hopping was an art for Naga.  Just like fashion, style, and magic, she knew the importance of skillfully picking and choosing just the right elements.  The right sort of armor, a well designed cape, perhaps a silky scent of perfume, a well placed fireball to the torso, and so on.  (Naga didn't realize that her own particular tastes in consumer goods weren't shared by 99% of the population, but at least it made her happy on an individual level.)
    Therefore, instead of using Lina's shopping list (the poor girl just didn't understand how to properly buy things), Naga improvised.  First she got some truly spectacular drapery for the horses, to make it a PROPER carriage for a princess's entourage, not that she was a princess at heart of course but she did like to indulge from time to time, along with a special horn for the coach that could bleat out 'I'm a Sailoon Sailor Dandy' and 'The Troll Stomp March' when you squeezed the bulb.  Next item up for bid was a megaphone, which she thought would be good for striking fear into their enemies' hearts with a very loud speech or two, along with a copy of a book she had seen a few times in various shops but never had bought -- 'Soe, Youe Wante To Be Aye Sworde-Swinging Heroine In Juste Twenty One Dayes!', by someone named Xena.  Naga had intended on brushing up on her sword forms, and no time like the present.
    By the time she was approaching the checkout, she vaguely remembered something about needing to buy food, and went back to fetch a small box of dried fruit and a bottle of apple juice.  That would make do.
    On her way to the checkout she bumped into one of the bad guys.
    At first, they both were too surprised to move.  Lily looked up from her basket of fruits and vegetables, Naga stopped wheeling her cart of miscellaneous crap.  While it was normal to meet your mortal enemy on a cliff in front of the raging sea or beside a lake of fire, seeing them in the express lane of the local market wasn't a normal situation and it usually took a moment to get your bearings.
    Lily recovered faster, hurling a grapefruit at Naga and ducking for cover behind a shelf of charcoal, which in hindsight was a bad idea.
    "I have you now!" Naga declared.  "FLARE ARROW!"
    The entire shelf went up in a backyard barbecue holocaust.  Lily fled from her hiding place, dousing the fire in her cloak with a bottle of apple juice she had bought.  She looked left, looked right, but there weren't any other good hiding places.  Naga advanced.
    "OOOHOHOHOOHHOHOOO!!" Naga laughed.  "You and your little cronies thought you could outwit Naga the White Serpent?  Now, I have tracked you to this place, and--"
    "Ano.." Lily said.  "But we met by accident--"
    "DON'T interrupt!"
    "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Lily said, breaking out in panicked sobs.  "Don't hurt me!"
    "Ooooohh no," Naga warned, backing off a step.  "I'm not going to fall for that again, you acting all weepy and scared when you're really plotting my downfall!"
    Lily continued to bawl pathetically, like a condemned woman.
    "...so... you can stop now," Naga said.  "I know it's all a ruse.  Stop.  STOP!"
    Lily stopped on command.
    Naga tapped her foot.
    "You really thought I was going to kill you or something?" she asked, curiously.
    "wuh.. well... wr yr enmes," Lily said quiet enough to have not disturbed a sleeping mouse.
    "Come again?"
    "W'r yur enmes."
    "Louder, girl!"
    "We're your enemies!!" Lily blurted, then covered her mouth.  "Sorry..."
    "This won't do at all," Naga said, shaking his head.  "You have to fight back! How can I be expected to defeat you in single magical combat if you just sit there and whine?"
    "I'm sorry."
    "And don't apologize!!"
    "Sorry," Lily repeated.
    Naga eyed Lily suspiciously.  "Are you POSITIVE you're not being cunning and devious and putting on an act?  Be honest."
    Lily said nothing, still paralyzed in fear.
    The black sorceress contemplated this.  "I see.  Well, in that case, you're officially my prisoner!  I have defeated the infamous white sorceress!!  OOHHOHOOHOH--"
    "ano..." Lily said.  "But.. but I've got to go back. I've got a job to do, I need to watch over him..."
    "He can watch over himself.  Now, march, prisoner!"
    Lily stood slowly.. then stepped forward, almost a stumble. "*Sleep,*" she cast, reaching to touch Naga...
    "*Reversal!*" Naga quickly cast, a glowing disc flashing in front of herself.  Lily's fingers touched the disc, touching herself, and surprised, she fell gently to the floor, sleeping like a baby.
     The Evilanian Bureau of Tourism was easy to identify, being the only building lacking ornate gothic carvings and arches.  The windows were not stained glass.  It was clearly designed to be an oasis to the foreigner in a storm, a NORMAL looking building they could hide in.  A large, magically lit sign identified it clearly for any frightened travelers.  At least, Lina assumed it was magically lit, and not just a vision.
    The visions thankfully had started to die off.  Lina assumed this meant she was over the hump, since she wasn't seeing blood come out of the walls or her grandmother climbing up her leg with a knife in her teeth and such.  No three legged dogs wandering around reciting tax law.  The worst was over!
    Until she met Nigel R. Freely, the manager of the Bureau of Tourism.
    "Yaaaa!  Monster!" Lina gasped, and clung to Gourry's head in surprise.
    "Monster?" the slime lord with a hundred slathering tentacles behind the desk asked.  "Where?"
    "It's okay, mister, she's just a little... rrgh... jumpy today," Gourry said, prying Lina off his person and setting her down.
    Lina tried to ignore the sixty faceted eyes watching her.  "Uh.. yeah.  Too much coffee.  Ehheh."  Of COURSE it was just a hallucination.  She should've just expected that...
    "Anyway, we're looking for someone who can lead us to a place called the Great Library," Gourry explained, taking the lead as Lina glanced nervously around the room.  "I understand it's somewhere around here, but it might be lost."
    "I tried to tell him you wouldn't know where it was, sir," Lina said.  "But he--"
    "Great Library, Great Library..." Nigel said, his tentacles sifting through papers on his desk.  "Ah, here we go.  The ancient repository of all the ancient knowledge of the Empire of Alextribik, circa 230 BW.  Sixteen level facility made of sandstone and marble at the base of Mt. Erruptus.  Covered by lava and obsidian 740 AD.  We've got a tour that visits there tomorrow."
    "--whaaaa?" Lina asked.
    "The Great Library is still buried, but we've been busy excavating the levels," Nigel explained, in a monotone so flat it made the horizon look like a melon rind.  "Using postmodern digging tools and refined archaeological techniques, Evilania is restoring this national monument and is more than happy to provide your class, scout group, history club, or other social organization passes at slight fee with reduced rates for groups in order to visit the dig site which features extensive dioramas and historical artifacts which you can look at in the Great Library On-Site Museum, a simple two gold cover charge for admittance, open Wednesday through Saturday from--"
    "When can we go?!" Lina asked, overjoyed.
    "As I said, tours run from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon, leaving the Bureau in caravans of six each with a travel time of one hour, with snacks provided for a slight charge including various--"
    "Great!  We can stay the night, and visit tomorrow," Lina said.  "Gourry, you're a geee.. an occasionally insightful person."
    "Gosh, thanks!" Gourry said.  "I think."
    "The lost library, and we've found it without problems!" Lina smiled.  "What could go wrong?"
    Everything went wrong.
    First the ground shook.  Then, the roof was ripped off the building, whirling up into a tornado of black lightning that engulfed the sky.  Then the bats flew in, swirling around Lina, who tried to beat them off in a panic.
    Because the visions didn't die off completely.  They just got more specific.
    A lone figured landed on the twisted wreckage of one wall, a figure with white hair, aiming the business end of a very long, very wicked looking weapon at Lina.  A red dot the size of her head appeared on her chest, burning and glaring with horrible light...
    "AAAAAAA!!!!" Lina screamed, and fled the building.
    "...ano?  Lina?" Gourry said.  He looked up to see what she was staring at, but only saw the ceiling.  He quickly excused himself, and left.
     The Temple of Ozek the Mazoku Arch-Demon Master of Hellfire wasn't exactly as Lina remembered it, back in the real world.  Here in the dream world she had found herself in, it was a bit cleaner and hadn't mutated with dark power.  But it still had the four arches in front, representing the number of death, and inside was a bowl-shaped altar for sacrifices and prayer to the evil beast.  The Evilanians were the ones responsible for the 'Contribute Or Die' donations box for the church charity in front.
    "It's not far.  It's in here," Lina said, leading the Goon inside the temple.  There weren't very many of the idiots here praying, just an old lady trying to win the favor of Ozek to crush the fool who beat her in the bridge club championships the other day and a janitor cursing the dead parrots folks left around the altar.  A quick dark glare from Lina, and both of them hurried up their duties and split.
    "What is this, some kinda freaked out church?" the Goon asked, poking at a statue of Ozek.
    "It's a focal point," Lina said, taking her bag of black-marble-throwing-powder, and starting to make a five pointed star on the floor.  "I learned about it a year ago, when I was brought here.  Ozek isn't really much, but he's dangerous and stupid, a good combination.  He played with me a lot until I escaped.  He loved to play with..." Her voice trailed off.
    "Who's Ozek, your boyfriend?" the Goon smirked.
    Lina resisted the urge to beat him, concentrating on her work.  "I learned a few important things about the calling of the Mazoku here.  How they worked, what kinds of deals they made.  Bad ones, mostly.  I've been waiting awhile to be able to take one of these bastards by the balls and make them do what I want, and now I think I can.  I think I can."
    "Yeah yeah.  Where's the cash?"
    "Don't you interrupt me!" Lina said, pointing.  "Shut up!  I'm busy!"
    "Eeesh, okay, okay..."
    "I've got a plan," Lina said.  "And you're a big part of it.  I can't do it without you.  I can, but I WANT to do it with you.  I think you're just right for the task.  I think you deserve it.  You're very similar to Ozek, you know."
    "Sounds like a righteous guy," Goon shrugged.
    Lina completed the magical star around the altar, and ignited the powder with a match.  It burned darkly.
    She raised the marble thrower.
    The Goon stopped picking his ear, and glanced at Lina.  "Hey... hey, wait--"
    Naga was very pleased with herself. 
    No, no other black sorceress could be as crafty as she.  Anybody could drag a prisoner off to some secluded basement, tied to a chair, and work them over under the hot lights.  It took more moxie, more style to find a cliff overlooking the roaring sea (or at least a river), tie them to a large tree, and and engage in a really productive interrogation.  She even had placed a light spell at her feet to be illuminated from below for extra intimidation.
    Naga removed the sleep spell.
    "OOOOOOHOHOHOHHOOOHOOHOHOOHHOOHOOHHOOOHHO OHOHOHOOHHOOOHOOHOHOOO!!!!!!" she laughed, giving herself a really hearty one, from the bottom of the lungs.  Just the way to start out.  "Now, miss white sorceress, you will answer MY questions!  Understood?"
    Lily fainted from sheer fright at the excessively dramatic scene Naga had carefully arranged.
    A little while later, after Naga had found a less satisfying but more ordinary secluded basement and chair, she woke the girl up and tried again.
    "Ohoho," she said, keeping the laugh simple.  "Now answer my questions.  And if you faint it'll go very badly for you.  Understood?"
    "H-Hai," Lily said.
    "That's better," Naga nodded.  "Now.  Why are you following us?  Are that loud-mouthed fool and the other Lina with you?"
    "I shouldn't say--"
    "I'll talk!" Lily protested.  "Please, don't laugh again!"
    This threw Naga.  "It's just a laugh..."
    Lily cringed.  "I... me and my boyfriend are here because that white-haired girl hired us to help her.  She's looking for something called the Mirror Lores."
    "AHA!  So they ARE seeking our quarry.  OHO--"
    "Eh, sorry," Naga apologize.  "Continue?"
    "My boyfriend doesn't like her at all, but she says she can pay him a lot of money," Lily said.  "And that's it.  That's all!  I don't want to hurt any of you.  I just have to protect him..."
    Naga squatted on the floor, ignoring for a moment that she was supposed to be looming and imposing.  "Why is that?  He seems to treat you like dirt, from what I've heard."
    "I.. I deserve it," Lily said, looking away.
    "And he seems to have you brainwashed, to boot," Naga observed.  "Okay, what lame explanation do you have for that?"
    "It was my fault," Lily said.  "When we were younger, he told me I was going to marry him one day, and I had to protect him, and.. and since I was raised to be a white sorceress to help and protect people, I was happy to.  It was like training.  And... and one day, one of his business partners... stabbed him..."
    Naga didn't respond.
    "I didn't get to him in time.. I couldn't DO anything!" Lily said.  "If my mother hadn't been nearby to cast Resurrect, he'd have d-died... he blames me.  I didn't do my job right.  A Testabourner always does their job right and I couldn't stop the killers--"
    "You couldn't!" Naga said, leaping to her feet.  "Nobody could!  So you should have... you... ...excuse me."
    Naga whirled and dashed to the door, opened it, stepped through, shut it, drew in breath, wrapped her arms around herself, got control, got back in gear.
    Almost threw me, she thought.  Naga the White Serpent doesn't GET thrown.  She's stronger than that.
    And she realized what did it.  The killers...
    Naga never remembered specific details, just summaries.  What happened, what order.
    Gracia (Naga's original nomenclature) and Amelia both were training to be white sorceresses.  Her father, Prince Phil, always was into justice and compassion and truth and valor, and the whole family tried to live that way, practicing in the noble arts of swords and white magic.  One day, Phil would be raised to the throne, and he intended to run Sailoon on the side of right.
    Most of the royal family, notably his brothers and other dukes, weren't quite that noble.  There had been a few assassination attempts, nothing particularly worthy of the family's quick reflexes and strength.  One particular botched attempt tried to kill Phil in his sleep, with a throwing knife and an open window.  Phil was out that night inspecting the troops, but his wife was in bed, and she was killed in his place.
    Amelia and Gracia heard the tiniest of noises, and figuring it was a mouse, went to investigate when they found mother.  No amount of white magic was able to do anything about what the killers did.
    But it wasn't like it was a big deal.  They each got on with their lives, got strong, tried to pull through just fine.  Amelia went into justice overdrive, practicing white magic until she collapsed each day, writing speeches to tell the killers when she found them that she planned to say from the top of a tree or mountain.  Gracia, on the other hand, had realized something; white magic was useless.  Parlor tricks, simple first aid and bandages.  If she wanted to punish the killers, which both sisters had sworn to do, she'd try a different track.  She'd need a new name to fit it.
    So, Naga the White Serpent studied and became the formidable black sorceress she was, able to mete out incredible damage to her enemies, and really be successful in life as a bandit hunter and mercenary.  Everything worked out okay.
    And here she was, now, interrogating this girl who had a similar experience.  Okay.  That explains why she had reacted badly to the story, it seemed very obvious.  But...
    Naga pushed open the door and stormed back into the room.
    "Let me get this straight," she said.  "Your supposed misogynist boyfriend gets a shiv between the shoulders, and you cry and get weepy that you couldn't do anything.  I sympathize, almost.  But WHY, in the Lord of Nightmare's name, did you decide to let him abuse you, use you and drag you around as his personal servant?"
    Lily looked confused, like she didn't understand why the question needed asking.  "Huh?"
    "You could have done any number of other things!" Naga said.  "Like me.  You could have just studied black magic and gotten stronger!  Strong enough to handle it from that day on.  At least then you'd have some self respect, even if you couldn't save him!"
    The white sorceress hung her head.
    "I failed my job," she repeated.  "I'm shamed.  I have to make amends.  When you do a job, do it right, my mother always said."
    "Come ON!  It's not a job, it's slavery! You.... you..." Naga stopped, realizing something.  "Wait.  No amount of my badgering is actually going to change your mind, is it?  You've lived like this so long you actually believe you're at fault.."
    "I am at fault," Lily said, quiet, flat.
    So far gone that she couldn't even be debated.  If I had been born in that ridiculous country, Naga thought, maybe this would've been me.
    Perhaps something else can be done, though.
    "Very well!" Naga said, sweeping her cape in a dramatic flourish.  "You are officially my prisoner.  Your job has changed; now you are to accompany me in my quest for the Mirror Lores!  Together we will fight towards glory!!  OOOHOHOHOHOOHOO--"
    The white sorceress fainted again.
    "--ho," Naga finished.
    It's just a hallucination.  It's just a hallucination.
    But this was BAT COUNTRY!
    Lina knew on one level that it was all in her head, but she couldn't not run away, screaming, into the night.  It was so real!  The bats chased her, flapping leather in the wind, and she refused to look back, covering as much of the burnt ground as she could.  Eventually, the sound seemed to dwindle away, to die, and Lina cast a glance backwards to see that they had left.
    And for each bat, there was a Lina, a Lina with white hair and a large weapon, laughing as they chased her.
    And when she looked ahead, the world was.. different.  The sky was black during the day, and she was running through a burned village, corn husk and wood buildings in smoldering piles.  Nobody bothered to bury the dead, since the Mazoku rather liked the decor and the fear and loathing it inspired in humans who saw it.  Because it was the Mazoku that were chasing her, they could catch her at any time, but preferred to let her run and think she had a chance to escape--
    No, no, stop, hold.  Lina forced herself to stop running.
    "It's nothing!" she declared, defiantly.  "I'm not like her.  I'm not going to flee, I'll stand.  It's not real and no chemical condiment overdose is going to convince me otherwise!"
    The thundering herd of Lina Inverseds stood around her, snickering.  Circling slowly.
    "So, this is what your world's like?" she said, not realizing she was addressing her hallucination on a conversational level.  She nudged a human skull out of the way.  "Very dramatic.  Very evil.  Very obviously designed to scare me, right?  That IS the idea, right?"
    The Linas started to shift, to melt into each other... claws, wings, tentacles, monster parts, Mazoku true forms...
    Lina sat, indian style, and ignored them.  "I'm sick of bad dreams.  And bad soup.  Being haunted stinks and I won't put up with it any more!  Nothing you can do will move me from this spot--"
    A scaled arm reached out from the mass of biology, grabbing Lina's leg.  It hauled her easily into the fray.
    Lina tried to ignore it, despite being uncomfortably dragged along the ground.  "You can stop now," she said, before another arm slashed at her, leaving a gash across her stomach.
    THEN she started to panic.
    A hand, a human hand, grabbed her shoulder and the world stopped.
    Lina turned, and faced Gourry, in the middle of the empty plain.  Silent.  No monsters, no village, no anything out of the ordinary.
    "Lina?  You okay?" Gourry asked.
    "Yes.. no," Lina said, wiping sweat off her forehead.  "I'm not okay.  Gourry... you're right.  The soup's getting to me.  Let's go back to the inn.  I've gotta rest.."
    Lina stumbled slightly, but Gourry was there to support her.  "Easy, easy," he said.  "This must be awful.  I know I wouldn't like to be seeing things.  How about if I stay in your room tonight?"
    Gourry smiled.  "Just to wake you out of it if anything happens.  Like I did just now.  Okay?"
    Exhausted, Lina agreed.  But not because she was exhausted.  Instead, she smiled up at him.  "Gourry.. thanks. That'd be a good idea.  The last thing I need right now is to see more monsters."
    An explosion rocked the land, as the roof of a nearby temple burst outwards, raining bricks and mortar in a wide circle.  Gourry whipped his sword out and split a large chunk of rock in two without thinking, before it could hit them.
    Out of the wreckage of the Temple of Ozek rose a fifty foot tall vision of red wings and talons.  It roared against the darkening sky.
    "...Gourry?" Lina asked.  "Are you seeing a giant monster too?"
    "Uh huh," Gourry said.
    "Oh, good.  Just checking," Lina said.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.