ometimes magic shops hang out signs reading 'THISE ISE AYE MAGICK SHOPPE' and sometimes you just sort of have to infer it.
    Lina had spotted the magic shop in this town easily.  You usually can; in the window you'll see display items that don't quite seem to belong together.  A stick with a star on the end, a pair of shoes, a couple scrolls, maybe a dagger.  Odder items, like a calendar with 16 months or a glow in the dark pinwheel with handy carrying strap. This one even had a stuffed frog with six legs and a label 'GOING FAST - RESERVE ONE NOW'. It was upside down.
    Any place that weird had to be a magic shop of some kind.  So, Lina strolled in.  The bell hanging over the door chimed soundlessly, announcing her appearance.
    The elderly wizard sitting behind the counter sat up in surprise, ending a pleasant afternoon nap.  His pointy hat poked at the ceiling as he nodded to Lina.  "Mm, welcome.  How can I, mm, help you, miss...?"
    "Betty," Lina strategically lied.  "Betty Davis.  I'm looking for a map, or a locator or something..."
    "Oh, mm, plenty of those," the man said, getting up with the creaking of protesting bones, and shuffling in bunny slippers under his robe over to a rack of maps.  "Got a map to the end of the rainbow, or, mm... mmm... sort of a map thingy that says 'here be dragons'... one for a sunken treasure... what you be wanting, miss?"
    "Silver Lake," Lina said, confidently.  "Surely you've heard of it?"
    "Oh, yes, mm.  Quite legendary, that," the wizard nodded.
    "Got anything to help me find it?"
    "Nope, not a thing."
    "Great!  I'll-- what?" Lina asked.
    "Just a legend, miss.  I mean, mm.. everybody knows that," the wizard said, shuffling on back to his seat.  "Nice place, mm. Talking mushrooms and fish and whatnot.  Good fairy tale, that."
    "Nothing at all?" Lina asked.  "Come on, surely--"
    "Not a thing, afraid."
    Lina sighed.  "Rats..."
    "You hear about the, mm, stealings?" the wizard asked. "All the news in the magic community. Mm."
    "I'm not up on the latest gossip," Lina shrugged.
    "Weirdest thing, that.  The Artifact Display Room at the, mm, convention all those nice young people went to.  Someone looted it."
    "Really?" Lina asked.  "Ah... what got stolen?"
    "Everything, sounds like, sounds like.  All those lovely inventions.  Mm.  Had a man in here a week ago, going to sell some stick that threw lead balls.  I figured, mm, be nice for a lovely game of marbles, but... mm.. where was I?"
    "Err, balls?  Stealing?" Lina hazarded.
    "Stealing, yes.  Funny thing.  Even stole that big mirror folks were talking about," the wizard said.  "I mean, it broke because that little maniac Lina Inverse shattered it--"
    "--but the frame, mm, they took that.  Weird.  Funny, that.  Witness said the guy had white hair, or a white coat, or something.  Mm.. mm.  Yes, weird.  Took the frame.  That'll be five gold pieces, miss."
    Lina twitched.  "What? For what??"
    "Gossip, of course.  Going rate and all."
    "I didn't ASK for it!"
    "Well, I offered, you took..."
    With much protest, Lina rummaged around in her bag, and dragged out five gold coins.  She put them down on the counter almost hard enough to snap the ancient wood in twain.  "Don't spend it all in one place, okay, pops?"
    "Thankee kindely, miss," the wizard said, making the money disappear via the ancient capitalistic magical trick of putting it in a cash register.
    The forest made generic foresty sounds, as Naga and Gourry strolled along.  One could probably go into the splendor of nature, the way the sun shines through the leafy branches above like decanted pureness, or even go into high detail about the mossy log with an unusual knot nearby.  But a forest is a forest is a forest.
    "So, how long have you been Lina's flunky?" Naga plainly asked.
    "Welll... I wouldn't call myself a flunky, exactly," Gourry said.  "More like a guardian.  Or a guard.  Hmmm... what's the best word..."
    "Sorta.  Sorta not, though.  She tends to get into a lot of trouble which I bail her out of.  But I don't mind, really," Gourry added.  "I get into trouble too sometimes.  And Amelia gets into trouble and Zel sometimes helps us when we get in trouble, and... um.  We get into a lot of trouble, basically."
    "I can't believe Lina's been having this much fun for the last three years without me!  She could have at least written a postcard, or something..." Naga said.  "'Dear Naga, am at the Gate of Dark Star, fighting one of the evil lords, wish you were here.' It would at LEAST be polite."
    "You guys did a lot of that sort of stuff before I met her, right?"
    "OHOOHO!  Plenty!  Why, I've saved the world and so on many times, with Lina providing minimal assistance, of course," Naga pointed out.  "Then one morning, we have a disagreement over the breakfast bill, and that's that."
    "So what've you been doing since then?"
    "Odd jobs. Random tasks. Eclectic economic opportunities," Naga synonymed.  "Nothing even remotely interesting compared to the interesting times you've had."
    "I wouldn't call fighting Shaburadingo and coming this close to the destruction of the world 'interesting'. More like 'harrowing.'"
    "Gourry, Gourry!  You're so naive!  OOOOHOHOHOO!" Naga laughed.  Little needles of agony went up Gourry's spine as he was forced to listen to that laugh again.  "Harrowing escapes and feats of daring are what being a heroine is all about!"
    "I'm not a heroine."
    "Whatever.  The point is, there is so much FUN STUFF on the horizon!  Embrace it and enjoy!  Bring it on!" Naga smiled.  "What's the worst that could happen?"
    Usually, after a bold statement like Naga's, the worst happens shortly after.  But that's just the mentality of an Instant Gratification culture.  Actually, the worst would be happening a little later on.  Life doesn't always follow dramatic timekeeping schedules.
    At the moment, something just sort of neutral was going on a few miles away in the kingdom of Sailoon. Amelia, being In Cog Nee To, was trying to break into her own country.
    She had experienced a lot of adventures in her time, and plenty of times to expound a little justice onto the wrongdoers of the world.  But now she was having a few doubts.  After all, this was Sailoon; her home, her cradle of life, soon to be her papa's kingdom.  Should she really be trying to climb the wall and sneak in?  It didn't feel... proper.  But Lina-san had been going on about How Not to be Seen, and Amelia took good notes.  So here she was, zipping from bush to bush, behind rocks, and finally scaling the wall.  She didn't even use magic, so as not to alarm any magicians in the area.  Silent was her method; untraceable her goal.
    At the top of the wall she stepped on a loose brick and fell ten feet to the ground on the other side with a resounding WHAM.
    Immediately, the six guards who were on duty at the gate not a stone's throw away leapt to her aid, metal armor clanking enough to sound like a kitchen stove rolling down a mountain.
    "Princess Amelia!  Are you alright?!" they asked simultaneously.

    A small procession ferried the injured princess through town, to the Royal Castle.  41% of the population of Sailoon saw.  Within the hour, 78% knew through various channels of gossip, royal paparazzi tabloid scrolls and scribblings on bathroom walls.
    Once safely away behind castle doors, Amelia had plenty of time to grump, and something new to grump about in the form of a cast on her left leg.  Already it had been signed by most of the guards and kitchen staff, which served her a nice bowl of chicken soup and sympathy.  Her father had even put a little doodle of himself on it stepping on evildoers.
    "What an awful In Cog Nee To," she whined.  "Lina-san's not going to like this."
    "Silver Lake, Silver Lake..." Melvin mumbled to himself repeatedly, so he wouldn't forget it.  The royal astrologer had to be waken from one of the many naps he takes to calm his nerves, and once they peeled him off the ceiling, he had come right away to Amelia with every map he could carry (3).  Servants carried the rest (129).  Now it was just a matter of searching them, a slow process both of them were participating in.
    "I kinda was hoping you'd just, um, know," Amelia said, sifting through the pile of maps she could reach while still remaining upright on the makeshift crutches fashioned for her.  "You are daddy's wiseman, after all."
    "Ah.  Well.  Um," Melvin falsely started, pushing up his glasses.  "You see, ah, there are things that are known throughout, um, all the ages, and stuff that isn't.  This isn't.  Um.  Right.  So, um, it's called Silver Lake, right?"
    Melvin went into Deep Thought for a moment. "And, um... okay.  Silverquick lives there, or.. something... sooo... he probably left behind a map to get there," he stated logically.  "So Sailoon could contact him. He did a lot of contract work for us.  Um. So, it's just in this pile somewhere."
    "Who was this Silverquick guy, anyway?  He's got a cool name."
    "Oh... um. One second," Melvin said, fetching the book of notes that replaced his memory a few years ago from his back pocket.  He flipped through it a few times before landing on S.  "Silverquick... Sorcerer, see Legendary.  One of the few living people ever to practice mirror magic, originated the form and invented all relevant spells.  Very secretive about the spells and only taught certain people the Lore, always authenticated his work with a hidden seal.  As a craftsman, made many magical items for various countries... um... worked from 467 to 489, then sealed himself into a world he created called Silver Lake, saying that his magic was too dangerous for anyone to use again."
    "Woooow!" Amelia wooed, impressed.  "Cool!  I bet he was incredibly powerful!"
    "Um, hai," Melvin agreed.  "One of the most powerful.  Anybody who, uh, used the Legendary Lost Lores was.  Because they were legendary.  And they're, um, lost now.  Right."
    "So if we go to Silver Lake, wherever it is... we might meet this guy?"
    "Could be.  Might be interesting."
    "Great!  Wanna come?!"
    Melvin's heart stopped beating.  "Wh--wha?  I c-couldn't... I mean... leave the castle and, um, go and... and.." He pounded on his chest a few times, then pulled a small bag of pills from his belt and swallowed one.
    "Ano?" Amelia asked, confused.
    "I'm allergic to excitement," Melvin said sheepishly.  "Sorry."
    "YATTA!  Found it!" Amelia cheered, waving around a yellowing ancient document which probably would crumble to nothingness if Amelia kept waving it around like that.  "'Directions of Silver Lake, by Silverquick, Aye Wizzard'.  Looks like some sort of... ano?"
    Amelia held out the map.  Melvin examined it.  Amelia puzzled over it.
    "Is that a map?" Melvin asked.  "It looks like... huh?"
    "Let's get this to Lina-san!" Amelia suggested.  "She'll know what to do!  Come on, Melvin, let's go!"
    "Bah, bah, bah--"
    "We might need your reservoir of Sailoon knowledge!"
    "Muh, muh, muh, m--"
    "Pleeeeeeeeease?" Amelia asked, clasping her hands pleadingly and letting her eyes grow in size and shine to intolerable cuteness levels.
    No living being can resist that, so... "Alright," Melvin sighed.  "But I just know this is going to be disastrous. Um. Amelia?"
    "Why are you wearing a cast when you could, um, heal yourself with white magic?" Melvin asked.
    "..." was her reply.


    The Other Village, home to many fine forms of carpeting, a clock maker or two and the fifth largest mapmaker's guild in the country, was a very busy place.
    It was approaching holiday season, and already orders for travelogues and maps were pouring in.  The Mipross Islands, the Healthy Mud Pits of Slepnir, a guided tour of the Incredibly Hazardous Training Grounds of Juh Sen Kayo... folks wanted to know what was where and they wanted to know now.  Scribes and apprentices scurried around, carrying tall stacks of maps, and every now and then a bell would ring and orders like 'One Sheaf Loose Guiding Quadrant Six Alpha, Stat!' would be barked.
    Gourry watched the ebb and flow of business with the look a caveman might reserve for quantum mechanics.  "How're we gonna find someone to get us a map in this mess?"
    "Ah!" Naga realized, snapping her fingers.  What a perfect opportunity to prove her superiority to the sidekick character!  "That is a simple matter.  Follow my lead."
    With that, she grabbed the nearest cartographical neophyte by the shirt and jerked him off his feet.  "We seek a map to Silver Lake, little man!  Deliver one quite promptly, or face my wrath!" she announced.
    The boy didn't pass out from fright.  He passed out because Naga had raised his face right to her cleavage level and the whole of his world view suddenly was filled with ample female flesh.  Blood dripped from the boy's nose as he sank into gleeful sleep.
    Gourry scratched his head.  "But if you knock them all out, how will we find the map?"
    "Trust me.  You try it next," Naga said, trying to think of a backup plan.
    Nodding, Gourry selected a passing geographical otaku and grabbed him by the lapels as well.  "We seek a map to Silver Lake!" he stated, trying to mimic Naga's voice.  Well, not its pitch or femininity, but aggressiveness, at least.
    "We don't have one!" the mapmaker said.  "It's not a real place!  Don't kill me, I have a wife and six kids to feed!"
    "Oh," Gourry flatly said, setting the map down.  "Sorry to bother you.  Off you go."
    Naga tapped her chin.  "This could be a problem.  Well!  Let's just burn the place down until they cooperate! OOOHHOOHOHOHHOOHO!!"
    "But they don't have a map for it!"
    "They should make one rather quickly, then!"
    "Did you just go 'psst' at me?" Naga asked.
    "Nope," Gourry denied.
    "Psst," pssted the voice.
    Both turned, to spot someone through the open door to the guildhall.
    It was a shady looking character, alright.  Walking in full robes, which hid his face, he was beckoning to them with a gloved hand.  "'Psst' means 'Come this way for secret purposes', you know," the figure reminded them.  "Most sapient lifeforms are aware of this fact."
    Naga followed, of course, seeing a lead; Gourry followed because Naga did.
    The figure led them into a dark alley, where all such deals must take place.  Away from the normal patterns of business, stolen sundials and various entertainment-based medicenes could be obtained.  But what was under the man's cloak when he opened it to Naga and Gourry to show his wares were paper-based.
    "Maps?" Gourry asked, in surprise.
    "Many fine maps," the figure smiled, from the shadows under his cowl.  "The likes of which you aren't to find anywhere else.  Such quality, such workmanship!  I have a map to the Legendary Lost Treasure of Meelee Island, if you want it.  I also have a map to the End of the Rainbow, a map to the Seven Cities of Aluminum, and so on..."
    "Amazing..." Naga said, eyes glossy.  "Such treasures!  I'll take them all!"
    "Wait," Gourry said.  "We're just looking for one map, a map to Silver Lake.  Do you have it?"
    "Ah!" the illegal map dealer smiled.  "That is indeed a treasure.  And I just so happen to have one left."  With that, he pulled a rolled-up scroll from the depths of his cloak; although Gourry didn't spot a pocket there to pull it from.  "This has been in my family for generations.  It was found in an archeological dig, but I'm afraid we can't make use of it.  Preexisting conditions, and all... but I'd be willing to sell it to you for a modest sum.  Maybe you could get some mileage out of it."
    "And the price?" Naga asked.  "Money is no object for the great Naga the White Serpent!!"
    "Fifty gold pieces."
    "Right.  Gourry!  Pay the man."
    "Ehhh??" Gourry asked.  "But.. but that's all I have on me!"
    "No excuses!  We are on a quest, after all.  Sacrifices must be made!" Naga smiled.  "OOHOHOOHOHO!!! Pay up, now.  Good boy."
    Gourry sighed, and counted out the coins.
    The map dealer handed them the scroll, his smile shining even from the darkness of his cloak.  "An excellent buy, sir.  One you'll likely not regret anytime soon.  It has a money back guarantee; come see me if anything goes wrong, by all means."  With that, he turned and stalked on out of the alley.
    "Who are you, so we know where to get my money back?" Gourry asked.
    "Ah," the man replied, pausing.  "That is a secret."

Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.