ina twirled in her pretty dress on the crystal balcony of the castle overlooking an entire country she owned.  She smiled at the gleaming golden restaurants, which took up 90% of the city's land, each offering a wide variety of yummy treats for her to eat.
    "There's a bandit gang roaming the eastern quarter," her assistant, which looked suspiciously like Naga except shorter with a smaller chest whereas Lina had a figure that most men would, and had for the last few years, died for.  "They're carrying several billion gold and will be a challenge for you."
    "Ah, all in a day's work, for Lina, Warrior Princess!" Lina smiled.  She nodded to an attendant that looked like Gourry in a loincloth who was fanning her with a very large leaf.  "This is the life."
    "If you don't mind me saying this for the seventy fourth time today, Lina-sama, your breasts are very large," the Gourry-attendant commented.
    "Much appreciated," Lina smiled.
    Fifty silver carts were wheeled into her reception room, each filled with food.  Lina had a light snack of them and then blew up a nearby mountain for fun from the balcony.
    A set of judges that also looked vaguely like Amelia, Zelgadis and Xelloss held up scores : 10, 10, 10.
    "Another perfect score," Naga said.  "I'm so impressed.  I'm unworthy to be near you, you're so beautiful and powerful."
    "Ahhhh... Gourry, if this is a dream, let me never wake up," Lina dreamily said, falling backwards; Gourry was there with a pile of silken pillows of absolute comfort to catch her.
    "Actually, if you don't wake up soon, you WILL never wake up," Xelloss smiled.  "Your room's being sacked."
    Lina sat up in bed with a start.
    The two bandits that were trying to sneak up on her with a large sack and a bottle of knockout medicine paused, embarrassed, not quite sure what to do next.  Turns out the next thing to do was to jump out the window screaming and on fire, which Lina assisted them with accomplishing.
    She grabbed her armor and sword from the bedpost, hastily tying it on, as the next two bandits charged into the room.  Bandits were a remarkably similar bunch, all with facial scars and armored uniforms and fake eyepatches, evil sneers and big swords.  These two went out the window like the last two, as Lina made her way into the inn's upstairs hallway.  Which was LOADED with identical bandits.
    This wouldn't be a problem, since one big spell would probably annihilate everything in the hallway and first floor and leave her relatively unscathed, except there were other people in here who probably didn't want to be blown up, and Lina picked exactly the wrong moment to have her newly formed consideration for such things rear its head.  The bandits pounced.
    She cast fire and wind, knocking them aside and filling the air with careening faceless minions, but they had the advantage of packing 'em in like sardines before she had even woken up.  There were entirely too many sharp things pointed at her for comfort.  Things looked grim.
    Then someone who didn't really care about property damage emerged from the end of the hallway, the door around her exploding like so much paper mache.
    Naga the White Serpent posed in her Less is More armor, laughing into the back of her hand.  "OOOHOHOOHOHO!  Such simple minded fools!  You think that you can dare accost my number one sidekick and rival, Lina Inverse, without penalty?  For you face--"
    While all the bandits were distractedly staring at Naga's breasts, Lina cast a spell and blasted the entire group down the hall and through the side of the building, Naga included.  There were a dozen meaty thumps as bandits hit the dirt below.
    Darting back through her room and flying out the window, Lina surveyed the damage.  The bandits, smoking slightly, were unconscious.  Naga was on top, with a puzzled expression and several first degree burns.
    "You know, Naga, you were right," Lina smiled, stretching out in her midair observation position.  "Stomping bandits does get the 'ol juices flowing!"
    "My spine hurts," Naga mumbled, dazed.
    Lina touched down on one foot, and stepped over to the smoldering pile 'o thugs.  "Now, to pick the most gullible looking one and interrogate him. We--"
    A bright flash filled the air, and a silent explosion.  Lina threw up her hands to block, and when she lowered them, the bandits were there -- upright, unharmed, and extremely angry.
    Naga flipped backwards, landing next to Lina.  She was perfectly fine as well.  "What was that?!"
    "Who cares?  Just blast them again!" Lina replied, whipping her hands into a casting position.  "DILL BRAND!!"
    The earth beneath the bandits bulged, and exploded upwards in a shower of enraged earth.  Minions sprawled over a fifty foot radius, again unconscious.
    "As I was saying..." Lina continued.  "Let's grab one and--"
    And the bandits were back on their feet again.
    "Persistent fellows, aren't they?" Naga said.  "DEMONA CRYSTAL!!"
    Ice flows locked a few bandits in place.
    "FIREBALL!!" Lina cast.
    A ball of glowing brilliance punched several bandits through a nearby house.
    "WHAT?!" Naga yelled back.
    "You don't have to yell!  And it's not working!" Lina repeated, looking left, looking right.  Everywhere, bandits surrounded her.  How could they possibly have this many disposable bad guys?
    The bandits smiled, mockingly.  They knew something she didn't.  Until she figured it out.
    "Naga!  Go find the sorcerer!" Lina said.
    "Eh? FLARE ARROW!"  More bandits went up in flame, only to get back up again a moment later.
    "Someone's pumping massive amounts of white magic into the area to heal these guys," Lina said.  "You go, I'll cover you."
    Naga laughed.  "OOHHOOHOHOO! A clever ruse! But not clever enough to fool Naga the White Serpent!"  She threw a levitational spell around her, and took off, rising over the trees to search.
    Although she had an ego that rivaled most celestial bodies, and a body that also rivaled most celestial bodies, Naga was not stupid.  Dense, perhaps, but she had enough of a rational mind to realize that the only way white magic could heal that fast is if a highly skilled caster had a good overview of the battle, and little obstructions.  That meant rooftops and nearby trees.
    So, while increasingly destructive magic was lobbed around below, Naga skulked around the buildings, and looked for the source of this mess.
    A figure in a white manteau, focusing tightly on the battle, and perched on a rooftop.  Next to him was a grizzled looking mercenary with plenty of scars, and a uniform similar to the bandit's, only slightly more polished.  And their backs were to her!
    How easily the prey fell into her trap! Naga smiled.  She floated silently behind them, getting the best angle for a well placed fireball, silently charging the spell--
    The warrior glanced backwards, on some random chance, and spotted Naga.
    "Sorceress!" he exclaimed, drawing his sword.  Naga turned, and decided to fling the fireball at him instead, for having the gall to spoil her perfectly good sneak attack.  The flaming orb shot through the air, and--
    The other sorceress, the one that was apparently in the white cloak, dove in front of the mercenary to block the attack.  The fireball slammed her full force in the chest, as the goon jumped back to avoid. He growled.
    "We're not here for you, bitch," he scoffed.  "Don't mess with us!  We're some bad dudes!"
    Naga casually blasted him off the roof with a flick of her wrist, then landed next to the sorceress.  A very, very weak freeze arrow put the fires out in her cloak.
    "I'm going to interrogate you now," she said.  "Who are you and who are these bandits?!"
    "P-please don't hurt me," the girl begged.  Then immediately burst into sobbing.
    Naga wasn't exactly sure how to respond to this.
    "I don't mean you any harm, I just.. I have to go," the girl said, wiping her eyes.  The crying stopped just as quickly as it started.  "I have a job to do."
    "Oh, no you don't.  You're the prisoner of Naga the White Serpent!" Naga warned.  "Don't even think about trying to es--"
    "Sleep," the white sorceress chanted, touching a finger to Naga's head.  Naga yawned and curled up on the spot, taking five.
    The other girl stood carefully, and floated off the roof, to land by the mercenary.  She quickly applied a restorative spell to him, and he stood up, sharp and alert.
    "How could you let her get to us like that??" the man said.  "You clumsy, useless girl!"
    "I'm sorry," she said, quietly.
    "Now come on.  This distraction won't hold that brat much longer."
    Lina gave up on using a wide variety of really impressive attacks a few minutes into the one-against-four-dozen battle, and resorted to just lobbing fireballs around like they were going out of style.
    For a moment, the goons had stopped popping back from the dead and near-dead left and right.  But this didn't last more than a minute, likely the sorcerer that was casting all this healing magic having gotten back on task.  Lina wished Naga would hurry up and take care of whoever was doing this.  Even a spunky, can-do sorceress like her had some limits.  Not in terms of power, of course, but definitely in terms of patience.
    Just shy of abandoning all care for the town (which was mostly a flaming wreckage by this point) and casting a Dragon Slave, two sharp whistles cut over the battle scene, and the entire bandit gang blended into the forest.  They scattered randomly, no indication of which direction, fading into the trees quickly.
    Lina chased a few down on foot, but it was ultimately a useless tactic; they had split.
    It made no sense.  They weren't sacking the town, no loot was stolen.  They had approached her initially to capture her, she realized that in afterthought, and then resorted to attacks.  But they obviously couldn't WIN that fight, and even needed strong magic to keep from being wiped out.  So why fight at all?  Why fight then when a signal was sounded, head for the hills, like all along it was one big joke, a distraction...
    Well, THAT made sense.
    Lina scanned the town for damage.  Most of it was totaled.  The restaurant got by with only a few fires, which the workers were trying to put out.  The dinky inn where she was staying had lost its top floor.  Two houses were okay, the others were craters.  On the edge of the city, the smithy's works were unharmed, by virtue of being far from ground zero.
    Flying up to survey better, Lina spotted Naga sucking on her thumb in the throes of a really swell nap and landed to disenchant her.
    "--caping me!  OOHOHooo.. ho... ano?" Naga continued, springing awake.  "Where did she go?"
    "A sorceress?" Lina asked.  "She got away, then.  The entire gang split.  I think they were distracting us from something."
    "Curses," Naga cursed.  "What would some shy white sorceress be doing hanging out with these fools, anyway?"
    "Come on.  I've got a bad feeling," Lina said, dashing off for the smithy's.
    "They just came bursting in here," the mechanic explained.  "I couldn't exactly stop them.  I mean, what was I holding, a three eights gripley?  If I tried, I'd be skewered!"
    Lina stared at the empty bedframe, in amazement.
    "I mean, the short one didn't look so tough, although he was carrying this weird stick.  Looked mechanical.  But the toughs with him were hard cases, you know?  Swords.  BIG swords.  So they just bundled the blonde-haired guy up in his mattress, gave him some medicine or something and hauled out to the forest," the mechanic continued.  "Look, I'm real sorry about it, but you couldn't have expected me to... uh.."
    Lina kept staring.
    Naga took over.  "Of course, this MUST mean that our repairs are free, yes?  A small compensation."
    "Yeah, sure, anything.  It's okay."
    Prowling around the room, Lina studied the cheap furnishings.  There was a mirror, shattered by the door, probably knocked over when the bandits charged in.  A hat rack was also overturned, leaning against a heavy oaken dresser.  The dresser had a small knotho... a hole, in the door's surface.
    "There was this really sharp cracking sound in here," the smithy said.  "Sorta metallic. Like, 'Pang!' or 'Tang!'."
    Lina fingered the hole, nudging a small lead marble out of it.  She threw open the door so hard the wood splintered.
    A note pinned to the dresser wall greeted her with large, printed letters.  Like children's handwriting..
    Evil things were afoot in the forests surrounding Noh Wheir.
    Specifically, they were afoot in the large, easy to defend cave that the Sinister Icy Black Hand of Death Gang had picked out for their current hideout.  The Gang had been doing very well, in fact, under new leadership, although they weren't entirely sure why they had hiked as fast as humanly possible out to the middle of Noh Wheir to set up camp when Sailoon had plenty for the picking.  The bossman said that their client was paying big money for the operation, and since big is a word bandits liked to have associated with money, they went along without question.
    The job was done now, however, and there was a lot of wining and wenching going on.  Primarily wining, since wenches were hard to find out in this neck of the woods.  There was one wench in the gang, but she was the bossman's, so hands off unless you'd like to have your hands taken off.
    She was sitting at the head of the makeshift table, in fact, next to the bossman, just as prim and proper as could be and a little bit mousy compared to the fifty men waving around large containers of beer and singing songs that would make a Sailooner blush.  Instead, she simply poured some drink in silence for the leader.
    "You guys did a good job today!" the boss said, raising his mug.  "And you're gonna get rewarded.  Now stay on your toes.  Some idiot might try to break in here to get that guy we snagged, and we gotta be alert."
    Vigorous nodding spread down the table like a disease.
    "Remember, WHAT ARE WE?" the boss shouted, getting the boys into their war chant.
    "And WHO ARE WE?"
    "And WHAT DO WE DO?"
    "Damn right!" the boss spat.  "We're hot and going places!  Ditched that last witch who had us doing petty loitering and got ourselves a client with the big money!"
    "BIG MONEY!" the minions repeated.
    "We're gonna be the most feared bandit gang in the world!"
    "Now if you bad-ass bastards don't mind, I'll be heading in the back there with my girl," he smirked, putting an arm around the shoulders of the woman next to him.
    "MY GIRL!" the bandits repeated, stuck in a groove.
    "Mine, dogs, mine," the boss warned.  "Now, keep celebrating!  And put someone on the door as guard."
    The caves towards the rear of the mini-maze that was the Sinister Icy Black Hand of Death Gang's Current Hideout were poorly lit.  The boss scoffed at this.  "Light it," he ordered.
    The girl nodded, and a glowing ball of pure light floated from her hands, hovering around the ceiling.  It threw sharp shadows over the treasure chests 'o booty the gang had acquired, a few weapon racks, and the blonde-haired swordsman they had recently obtained.
    Smiling, the bandit king checked up on Gourry.  "Sleepin' like a baby.  Good man."  He dropped the smile and turned to the white sorceress.  "Revive him."
    The sorceress nodded, and chanted quietly, reversing the sleep spell she had kept on him.  Gourry blinked once or twice, then sat up, looking very confused.
    "Hey, man," the boss said.  "Good to see you again."
    "Who? What? When? Where?" Gourry asked, running down the checklist.  He focused on the boss.  "Anooo... do I know you?"
    "Do you know me?  Of course you do!  I..." he trailed off, glancing at the sorceress.  "Take a hike, toots."
    "Hai," she said quietly, and faded into the background, soft footsteps as she walked away.
    "That's funny, this doesn't look like the smithy's shop," Gourry said.  "Where am I?"
    "You're with my boys.  It's me, Gourry!  You know, the trained goon from MagiCon!" the Goon said, giving Gourry a Manly Hug (gripping tight enough to crush a rib while vigorously patting/hitting him on the back).  "You're free, dude!"
    "Grrrk," Gourry said.  He pushed away.  "Free?  What do you mean?"
    "Free from that little hussy who's always pushing you around!" the Goon explained.  "From Lina.  We're with my gang now and safe.  Man!  It's good to know I got you out of that situation.  You wanna beer?  I could get Lily to bring us some.  We got some REALLY good beer from a town on the way here."
    "Lina?  Where is she?" Gourry asked, getting lost a few sentences back.  "Is everything okay?"
    "Heyyy, don't worry.  Everything's cool now," the Goon said, having a seat on a nearby chair.  "You hungry?  I've got some roast mutton from the local sheep ranch.  Anything you want, just name it."
    "Uhh.. I could use a drink."
    "You got it," the Goon nodded.  He whistled sharply, and the white sorceress came back to his side without hesitation.  "Two beers, hustle," he said, and the girl whisked away quickly, returning with the mugs before Gourry could blink.
    Gourry scratched his head.  "Who're you, miss?"
    "Oh, this is Lilly," the Goon said for her.  "She works for me.  Best damn white sorceress in the world!  Keeps the boys up and running.  Very loyal, too, unlike some money-grubbing bastards.  C'mere, Lilly."
    Lilly stepped over, and sat on the Goon's lap instinctively.
    "Um.. hi, miss," Gourry greeted.  "Look, if it's all the same, I really need to get back to town.  Lina'll probably be looking for me."
    "What'd I say?  Forget Lina!" the Goon laughed.  "I could use a man like you in my outfit.  What's your Trick Level?"
    This took Gourry back.  "Insects," he supplied.
    "Knew it!" the other man smiled, twirling a bit of Lilly's blonde hair in his fingers.  "See?  What'd I tell you, Lil?  He's a good country boy, back from the same part of Testabourne where I grew up.  I'm an insect man myself.  We make hard strapping lads there, I tell you.  Strongest warriors this side of Sailoon!"
    "Hai," Lilly agreed, voice flat and quiet.
    "What village you from?" he asked Gourry.
    Gourry had a sip of his beer, then set the mug down.  "Oh, I'm from New Piper's Cove.  Sea town on the other side of the country."
    "I had an uncle from New Piper's," the Goon said.  "He was a navigator, worked on the SS Hindentanic.  Got killed by some natives when he and his partner tried to sell a lousy song--"
    "Really??" Gourry gasped.  "My uncle.. wow!  Your uncle must've been partners with mine!"
    "HA!  See?  We're practically family!" the Goon laughed.  "This is gonna be great!  This troupe needs more Testabourners.  The guys, they have the spirit, but not the pride, you know?  Don't know how to treat people right."
    "Huh?  How do you mean?" Gourry asked.
    "I caught one of the guys trying to skimp on looting in a village a few miles back," the Goon frowned.  "Said they were too poor to steal from.  If you're going to be a bandit, I say, you gotta have that Testabourne integrity.  You agree to do a job, you do your job and you do it as best you can, no skimping out."
    "Well... that's true," Gourry said.  "My dad always said stuff like that.  But bandits, I mean--"
    "And one of the boys left to get married.  Married!!  The nerve!  And what was his reason?  She didn't have any money or any land, and wasn't even very good looking.  Said he LOVED her," the Goon spat.  "Ridiculous damn reason to leave your job.  Testabourners don't go all fluffy-wuffy over just any whore who flashes her eyelashes at him, you know!"
    "Uh... well, I mean..." Gourry tried to say, feeling uncomfortable.  "I know back home girls are, well.. I mean, it's very traditional, yes, but--"
    "Very traditional!  Good traditions.  Take Lilly for example," Goon said, gesturing to the woman in his lap.  "Damn good woman.  She knows what her job's supposed to be.  Does what she's told, none of that stupid backtalk foreign girls give you.  And she's good at her job and won't skimp, and ain't never going to leave me like those bastards who ran out.  Isn't that right, girl?  You're mine, after all."
    "Hai," Lilly said, in the same even tone as before.  She stared at the wall.
    Gourry glanced around nervously.  "Well, it's good to meet someone from home, I think, but... I really have to go.  I have to."
    "Okay, that's cool," the Goon said.  He patted Lilly's rear, a signal she knew to mean 'get up', and did so quickly.  "But not just yet.  We got a client, some short kid with a ridiculous amount of petty cash, who can say no to money, right?  She wants to talk to you, or something.  Pushy little thing, but whatever.  Wait here for her, okay?"
    "I don't have time," Gourry said quickly.  He got up, and moved to the door -- the Goon blocked him.
    "You can't," he said.  "Sorry, man, but that's the way.  Just stay long enough for us to get paid and you can join us, no problems.  The boss lady hasn't said what she wanted you for, but I'm sure it's no big deal.  We're tight, right?  Brothers?"
    "Look, I don't want to offend you or anything," Gourry said, trying to be polite.  "But I absolutely can't stay.  I'm on an important quest and Lina needs me."
    "She doesn't need you!  Jeez, man, open your eyes!  She's just another one of those pushy broads who wants guys like us under her thumb!" the Goon groaned.  "I was hoping you'd see that after the last time we talked, back at the Con... but don't worry.  I'll help you out of this.  Just trust me.  Lilly?"
    "I don't want 'out of this', I want--"
    "Sleep," Lilly chanted, touching a finger to Gourry's forehead.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.