The inn was quiet that night. Other Village
was not known for its rowdy hip keg-swinging wenching all hours music playing
slap happy fun night scene -- it was known for good maps, doorstops, and
the occasional two headed squirrel.
Lina was thankful for that, as she sat on the balcony of her inn room, perched precariously on the railing. Night air, when not filled with drunken singing, was good air to breathe while being thoughtful. Also, it lent her a bit of privacy; she didn't like to do any really heavy thinking around the gang. After blowing up this afternoon, and trying to mask it by putting on the 'ol happy, carefree, can-do behaviors, she needed some time to herself.
"So, ready to talk about it yet?" Zelgadis asked, having snuck onto the balcony silently. "Or are you going to just stick to the happy, carefree, can-do act?"
Lina groaned. "Zel, you know, there's such a thing as tact. You don't have to point out when I'm trying to fake you guys out so directly."
"Of course I do. You don't exactly volunteer information, you know."
"There's nothing to volunteer," Lina maintained. "I was just a little tense, is all."
"And Naga's insults annoyed you, right?"
Zel grinned. "So you didn't mind her calling you a flat-chested upstart back there?"
"SHE WHAT? The nerve of that....." Lina started, before realizing she fell into a word trap. "Che. You sneaky bastard."
"So, if not her less than colorful commentary, what made you decide to fry her?" Zel asked, leaning against a nearby wall and looking perfectly nonchalant.
"You'll think it's silly."
"I promise not to laugh at you too much."
"It's just a completely unfounded idea, anyway."
"I'm not certain myself about it."
"You realize that the more you hint at, the more curious I'll become?" Zel pointed out.
Lina gave up, shoulders sagging. "I snapped when she asked me who I was."
"Like I said, it's stupid," Lina reminded him.
"The mirror, yes? What you saw in Silverquick's message. You were in there for awhile with it, much more than a simple 'Hello, all six of you scamper off to the library and the lake'."
Lina nodded quietly. She contemplated the stars above a last moment, then turned around, hopping off the railing and dropping twenty feet to her death, except for the fact that she got off on the right side and dropped one foot to the balcony and did not in fact die.
"It was, more or less, Silverquick's life history," she explained. "Pertaining to the mirror lore. Something pretty bad happened to him, something that he said will happen to everybody who seeks out the lores. It's part of a contract the Lord of Nightmares set up, something about keeping the 'balance of things', whatever that means."
"Makes sense. What's the counterforce here?"
"'The worst within,'" Lina said. "Silverquick said that the seeker must one day face 'the worst within'. For him, it was his twin brother, who turned into a drunken megalomaniac that ended up destroying.. something important to him."
"A tragic tale," Zel said. "Repeated a lot in history and drama."
Lina paused, pensive. She looked at the floor a moment, then up to Zelgadis's eyes, tossing a look of implied trust.
"It's repeating here," she admitted. "I'm almost nearly certainly positive. Amelia told you guys that some maniac attacked us, right?"
"Yes, and in her version of the story, you bravely chased the guy off at the expense of being injured in a very valiant self-sacrifice of honor and justice," Zelgadis quoted, word for word. "What really happened?"
"Keep in mind that I am in no way one hundred percent sure of what I saw," Lina warned. "But I remember one thing very clearly."
Three figures fled across the rooftops of Other Village
that night. One, on foot, turned and aimed a weapon at the flying
Ptang! and something skimmed through Lina's shield, through her glove and grazed her skin. Lina's Raywing spun slightly out of control, the powers disturbed, and the cloak jumped to the road, making a break for it.
"Lina-san!!" Amelia called, finally catching up in flight. "Are you okay?"
Without responding, Lina's anger gave her a boost of speed -- she made a beeline for the figure, no spells at hand, no sword drawn, and simply let gravity and flight help her body tackle, coincidentally inventing the world's first smart missile in the process.
The two smashed together in a grunting, painful collision, the inertia rolling them both along the street. Finally, they crashed into the side of a candlesmith's shop, Lina pinning the hunter to the wall. She pulled the hood away --
Lina looked back into her own eyes, and laughed madly. The other Lina.
Blood freezing cold, Lina stared at the girl; the girl who was herself, but not exactly herself. The face had scars, like claw marks. The eyes, darting and erratic, red with bloodshot from lack of sleep, damp from moisture. But what she'd remember most, the one seemingly trivial detail, was the girl's hair. Dead white, drained of all its color and shine.
The other Lina laughed, a horribly insane little chuckle of glee and anger. Then the laughter died.
"I hate you," she said, simply, and connected her fist with Lina's jaw.
"Then when I woke up, Amelia had poured black magic
coffee into my veins, and I had other problems to deal with," Lina concluded.
"I get to the lake, and whoa! There's Naga. Then I wake up
and I'm face to face with what might have been Silverquick's past.. maybe
he was just telling me a tale of warning, or maybe it was true. But
either way, now that I actually had time to sit and really reflect on this,
I wonder.. was that the person who Silverquick was warning me about?"
Silence hung for a beat.
"You don't happen to have a twin sister, do you?" Zelgadis asked, cool and logical.
"My big sister definitely isn't my twin," Lina asked. "I know where this other me comes from, though. Sort of. Remember how the mirror in Sailoon exploded? It didn't just go boom on its own. I... well..."
"I couldn't remember why. Still can't remember any specifics, actually. But what if I broke it because I saw.. her?" Lina asked. "What if I saw some really godawful, nightmare version of me from some insane universe, and when I freaked out and broke the mirror... she got into our world?"
"It makes sense. But why would she hate you, or try to kill you?" Zelgadis asked. "And we don't know that she even knows about the mirror lores. She might not even be related to this business."
"Like I said... I don't know, not exactly," Lina said. "But what if it's true? It's a great big pile of unknowns here. I don't like unknowns, they have a habit of.. of... of something very bad which I can't put into words."
Zelgadis turned away, just slightly, to look into the night. Pondering. Lina watched the boy think, not having anything much to say herself, and waited.
Almost a minute later, Zelgadis spoke. "We don't know right now what's going on with this person. It's possible that she's going to be a problem later, but since we can't predict where or how, worrying about it like this won't help us. In particular, moping about it today led to the accident with Naga, who I personally can't say I had many problems with getting a hot seat, but that's just a starting incident. So, I'd recommend trying not to worry about this and concentrating on our current quest, which needs more immediate attention. We can handle this Lina INVERSED later and things will work out with caution and keeping things in perspective."
Lina was speechless.
"Of course, that's just a recommendation. Take it or leave it," Zel said, downplaying things.
For the first time that day, Lina smiled and meant it. "It's a good recommendation."
"I figure with me here, and Gourry and Amelia and Naga and so on, we can handle this problem as a group," Zel continued. "So you don't have to sit around worrying about it yourself."
"You know, Zel, you could start charging a toll for these moments of insight and bankrupt me in short time."
"If Gourry would do his job, I wouldn't have to save the psychological day like this at all," Zelgadis thought he said under his breath.
"Nothing," Zelgadis said. "I'm turning in. Later."
"What about Gourry?"
"Forget it," he insisted.
"Ohhhh, no, you don't. If you can poke me until I admit what's on my mind, I can do the same. Wh--"
"Actually, the original reason I came out here was to tell you that Melvin's back," Zelgadis smirked, deftly switching to a topic Lina couldn't ignore.
"Wha??! But.. wait, what about... UGH! You sneak!" Lina laughed. "Okay, okay. To be continued. Now where is Mister Allergy?"
At the impromptu gang meeting called in Amelia's
room, Melvin was all smiles and laughter.
"It was the darndest thing," he continued to explain. "Here I was, probably being chased by that, um, maniac who was shooting at us, and a kind stranger helped me get home. Um. I felt kind of bad about running out on you guys, so I decided to come back here and make sure you were okay, and that's when I saw him."
"He met the map dealer I saw, Lina-san!" Amelia chirped. "What an amazing coincidence!"
"Yes, exactly!" Melvin nodded. "And you'll never believe what he gave me! I didn't look at it at first, but apparently it's a set of directions that shows how to get to the Great Library and the Lake of Reflections. Amelia-chan here told me you guys were looking for them, and what did you know, I remembered that I put the paper in my pocket and it had just what you needed on it!"
"How convenient," Zelgadis said, voice dripping with liquid suspicion.
"OOHHOOHOHHOHOHO!! It must be destiny, that this mysterious helpful stranger came to my aid!" Naga said. "We will start out first thing in the morning!"
"Ah, but there is a problem," Melvin said, unrolling the mapmaker's strange paper. "According to this, the empire where the Library sat is now in the country of Evilania, and getting there involves a lengthy trip over land. Also, the lake is in the country of Justivalero, which is on the other side of the ocean. We'll need to book passage on a ship."
"You know, my uncle was a sailor in the merchant marines who traded beads and songs with the natives on various islands until he sold them a really really bad song and the natives forced him to sing it over and over without food or water until he died," Gourry interjected.
"...I guess that's not a very funny anecdote," he noticed.
Lina sat back, considering the situation. "So... we've got two locations to visit, one or both of which have the lores. How far away are they?"
"Evilania's quite a distance off. A week's travel by land. Justivalero is a week at sea, and if you wanted to travel from one to the other, it'd be another week of combined land and sea travel," Melvin calculated. "So, to visit both locations you're looking at about two weeks. It's a rather jaunty little equilateral triangle, isn't it?"
"Whoa! Don't ships get sucked down to their dooms at the Equilateral Triangle?!" Gourry asked. "My uncle told me that legend."
"No, you ninny, that's the Bahumut Trapezoid," Melvin said, rolling his eyes, but still smiling. "Entirely different geometry."
"So... what's the Equalabular Triangle do?"
Lina got up. "Excuse me all, I have to go powder my nose. Come along, Zel."
"Eh?" Zelgadis asked. "You want me to powder your nose?"
"Just c'mere!" Lina hissed, grabbing him by a stony ear and dragging.
"I thought the Bahumut Trapezoid was where an ancient king had his knights meet," Gourry said, accidentally but fortuitously distracting the others.
"No, that's the Octagonal Table."
"Isn't an Octagon a large fish?"
"That's an OctaPUS!"
Melvin continued to smile. "Yes, a cat. That's it precisely. You're so mercifully free from the ravages of intelligence, Gourry-san."
"Can you let go of my ear now?" Zelgadis asked, trying
to sound patient.
Lina released him, and dropped her voice to whisper tones, keeping the closed door between herself and the others. "Something isn't right here."
"It does not take a nuclear alchemist to realize that," Zel mocked.
"First, we have the extremely convenient map, in addition to the other extremely convenient maps we've obtained. Second, Melvin must have been drinking a lot of milk last night, because he's suddenly grown a spine."
"So, do you trust his information?"
"I'm not sure. It's the only lead we have.. but we don't have a way to verify it," Lina said. "Hrmmmm. What do you think?"
"I think I'd like to ask... why did you take ME out here?" Zel asked, swerving the conversation another direction.
"Why are you specifically conferencing with me? Did I say I wanted to be in the decision making process here?"
"But... well, after that really good advice--"
"I should start charging a toll, then, if I'm being taken for granted."
Lina stamped her foot. "I value your advice!! Okay? Amelia's living in a dream world all the time, Gourry just does not have a clue, and Naga... she doesn't know how to keep a secret, and.. just work with me here, okay?"
Zelgadis sighed. "Divide the group into two, have one set go looking for the lake and the other for the library. Put me on the group heading by ship and assign Melvin to me so I can keep an eye on him and kill him quietly with no chance of escape if he tries to doublecross us, then I can signal you somehow that it's a trap and we can turn around and meet back at a predesignated point to start from square one."
Lina stepped back. "That's.. rather cold blooded, isn't it?"
"Do you want my advice or not?" Zelgadis asked. "If he's gone insane or plotting to ambush us, he should be killed. I'll handle it."
"You don't have to kill him, just detain him or something. He's just a wimpy little astrologist or something, right?"
"I'll handle it," Zelgadis repeated.
"The plan's sound otherwise. Good idea. I'll go back in and announce that I came up with how we'll divide up."
Lina turned and started to turn the doorknob; Zelgadis put a hand over hers, stopping her.
"What exactly are you going to do without me on this quest if you can't make decisions for the group?" he bluntly asked.
"I can make decisions," Lina bluntly denied. "Besides, I'll be in your group."
"And leave Gourry behind?"
"And put yourself at risk if Melvin attacks? No way, I'd rather you not. I'll handle it, you go with the others."
With that, he twisted the knob under Lina's hand, ending the conversation as the others looked up at them expectantly.
"Ah... good news!" Lina said, trying to cover up.
Zel slipped into the room, making like nothing was wrong, and resumed his
"Did you know that a Dodecahedron was a kind of ancient bird?" Gourry asked, revealing the fruits of the prattle he was engaged in while Lina was out of the room. Melvin was smiling to himself, probably out of amusement, or just the idea of throttling Gourry.
"I've decided how to handle matters," Lina said. "We're going to divide into two groups. One will go by boat to the lake, the other by land to the library. Three to a team. Then we'll meet back at... what's the best midpoint between those places, Melvin?"
"That would be the Island of Ultimate Despair," Melvin smiled.
"I hear it has a lovely tourist trade this time of year. All sorts of quaint island culture," he insisted. "It's just a name, honestly, nothing indicative. They actually have a very low crime rate and a moderate climate."
"..right," Lina nodded, sweating slightly. "We'll raid both places and meet up at the Island of Ultimate Despair. Soo... Amelia, you and Gourry come with me. Naga, Zelgadis and Melvin will go to the ocean."
"I'm not going with Naga," Zelgadis said. "She's annoying."
"Annoying? Moi? OOOHOHOOHHOHOO!! He simply has problems with me being a more powerful and stylish sorcerer than he is!"
"Unlike Lina, I don't blast people who insult me," Zelgadis said, turning to Naga. "I just tell them to shut up. Shut up, Naga."
"...on second thought, maybe locking these two into a ship's quarters together is a bad idea," Lina thought aloud. "Okay, shuffle. Amelia, Zelgadis and Melvin to sea, and me, Gourry and.. Naga on land."
"Gosh, Lina-san, I rather wanted to go with you," Melvin smiled, laying on the charismatic admiration with a shovel. "It's not every day I have a chance to observe a master sorceress in action."
"Why, thank y.. can't be helped," Lina said, wobbling under intense bootlicking. "That's final."
"Hooray!" Amelia cheered. "I'm going to be in charge of leading my own group!"
"Actually, Zelgadis is going to lead in my absence," Lina said.
"Ehhh?! But... but Lina-san!" Amelia protested, eyes getting all big and watery, balling up her fists under her chin adorably. "Don't you trust me?"
"..." Lina said under the assault of cuteness. She looked to Zelgadis for support, but Zel had decided to look in another direction. "Ah, well.. Amelia-chan.. um..."
Gourry tapped Lina's shoulder.
"Ne," he whispered, "You could have Zelgadis lead them and just let Amelia think she's in charge to make her happy."
Lina looked at Gourry with a stare usually reserved for small woodland mammals who pause in gathering nuts and berries to recite particle physics theories.
"Just a thought," he smiled politely.
"Okay!" Lina said, raising her voice. "Amelia! You're in command. Zelgadis will be your, ah.. 'Advisor'."
"YAHOOO!!" Amelia shrieked at a pitch that could probably shatter glass. "You won't be sorry, Lina-san! You won't be you won't be you won't be!"
Gourry smiled kindly. "See? Everybody's happy now."