Bandit camps follow a very specific design.

     You find a good, immovable object such as a cliff, mountain or valley. Dig an underground area if there isn't a cave already available. Erect a fence, guardposts. Staff with a hundred swarthy lads with an itch for gold and a taste for blood. Sprinkle parsley, simmer for twenty minutes.

     Roy was a smart bandit; instead of digging out a hidey hole, he just used a natural cave. First he had to run out all the ravenous bears with claws the size of your rib cage, but that didn't take too long, and the end result was a nice pile for stolen booty.

     He tossed today's findings onto the pile, keeping the weapon he swiped from that girl to himself. Overviewed his holdings.

     "It's not very much, is it?" Roy asked.

     "Ah.. what, sir?" a subordinate responded, hoping this wasn't the start of another one of those moods which ends in dismemberment.

     "This. It could be a lot more. It's not like there's any real force opposing us. Remember that idiot hero who came through, the one with six swords? Hah, took him out before he got to blade number four. Or the sorceress with the ... well, let's say very social attire. Handled. So why don't we have more loot?"

     "Er. Begging your pardon, sir..."

     "Speak freely, Johnson."

     "Maybe it's because every time we try to mug someone you get bored and chicken out--"

     After, Roy cleaned off his sword and ignored the arm on the floor. "I wouldn't say chickened out," he corrected, politely. "But yes... it's a good point. I can see boredom. We need a challenge, something to really get us up and going. Wouldn't you say?"

     "Aaa... AAA! ..aa, yes sir, yes!!"

     "Good, good. You really should eat more, you know, you're white as a sheet," Roy said, tossing the sword away. He rarely used the same weapon twice. "What I wouldn't give for a REAL challenge right about now--"

     An explosion rocked the camp, and the screaming and running around waving swords began.

     "What, already?" Roy wondered, twirling the stolen weapon into position, largely ignoring his men who were for the most part on fire or fleeing the scene. "The gods are prompt, I'll give them that. Let's have some fun, lads! Lord Dynero of the Holy Battle for Profit, don't fail me now!"

     A shadowy figure -- because drama dictates that sort of thing -- stood at the entrance to the cave, cape flapping gently in the scorching hot winds that blew off what was left of the camp.

     "Door's open, come in," Roy suggested. "Let me guess. Sir Roderick of Flan? No, no, too small. The Mad Wind Ninja of Ky? I hope it's someone relatively interesting--"

     The figure stepped into light, appeared in the haze. And Roy Balderdash's grip on his weapon weakened instantly. For once, his Zefielian country pride and cool disinterest in life in general (and other people's lives in specific) collapsed like a very quickly collapsing thing.

     Light played off her orange hair quite nicely. The sun was mostly obscured by the sack of recently obtained booty she was toting, but despite that, there was no way to mistake her identity...

     "Hel-LOOO!" she cheered, waving. "I'm here to stomp you into the dirt and take everything you have, Mr. Bandit. We can do this the easy way... or the LINA INVERSE WAY!"

     Purple and yellow outfit flappy cape short sword gray boots and gloves long orange hair black headband no chest to speak of knowing smirk sixteen years of age or so extremely dangerous....

     "'ve got to be KIDDING me!" Roy shouted. "Lina Inverse?!"

     "If you call me 'the dragon spooker' or 'the enemy of all who live' it's going to go really badly for you," Lina warned... holding out one hand, as the flames of the camp twisted and bent in unseen winds, gathering into a single shining ball of flame. "Any last words? It's customary, you see."

     "You're not her," Roy said quickly. Sure, some part of his brain instinctively was telling him to flee and/or kill her or both in reverse order, but his curiosity unfortunately won. "You can't be her! You haven't aged a day!!"

     Lina Inverse kept her fireball at bay; a simple enough task for a sorceress as powerful as she was. "Hey, buddy, if that's some crack about my size--"

     "The gods have to be punishing me for wanting something exciting to do. That's the only explanation, isn't it? An anti-miracle! What ARE you? When I last.. met Lina was TWENTY YEARS AGO!"

     She hesitated. The fireball flickered.

     The bandit twirled his weapon into the ready position... wrapping an Astral Vine spell around the blade. (People in this land didn't survive long if they weren't packing steel and spell.) "I don't know who you are, but I'm not going to be beaten by Lina Inverse or any cheap imitator of her TWICE in this lifetime! Now DIE!"

     Lina's focus snapped to attention, as she lobbed the fireball, and tried a dodge... vision slowing, as the bandit slashed through the spell easily with his charged weapon, blade following through on the swing, coming at her as sure as an arrow...

     ", to recap," Lina summarized, stalking around the tied-up bandit king, tapping the naginata she'd nicked off him against her shoulder, "YOU say that it's twenty years or so since I last kicked your ass all over the Lord of Nightmares's green earth, right?"

     Roy Balderdash wasn't quite sure how it'd happened.

     He'd had the upper hand in the fight, and then... well, here he was, captured with instant ease. Like someone went to Point C while ignoring Points A and Point B and Point A.5. Lina had gotten him just as easily as she had so long ago, when he was just starting out in this business, even without that sword toting lunk accompanying her. The gods definitely hated him today.

     Most men would fear for their lives at this new point. Roy was just deathly embarrassed. Which was, in a lot of ways, far worse.

     "That's what I said. I was a younger idiot then, not the old idiot I am now," Roy repeated, in an annoyed tone. "Look, if you're going to capture me, at least do me the dignity of torturing me or turning me into the authorities or something, okay? This is humiliating. Besides, I'm not good at to this whole hostage-answering-questions role--"

     The blade of the staff pointed less than two centimeters from his nose.

     "It's patently ridiculous," Lina said. "I'd have NOTICED something like twenty years passing. For example, I'd have to replace my boots at least once, yes? I haven't. Same ones I always had with the squeaky left heel. And there's no way I'm forty years old, even if I do look younger than I am! So if you're lying to save your skin--"

     "I think we've established that my skin's already out of my hands, yeah?" Roy said. "Would I lie to you? Strike that. Would I lie to you in THIS situation? I just know what I know. Where's that idiot swordsman, by the way?"

     Lina looked around, seeming to want to answer that question.. but quickly shrugged. "Gourry's probably around here somewhere. He gets lost a lot. Hmm. Well, you're apparently delirious, so I guess I'll just get on with looting your bandit hideout and leave you alone."

     Satisfied, Lina picked up her bag 'o previous plunder, and started to walk off to Roy's pile 'o plunder to further slake her thirst for profit. She twirled the staff up to carry it easier...

     "About time," Roy grumbled. "I swear, I'll never live this down... Eh? Now what? Come on, get on with it!"

     Lina turned again on the bandit, and pointed to the hilt of the bladed staff.

     "Where'd you get this thing?" she asked.

     "What, that? It's not even a very good blade. Probably couldn't cut mustard, let alone an enemy. I picked it off some girl earlier, what's it to you?"

     Lina twirled the weapon in her hand, to study it under the light. Or rather, to study an inscription, written very neatly by someone who intended for it to be large and readable to others.

     413 SORCERY BVD
     ZENA, ZEFEILA 20878)

     Gabriev? A relative of Gourry's?

     It was a start, at least, if there actually was a mystery here. And if not, a good place to stop off for the night at the even lesser least. But at the lessest of the lesser least, it was more interesting at the moment than anything else.

     In short, the distraction was enough to deter her from the loot. For now.

     "I've got something to take care of," Lina said. "'scuze."

     Roy continued to quietly cut at the ropes binding him with the hidden file he had tucked away for just such an occasion, not paying attention. "Great. Please go away. It's been a bad enough day with you arou..."

     When he had looked up, Lina was gone. Hadn't left, hadn't opened the door to the cave (which was notoriously loud, since he never oiled it), she was just gone.

     Roy cursed his existence again, finished the cutting, and shoved the doors open. Of COURSE his whole gang had run off. But he could regroup. And Lina Inverse or whoever that was would PAY for this.

     Lina walked along the city street, scanning the addresses for number 413. She looked just like any other small girl in a sorceress's costume carrying a bag of magical artifacts and doodads and an oversized weapon, and oddly enough, it was a common sight in this city.

     It was, after all, the Zefielian capital, and as mentioned previously was a breeding ground for the abnormally interesting. But like the others wandering around with purple skin or double headed axes or Thunderswords of Unholy Destruction +5, Lina walked casually and without much concern.

     Okay, not ENTIRELY without concern. She'd focused intently on this silly little puzzle -- of course the bandit was lying, because it wasn't the sort of thing that could happen in a rational universe. Lina certainly wasn't... well, doing the math, she'd probably last bumped into that guy with Gourry when she was sixteen or seventeen, so she'd have to be thirty six or thirty seven now.

     At that age, Lina figured she'd have grown some really nice breasts if nothing else, making the bandit's claims even more silly.

     (But if you asked her what criteria she was judging with, she'd probably say something about her boots, not her bosom. Some things aren't best for mixed company. Or any company. Any company that likes to live out full and natural lifespans with all limbs and internal organs.)

     Besides, today didn't feel any different from any other recent day. The sun was shining, she had loot, she was vaguely hungry and she felt A-OK. It's a day-in, day-out affair, questing for self gain and self amusement, and although she hadn't been on any major world-saving epic heroic adventures, she'd at least been content. Content to knock over a fortified dungeon or two, clean out a restaurant, kill bandits, that sort of stuff. Never really questioned the how or why, she just did it...

     Mind you, here she was looking up one of Gourry's relatives. That was new. Doing something new felt vaguely exciting, which is why she dove on it so quickly rather than getting back to questing, since she could sense some artifact that needed pilfering a distance to the northeast, tugging at her...

     Ah, 413.

     Lina looked up at the sign. Then down at the blade. Then back up at the sign to make sure the universe hadn't turned itself upside down on its ear when she wasn't looking.


     'Our prices are so low, they'll blow you away, and so will I if you shoplift! -LG' a smaller sign read.

     If the universe wasn't turned upside down and on its ear, it was at least lying on its side and sniggering at her.

     Technically, she could turn aside. There was the slight tug of a new restaurant opening foolishly near Sairaag. All Lina had to do was turn around, forget this and move on with her existence. She'd be happier.

     Instead, she stepped foot into the shop and changed what had passed for her life around.

     But you know this scene, don't you?

     There aren't many playwrights in the world of note, with the exception of a young William Rattlesword out in Sailoon, but that's okay, because there's really only six or seven plays in the world and they keep being jumbled around to keep people from noticing. And one of the events is the return of a hero after a long quest to find an impersonator warming his wife's bed among other parts of her. There's an argument, a lot of awkward moments, and eventually it either ends in a double homicide or someone quietly sulks off. (In William's plays, they never skimped on the fake blood, of course, so there wasn't much sulking.)

     There's also the standard mistaken identity behind a curtain stabbing, the double suicide pact via miscommunication, and the pile of bodies lying around one poor sot who has to explain what happened to the entire royal family scene. And a bit with a dog. Everything else is just shuffling the scenery and putting on new hats.

     But all this is besides the point of the here and now.

     While Lina hadn't taken a wife, at least not in any respectable story, she had been impersonated as to her perception, and the scene played out perfectly :

     Step one is for Lina Inverse to storm into the offending location, ringing the cheerful little bell over the door.

     Then the proprietor at the desk turns away from her book, to give the standard greeting and warning of dismemberment upon suspicion of theft or counterfeit monies, but then everything goes wrong. Observe :

     Lina walked into the store to see Lina. But by this point she was expecting that.

     She was also expecting to see a version of her that was thirty six or thirty seven years old, and wasn't disappointed. An older, slightly chubbier and more tired looking Lina was there, in an ordinary housedress. She still had little chest to speak of, but by now that wasn't a primary worry.

     "YOU!" Lina declared, pointing accusatorily.

     "Me?" Lina Gabriev (for that was the name over the door) replied.

     "Yeah, you! What're you doing pretending to me?! What's going on here?!"

     "What are you going on about? Slow down. Deep breaths."

     Lina slowed down, took deep breaths, then resumed absolute anger. "MY name is Lina Inverse!! Who do you think you are?"

     "Ah... oookay," Lina G. replied, setting her book down. "Look, kid, ... for starters, that's the worst Lina costume I've seen. Secondly, you're not Lina Inverse. I was, and now I'm retired, thank you, I don't do autographs so please buy something or get out, okay?"

     "COSTUME?! I'll have you know this was a hand me down from my sister!" Lina declared. "And you're the imposter! I'm Lina!"

     "No, I'M Lina!"

     "No, *I'M* LINA!"

     "No, I'm-- wait," Lina Gabriev said. "Pause. Time out. We're going nowhere. Let's just relax, get our bearings and try this again, okay? I'd hate to be cliche about it."

     Calm peeked out from where it was hiding and snuck up on the younger of the two Linas. "...right," she agreed. "One moment, then we can discuss this like sensible people. Okay. I'm good with that. We'll try again."


     A moment passed.

     "Anyway," Lina Gabriev started, "I'm Lina and--"

     "No you aren't!"

     "Yes I am!"

     "Are not!"

     "Are too!"

     And then the silent evil glares.

     A voice, from the upstairs rooms, near the back of the store--

     "Mom, what's all that--"

     "Don't forget you're grounded, young lady!" Lina Gabriev barked back up the stairs. "I'm just handling some deranged customer, stay put."

     "..'mom'?!" Lina Inverse gagged. NOW it was starting to sink in beyond the usual identity issues. "I'm-- you're a mother?? And your last name is GABRIEV!?"

     Lina Gabriev groaned, and stepped out from behind the counter. "Okay, see here," she started. "I can understand wanting to emulate a hero of yours, but this is going too far. And yes, I am married. Been married to Gourry Gabriev for seventeen years now. And yes, I have a daughter, who should know better than to go out adventuring -- that's hers, isn't it?"

     The elder Lina snatched the weapon away from the stunned Lina. (Descriptive adjectives to differentiate Linas are required due to the circumstances, naturally.)

     "I'll just dispose of this quietly," Lina Gabriev stated. "Now. You've heard the history of my life, proof in pudding, yadda yadda. Happy? Will you please go home now? Don't try to follow in my footsteps, adventuring isn't a good occupation for a young girl. Got me into a world of trouble I didn't actually need to get into. Take up business, it's actually more profitable in the long run."

     "..." Lina Inverse wittily replied.

     Issue closed, Mrs. Gabriev squeezed back behind the counter, and took up her book again. She got two pages in before the young girl spoke again.

     "...that's it?" Lina asked. "I come in here with.. with this, and that's it? It's over?"

     "What were you expecting?" Lina Gabriev asked, not looking up. "Facts are facts, I'm afraid. You're not Lina Inverse. It's just not possible in a rational universe, after all. But it's not my problem, so deal with it however you want. Consult experts, stare at the walls, run around putting fish in your hair and screaming, whatever works for you. But elsewhere, please. I have a business to run."

     "You don't even care?" Lina asked. Her tone incredulous, but not angry; she was too shocked to really work up a good anger nerve. "You're calling yourself Lina, and you don't even care when something like this happens, when it walks right into your home? I don't get it. I mean.. maybe you could help me figure--"

     Lina Gabriev waved a hand, cutting the younger Lina off. She leaned across the counter, in one of those 'I'm going to make this as clear as possible' sort of gestures.

     "I'm retired," Lina Gabriev said slowly. "Let's assume you are something more than toys in the attic. A clone, a copy, a time warp bent alternate universe Lina, a mirrored demon, whatever. That's very nice, but it's not my problem. My life is just fine without you and your problem, and I don't need to run off half-cocked on some investigation to find out what's really going on -- because odds are it's some dark power at work bent on destroying the world or turning us all into lampreys or whatever."


     "I don't DO that anymore," Lina said. "It was a brief, very dangerous life, and it almost got me killed. After awhile I stopped caring about the profit and the glory and the power, not when you weighed the drawbacks. So... I stopped doing it. And I haven't looked back since. I don't cross the world on insane adventures which end up in me facing down a Mazoku Lord. I don't look for the pieces of the mystic whatsit and I don't hunt bandits. When enigmas come crawling, I turn the other cheek. Someone else can save the world, and apparently someone else does, or else I wouldn't be here right now. That's the way it's been ever since I retired eighteen years ago, and that's how it's going to stay. I don't know what answers you wanted to find here and it doesn't matter. Get out. Whatever you are, whatever explanation is behind this, I'll have nothing to do with it."

     It's a unique sensation, your whole of reality and worldview crumbling around you like cheap plaster. Lina Inverse stood, feeling more fragile and confused than she ever had been, as the older woman tried to push her out of the store with the stoniest stare ever witnessed by human eyes.

     She had the final word.

     "Lina Inverse DOES NOT EXIST anymore except in myths and stories!" the woman declared. "There's only Lina Gabriev. Deal with it. And GO AWAY."

     Lina walked out.

     What else was left to do?

     Meanwhile towards a bit later, a large amount of manpower and firepower was being purchased.

     Lina had made one extremely fatal error, Roy Balderdash, Prince of Bandits, Bad Mutha Shut-Yo-Mouth Wanted In 6.5 Countries thought, as he tried to ignore the astounding number of zeroes on the final bill. She left him with all of his loot, all his resources.

     Being a well connected dude, Roy managed to whip up a posse of a dozen hardened warriors with battle scars and bad dispositions in under an hour. All it took was a visit to the Goon Guild in town, some gold, and so on.

     Getting the weapons was a little harder. Most of his previous gang, in fleeing Lina Inverse, took their swords. This time he wouldn't rely on such cheap measures. He was springing for the full deal.


     Zefielia was a bit behind the times in terms of technology that was sweeping the rest of the world like spore mold, but there were still a few guns to be found. Nasty little things, hard to maintain and get parts for, but very effective compared to swords. You just point and fire and anybody with a blob of skill and 20/30 vision could use them effectively. (Not that Roy would use one personally. He felt in his bone that they weren't ... right. Not morally, they just felt wrong to a dyed in the wool swordsman like him.)

     So, here he was cruising the city streets looking for a myth (although it was a myth who had tied him up and interrogated him, and Roy was a believer in believing in the impossible when it does something like that) with a gang of psychotic mercs armed to the teeth. All in less time than it takes to get a big dinner.

     Now he just had to find her.

     "Hey, boss," Goon #7 said, "We was wonderin' when we was gonna get paid for this gig--"

     "Shaddup, I'm thinking here," Roy replied. Because, well, he was. If HE was Lina, where would he be right now?

     Robbing legitimate businessmen such as himself, probably. But that would take time to follow up on, since the local gangs were well hidden. For now, he could check the other possibility; that she'd be stuffing her face.

     Thus, he turned a left when he could have turned a right and bumped into Lina Gabriev's Magical Goods and Arcane Artifacts.

     If he had, he'd have noticed the loft above the shop, how the window slid open silently, and a classically designed rope made out of bedsheets tied together tossed out. A figure climbing down, and dashing off. Before returning to fetch a large, poorly made bladed staff from the trash before dashing off again.

     Not that Lina was aware of any of this.

     Assuming she was Lina.

     No, Lina Inverse, for lack of a better name, was only aware of her staring into the bottom of a coffee cup, just to the left of dish empty dishes that once held fabulous chicken dinners. They hadn't helped her mood. They'd helped her hunger, but not much else.

     Everything was wrong. Wrong to the core.

     Lina fully accepted that something was wrong not when she talked to the older her, not when the strangers she talked to on the way here confirmed the date, but when she turned to make some asinine comment to Gourry and he wasn't there.

     Maybe he was NEVER THERE...

     Not there and she'd just noticed it now. None of her friends had been with her for her recent questing, adventuring, mishaps and victories. Just her, doing what she did best...

     Lina had also rummaged through her sack of loot. She knew where it all came from and felt comfortable with that until she realized exactly how FAR APART those places were. Darata. Sailoon. Other cities, other countries. And that was just from TODAY. If it was today...

     Today, she knew someone had foolishly opened a restaurant and said her name in vain and she was hungry so she cleaned them out and left, satisfied and nourished.

     Somewhere an artifact was incredibly well protected and again someone called to her and she came and trounced the whole apparatus, then left with the goods.

     And here, in her home country, someone or something knew her wrath would rain down on a bandit tribe, and it did. But then that bandit told her how long it had been, and then she'd started to realize things, culminating in... this.

     She thought back, thought back hard. There was a long, bright time. A time with her friends... Amelia, Zelgadis, Gourry... quests, adventures, lots of fights, some really close calls. Rezo. Shaburanigdo. Phibrizo and Gaav, Valgarv and Dark Star...

     And then... it got fuzzier. She hadn't noticed the transition until she studied it, had it pointed out to her. Now, she usually just coasted from event to event in fuzzy contentment. Moving through it like a dream you weren't aware you were in, not until you were jarred awake by the alarm clock. How did she get around to all those places so fast? She felt she had to go there so she did and she did what she had to do and never questioned it. Steal this, eat that, take this, harass him, beat up them, move on. Nothing felt wrong about it, not then, but now, now it was all wrong.


     Right now, all she could be certain of was where she was. Fed, looking at an empty coffee cup and wondering what's supposed to happen now.

     Oh, and a bandit had a gun to her head.

     She looked around, aware of the large, swarthy men who were currently surrounding her with weaponry and mean looks. And the central figure, a fairly disbelieving but familiar bandit.

     "What, that's it?" Roy Balderdash asked. "You just sit there while we take you down? You didn't even notice us coming in? What with the running and screaming of the other patrons..."

     Lina made no reply. Just stared, with an empty expression.

     "No, no, guys, put 'em down, this won't work," Roy explained to his confused, recently hired companions. "We can't just walk up and plug her. Not Lina Inverse, it's not right."

     "Why?" Lina asked, in a soft, curious voice.

     "Well, DUH," Roy said. "Look, I may want your blood on my hands, but not while you're just sitting there like a dunce. That's like shooting a tame bear or something. Can't you fight back? Whip out a spell, waste some of my goons, get into a tooth and nail fight that ends dramatically in your death when you make the one critical mistake I capitalize on, thus ensuring my glorious victory?"

     (Goons #3-#8 sweatdropped. They hadn't signed on to be cannon fodder.)

     "Why should I?" Lina asked, talking more to herself than them. "I guess I should. It's what Lina would do. I think I have to. But I don't understand why..."

     Roy frowned. He didn't like this, not one iota. "What're you yammering about? Look, I don't WANT to waste you when you're.. obviously a bit out of it, but if you're not even gonna make an effort, I'm still gonna have to get on with business, you hear? I'll give you to the count of seven."

     Lina Inverse made no movements. Roy fumbled over six and landed on five.

     Trigger fingers itched.

     Four went by without much action to speak of.

     Then three.

     Two took a little longer to get out, just in case something exciting would happen, but nothing did.


     A chandelier fell from the rafters of the restaurant, crashing onto the table. All the men stepped back in snap reaction; Lina only flinched. Eyes went up. Even Lina's.

     The young girl pointed at Roy dramatically with her staff.

     "I TOLD you I'd be back to collect the bounty on your head, forsooth!!" she declared. "And now I find you assaulting Lina Inverse? Not in my town! Have at y--"

     "Not HER again," Roy groaned. "Guys, shoot her."

     "Wha?" the girl said, before bullets ripped through the rafters and the roof around her. She gave a panicked squeal, before jumping down and landing in the middle of the wild melee of knives and swords and gunplay and stuff that immediately broke out.

     To her credit, she wasn't half bad at brawling against a dozen armed men. Bodies and furniture arced nicely in the air and broke against the walls around Lina, who just blinked in confusion at the chandelier wreckage, and the fray around her.

     Truth be told, she was only dimly aware of her surroundings. A fight was going on. She wasn't quite sure who was involved or how to react. Plus, she was too busy thinking to take an active part, even though she felt a faint tug. The same tug she felt towards a restaurant or a bandit camp or a mystic idol or anything else Lina Inverse was associated with by folklore...

     The girl waved her long weapon to keep the bandits at arm's reach, but was backed into a corner, and there's only one way to go from there -- directly onto all the pointy metal objects and flintlock barrels in front of you. Not a direction she was going to go in.

     Roy, with one nasty cut on his forehead and an even more annoyed disposition, gave the order. "I warned you to stay home," he said. "And not mess in my business. But if you want to be a hero, you take your chances, I say. Guys, take her down."

     The cornered girl screamed out the first name that hit her mind.

     "LINA, HELP!!!"

     Lina's eyes snapped into sharp focus when the tug went from a gentle nudge to a shove from a charging elephant. Purpose snagged her like a fishhook and pulled her to her feet. Senses working overtime into alert and fully conscious of the present...

     She got up so fast that her chair tumbled end over end until it tripped up some poor sot who happened to be riding by on horseback outside. Her table, already stress fractured, gave up the ghost and collapsed into a pile of dust and cheap glass.

     Attitude flowed thick and fast as the waters of an aqueduct, as did power, sweet power as a ball of orange flame gathered in her hands... and a smirk targeted Roy in particular, as all the bandits started to notice she was no longer a turnip at a table.

     "I may not be a math whiz," Lina explained, the turn on words coming to her lips with practiced ease., "But I think the odds are a LEETLE unbalanced. Consider me a force of nature to make sure things level off..."

     Roy, being a smart bandit, immediately got behind his wall of goons and put his head between his legs and kissed his ass goodbye.


     The windows of the restaurant exploded, spouting brief jets of flame as powdered glass sprayed wildly. The ground shook. Smoke billowed out. People outside wondered what the hell was going on.

     Inside, what the hell was going on was obvious. Lina, hand still raised, from where it had just cast the fireball, watched as the smoke cleared... showing a pile of fried, unconscious goons, one fairly singed bandit king, and a very surprised young girl.

     The girl could wait. First, she had Roy to deal with. Roy, who had ditched all safety in numbers attitudes and produced a Really Large Sword, squaring off against Lina.

     "This is more like it," he admitted, with a manic grin. A thin white line of an aura closed over him.. playing magic from one hand, weaponry from the other, in the true Zefeilian way. "That's better. You and me, mano-a-womano, and you won't bag me as easily as you did this morning. You're the one I want, not the kid."

     Amused, Lina drew her sword. It caught the light from residual fires with a near-audible PING.

     The two made no motions. A half-burned menu wafted along in the breeze between them, the urban form of tumbleweed.

     THEN they could fight.

     To try and follow it from their perspective is impossible. Actually, to follow it from the young girl's perspective is even worse, but as she was clearing her head and staring in awe, this is basically what she saw :

     Two experts proving their craft.

     Swords clashing in sparks, defensive shields raising and shifting to deflect blows, small bolts of fire and ice and electricity skimming off the fight, causing havoc in the already crippled restaurant structure. The girl actually had to dive behind an overturned table to make sure she wasn't, like, killed or anything.

     But eventually, someone made one wrong move, and that signaled the end. In this case, Roy had accidentally Zigged when he should have Zapped, and got a swordpoint to the shoulder in response.

     In that moment, at the point of victory in purpose, Lina caught on. What she caught onto was so small, so incomplete, but it was enough to affirm herself. She was doing what Lina Inverse would do. She heard the call from this girl to save her from bandits earlier today too, and it was identical, the sensation, the cause. Lina Inverse was needed -- and the world provided -- in order to accomplish something. Just like she was finishing now.

     Roy staggered backwards, against a wall -- the momentary stun enough to snap the flow of the fight like a twig. He stared in awe.. Lina hadn't even broken a sweat. She was INHUMAN. Fast, strong, powerful, maybe even more so than the first time they had met, when she relied on tossing magic from a distance and getting cover from her swordsman...

     "What ARE you!?" Roy asked, bewildered.

     "Isn't it obvious?" Lina asked, twirling her sword back into its sheath, and charging up another spell. "Everybody seems to know my name, or at least my deeds. Bandit-stomping, treasure-taking, food-eating, quest-completing, tomb-raiding, Mazoku-slaying, world-saving. I don't understand much right now, but I know who I am. I'm Lina INVERSE. That's what Lina Inverse does, that's what I do, and I do it WELL, and I like it. As for you--"

     A flick of the wrist, and a tiny ball of ice darted from her fingertips to the fallen bandit. He opened his mouth to protest, and then froze. Literally, in a large, comedic rectangular chunk of light blue ice.

     "Chill out," Lina completed. Then thought it over. "No no, that's used. Cool off! No... 'You've been ICED!'. Ick, no. Ah..."


     Lina Inverse turned, to address the only other person left standing.

     It was the first clear look Lina had had at the person she just rescued. Something immediately struck her as familiar, something about the armor, the shape of it. Or the hair, orangey yellow, and familiar earrings...

     The girl walked up and pinched Lina.

     "OW! Hey!" Lina protested, waving her off.

     "Just checking," she said. "Wow. I mean.. wow. Lina Inverse. It's really you, isn't it? The REAL Lina Inverse? I never bought that my mom was THE Lina Inverse, she just didn't seem the right type, never wanting to do anything heroic, all boring and conservative--"


     "Oh! Oh, I didn't introduce!" the girl realized, stumbling over herself for an apology. "Gomen nasai! I'm Penny Gabriev. Pleased to meet you!"

     Penny bowed deeply, accidentally cleaving Lina's head in twain with the blade on her staff. Or rather, would have, if the blade hadn't been so poorly made that you could bludgeon a brick wall to powder with the edge.

     "OW!!" Lina yelled again. And decided that maybe standing four feet or more away would be a really good idea when dealing with this new person.

     "Uh, oops. Ha ha!" Penny laughed, trying to downplay it. "Um. So... wow! I mean, you just took out an entire armed gang and froze their leader in ICE! That's so cool!"

     "Well, it's only cool in an elemental sense, since the ice spell is more of a metaphor of the damage that's taken from extreme cold--"

     "No no, I mean it's COOL."

     "...yes, I was just explaining how the spell works," Lina said, not getting it. "Look, you're.. Lina In--Gabriev's daughter?"

     "Hai!" Penny said, bowing again (but not crippling anybody in the process). "Thanks for bringing my naginata back when that guy stole it. I made it myself, you know. Custom build for adventuring!"

     "Uh-huh," Lina nodded along, trying to get her bearings.

     "So, where are you headed next? Evil overlord's castle? Dragon's cave? Uh, can I come for a little while? If I go home now mom'll just ground me again."

     It suddenly occurred to Lina that today she had discovered she probably wasn't human or at least wasn't existing wholly on the right plane of reality and that some Lina Inverse had married Gourry and had a kid named Penny and she should probably really be freaking out right now or at the very least be very confused and creeped out given that all this happened in the span of a single day assuming that she could accurately tell time given how awkward her memory had felt when she thought back to what she's done recently.

     It also occurred to her that she was hungry again. This was an easier concept to wrap your mind around, and thus Lina considered thinking about it instead. There was a lovely restaurant a country over that seemed appealing...

     But that's what she had done in days past, isn't it? Make like there's nothing wrong and move from dinner to dinner, conquest to conquest...

     No. If Lina Gabriev, since that woman had no right to the name Inverse, refused to look into this, to find out exactly how it happened, then Lina Inverse would. It was a pretty clear cut problem: 'What the hell is going on?'. (In a lot of ways, it was philosophically the only problem mankind really was faced with.)

     She'd have to find the answer. It'd be a lot like a quest.

     A quest...

     Now she had a definite purpose, a purpose that filled her bones with fresh energy, with determination. It was a purpose that wasn't for someone elsewhere in the world called her out, gave her that 'tug'. It was for herself. The very idea of it comforted her tremendously.

     Mind you, she still was rather hungry.

     Lina Inverse turned to the girl who was the daughter of that other woman.

     "Let's go get something to eat," Lina suggested. "And you can maybe answer some questions for me."

     The silent, frozen bandit watched them go. He would've plotted revenge, but it was too damn cold at the moment.

Story copyright 1999 Stefan Gagne, Slayers characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production hosted by Pixelscapes.