leeping like a rock, Lina had a number of interesting, but non-scary dreams.  There was the one about flying penguins strafing a horse she was riding with acorns, before the entire group started a tap dance number; surreal, and one she'd had a few times before, but didn't feel like decoding it because it was probably one of those dreams that only LOOKED like it meant something.  There was the usual ones of her flying, wings fluttering behind her, but they weren't anything special.  She had another one of Xelloss in her closet back in Bigtop Bigtop, and this time he was saying something about how important it was for her to pay attention to some news he had, but she ignored him and went back to play with the penguins.
    Waking up, yawning, stretching.  Breakfast of bagels, delivered by Gourry's friend the baker.  Out in the back yard, Gourry and a few of cousins (Marvin, Duke, Robby and Zelphasonial, who was adopted) were busy setting up folding chairs and a table full of food donated by the locals.  Lina gagged on her bagel when they cheerfully wheeled in a large coffin on a squeaky-wheeled table.  They parked it by the barbecue grill.
    "Do you think she would have liked that grain of rosewood?" Mrs. Gabriev was asking, similar to asking if you like her hair better up or down.  "We weren't too sure, but it was the best in our price range yaknow..."
    "Uh... I think she would have liked it," Lina said automatically, and turned AWAY from the window to keep eating.
    The guests started to arrive midmorning.  Sometimes one at a time, sometimes in small groups.  They would congregate around the food, or nearby a box containing the mortal remains of Aunt Koirry -- now decorated with a painting Little Joey had made of her, or possibly of a bobcat.  Gourry chose to hang out with Lina and Myth, and tell them who everybody was as they came in.
    There was Cousin Bill Ray, who Gourry spent a summer modifying a '34 Sairaag Coaster with Clarksdale mare with.  They added on fins, and painted really cool flames down the side before Bill Ray sold the thing to buy a restaurant.
    Uncle Zardoz (real name Marvin, but he preferred Zardoz) was here, choosing to wear his full ceremonial robes from the 34th Order of Power, Testabournian Sorcerer's Guild.  He had volunteered to bring the body back to life using his phenomenal cosmic powers, but everybody remembered That Zombie Incident and politely denied him permission.
    There was also Grandma Lourry, or at least a shriveled up husk that might have been her, wheeled into the backyard by an unidentified second cousin.
    "Grandma, this is Lina Inverse, my questing companion," Gourry introduced.
    "You don't have to yell," Grandma whined.  "My poor old ears.  How mean to do that to your granny."
    "Oh!  Sorry, Grandma, I--"
    Thankfully, the second cousin wheeled her to a nice spot in the shade after that.
    And more relatives came, and still more after that.  Soon, the yard was full; and this wasn't some postage stamp of grass, the plot of land was probably three times as large as the house.  Lina hoped they had set up enough chairs.  Or that Cousin Lenny, who had That Problem With Fire, wouldn't torch them, at least...
    Myth wasn't having a fun time.
    "Ughhh... my head," she complained.  "There's too many stories here.  How is it possible for this many people in one family to echo this strong with narrative?  Gourry, do you have any aspirin?"
    "In the house there.  Ask mom for some," Gourry recommended.  Myth thanked him, and limped painfully off.
    "How could your family be this large?" Lina asked.  "I mean... someone must be casting fertility spells willy nilly here.  It's not natural."
    "They're not all family," Gourry reminded.  "There's plenty of friends here too.  I'm surprised more of my friends didn't show, but I guess a lot of them moved out after we finished schooling.  Like Bruiser on the school Bonkers team, or that wily guy with the glasses whose name I always forgot..."
    Lina scanned the crowd of mostly blonde-haired Gabrievs, and various small businessmen here to supply condolences and food, and so on... and spotted a strange face.
    "Who's that?" she asked, pointing.
    "Oh, that's just Angie," Gourry said.  Then did a double take.  "ANGIE?!"
    The girl at the yard's gate looked around too, also looking for something.  She didn't resemble any of the girls in pretty dresses who were here; she had on some light armor, and there was a short sword on her belt, tucked away in her cape to be non-obvious.  Her hair also wasn't long and ponytailed, or styled, or curled; it was short and straight and very red.
    When she spotted Gourry, though, a big happy feminine smile popped up.  "Gourry-chan!"
    "Angie-chan!" Gourry greeted.  She ran over, and they struck up a conversation of 'I haven't seen you in's and 'how have you been's and 'gosh, it's been so long's and such, all running over each other until a pile of words was up to their knees.
    "Uh.... who's this?" Lina asked, interrupting.
    "Huh?  OH!  Oh, jeez!  I forgot to introduce you two," Gourry said, embarrassed.  "Angie, this is Lina.  I'm going on quests and stuff with her... um.  And Lina, this is Angie, she's a good friend of mine."
    "Quests?  Really?" Angie asked, surprised.. if not a little shocked.  "Well, that's great... it's good to see Gourry's making a name for himself out there.  It's not easy for us swordspeople to find work, you know.  I... wait.  Lina INVERSE?"
    Lina swallowed.  "Ah... you've heard of me?"
    "The Enemy of All Who Live?"
    "Hey, that's a very undeserved moniker," Lina said.  "I just hunt bandits.  Perfectly reasonable occupation."
    "Is she really as terrible as everybody says she is?" Angie asked Gourry.  "You know, casually destroying whole villages and summoning Mazoku and extorting money and--"
    "--not that I mean anything bad, just... rumors and all..." Angie quickly apologized.
    "Naw, Lina's not all that bad," Gourry said.  "Even when she hits me every now and then!"
    "..." Angie replied.
    Across the yard, someone rang the traditional Gabriev Family Dinner Bell.
    "Oh, the ceremony's going to begin," Gourry said.  "We'd better get to our seats!"
    Angie gave Lina one more confused and concerned glance, before turning sharply away and walking to a seat, somewhere far off.
    Father Reverend O'Gnarly led the group in a prayer of some kind, which Lina fumbled her way through.  She knew about religion as an idea, or as an organization that sets up temples with cool stuff to take, but never really practiced at it.
    Myth, who was seated next to her, was giggling under her breath and nodding off occasionally through the opening remarks.  Confused, Lina asked Mrs. Gabriev what was wrong.
    "Oh, the dear just took some of Father's medication by accident," Mrs. Gabriev whispered.  "Don't you worry, she'll be fine in a few hours."
    There was a recital of a popular song that Aunt Koirry really liked, which was titled 'What Do We Do With A Drunken Sailor'.  This did not strike anybody except Lina as odd.
    One of the cousins recited a poem for her.
    "K is for Candy, which she liked to give to me and my friends," he spoke.  "O is for O no, she's dead.  I is for I think that means we have to buy our own candy.  R is for how really much I'll miss her.  R is also for how really much I'll miss her.  Y is for the Letter Y.  Thankyou."
    Polite applause.
    Finally, it was time for Gourry's eulogy.  He took the podium, pausing a bit to organize his thoughts, and a minute later came up talking.
    "I was gonna write some stuff down, but I'm not a writer," Gourry said.  "So I hope you don't mind if I'm not as poetic as Cousin Ed there.  Good job, Ed, by the way."
    Ed grinned proudly.
    "Aunt Koirry touched all of us," Gourry said.  "And we felt stuff, too.  She was really nice to everybody.  And when she meant everybody, she meant everybody.  Girls, boys, young, old, stupid, smart, bad, good, you know... all those opposite-things.  She liked them all.  And she always tried to teach me that you shouldn't think anybody should be any way just because you think they should be that way.  Um.  And that's good because my friends always thought the other way, and I really didn't like a lot of them because of that, because they weren't fun to hang around when they were always being mean.  But Aunt Koirry wasn't like that."
    He paused to take a drink of water.
    "You know, actually, I met a guy awhile back who was a bit like me," Gourry said.  "Except he was a real jerk.  And sometimes I think maybe he needed an Aunt Koirry of his own when he was a kid.  Then maybe he wouldn't have been sacrificed to a demon.  And he could've even had my Aunt Koirry if he wanted, because she wouldn't have minded sharing and neither would I.  But he can't now of course because he's dead and so's she.  But really, she isn't dead.  I mean, she is, but not really because I still remember her and so do the rest of you.  We can still remember the stuff she said and the things she did.  Sometimes I think I can still hear her."
    There was a soft knocking sound.
    "It's almost like she never left us," Gourry continued.  "I just don't feel like she's gone, not in my heart.  And that's what counts."
    'excuse me?' a voice inside the coffin said.
    Everybody inhaled.  Lina fell out of her chair.
    A hand pushed the lid open from inside, and a woman in her forties peeked out.  "Whoa.  What's going on?"
    Gourry's gears strained, trying to turn in the opposite direction.  "Umm... it's your wake?"
    "Wake?" Aunt Koirry asked.  "But I was just really sleepy.  Didn't anybody think to take a pulse?"
    A lot of people in the crowd started to look embarrassed, and studied anything except the sound mind and body.
    Aunt Koirry noticed the spread of food.  "Hey, are those pork cutlets?  Great!... awww, come on, guys.  No need for the long faces.  I could never be angry over such a silly mix up.  Let's PARTY!!"
    After an awkward pause, one of the random cousins stood up to cheer, "PARTY!!!" and off they were, everybody on their feet hugging in relief and chatting and getting some food.  A few family members went up to say hello to the body and have a good laugh about it all.
    Lina, from her sideways vantage point on the ground, was panicking.  "Wait.  WHAT?  She's alive?  And... and everybody's partying?  It doesn't make sense!   None of it makes sense!!"
    "Aww, come on, Lina," Gourry said, crouching down to smile at her.  "Mistakes happen.  Besides, I TOLD you that maybe she was just asleep, like Grandpa.  Let's make the best of it!  Do you want any pork?
    That's when Lina decided maybe having such a distant family back home wasn't THAT bad of a thing.
    Aunt Koirry lived up to the hype, and more.  She swiftly got oriented to the situation, and was already making jokes about it all no less than two minutes out of the casket.
    She was, at best, a plain woman.  But she had this weird charm about her that instantly made you feel comfortable talking to her; maybe it was the wide smile, or the hearty but not obnoxious laugh.  Or her ability to switch between highly attentive listening and speaking her mind at the drop of a hat.
    The party was in full swing, when she joined Lina and Myth.  Myth was just starting to come down from her chemical high, and occasionally bumped her head against lucidity; Lina was playing a wallflower, not sure how to mix with these loons, and content to just sip some punch and watch the world go by.
    "Hey, is this seat taken?" Aunt Koirry asked, grabbing a chair near Lina, turning it around and straddling.  "Hi.  You're Lina, right?"
    "Ah.. right, that's me.  Lina Inverse.  Not the Enemy of All Who Live, that's some other Lina Inverse," Lina warned.
    "I've heard of you," Auntie smiled.
    "Oh, great... what did you hear?"
    "I heard how you saved the entire city of Sairaag in some incident a long time ago," Aunt Koirry said.  "And how you stopped some demon that was inside the Red Priest, and how you got rid of a lot of bandits that were terrorizing towns.  Even ones near Testabourne.  You're a real heroine, Lina."
    Lina was surprised.  "That's what you heard?  None of the stories about blowing things up, or--"
    "Oh, I heard those too.  But you also did a bunch of good stuff," Aunt Koirry said.  "And anybody can accidentally blow up a village.  Sometimes, I wonder if luck just has it in for poor villages, sometimes; did you hear about the covered wagon park down south and the tornado?  Sad story, but it just goes to show.  And who's your friend here?"
    "Sometimes I like bread and butter," Myth giggled.
    "That's My..Miss," Lina said.  "She's writing down my recent adventure.  Sorry if she's a little out of it."
    "My brother in law's medicine, I get you," Auntie nodded.  "Accidents happen.  I'm sure she's a very nice person, though.  It must be exciting being a writer, huh, miss?"
    "I see familiar people in strange corners of unknown rooms," Myth said.  "Hee.  I wrote that once.  I think..."
    "Look... Auntie... um.  Can I ask a straight question?" Lina asked, glancing left and right, to make sure she wasn't being overheard.
    "Sure.  I prefer straight questions," Aunt Koirry said.  "Fire away."
    "What's WRONG with these people?"
    "There's some elf blood in the line, resulting in a bit of absent-mindedness, but a lot of luck and charisma," Koirry started to explain, not even batting an eye.  "Plus a great great great grandfather was a philosopher of peace and light, and his teachings got passed down the female side of the family, which merged with a similarly minded family a long time ago.  It got mixed into the family traditions, which weren't shaken even when they moved into Testabourne and started to mesh in.  Strays taken into the group added more chaotic elements, which is very normal for humankind, and as a result you've got a very unusual family.  I really like them, though; they're more fun than most people I've known.  You know I'm adopted, right?"
    "Uhh... no.  I did not know that."
    "I fit right in, though," Aunt Koirry said, leaning over her chair, towards Lina.  "It's a good family.  Are you going to be joining any time soon?"
    Usually Lina would smack people or yell when asked that, but... it wasn't the right response for this person.  Instead, she blushed.  "No.  I mean.. no.  It's not in my agenda.  And such."
    "I think you should tell Angie that, then," Kourry said, glancing off to the side -- Lina glanced too, and spotted the redhead swordsperson bearing down on her.  "Good luck."
    Aunt Koirry was gone, off to chat with some of her relatives.
    "Lina, can I have a word with you?" Angie asked, very businesslike.
    Leaving Myth to babble to a second cousin who thought she was a 'funny lady', Lina walked around to the side lot of the house, Angie leading her with purpose.  The din of the party was quieted down here, in the shadow of the homestead.
    "Sooo... what's up?" Lina asked.
    Without hesitating, Angie drew her sword, holding it out in a well-trained battle stance.  "I'll fight you for Gourry, if I have to, Lina Inverse!  I'm not afraid of you!"
    Lina took three steps back.  "Fight?  What??"
    "I don't like the way you're treating him!" Angie said.  "He deserves a nicer girl than I've heard YOU are.  And you shouldn't be hitting him, because he's a very nice man and doesn't mean to put his foot in his mouth and call people flat chested or anything, and... and HAVE AT YOU!"
    Angie advanced, swinging; Lina had her own blade out, parrying in a hurry.
    "Hold up!  There's been a misunderstanding!" Lina claimed, parrying two more strikes and ducking a third.  "I don't.. HAVE Gourry!  Not in any way whatsoever!  We're just partners--"
    "What KIND of partners?" Angie asked, withdrawing a moment, but not dropping her guard.
    "The blowing-stuff-up-and-getting-rich kind.   That's it!... you were his girlfriend, weren't you?" Lina asked, remembering Mrs. Gabriev's words.  "Whatsername?"
    "He was the ONLY boy who didn't laugh when I said I wanted to learn swords," Angie said.  "He even helped me hide under Mrs. Radinov's porch when a bunch of them were gonna beat me up... he..."
    "I can clear this up right now, then.  I'm not Gourry's girlfriend.  He doesn't feel that way about me, and nothing is going on intentionally," Lina said, lowering her butterfly sword.  "Okay?"
    "Why'd he leave?" Angie asked.  She might not have been asking Lina.  "He wanted to seek his fortune, but... he could have sought it with me.  I was pretty well trained by then, it's not like I wouldn't have been any help.  Why didn't he ask me to come with him?"
    "Did you ask him?" Lina hazarded.
    Angie twiddled her fingers nervously, all thoughts of skewering herself a sorceress gone.  For the moment.  "No... I mean, I didn't want to push him... we were both young, and I was nervous--"
    "Look, this is.. REALLY something you should be settling with him, not me," Lina said.  "Can I go now, with my liver intact?  I'm really not involved, I swear.  Really.  Okay?"
    Angie said nothing, just looking pensive.  Lina decided maybe sneaking back to the party, where she couldn't openly be sliced and diced without someone noticing would be a good idea.  She crept away.  Then she decided to immediately get some kind of alcoholic beverage; she couldn't take this party sober any longer.  It was just too absurd.
    It WAS an absurd thought, she rationalized.  That she was Gourry's "Partner."  Where did people come up with this stuff?
    "So I don't know what to do..." Gourry told his aunt.  "I mean... it happened, right?  And I don't know anything about magic, but what if it... WASN'T all some weird mind control thing?"
    Aunt Koirry thought about this.  "Some guy named Drama got you to kiss Lina?"
    "And now you're beginning to think about it more."
    "...a bit," Gourry said.  "I mean, I can't talk to Lina about this, she'd beat me up and step on me and call me names!"
    "Not a good thing," Koirry agreed.
    "I'm not saying I lo... I laaaah... I luu... I'm not saying anything in particular," Gourry reminded.  "Just that it's got me thinking.  Why would I do that?  Can it really just be magic?  How do I feel?"
    "How do you feel?" Koirry asked curiously.
    "I don't know.  Do you?"
    "Gourry, I don't read minds."
    "But you always knew how I felt before..."
    "Maybe, but I didn't tell you how you felt.  Only you can tell you that," Koirry said.  "But I can help you recognize it.  I mean, that's fair enough.  You've been traveling with Lina for several years now.  How do you feel about that?  The time?"
    Gourry thought hard.  You could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears.
    "I... I think it was good," Gourry said.  "We did a lot of stuff.  And it was dangerous, but it was for a good cause."
    "So if you could, you'd do it all again?"
    "Oh, sure.  If I didn't, everybody on the planet would be dead," Gourry said, smiling big.
    "Now, how do you feel about being with Lina for that many years?" Koirry said, expanding her original question just a little...
    "It's not bad.  She can be mean, but she also can be pretty nice.  And she's very interesting and gets into a lot of interesting situations.  And we've got a lot of friends."
    "You're traveling with Lina, though.  Not her friends."
    "I'm not?"
    "Did you ever go anywhere WITHOUT Lina?" Aunt Koirry asked.  "That's the thing.  Sure, the friends come and go, but does Lina ever leave?"
    "Uh........ no."
    "And why do you think that is?"
    "I dunno," Gourry said.  "She doesn't usually talk about it.  She gets mad if I say anything about the k.. what happened at the castle, by the way."
    Aunt Koirry sighed.  Not in frustration, or in annoyance; just a sympathetic gesture.  "This is not an easy thing, Gourry.  You could always just ignore what happened, write it off to magic and go on like you always have.  Lina's probably going to try that.  Do you want to do that too?"
    "...yes.  A bit.  I mean, it'd be easier."
    "Then definitely don't," Koirry said.  "The easy way out isn't always the best one.  In fact, the way is usually very hard, and sometimes doesn't work out, but that's what makes it so special.  You're just going to have to--"
    An uncle wandered over.  "Gourry?  Your friend Lina's standing on the dessert table singing.  I think she's gotten a bit drunk."
    Aunt Koirry peeked over the crowd, at the loud, red-faced sorceress.  "We'll talk about this later, when we have more time, Gourry.  I think Lina needs you right now."
    "Oh no... Lina!  Put the cat down!" Gourry yelped, threading his way through the crowd.
    Aunt Koirry watched him go, with a little smile.  She slipped around the house, to check up on something else.
    Angie was nowhere to be found.  She had left the premises.
    "Poor girl," Koirry commented to herself.  "Still can't admit it to him.  Well, that's Love for you."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.