He was wanted in three countries for petty theft. He was wanted in five for armed robbery and assault. He was even wanted for jaywalking in Justivalero. But never before had Roy Balderdash been wanted for death, much less caught, convicted, and sentenced in the span of a single hour.

     This was an experience altogether new to him, and he wasn't enjoying it very much. He paced back and froth in the tiny metal cell, getting a bit tired of the same walls, the same caged bars. He'd been in jail before, of course, but this was different.

     To think, not long ago he was sitting in a bar in the classier district of Sairaag, drowning his woes in several pitchers of beer. Being beaten by the same soldiers he was commanding not a few days ago and dragged to see a court magistrate sobered him up very fast. Nobody told him what he'd done wrong, but he was told one thing -- his execution was ordered by Elizabeth Balderdash.

     There was a long waiting list to get a nice public execution, so he'd had some time to ponder where he went wrong. It felt clear as day, now. He was too weak. Too easy to lead, despite being a supposed leader of men. He let his bandit's instincts to antagonize Lina Inverse overtake him. He let his sister walk all over him. He couldn't stop Zelgadis from nearly destroying Sailoon. His entire life fit the same pattern.

     What actual control, what actual successes had he had in life? He had a measly bandit tribe miles and miles away. Whee. He was a particularly good bandit, but it wasn't hard to be a good bandit -- you just had to know what part of the head was easiest to hit, how to count money, and how to run fast. This entire farce in Sairaag had clearly proven he had almost no other skills, no other redeeming qualities, and to top it ALL off, he'd be killed right when he realized he needed a change in life.

     It all felt vaguely ironic, but not being a literary man he wasn't fully sure exactly what sort of irony was ruling his life.

     A clinking of keys in a lock and guards voices signaled the arrival of a visitor. Probably someone to drag him away to be killed. Roy flexed his fingers, ready to attack on sight. He might not have many useful talents, but he could still cripple a man in less time than it takes to say 'I can still cripple a man in less time than it takes to cripple a man'...

     Or a woman, as the case may be. He relaxed himself. No. He wasn't going to stoop to her level.

     "Sis," he acknowledged, in the same voice one would say 'You evil little bitch'.

     "This had to be done," she quickly said. She was more nervous than usual, her cold exterior having melted somewhat. "There was no other choice, Roy. There are forces at work here you can't possibly imagine, and even if I don't fully comprehend yet the reasons, your death is--"

     "Stow it, okay?" Roy politely requested. "Whatever crackpot logic got me in here, I don't want to hear it. I could really give a rat's ass what you think. I don't know what the hell's gotten into you, but I don't like it."

     "Nothing has 'Gotten into me'," Elizabeth said, voice returning to her normal cold monotone. "You'll never understand. I was wrong to think you could ever have a part in the new world order--"

     "More rhetoric. I'll simplify it for you; your new world order is stupid. It's stock evil overlord dictatorship in a candy shell," Roy bit off, feeling a particular need to prove his wit, his emotion, his sense of being ALIVE to the unemotional woman. "More to order, YOU are stupid. Even for a Balderdash you're acting particularly stupid, and knowing our family, that's saying a lot. We're easily led, even when we think we're in total control -- it's the family curse. I'll even admit, I've been pretty stupid lately, but you take the stupid cake. If they had a stupid school for stupidity you'd be at the top of the stupid list and that's the stupidest insult I could come up with, that's how stupid I feel right now. So don't sit there whining to me about manifest destiny and all that crap. Go back to your chimera and your mechanical city and your legions and get out of my face. You're no sister of mine anymore."

     Elizabeth left. What more could be said? Roy ignored her exit, pacing. His mind was too flooded with what ifs to pay attention to the woman he'd just disowned.

     If he was on the other side of those bars, he'd break the guard's neck, he'd get the hell out of here. He wouldn't meekly be led around with a ring in his nose, not like he'd been doing lately.

     He'd assemble the best damn bandit gang Sairaag had ever seen, and he'd rather specifically lead them to crush his sister's cute little empire. The things he'd seen, the atrocities he'd helped commit, that sort of thing wasn't going to go on. That's what he'd do, if he wasn't going to die. He was a bandit, a thug, a no-goodnik, and a mercenary, but he wasn't TOTALLY evil and if he had his druthers, he'd do something about this...

     Which is exactly why he was being put to death, but he didn't know that.

     The Sairaag medical staff had done a very good job patching up Gourry's gunshot wound, applying the finest healing agents and bandages they had developed. That way, he would be perfectly healthy in time to be tortured.

     Zelgadis stood by and watched as the interrogators worked him over, mostly disinterested in the actual action. He was too busy feeling perturbed and angry. When Elizabeth returned from her 'little errand' she said she had to do, Zel gave her a piece of his mind.

     "This is wrong," he declared. "What you are doing here is wrong, and I cannot let you continue."

     "Zelgadis, please, I have had a very bad day," Elizabeth protested, rubbing her forehead. "I do not need further problems. Just summarize your concerns for me instead of making me prompt you. Is it your friend? You disagree with us hurting someone you care about?"

     "No, not really," Zelgadis said. "What is wrong is that torturing him will only anger Lina Inverse and her companions further, and encourage them to retaliate. This is tactically dangerous."

     "Zel, we've been over this. If we can break Gourry's will, or at least his body, the act will frighten those women into agreeing to turn away from this quest," Elizabeth said. "The core computer has run risk calculations and determined this to be the best course of action. At worst, we waste some time and effort prolonging his suffering. What's the harm?"

     "You and your computer do not know Lina like I do," Zelgadis warned. "You are thinking too narrowly. This will backfire on you. You're growing increasingly erratic, Elizabeth. Between the situation with your brother, and this, you're losing control of your empire. Is there something wrong...?"

     "NO. No, nothing is wrong," Elizabeth stated. "Oversee operations here. I'm heading to the Core room... I have.. calculations to do. I'll be fine later tonight, it's simply the stress. We shall have dinner at 1900 hours?"

     "Agreed," Zelgadis said, as his 'lover' walked off before he could comfort her. He frowned. Of course she would return to the Core room. Every time she came back from there, she would be nearly dreamy -- as dreamy as her expressionless modus would allow for.

     Perhaps she really did believe him to be stupid enough not to know why.

     Roy Balderdash's black hood was removed, when he finally had arrived at the place where he was to die.

     Much to his disappointment, it was just another room in the endless maze of rooms that was the Sairaag mechanical royal palace, which happened to have about five guys armed with rifles ready to shoot him in the head. Damn. He was hoping to at least get some fresh air in a nice public execution.

     A court official flipped through a staple-bound series of duplicated documents. "Roy Balderdash, it is by the legal order of the High Court of Sairaag and the direct orders of Director of Research and Design Elizabeth Balderdash that you on this day be put to death by--"

     "Skip the formalities, okay?" Roy asked, leaning against the wall. "I know who it's ordered by, and I'm sure you boys want to be off and doing other things. I won't take up any more of your time."

     "Ah... do you have any last words?" the official asked, setting the document aside.

     "Only that I realize I've been a moron, and it's too late to do anything about it," Roy summarized. "Anytime you're ready, guys."

     So, that was that. It would have been nice to die in battle, but--

     But he'd get his chance, as instead of gunshots, he heard an explosion, and THEN gunshots. The impact was enough to knock him silly, disorienting him... the far wall had been blown open, and in the dusty haze, he could make out people fighting, swords clashing, guns going off...

     This is new, his dazed mind thought. A hand grappled with his, pulling him to his feet, and he felt himself being patted down for injuries.

     "Are you hurt?" the young man asked.

     "I'm not dead, am I?" Roy asked.

     "No, Mr. Balderdash. Praise Sylpheel that we got here in time," the boy said. He turned to face the battle, keeping his sword ready. "Stay behind me, we've got to get out of here before the security backup gets here."

     Not one to reject a strange wave that was pulling him away from certain doom, Roy went with it. He allowed himself to be led by the nose again.

     But just for now, he decided. He'd be stupid to not to recognize a second chance when it miraculously happened.

     Elsewhere, a small but decidedly vicious little army was also planning to move against Sairaag.

     Lina Inverse hiked up her belt. The rock welded to her buckle was heavy, but not so heavy as to have her pants drop in public, thankfully. She adjusted her bracelets, as well as the collar, and other spots where they're strapped / tied / locked small pieces of the rock to her.

     She wasn't stupid enough to TEST the rig to see if it'd really repel an Eradicator, though, and decided just to go on faith.

     "Okay, here's the plan," Lina Gabriev explained. "We'll pop back to Zeifelia first, and I'll grab as much deadly magical weaponry as I can force Xelloss to carry from my shop."

     "Ohhh, my back," Xelloss groaned, feeling the pain well in advance.

     "After that, it's on to Sairaag, using my OTHER teleportation staff. And then we kick a large amount of ass. Penny, you're staying at home."

     Penny nodded. Then realized exactly what she was nodding about. "What?! Mother, you can't be serious! Zoamel--"

     "Don't argue, Penny," Lina Gabriev commanded, in motherly authoritarian tones. "You're not ready for a knock down drag out high powered battle like this. I'm not even sure if I'M ready, I'm so rusty from not using my magic... but you don't have magic, or even a weapon!"

     ... and Penny simply smiled.

     "Actually, mother, I've been thinking about that," she said. "Zoamel told me I was one of his believers. If I have faith that I can save him, that I can achieve his dream of vengeance on Sairaag... then maybe this will work."

     She stripped the white cloth binding from her shoulder wound, where the Sairaag sentry had shot her earlier in the day. Despite the bleeding, it had remained snowy white and pure, as it was not simple cloth... wadding the bandage up in her hands, she held it close to her heart, as she spoke.

     "This is a part of the monstrous god Zoamel Gustav," she said, voice reverent, heartfelt. "A fragment of the god, even if the rest of him isn't here with us, now. I call in prayer upon his spirit of wrath, and his spirit of compassion, to be my weapon in his glorious crusade... I call upon my love of Zoamel Gustav!"

     Her mother simply rolled her eyes. "Penny, that's cute and all, but--"

     The chamber rocked with a silent explosion, and a nonexistent flash of light. A memory of the light echoed in their minds, if not in their eyes, as Penny released the cloth... it floated before her, twisting and warping, like a living thing (which it was). In a snapping grab, she squeezed the ball of light, and willed it into being...

     The light extended quickly, forming an immediately recognizable shape. Instead of a cloth, now it was a naginata, a striking staff with a blade on the end... a blade sharp enough to cut air. The whole weapon, blade, staff and all, was hewn from a pure white material. It was as if it was carved from a single piece of ivory, a soft-looking material that was defiantly hard, beyond what it should be...

     And, carved into the side of the blade in fine lettering, an inscription read: ANOTHER CUSTOMME BLADE OF FYNE P.G. MARKSEPERSONSHIPPE!! #2 IN A SERIESE!!! (IF FOUNDE RETURN TO: PENNY GABRIEV 413 SORCERY BVD ZENA, ZEFEILA 20878)

     Penny twirled her weapon once or twice, before slipping it into a loop in her backpack for safekeeping. She allowed herself a little 'I told you so' look to her companions.

     "....nice trick," Lina Inverse admitted.

     "Gosh, thanks, Lina!"

     "Now, do you have ANY idea how you're going to smuggle that huge thing into Sairaag when we invade?"

     "Eh, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it," Penny said, with a dismissive wave.

     "Spoken like a true Inverse," Lina said with pride, smiling at her apprentice.


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