By the time the pair and a quarter had reached Nostrum, the sun had set, Lina's shoulder was aching and she wasn't very happy about either aspect of her situation. At least the Table wasn't tumbling and doing tricks to try and get her attention, it was just quietly walking beside Penny, while the two talked about the Issues of the Day.

     "So you're saying that the whole world's turned into some bad novel where everybody flies around in machines and people pull levers to get everything in life done?" Lina asked. "Bards usually got laughed off the stage when they told kid's fantasies like that..."

     "Not all that, no, no," Penny said. "Just... some stuff. Like, Dad has a special rotating brush for polishing his armor. And at school we're learning more about geometry and chemistry and--"

     "Alchemy, you mean?"

     "Sort of, but things explode less often and there aren't as much glowing substances that move by themselves after the day's done."

     "Well, I'd hope not. Alchemists always had a few screws loose, in my opinion. Mucking around in copy homoculus and other crazy experiments..."

     "Out here in Zeifelia, there isn't that much advanced stuff," Penny continued. "Just a few things that leaked out of the more industrial areas. Usually people say they can get by on magic just as well, but everybody my age is really interested in this stuff. It's the new way of things. I bet you in another twenty years, well, you won't recognize this world anymore! People will fly around in machines and we can pull levers--"

     "I get the idea, I get the idea," Lina said, to stop the flow. Penny did tend to ramble on and on when you got her excited. (At least it wasn't about the spirit of noble justice...) "Okay, whatever. Stuff's different in the world, I'm familiar with that by now. But I don't see what this has to do with the temples."

     "I was just getting to that," Penny said. "After awhile, the technologists started saying that not only was magic obsolete, but religions were too. After all, any miracles on record could be explained scientifically if you sat down and thought about them long enough, and gods didn't really mess with men's lives very much -- not even Ceipheed, who everybody saw as the best god around to worship. Some folks even wondered if Ceipheed actually existed."

     "I'd appreciate if gods would mess in my life a little less than they have," Lina muttered.

     "Eventually, people stopped going to church regularly, if they were going in the first place. Keep in mind this is over twenty years in the new age, it wasn't overnight. But generally, folks didn't see the point in worshipping Ceipheed anymore," Penny continued, as the two started to walk through the dark city streets. "There are always a few people with a lot of belief, but it just wasn't popular to others. Not with anybody my age and a good education. None of the Dragons complained about it and there weren't any plagues, so... you know."

     "Uh-huh. Right. Aaaand what about the Mazoku War?" Lina asked. "Sort of a large thing to be dismissing as a non-event, isn't it?"

     "Wasn't that, um, thousands of years ago?"

     "Yes, but... that doesn't mean it didn't HAPPEN! It's in the books and everything, and--"

     "Nobody's alive who experienced it; maybe it was all a metaphor for something important, like saying that you catch eighty fish in four nets and it's really about global peace, like in most religious kinda books. The Mazoku haven't been a problem since, anyway."

      Lina waved her arms in heated protest. "Haven't been a problem since?! What about SHABURANIGDO? Don't forget he resurrected not... twentysomething years ago! I should know, I was the one who took him out!"

     "I heard about some country to the south having some kind of disaster that a lot of people blamed on Shaburanigdo," Penny said. "Probably was just some Mazoku who looked like Shaburanigdo. But it stopped less than a day after it started and everything went back to normal."

     "That's because I killed him!!"

     "Oh. Well, there you go! Wasn't a big problem, was it?"

     "WASN'T A BIG... okay, okay. What about Phibrizo? He enslaved and destroyed all of Sairaag!"

     "But then he got killed by you, didn't he? So it wasn't a problem. And now Sairaag's rebuilt itself to be one of the biggest empires in the world! So something great came out of it!"

     "This is ridiculous! You mean I did such a GREAT job at saving the world over and over that nobody realized they had anything to worry about?!" Lina huffed, getting little veins sticking out in her forehead.

      Penny took a few steps away, just in case Lina exploded or anything. "Ah... maybe. It's been so long since the Mazoku have been a real problem that the whole thing just isn't much of an issue for the average person. Most people, most cultures and countries get by in life without having any problems with the Mazoku to begin with. So, people worry more about prospering in life than they do about Ceipheed, Mazoku, and all those legends and myths. And besides, the Mazoku are all gone now."

      The world screeched to a painful halt as Lina hit the one thing she couldn't quite wrap her mind around today.

     "WHAT!?" Lina shouted, shaking Penny by the shoulders. "WHATWHAT WHAAAAAT?"

      Penny wobbled around, trying to start a sentence, but finding her tongue jarred out of place each time by a freaked out Lina.

      Noticing this, Lina let go. "No way. You can tell me the Common Man is dumb enough not to notice demons running around causing problems, but you CAN'T tell me the demons are dead. Do you have any idea what kind of effort it takes to get rid of them? If--"

     "The Empire of Sairaag did it," Penny said, taking MORE steps back.


     "It was so cool! There's stories about it and poems and everything," Penny beamed. "It all happened fifteen years ago. Sairaag had already been burned by the Mazoku so many times that they just could take it anymore. So they didn't wait for the next attack. They marched an army up to the North Pole, where the Mazoku Lord Dynast resided, and immediately went to war! And they crushed the Mazoku in a single week long campaign! The stupid beasts didn't see it coming!"

     "..." Lina ranted. "..."

     "Okay, maybe they didn't kill ALL of them," Penny said, noting Lina's disbelief and shock. "I don't think they could do that, even if the stories said it. But it's true otherwise! We 'simple humans' punished 'em so hard that the Mazoku haven't been seen or heard from since! Dynast is dead and that means there's only two lords left, and after the beating they got, they won't be coming back. So people are free to get on with their lives and not worry about some silly monsters. Isn't that great? The world's in a new age. Science is flourishing, we don't have to be afraid of huge forces that can kill us at a whim, and everybody can LIVE their lives. That's why I'm happy to be in this day and age. You know... Lina?"

     "...?" Lina replied.

     "Maybe this is just me making a silly theory, but maybe the world doesn't need you anymore. It's already saved and humans saved it with science. Of course, there's always quests and stuff for adventurous types like me, but at least we don't have to worry about saving the WORLD anymore. Isn't that great?"

     "," Lina said.

     "Huh? I mean, not to belittle your accomplishments but--"

     "No, I mean I don't buy it in general," Lina said. "Obviously it LOOKS the way you've described, or you wouldn't buy it. But I've lived long enough to know that what looks like a sheep is actually a seventy tentacled eighty fanged perverted beast waiting to tear your ears off! Make no mistake; the Mazoku aren't GONE. I can't see it. Somewhere, someone is plotting something or other. And I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that I know who it is!"

      While strolling along the mountain path, Xelloss paused a moment to sneeze.

     "Hmm. Funny," he decided, then continued on his merry way.

     "Ne, ne, Lina, you sound paranoid," Penny said. "I'm just saying what I know, okay? And I know that--"

     "We're getting sidetracked," Lina said. "History lesson to be continued. It's getting pitch black out there and I want to get to this cult before sunrise. Get some ANSWERS. So where is it?"

     "Uh..." Penny said, looking around. "It's here, in Nostrum."

     "Where in Nostrum?"

     "My best friend's brother's cousin didn't say."

     Lina counted backwards from ten to one, and unclenched her hands.

     "...then we look around until we find it," Lina said. "If it's as persecuted as you're saying, that won't be easy! It'll take sharp intellect, sharper eyesight and sharper yet reflexes! We'll search every nook, cranny and dark alley in this whole city until--"

     "Why don't we follow that cultist?"

      Lina stopped cold, watching as a suspicious looking figure in a hooded black robe skulked in shadows across the street. He/she/it was doing his/her/its best not to be noticed by anyone, but had about as much training in the ancient technique of stealth as a drunken cow.

     "You've got your father's blind luck, don't you?" Lina asked, peering at Penny in a particularly perplexed way. "Now let's stay quuiiiiiet and follow."

      After a brief argument about jamming the Table into a sack so it wouldn't make any noise (an argument Penny lost), they started to trail the Dark Cultist. On tiptoes they went, staying a city block or more behind, as the cultist went on a deliberately winding path in, out and around the city. The whole process took a half an hour and was clearly intended to shake any tail. The process, on the whole, failed miserably.

      Eventually, the ride came to a halt underneath the Not a A Cult Hideout Inn and Tavern and Bingo Parlor.

     "Yeah, this is definitely one of Martina's cults," Lina commented quietly to herself.

      Of course, back in the day, Martina's cult had a sum membership of one : Martina herself. She was the only person who really believed in dark god Zoamel Gustav, and that's because she made him up. It didn't stop her from selling Zoamel protective pendants to anybody desperate enough to buy them -- and there were usually enough desperate people when Lina was in town, because it meant something was exploding nearby, more often than not.

      There had to be a LOT of fear and panic there to resort to worshipping Zoamel Gustav, the imaginary god. Even back then. Lina briefly pondered Penny's absurd world view... that maybe people got along better now, without having to fear the Mazoku. Or fear Ceipheed. Ceipheed probably wouldn't have stood for this kind of a cult, if the Dragon god actually did anything of note in the course of everyday affairs...

      The cultist knocked on the door in a complex pattern that spelled out 'the dread portal' in ancient Zeifelian converted to smoke signal dot pattern syntax. A small window slid open on the oaken door.

     "What's the password?" a throaty whisper sounded.

     "Walt sent me," the cultist replied.

     "One hand washes the other," the keeper of the gates to hell counter-passworded.

     "I fear nothing."

     "The seagull perches on the steeple in the rain."


     "If this is five and this is one, what is this?"


     "Enter the fold, oh my brother."

      And the door opened just long enough to admit the cultist, before swinging shut, with the resounding clatter of seventeen locks sealing themselves behind.

     "...uh.. that's not going to be easy to get through," Penny said. She twirled her weapon into the ready position. "I've got a plan! You blow the door off its hinges with a Dragon Slave, and I'll charge in and beat them all senseless, and we can make off with the High Priest!"

     "Or we can use the rear delivery entrance," Lina decided, walking off to the nearby alley.

      Penny blinked a few times. Her eyes followed the Inn and Tavern sign down to the smaller one, Please Drop Off Deliveries And Boxes Not Containing Ritual Sacrifices In The Rear.

     "Oh," she said, vaguely disappointed. She caught up quickly. "Is it always like this? Like when you blew up that guy before he finished taunting us and--"

     "Don't get me wrong, we could go ahead with your plan," Lina said. "Works for plenty of other hero types. But that's not my style. Unless I'm in the mood for some satisfying mindless violence. Now hush and follow my lead."

     "I've got a lot to learn, don't I?"

     "Eh, we're all green at one time or another. Don't let it get you down, kid. Stick with me and I'll impart some wisdom that hopefully won't lead to your early demise! But shut up for now and let's do this."

     "Fine, fine, mom."

      For the manyth time tonight, Lina stopped dead in her tracks in shock.

     "I mean, Ms. Inverse," Penny quickly corrected.


      Of course, others were out this night than Lina and company. But they were not particularly happy about it.

      On any other day, Roy would have been thrilled with the gear he'd been given for free. Armor of the latest styles, with ultrathin layering to stop even the toughest bullet, arrow or sword. A belt that made carrying dual blades effortless and noiseless, as it was padded with a special fabric that was made by machine-weaving human hair. An eyepiece built into his headband that could flip down, and allow night vision; amazing, that this was built only using a form of hardened glass made in the core of Sairaag's forges!

      There was a drawback, of course. He was going to have to use it in a particularly strange mission, led by the particularly strange Zelgadis, and a particularly strange pair of soldiers...

      He'd heard about these guys. Sairaag's shock troops, soldiers trained especially for combat in the worst possible conditions. A special drug had been designed to block all emotional responses from them. They moved with precision, with speed, without hesitation. The ultimate warrior, but with a catch -- self preservation wasn't in the mix.... but that could just be rumors. Roy heard a lot of rumors in the far away country of Zeifelia about his sister's empire.

      His sister...

      She had left to seek her fortune in Sairaag after a bad falling out with mother. Unfortunately a day after she arrived, Rezo leveled the place. Less than a year after that it was Phibrizo. Somewhere along the line, she.. maybe other people and her... figured enough was enough. And one long story later, here they were. And here Roy was.

      Not that he'd be staying. Zelgadis was working the controls on the machine, a machine that took up one gigantic room, and ran on steam driven pistons that could flatten Roy into a six foot wide pancake if he stepped just a LITTLE too close. The round disc continued to spin, the portal, he remembered it from when Zelgadis first brought him here...

     "Sir?" he called out, not liking the term.

     "What is it, Balderdash?" Zelgadis asked, not looking up.

     "Is this for real?" Roy asked, in his normal, flippant tone. "I mean, we're REALLY heading off to lay the smack down on the Tooth Fairy or something?"

     "Of course not," Zelgadis said, twisting a final knob, igniting some incredibly complex mathematics that opened a hole to a distant country... "The Tooth Fairy is not an issue anymore. It's time. We will proceed."

      There are places...

      There are places where the light twists into itself, and does things that no innocent mind may comprehend. Where the darkness itself has a sort of unwholesome quality to it, seeping into the bones, into the flesh. Where drippy candles can be found by the gross and everybody's got a curvy knife.

      Lina had been to many cult hideouts in her time and they all basically followed the same pattern. You'd have a ritual circle and altar on which goats, bunnies, duckies, virgins and so on were sacrificed, you had a huge statue to your god's honor, and a lot of guys in black robes chanting and going through the motions.

      You usually didn't have a big Bingo calling board propped up against one wall, but space was limited here and the store room was already filled with eyeballs.

      Swiping two spare robes that were the right size from storage was the easy part. The hard part had been convincing Penny to leave her cherished naginata behind in the store room.

     "Couldn't we just, um, put a robe over it and call him Brother Stick?" Penny asked, but eventually relented when Lina described what would probably happen to her if their ruse was uncovered. She also lost her lunch, but in this sort of place, the mess probably would go unnoticed.

      Lina prayed to whatever gods of luck were listening that Martina wasn't actually HERE, and got her wish. The leader of this sect of the Unholy Cult of Zoamel Gustav was a middle aged man with a very bad combover.

     "O terrible god!" he declared, bowing to the statue. "Please do not step on us like the worms we are. Hear our calls, hear our cries, and CURSE our enemies who tremble like pillars of salt in the eyes of your rage!!"

      The statue didn't reply. Which was for the best considering that the statue had the gigantic, misshapen mask of Zoamel Gustav, six tentacles, four clawed arms and was large enough to swallow three penguins whole, if you really wanted to count these things.

      The effect was killed by a stonecutter's designer label chipped across Zoamel's mighty evil ass, but nobody was pointing that out.

     "The curses of the unholy and the damned be on our enemies!" the leader chanted, with repeat verses and choruses backing him up. "Black god of vengeance, above all gods, these are the names of those who will burn forever in the acidic pits of your gallbladder!..... ... Marty, where's the list?"

      A cultist nudged another cultist and that cultist woke up. "Er, wot?"

     "The list. The list of the damned and the so on for this week's meeting."

     "Ah. Well, you see, I hadn't gotten around to compiling it, because I was ah.. so stunned by the shadow magnificence of his lord Zoamel Gustav that I forgot it. Sorry."

     "People, this is why I keep saying we need DAY PLANNERS," the leader groaned, turning to face them. "If we're going to be taken seriously by this town of gearheads and intellectuals we have to get organized. Now we're not leaving here until we've got a good number of people cast into the stygian abyss to writhe in pain for an aeon or two. Does anybody have any suggestions?"

      The group largely shuffled their feet and mumbled. Nobody liked to specifically single someone out, that's why they had a list. Because usually they snuck each other's names onto that list for always leaving the altar all waxy or stepping on each other's feet in the poor lighting. (Cultists of Zoamel Gustav had a penchant for revenge; they liked to exact it at the drop of a hat, or more frequently, before the hat drops just to be on the safe side.)

     "That bastard down the road who sells apples sold me one with a worm innit," someone suggested.

     "Right, then. O TERRIBLE ZOAMEL GUSTAV, *CURSE* THE APPLE MERCHANT! May he experience a new level of agony for the rest of time!! Who else?"

     "Wembley Peterson!" Penny shouted, getting into the swing of things. "He always throws erasers at the back of my head in cla--OW!"

     "What my fellow dark minion of the doomed and despaired MEANS to say," Lina filled in, "Is we have no suggestions, o lord, but Zoamel in.. ah... his infinite anger will have plenty of people to torture this week, so perhaps the list can be.. skipped?"

     "I've got a cake in the oven," a cultist near the back piped in.

     "Fine. Fine! But you all had damn well better get us some more souls to be our slaves for the duration of creation next week," the leader warned. "Zoamel Gustav demands nothing less."

      'Almost there,' Lina whispered to her companion. 'Once they finish up we can ransack the place for religious texts, and find out what a Demiurge really is!'

     "Now, let us begin the four hour closing ceremony!"

      Lina's stomach fell far enough to possibly reach the black stygian gallbladders of Zoamel Gustav.

      Deep snoring could be heard from the cramped pews of the cult room, only scant hours before the sun would come up. The rest of the sounds were of Penny, shuffling around the room in an attempt to search the place by fading candlelight.

      She considered waking Lina... but Lina had fallen asleep on her feet a few times during the closing ceremony, and could probably use the rest. Besides, how hard could searching be? There was plenty of stuff piled up in this tiny room, but it was a tiny room, by definition!

      Except, of course, that she was seeking 'information', which is pretty intangible, and meant going through MANY books. Instead, she found another use for the Wandering Monster Table; it had a special kinship to books and tomes, and was helping her sniff out the best ones, which she'd scan for anything useful.

      Penny was a fast reader. Too fast, in this case. It made sense: she was a particularly bright student in her class, adept at anything you threw her at -- and yet, lacking a lot of the skills others had, such as meeting nice boys, not tripping over your own feet and not getting into trouble for doodling famous war scenes on her desk. She persevered, because she really liked school, especially PE class, where she often put a little extra spring in her work, until the teacher told her that a flying double arm elbow strike was an illegal move in baseball and that she could sit out the rest of the season...

      Actually, the problem was that she was a person who seemed born to an exciting, death defying life of adventure trying to make it in the dull day to day of the world -- and she wasn't that good at living the exciting life, either. A common problem with children of such important and dangerous parents.

      Thus, every time she poked through a book, she'd skim real fast and try to get to the good, exciting part, and that's why she slipped RIGHT by all the warnings of eternal death-within-life and maggots gnawing at your lungs and got straight to the incantation. 'Ask A Question Of The Terrible Zoamel Gustav.' JUST what Lina needed!

      (If anybody else had read this, including some members of the Cult of Zoamel Gustav, nothing would have happened. You have to believe in it to make it work. And Penny believed it could help...)

     "Auf neef keif aff freddyisthedevil afff neeef kiff iy iy! Zoamel! Zoamel!" she chanted. "Gustav est ein leibenshein dayo dayo! BOSCO!!"

      She looked around to see if it had any effect and her face ended up less than three inches from the monstrous, sanity-wrenching visage of the demon god Zoamel Gustav.

      His eyes glowed with a fierce red aura like the flaming hatred of a million raged souls, and his breath was akin to the plague that consumes flesh from your bones. He had a look to him, one that bore six feet into Penny's skull, which cried out from every corner of the dark inside her soul, 'Yes, what is it?'

      The Wandering Monster Table opted to take a chameleon approach, and go completely rigid, to look like any other six inch tall piece of furniture in the room.

      Penny screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed until Lina clamped a hand over her mouth and pulled her to safety behind a pew.

      Both girls remained very, very silent, as the building shook silently with each footstep of the beast.

     "What... did... you... DO?..." Lina hissed.

     "...I summoned Zoamel."


     "So you could ask him what a Demiurge was!" Penny yelled back, snapping.

     "Ah, excuse me?"

      Both girls blinked simultaneously, making a neat 'squick' sound effect. That voice was male, human, and rather dignified. Both slowly peeked over the edge of the pew, where Yes, the demon still stood... but he wasn't raging or anything.

     "Did you say Demiurge?" Zoamel asked, quite calm and pleasant as how-do-you-do. "Sorry to interrupt, but I was sort of wondering why I was summoned by a non-believer, and, well... rather a curious question, is all."

      Lina.. slowly stood up. True, she'd known flesh-eating atrocities that walked on two or more legs that could talk in a sweet voice, but something was really askew with the world right now. "...because I think I am one," she said simply, then waited to be devoured, keeping a spell charged at the ready...

      The monster leaned its massive head in, to study her.. but then withdrew, reached under its chin, and pulled UPWARD...

      The effect was like seeing an elephant pull upwards on its own trunk, skin peeling back in some eye-popping special effect, eventually revealing an ostrich. Sort of. In this case, a demon god pulling off his mask, and the illusion stretching off, sinking into the mask, to leave only a tall, but unassuming man in his mid twenties. A man in a spotless white suit, with pure white hair, and a flawless face that most girls would drool over. He slipped the Zoamel Gustav mask around to his back, as it was on a convenient carrying strap, and pulled a pair of glasses from a neatly pressed shirt pocket.

      (With gods, there just isn't much middle ground; they're either hideously ugly, or astonishingly perfect. Nobody ever worshipped someone named Great Athlion the Average.)

     "Terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I can't see a thing without my spectacles," he said, before brushing his hair back in a perfectly manly gesture.

     "Waaaaai..." Penny chirped, little hearts in her eyes. "He looks like my old sempai!"

      Lina.. tried to ignore that, and struck up the conversation.

     "So YOU'RE Zoamel Gustav?" she asked, just to make sure.

     "My name at this time is Zoamel Gustav, yes, this is true," Zoamel said. He pulled a folding chair usually reserved for the bingo nights over, and sat down, careful not to crease his pants. "The unholy terror of vengeance, the curse-god, the dreadlord of the disrespected. And you are...?"

     "Lina Inverse," Lina introduced, getting more of a grip of things and offering her hand to shake. Which the god did.

     "Ah, Martina's arch rival," he said, recognizing. "I should have recognized you, but it has been some time. How do you do? I must admit to being surprised to see you as a Demiurge. You are right; you are one. I can sense it in you. Is your friend well? She seems to be drooling."

     "What IS a Demiurge?" Lina asked, at last. "Just say it straight out. I've had a long, long day."

     "Very well. Since the dawn of time--"

     "Skip that," Lina instructed. "Definition first. Explanation second. At this point I don't care how shocking or unbelievable it is, I'm ready not to be shocked and I'm ready to believe."

     "We are workers for the people," Zoamel corrected right away. "Workers for the maker of the world, the Lord of Nightmares. Agents employed by creation to shape belief, and be shaped by belief. Gods and demons. We are worshipped, we are spoken of in myth and legend, we grow with strength as people use us to guide their lives, and we fade to the winds as we are no longer needed. That is the existence of a Demiurge."

      Lina's brain swallowed it. She latched onto one word. "I'm a god?.."

     "A god, not the Lord herself," Zoamel noted. "Just as me. I am a god of vengeance, a god of curses. A god that brings down fire and wrath on the enemies of my believes. And I do. But the cult is small; my powers are limited. For instance, the seller of apples will have an extremely bad stomachache tonight, but he will not languish in the acid pits for all time. Do you understand?"

     "You? Yes. I always figured you didn't exist, though. Martina made you UP! I mean, an imaginary god--"

     "But she believed, and the belief shaped me," Zoamel stated, pulling a teacup from nowhere, and sipping from it, to wet his throat. "Mmm. Do you remember when she obtained your headband, and cursed it with a knife? Your friends thought it was from sheer will. In a way, they were right. But it was the same will that eventually brought me into being. And soon after her divorce, when she resurrected my concept, others came under the umbrella, and belief increased. And thus, I am. But I see you do not understand?"

      Lina definitely was shaking her head. "No. I mean... okay, I understand belief. But.. you're... you're a PRETTY BOY. Not a monster! What's up with that? ...Penny, close your mouth!"

     "Huh? What?" Penny started, startled. She looked around. "Oh, oh, sorry. Belief. Right. I've been listening the whole time, I swear."

      Zoamel offered his best polished smile... a wry smile, amused, but not condescending. He closed his eyes, and asked. "Which do you think Martina, in her heart of hearts, secretly believes most in; ugly monsters, or handsome men?"

      Lina didn't even answer that. The answer was so obvious it was practically a hypothetical question. "Now. Your life story is very interesting, but why am *I* a Demiurge? There's already a Lina Inverse, even if she retired and got married and grew old; she's... she's probably the real one. So what happened? What am I really? I gotta know..."

     "Technically, users of the incantation are only entitled to one question--"

      Penny took his hand in hers, and looked deep into his soft blue eyes. Candles around them lit a little brighter from the sheer drama of it.

     "Please, Zoamel-san," she pleaded, quietly. "It's very important. Will you grant us another question? We would be very grateful, sir! We would do anything for you!"

     "Oi! Does your mother know you act this way?!" Lina asked, feathers ruffled.

     "I suppose it is fair," Zoamel said, reclaiming use of his hand gently. "But truth be told, I am not sure how this occurred. You were human; now you are a Demiurge, leaving a human behind?... it's unheard of, but there is one explanation. A theory of mine. Do you wish to hear it? Conjecture, true, but--"

     "Yeah, yeah, spill it," Lina egged on, snapping her fingers.

     "You say your.. human self retired. But I know you; you are legend," Zoamel said, with a slight tone of awe. "The legend, it seems, carried on. With no continuing adventure of Lina Inverse, the world needed a Lina Inverse, and one was provided. ...but you already knew that, didn't you?"

     "Of course not, I.... I mean..."

     "A 'tug', I believe. I know it in my existence, but it would be new to you," Zoamel said. "A feeling of where you should be, where Lina is needed. A servant of the people, a god of vengeance similar to myself, lost in a blur of actions and reactions and quests and--"

     "I know," Lina said, stopping it there, before the creepy feeling came back. The feeling that she could sink into the haze again, she could...

      The tug.

      Somewhere, near Darata, bandits were attacking a family. All the possessions they had were stolen, along with their only daughter, and they called out for help, for someone to rescue, to assist, for Lina Inverse--

     "--Lina?" Penny asked, shaking her slightly, breaking the call. "What's wrong?"

     "No, NO!" Lina shouted, grabbing her head. "I'm on a quest! I stopped those urges with it, I.... oh, no. The quest. It's over... you told me the answer and ended it! I'm free again for anybody to call me..."

     "It's best to let go to it," Zoamel said, sipping his tea again. "We have a purpose and a reason to exist. Anything else is selfish. I'm sure you are a spectacular Demiurge, and well needed in these dark times for our kind. Thank you for coming. I always enjoy visitors."

      Lina staggered backwards, bumping into a pew, as she tried to resist. She could sink into it. She could do some good, knock over some bandits, humble some cooks, all the things she does, she does them SO WELL... just like she's done for twenty years, ever since coming into existence, since starting her journey. Her life as a Demiurge. The end of her life as the human Lina Inverse...

      Again, Penny's voice calling. Worried. Zoamel unconcerned. The Wandering Monster Table perched on a pew, looking nervous and frightened -- how a chiseled stone table could look nervous and frightened was a mystery but Lina was too occupied to solve it.

      What do her instincts say?

      Her instincts tell her she is self. She is Lina Inverse. She is in control at all times.

      Pulled back to the present, like a man hanging in the air by tugging himself upward by the hair. She faced down Zoamel.

     "Tell me... how to stop it," she said, through clenched teeth, as the tug started to fade. "This is very nice for you, and I'm sure I'm just a LOVELY Goddess Inverse, but it's not what I want to be. I want to be human. To be Lina Inverse again. Not Lina Gabriev, but myself, and ALIVE. You said Demiurges fade away eventually..."

     "When the belief well runs dry, we return to wisps of notions," Zoamel said calmly.

     "I want out."

     "It's.. unheard of," Zoamel admitted. "I've never personally met a Demiurge who didn't want to be what they were. Perhaps because you started as the memory of a human, you--"

     "ENOUGH theories!" Lina shouted. "What do I DO?"

     "I don't know," Zoamel quickly said. "...but I may know someone who does."

      Another tug, this time in a distant tribal land where she once passed through while grabbing a mystic idol and the locals accidentally worshipped her as a sun goddess, that was new, she was needed to bring the dawn and eat all the breakfast in the village, curious, calling-- no.

     "Of course, it would take many days of journeying to find him, since I don't know where he went after ceasing to be Demiurge," Zoamel added. "Likely with plenty of hardship along the way."

     "A quest!!" Lina shouted, diving on the idea like a man dives on a chocolate chip cookie in the middle of the burning desert. Everything snapped into sharp focus, into relief. "Right! You're hired! Penny, go grab your weapon, put that damn table back in the bag, we are GOING right after we find a nice inn and have a big breakfast and sleep off this ridiculous night, Zoamel, I'll pay your way until you can start to pull your--"

     "I cannot accompany you," Zoamel said, setting his empty teacup back in the nowhere he got it from.

     "Oh, say it isn't so!" Penny wailed.

     "I'm afraid that my place is with my people," Zoamel sighed. "I cannot leave them. They need me here, and want me to be here, and I am unable to resist that. It would not do for me to gallivant around the world while the followers of Zoamel Gustav are left to twist in the--"

     "If I find a way for you to get out of here, would you follow?" Lina asked quickly, a plan immediately forming in her mind.

     "Excuse me? I'm afraid it's not possible."

      The young sorceress allowed a wry, evil grin to light up her face, and the candles to give her spooky underlighting to the point where the Wandering Monster Table skittered around Penny to hide in fear.

     "Never underestimate the determination of a very tired, very hungry Lina Inverse!!" Lina proclaimed, clenching a fist. "You're coming with me, God, and I'll see to it that your followers WANT you to! Just you wait and see!"

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