It was a very impressive explosion. There was just the right amount of BOOM, just the right amount of fire and bright light. It had a pleasant deafening quality to it, and there was plenty of smoking shrapnel tossed about dramatically. The judges were quite impressed, and scored it a 4.3, 4.4, 4.7, and 3.0. (The Atlass City judges always scored low.)
The competition was down to four finalists, out of the two hundred sorcerers who were attending MagiCon 5. Whoever won this final round of 'Freestyle Destructive Magic' would take home the coveted Magus Statue, a cash prize, and get the envy of every other two-bit magician, sorcerer warlord and practitioner of the arcane arts at the convention. Truly, a great feat indeed.
The second competitor stood up to the platform, behind the white line as the innkeeper's servants nervously replaced the smoking remains of the target with a fresh, whole one. Then they ran for their very lives, as the sorcerer charged up a sickly green light around his body, and unleashed a bolt of power that tore through the air like a dagger of sheer lightning...
When everybody could see after the explosion, there was a red and white melted puddle where the target was. Good scores all around, 4.8's and 4.7's.
The third competitor went even farther, doing a twirl and pose before screaming to the heavens, his hair glowing yellow and shooting up against the force of gravity. A ball of unfiltered might formed in his hands, and he cast it at the target, kicking up a shock wave that cracked windows for three blocks around before punching through the target, the wall behind it, the building behind that and causing a shop of extremely fragile and expensive glassware to explode into powder.
4.9s across the board. He would be the clear winner.
While the servants traced various holy sigils for luck in the air between them and the proving grounds, the fourth competitor stepped up to the platform. She really wasn't much to look at; some girl, maybe fourteen, maybe fifteen. Barely any figure to speak of, a very unflattering yellow and purple sorceress's costume, like you'd see on a kid at Halloween. She had fiery orange hair, and a somewhat unusual smirk... and before the servants had even gotten off the battlefield, a red aura flared up around the girl. She was chanting something, a LONG spell, but not one anybody could hear from that distance. Strange, the observers thought, how could some kid that young lea--
Nobody was conscious to see what happened, but the aftermath left the walls of the arena flattened, the competitors tossed around the landscape, one city block in flaming ruin, and all that was left of one of the judges was a pair of smoking boots.
But there was a 5.0 in front of those smoking boots, which was equaled by each judge after they woke up. 5.0, 5.0, 5.0.
The winner was Lina Inverse.
Known throughout the land as the infamous Lina Inverse, Bandit Killer (and sometimes known as 'someone even a dragon wouldn't mess with') (and sometimes as 'the enemy of all who live') (and frequently as 'the flat chested terror') has carved a name for herself in history books. Not the RIGHT kind of history books, mind you, but the kind that go on and on about heroic deeds and quests and slayings of dragons, along with lots of Thees and Thous. She doesn't really set out to do that sort of thing, it just tends to happen along the way.
Not much is known publicly about her, background or otherwise. She started to show up in the magic 'scene' five years ago, just a kid at the time, doing random mercenary deeds and annihilating local bands of robbers. Nobody's sure of her exact age (soon to be eighteen) because she still looks like a young girl, or in hushed whispers where she can't hear, a young boy. She's been involved in the near destruction and sudden saving of the entire world on more than one occasion, and is rumored to be everything from the savior of the land to the Lord of Nightmares incarnate. That's not entirely far off the mark. Either of them.
Anybody who knows her close would know that her behavior upon winning the Freestyle Destructive Magic competition was quite normal. Lina bounced her way back to her inn room on the second floor of the convention center, handling her new trophy like the Turin Shroud. She was giddy. Awash with a wave or six of delight, she set the trophy down in front of her window, so it would A) catch the light and glint just so, and B) be seen by all the other sorcerers at the con and thus envied with shades of green rivaled only by the grass on the other side. As far as Lina was concerned, she was ON that other side right now, waving to everybody else.
"I KNEW I'd win, naturally," Lina said, ego inflating to 500 PSI. "After all, there are very few spells that can compare to my Dragon Slave!"
The lanky blond-haired man who wandered in to the room after her was looking too worried to comment about that. "I really hope the hotel doesn't bill us the damages," he said. "Some of those shopkeepers looked really mad."
(Lanky there is actually Gourry Gabriev, noted swordsman and heroic nice guy. He's been spotted traveling with Lina for the last few years, as bodyguard, guardian, punching bag, comic relief and human shield. He's considerably taller than Lina, has a dull glaze over his eyes most of the time and really likes jellyfish.)
"Relax, Gourry! It all falls under the con's insurance policy," Lina smiled, giving him a thumbs up. "Don't worry so much! This is MAGICON FIVE! The time for us doers of magic and casters of rituals to kick back, enjoy a refreshing beverage, and unwind."
"...but I'm not a doer of ritual or a caster of magic, Lina." Gourry said, having a seat on his bed. (Lina was forced to light the innkeeper on fire when he made some untoward comment about her wanting separate beds for herself and Gourry.)
"Eh, there's stuff for you here too. Did you check out the dealer's room? They must have six bazillion Magic Swords!"
"I like mine already," Gourry said, fingering his Sword of Light(tm) protectively.
Lina rooted through the packet of con materials she got (a map, a schedule and a coupon worth ten percent off anything bought at Stan's Previously Owned Sacrificial Altars), looking for her tiny paper of carefully scrawled notes. "There's plenty to do. You could go socialize, or something. Or go to a panel. Or AAAA! I'm late I'm late gotta go later Gourry!"
"Anoooo..." Gourry commented, watching Lina frantically scramble around the room to fetch things. "I.. guess I'll just sit up here, then."
As her final act before shooting out of the room at near the speed of sound, Lina circled something on the schedule and handed it to Gourry. "Try that." Then she fled.
Blinking in surprise, Gourry's mind slowly, slowly caught up to what had gone on, and looked at the paper in his hand.
"'Sidekick's Discussion Panel'??" he asked aloud, dumbfounded.
A blur of orange, yellow and purple dashed down the halls of the Happy Traveler. No magic was involved, just a lot of determination, a lot of sugar and a lot of 'spunk.' Elevators hadn't been invented yet except for a few comedically disastrous efforts at rigging a 'magical lift' which left passengers in a thin paste at the top of the elevator shaft, so the Linaesque Blur was forced to take the stairs.
It snapped to a sudden halt, ignoring the laws of inertia, at the back of a large gathering crowd in the main ballroom. Most of the sorcerers that were attending the weekend outing were here, to see the Big Thing. Several reporters from local newspapers were also present, along with some wannabe historians, pens ready to start scribing Thees and Thous for generations of adventure-crazed history buffs to read.
An imposing figure stood high above all others, on a raised platform to address the crowd. The podium looked like a child's toy in front of his impressive bulk. Lina recognized him immediately and was glad he didn't recognize her from that distance.
"On this, the 500th Anniversary of Sailoon's foundation, I, Prince Philonel the Just do hereby...." then he got lost in his notes and had to fumble through a half-dozen little cards before picking up again. "...time. As you no doubt know, we have recovered the Legendary Oracle's Mirror of Sailoon, one of the many ancient magical artifacts our forefathers used to guide our people through centuries of golden peace!!"
Everybody knew this; it was printed on all the flyers for MagiCon 5 that the Oracle's Mirror would be unveiled after its recent recovery from the ruins of a nearby temple. That wasn't the important bit.
"And now, to explain more about the mirror and its magical significance," introduced Phil, moving right along to the important bit, "Is the esteemed Royal Astrologer of Sailoon, Mr. Melvin Mallorean!"
There was a halfhearted smattering of applause, as the young man with excessively thick seeing lenses shuffled up to the podium, and got his (even less) organized notes together. He wasn't cut out for public speaking. He wasn't cut out for sunlight. He belonged to the class of sorcerers known as 'Giiks', which was ancient for 'nebbishly pale man who sits in his parent's basement for years and plays with magic and doesn't know how to talk to girls'.
"Ummm... thanks," he started, not sure how to properly react. "Ah.. Well. The Oracle's Mirror, as most of you know, was made with a form of magic lost in time known as Mirror Lore. Like the three primary arts, Black Magic, White Magic and Shamanism, it was a commonly practiced form of ancient times. But, um, it's gone now. Because people forgot to write it down, we think."
He paused. Melvin had read a book somewhere which said you could use pauses to keep your audience enthralled. It wasn't working. He probably had paused too long. Oh dear.
"Anyway," he continued, "The mirror is one of a kind. The ancient rulers of Sailoon used to use it to examine what the best and worst case outcomes of any decision might be. It gave them visions of them, I mean. So they'd know what the risks might be."
"And so they ruled in wisdom and knowledge through the benefit of such powers!!" Phil interrupted in mighty tones, causing Melvin to nearly fall over in surprise.
"Uh... right, right," Melvin nodded. "Anyway. We're trying to keep it safe, you see, it's very fragile so..... we won't be unveiling it today like we had planned."
Collective groans went up from the audience at large, as well as a few off-color remarks about Melvin's lineage. He blushed furiously and continued.
"Starting tomorrow we'll allow each of you ten minutes to study the mirror as carefully as you can, and, um, see if you can figure out anything about Mirror Magic," he said. "And.... that's it. Are there any questions?"
Lina's hand shot up.
"Uhh, yes?" Melvin asked, standing on his tiptoes to see Lina over the podium. "The kid in the back?"
Lina fumed quietly about the 'kid' remark, but asked her question anyway. "What about Silverquick's Tome of Mirror Lore? Did you find that too?"
"Uh. What's that?"
"It's the name of the only book relating to Mirror Magic left in the world, Mr. Expert. Duh. Everybody's heard of it!"
The other magicians, thaumataologists and hedge wizards nodded in agreement with Lina, murmuring to themselves.
"Uh... oh. That book, uh, hai. I'm not aware of that book," Melvin flushed, tugging at his collar. "Which means, um, no. We didn't find it. It wasn't with the mirror."
"Then where is it?" Lina asked.
"Still lost... um. Yes, still lost, I'd guess."
Grumbling spread through the crowd like peanut butter.
On a disused broom closet, away from the main action of the convention, a sign hung on a doorknob. It read 'SIDEKICKS WELCOME'.
Inside the cramped quarters, Gourry sipped watered down punch, listening to his peers discuss. Whine, actually.
"I tell you, it's enough to drive you batty!" a scarred mercenary spat. "'Thug, do this. Thug, do that,' she says. Like I'm some common minion! I'm a card carrying GOON, thank you very much. I didn't go to school for three years to be called a THUG!"
An even more scarred little boy with no body hair twitched slightly, and nodded. "I hear you, brother. Every day my master makes me help him with his alchemy experiments. I'm telling you, if I hadn't gotten very good at emerging from comas, I wouldn't be here today."
"How about you, friend?" the thug asked Gourry. "How's your role treating you?"
"Huh?" Gourry asked, lowering his punch. "Oh, not bad. I carry the heavy stuff and I cut apart monsters and things. And I get to see all sorts of places around the world."
The thug fehed. "The old 'See the sights' gag. Yeah, I got suckered by that one too."
"No, really, it's not bad at all," Gourry said. "Lina doesn't mistreat me."
The other sidekicks in the room cowered and sank back towards the walls in fright.
"You're LINA INVERSE'S sidekick?!"
"Good god! You're a braver man than I!"
"How is it you're still breathing and have your original four limbs?!"
Gourry tried to quiet the group down, and continued. "Honestly, I don't have too many complaints. I mean, she's built like a washboard and sometimes she hits me and calls me names, but... uh.."
The burned Alchemist's understudy went tisk-tisk. "She's got you strung along for abuse city, man. You shouldn't put up with that sort of thing."
"Ano?" Gourry asked, scratching his head. "What sort of thing?"
"Hitting you! Calling you names! Like you said!"
"But I said I'm not being mistreated."
The thug shook his head, leaning forward to talk to Gourry in close, personal, I'm Your Friend ways. "Pal, that is mistreatment. I mean, look at me. I get called things like idiot, letch, hoser, dimwit, cuttlefish--"
"Yeah! I mean, you can't just take that kind of abuse. It's not fair!" the thug spat again. "I ain't afraid of no Lina Inverse, and you shouldn't be either. You need to stand up to that little witch, and go, like, 'DAMMIT, GIRL! YOU SIT YOUR BITCH ASS DOWN, AND MAKE ME SOME PIE!!'"
"Have you ever told your boss that?" Gourry asked.
"...no," the thug admitted. "She'd probably fire me if I did."
Gourry nodded, figuring as much. But still, they had a point. Lina did yell at him a lot, and hit him sometimes... but she wasn't a bad person. No, not at all. True, she did destroy a hunk of the city today, but she was just showing off, which isn't a bad... well, okay, maybe a little of a bad thing, but...
While the other sidekicks complained about lack of proper respectable titles in Sidekicking, Gourry sat in silence while his slower than average mind puzzled over this thought. He wasn't a stupid man, not by a league. Just a little slow. But squatting for a few hours of hard thought can do wonders regardless of speed.
Wizards chattered in the main lobby, mostly discontented rumblings. Nobody was pleased with the announcement.
"What's the point of showing a magic mirror to a bunch of industry specialists if the manual's gone?" Lina asked her companion. "And ten minutes of studying?? What can you figure out in ten minutes? Not the whole of one of the legendary lost lores, I tell you, Jack!"
"My name isn't Jack."
"It's a figure of speech, Zelgadis," Lina groaned.
The figure sitting opposite of her shrugged. "So the book is gone. Odds are most of the people here will take off early to start looking for it. Likely they won't succeed, considering it's been a few centuries since Silverquick's Tome of Mirror Lore was written and no clues exist."
"Bummer," Lina agreed. "What do you want Mirror Magic for, anyway?"
Zel blinked. "Isn't it obvious?"
"I'm not getting any pinker, am I?" Zelgadis asked, gesturing to his face. Which was greenish blue.
Someone who's part golem, part chimera and part human isn't uncommon. They're incredibly rare. Zelgadis, in fact, was the only one of his kind, made this way after a magical deal gone wrong, leaving him with a rocky complexion to say the least. He'd been traveling the lands looking for some kind of magic that would turn him back into a human, coincidentally wandering around with Lina Inverse a few times, but hadn't found anything that worked. (Lina's got a lot of random friends. You'll get used to them popping up from time to time.)
"White Magic, Black Magic, and Shamanism," Zelgadis counted off on his fingers. "Three lores, none of which have a transformation spell powerful enough to overcome my curse. There's other minor lores, but I've exhausted the list of those. But Mirror Magic... that's a lore which might work."
"I haven't actually read anything about it, I just figured it'd be fun to learn," Lina beamed.
"'Fun'?" Zel asked, puzzled.
"Of course!" Lina said. "New magic gives you something to practice, and yet another thing to smack bad guys around with, or get yourself a lot of money and good food! I'm always looking for new magic to fiddle around with."
"I need it to restore my body after a horrible magical curse, and all you want it for is.. kicks?"
"Sure," Lina grinned ear to ear. "Can't hurt, ne?"
Zelgadis sighed. "Anyway, I suppose it'll be lost for another few centuries. Not much point in me hanging around here." He got up, adjusted his cloak and pulled the hood over his head. At the con, it was accepted that everybody's going to look a little odd, but outside he really didn't want to be chased by a mob with pitchforks and torches.
Lina, however, got up to stop him. "Ne, ne, Zel! You don't need to run off so soon. There's going to be a dance tonight, and a feast! And there's still plenty of challenges and wizard's games and panels."
"I don't care about any of that," Zel noted. "I'm not exactly a party animal."
"You're always so gloomy, no matter how much I try to cheer you up," Lina pouted. "Okay. I'll make you a deal. Stay tonight, come with me and Gourry to the party, we'll have a good time... and I'll buy you a Rezo plushie at the dealer's room to torture in any way you see fit."
Zelgadis shrugged. "I'm not exactly a doll collector, either."
He considered a moment, scratching his chin with a sound like two rocks scraping together. "I suppose."
"Weehoo!" Lina cheered, waving little V signs with her hands. "Just you wait, Zel. We'll get some punch into you, have some really inane smalltalk, show off a little and you'll feel a LOT better!"
Zel shook his head, and allowed himself a rare chuckle.