isn't that right, dear?"
    "Stupid newspapers wouldn't believe me, but it was ALIENS, I tell you!" Mr. Gabriev blurted, not exactly connected to this plane of reality at the moment.
    "Well, your father agrees, in spirit," Mrs. Gabriev concluded.
    "Whoa.  Hold!  Stop!  Halt!" Lina demanded, waving her arms madly.  "Gourry and I aren't dating or going steady or an item or partners!  He's just traveling with me for... look, we go on adventures for profit and fun, and.. that's it!  Is that clear?"
    "Oh ya, definitely clear," Mrs. Gabriev said, her smile unchanging.  "So, have you kissed yet?"
    "AAAAAA!!!!" Lina yelled, little veins starting to stick out on her forehead.  "I SAID, we are not dating!  What part of 'not' didn't you get?!"
    "Ne, Lina, Lina, calm down!  It's okay, mom didn't mean any insult..." Gourry said, trying to coax Lina's blood pressure down to normal levels.  "Um.  I think I'll go show Myth and Lina around town now!  Mom, can you make sure the guest room is ready for Myth -- and Lina -- when we get back?"
    "Ya, sure.  Have fun, girls!" Mrs. Gabriev smiled.
    "I'm scared of small birds and gravity," Mr. Gabriev said quietly in farewell.
    A sphere of magic, patterns of light swirling across its surface like refracted light from a soap bubble, cruised across the great circle sea at speeds which would crush most men.
    But the human occupant of the bubble wasn't concerned of a little thing like converting your internal organs to paste.  She was busy rubbernecking, looking at the amazing landscape, and this amazing spell.
    "WOW!  I didn't know Raywing could have such power!" Amelia said for the fifteenth time that day.  "Whenever I use it, the best I can do is a form fitting shield and a speed much slower than this.  Dragons must be really powerful!"
    "Yes, we are," Angela replied, a little tired of Amelia's enthusiasm.
    Perhaps she went overboard this time.  Although Amelia was ideal, in that her desire to help Lina outmatched that of the rest fo the human population, she was.. irritating.  Cute.  No style or glamor, simply excessive spunk and adorable naivety.  This was the pawn she had chosen to play?
    And what's more, she had to show a FAILING in front of this human.  They were cruising hard and fast, headed for Ky, which was where Lina was last seen according to the Dragon's network of information gathering persons.  But now, she was also being reported in Testabourne!  Angela received notification telepathically, and had to change course, nearly doubling back completely.  Such a waste of time, and to show that she was not 100% in control of the situation when she needed that aura of mysterious power...
    But Amelia hadn't noticed the error.  There were a few 'Are we there yet?' protests, and Angela was considering threatening to turn this bubble right back around if she didn't stay quiet, but otherwise it was running smooth.
    "So, how should I find Lina?" Amelia asked.
    "I'm sure she will stick out in Testabourne," Angela said.  "Women with swords or sorceress costumes tend to be obvious there.  You may want to consider going in plain clothes."
    "In Cog Nee To again!  Oh boy!"
    "Then, when the time is right, use the powers I have granted you to help you sneak Lina away from her bad influences.  I will take you both to Sailoon, where we can work together to fix her," Angela said, truthfully.
    "I'm excited!" Amelia said.  "Hey, can a Dragon send a message to someone?  I want Dayvid to know I'm okay.  He's probably going to be worried--"
    "Dayvid can't know about this," Angela warned.  "We need to be quiet, and subtle.  The plan will work swiftly, if you play your part, and we will be back before he can grow too much concern."
    "Are you sure?"
    "I am a Dragon, a creature of benevolence and the preservation of life, a champion for goodness and justice," Angela reminded her.  "Are you questioning me?"
    "Uh... no, I guess not," Amelia said.
    With some doubt, Angela noted.  This one may need an eye kept on her.
    Sun started to set, over the sparkling blue waters of New Piper's Cove.  It really was a sight to behold, especially from the extremely unstable roof shingles on the Warrior's Guild.
    In fact, that was the only thing preventing Lina from going all gosh-wow over the view; that whole misplaced footing, sliding off the sharply angled roof and splattering on the sidewalk below like a bushel of overripe tomatoes thing.  Gourry didn't seem to have any problem at all with the precarious position, which he earlier declared 'The best place to look at stuff', before dragging Lina along; Myth elected to stay on the ground and not die.
    "Okay, you see that tall, cone-shaped building over there?" Gourry said, pointing across the city.
    "Yeah," Lina said, when she meant to say "Let's get downstairs before I wet my pants."
    "That's the Sorcerer's Guild," Gourry said.  "My cousin Portroy went there, but he had to drop out.  He was allergic to magic, apparently; every time he tried to cast a spell he'd go into this horrible sneezing fit... it's a shame, it was all he ever talked about as a kid.  I think he's working as a research guy and teacher now, just knowing stuff about magic.  He'll probably be at tomorrow's wake.  Maybe you two could talk shop?"
    "Maybe," Lina said, instead of "He'd probably collapse with red spotted hives if he came within two steps of me, considering what I've been through lately."
    "Now, that low flat building there... that's where I went to school," Gourry said.  "Alex St. John Elementary.  It was a good school, and I had a lot of friends but I'd always get in trouble with them because of how I acted.  I'm really not like a lot of people here, you know.  Aunt Koirry always told me I should be nice to everybody.  I mean, in Testabourne everybody means 'everybody that we can approve of' I think, according to her, but she really meant everybody everybody.  I know my Uncle Jack really had a problem with that kind of thing, and when he went out on the SS Hindentanic to trade goods with natives on uncivilized islands, he got killed from trying to swindle them and auntie said that wouldn't have happened if he really understood 'everybody'.... ne, Lina?  Are you okay?"
    "Huh?" Lina asked, distracted.
    "I really don't mean to bore you or anything..."
    "No, no... it's not that," Lina said.  "It's this roof.  It's dangerous up here, you know."
    "Awww, I've never fallen off.  You just need good balance," Gourry said, waving his arms around to demonstrate.  "My sister Farry used to like to climb up here, and she'd always drag me along.  Maybe you just get used to it."
    "You've got an.. interesting family," Lina said.  "How do you stay sane?"
    "You... okay, look.  When I was growing up, mom and pop were always out doing stuff and big sister had a job.  And I didn't have six thousand uncles, aunts and cousins running around," Lina explained.  "But you do.  And somehow, you manage to remember and keep track of them all when sometimes you have trouble trying to remember how to buckle your armor!  Plus, they're all... I don't want to be insulting, but... they're weirdoes!  I feel bad about blowing up at your mother like that, by the way, but... come on, Gourry, even you have to admit that normal people don't have that many quirks."
    "Oh, they're a little eccentric, but nothing bad," Gourry conceded.  "We all get along, and we care about each other.  That's what counts in family, right?"
    "Mom always said family was there for you to borrow money from," Lina said, before realizing how that sounded.
    "Uh.. well, there's that too," Gourry said.
    "Mom and Dad were always so cheap.  I always had to borrow money from big sis when I wanted to get toys or candy or magic books or anything," Lina complained, talking to herself more or less.  "And they never really were around the house, although neither was I, since I was usually off on quests and stuff... not much, just looking for lost dogs for the neighborhood kids, or maybe practicing magic... but did they even notice?  Probably not."
    "Sounds like you had some fun times as a kid, though, right?" Gourry asked, hoping to point out the good side of things.
    "I guess.  But you'd think they could've at least paid the ransom," Lina grumbled to herself.
    Lina paused.  "No, I said... rancid.  Rancid meat.  We had that for dinner every now and then."
    Looking up, a posture that allowed more blood to flow into Gourry's brain, he thought about that.  "How does one pay meat?  I don't understand."
    "Let's head back," Lina said, getting to her feet.  "It's late, and we could all use some reeeWHOA!"
    The tile under Lina's foot slipped away, and she started to tumble off the roof.  Gourry was there in a flash, reaching for her as the two went over the edge--
    And hovered.
    Lina flapped her wings and tried to ignore the fact that she was flapping her wings.  They worked better that way.
    "Don't... look down," Lina helpfully suggested to Gourry, who was clinging to her waist, and carefully floated the pair of them down to street level.  She looked left and right to make sure nobody saw that, and confident, folded up her wings and wished them away.
    Myth looked up at the two from a nearby cafe, surprised, her teacup paused in midair.
    "Nice of you to.. drop in?" she attempted to joke.
    "Ha ha," Lina laughed.  "C'mon, let's book.  Thanks, Gourry."
    "Uh, don't mention it," he said, not exactly sure if he saved HER, or if she saved HIM.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.