nder sunlight skies, a pair of golden wings beat at the air once, twice... the air shifts and flows, adding a minute amount of force to a passing breeze.  The breeze flows over Evilania, towards the mountains, brushing past the ruins of a library...
    It slips through the makeshift door.  There was an entrance, which was large enough for one of the ecchi oni which maintained this place to get through, but it was also guarded by some of the same.  Lina, Naga, Gourry and Lily started to form a plan for how to sneak past the guards, and when they finally decided on a good course of action, they returned to the door which was unguarded and left with a little sign reading 'OFF TO LUNCHTIME AND TEA : BE BACK SOON.'
    "Well, that was easier than we expected," Lina grinned.  "After you, Gourry."
    "No no, men are supposed to hold open doors for women to go through," Gourry explained, some of his home country's influence rubbing off in flakes.
    "Yes, but where I come from, men go in first so that if there's a giant monster with a throwing axe in there, they'll buy the farm first in distraction so the woman can blow it up afterwards with a spell," Lina smiled.
    Gourry scratched his head.  "That's an awfully specific custom..."
    "Just get in there, Gourry!" Lina said, giving him a shove.  Gourry stumbled into the dark cave, waving his arms frantically.
    Moment one, moment two--
    "AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!" Gourry screamed.
    "Aieee!" Lily screamed, and hid behind Naga.
    "Look out!  Monster!" Lina yelled in warning to the others, jumping back and readying a fireball--
    Gourry peeked out.  "I hib my nobe onna walle," he complained, rubbing his sore face.  "Its prebby nabbow in bere!"
    Lina resisted the urge to fireball him anyway.
    For a moment, Lina wished she had paid attention to Nigel's mind-numbing monologue.  Then the moment passed.
    But she had to admit, even in the artificial light provided by her light spell, it was a strange sight.  The Library had been passed down through three empires, even though it wasn't officially 'Great' until the last one got their meathooks on it.  A weird variety of pillars, carvings, decorations, statues, tapestries, rugs, mosaics, and every other kind of decoration to can hang, paint, grind, attach, support, or engrave covered every possible surface.
    And there weren't any books.
    "Where're the books?" Gourry asked, inquiring about the obvious with an air of innocence.
    "They aren't here," Lina obviously said.  "We need to find a map of some kind.  The Mirror Lores would be stored in a room of magical books, which isn't likely to be on this floor... stuff like that they always tuck away into some obscure corner of the darkest basement.  Anybody see a guide or signpost or something?"
    Naga looked around.
    Gourry gazed lamely at his surroundings.
    Lina paced in a circle, checking the ceiling.
    Lily made a peep.
    "Eh?" Lina asked, looking up.  "You guys hear something?"
    'a.. ano...' Lily said, at the decibel level of a mouse.  It was a big library, however, and the sound carried.
    "Spot something?" Lina asked.
    "Um.. you... you're sort of..." Lily said, pointing down with her right hand, a short, soft motion.
    Lina looked down, at the mosaic tile pattern.  She squinted, trying to make out what it was... then got the idea, jogging to a nearby carved pillar and scaling it for about ten feet.  THEN she looked down, at the perfectly obvious outline of a floor layout, complete with cunic writing, which covered the room's floor surface area.
    "Hey, good work, Lily!" Lina smiled, hopping back down.  "Anybody here know how to read Alextribikian?"
    "It's a dead language," Naga said.  "I don't bother with those."
    Lily examined a nearby sample of the weird, pixellated writing.  "'Travel'... 'Dictionaries'... 'Llama Farming'..."
    Walking over, Lina squinted at the writing as well.  "Do any of these places have a label like 'Magic' or 'Mirrors' or 'Really Big Amazing Books of Power' or anything?"
    "Do they have a 'Gift Shop'?" Naga asked, perking up.
    "I could go for a 'Steak'," Gourry added, feeling he should contribute.
    "They don't just write 'Steak' on a map, Gourry," Naga said, rolling her eyes.
    "They don't?  Well... they should.  I mean, what if someone really wanted a steak?  They wouldn't be able to find it."
    "It's a LIBRARY!  Not a slaughter house!" Lina said.  She dug in her pack, getting out the dinky box of dried fruit Naga had laughably purchased to feed them back in town.  Lina lobbed it over at Gourry. "Here, eat these instead."
    "These aren't dried frog pills, are they? Because one time my Aunt Melba had to take some, and she got really really strange for a week, and ran through town with her pants on top of her--"
    "So, found it yet?" Lina asked, turning back to Lily.
    The sorceress jumped in surprise, as the conversation suddenly focused back on her.  "Uh... well.. I think maybe it might be... there," she said, pointing to a room on the basement map.  "I think.  I could be wrong.  I'm probably wrong."
    "Probably?  Are you wrong or not?" Lina asked.
    "I.. I, um..."
    "Make up your mind, girl!"
    "I'm  wrong!" Lily blurted, going into panic mode.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I... I..."
    Naga stepped in to intervene. "Lina, Lina!  You need to learn diplomacy.  Now.  Lily-chan?"
    Lily didn't look up.
    "What does that word read in the room you pointed to?" Naga asked, simply.
    "It.. it says 'Lost Lores'."
    "So why do you think you're wrong?"
    "I could be wrong..."
    "Either way, it's a good lead, and you did a good job getting it," Naga said.  "See?  That wasn't such a chore.  Now, shall we?"
    "Nevermind," Lily said.
    "Lillly..." Naga warned.
    "It's just... that," Lily said, pointing to a large, red-lettered form.  "It reads 'Beware of Librarian'."
    "Oh, is that all?" Naga asked.  "OHOHHOHOHOHHOOO!  As if the librarian in this place would be alive after so many years!  Besides, what harm could some old geezer do?"
    A double-headed throwing axe whirled out from the shadows of the room, slicing neatly through Naga's cloak and embedding its steel head three inches into solid rock.
    "He could do that," Lina said casually.
    Naga sprang backwards, neatly avoiding the swoop of a bastard sword, as some freak in a leather loincloth and well oiled chest landed from his pouncing place, taking a few more strokes at Naga before pausing.  He was roughly as wide as he was tall, with muscles on top of his muscles, gigantic pectorals that could probably crush an iron helmet between them, and definitely was not some doddering eighty year old man with a rubber stamp and a quiet voice.
    "Infidel scum!" the Librarian said, spitting the words without actually spitting on anything, which he knew he'd have to clean up afterwards if he did.  He twirled the sword in a flashy way, posing threateningly.  "How dare you defile, besmirch, stain, pollute, and/or contaminate this holy ground with your rotten book-stealing presence!?  I, Pendix the Librarian Warrior, will DESTROY, BREAK, ANNIHILATE, CRUSH, MAIM AND/OR KILL YOU!"
    "OHOHHOHOOO!!  So, the old geezer does have some moves!" Naga taunted, drawing her own sword.  "Perhaps I shall practice my blade on you instead of my magics, to show how easily I can defeat you!  HA!"
    Clang, parry, dodge, thrust, spin, etc...
    "You know, I refuse to be surprised by this," Lina said to Gourry.  "And in fact, I've probably seen stranger things in the course of this trip.  By this point, I should probably be expecting it, even..."
    "Uh... shouldn't we be helping Naga?" Gourry asked, one hand on the hilt of his sword.  "I mean, she is being attacked..."
    "Eh, don't worry, it's just Naga," Lina shrugged.  "Let's go get that book while she's occupied--"
    A crossbow bolt snagged through the air, missing Lina in a way that suggested it could have hit target if its previous owner really wanted it to.
    "NOBODY checks out a book without... a LIBRARY CARD!" Pendix announced, lowering his weapon.
    Naga danced out of Pendix's reach, confused.  "What, is that all?"
    "Whoa, no, wait!" Lina said.  "We've been down THIS road before.  This is Evilania.  You're going to make us sign sixty five thousand forms in triplicate or something insane like that, aren't you, Mr. Librarian Warrior?"
    Pendix looked puzzled.  "What good would forms show of your characters as book lenders?  Bah!  The raging spirits of a thousand Librarians, tied magically to the great Libraries of past and future, so that they may forever maintain the books as long as the books shall live SCOWL, grumble, mutter and/or scoff in disdain on such things!"
    "Okay, then.. you're going to ask us to take a ring to the crack of doom or seek out the Magical Pond of Whatsimacallit or some other time-consuming thing.  Right?" Lina hazarded.
    "What would be the point of that, library offender?"
    "Then.. you'll just give us the card?" Lina asked, astonished.  "Great!  My name is Lina Inverse and I live at no fixed address, and I'm here to check out--"
    The Librarian held up a hand, motioning for Lina to stop.  "You jump ahead.  First, you must pass... THE FOUR TRIALS OF THE LIBRARY CARD ACQUISITION!!  Tests of intellect, stamina, strength, prowess--"
    Lina turned.  "Forget it.  Gourry, c'mon, let's go get that book."
    "Wha-- you would dare check out a book without permission!?!" Pendix asked, Enraged.
    "What'll you do if we try?" Lina asked.
    "Been there," Gourry shrugged.
    "Done that," Naga agreed.
    "Got the t-shirt," Lina finished.  "It takes more than an extremely large man with a lot of weapons and few clothes to get me to hop to on another random sequence of tasks and sub-quests.  So, if you'll excuse--"
    'ano,' Lily said, sneaking into the dialogue from where she previously had hidden under a table when Pendix arrived.
    "--eh?" Lina asked.
    "I.. I think we should get the library card," Lily said.  "I mean, it's... uh.. it's the right thing to do.  Right.  I could be wrong."
    Lina snapped.  "I am NOT going to sit around all day and do a bunch of stupid tricks just to satisfy a man with index cards for a brain!!"
    "eeep!" Lily yelped, and ran to hide behind Naga.
    "Now now.." Naga said.  "I agree with Lily.  It couldn't be THAT hard, Lina!  Don't be such a slacker."
    "Ehhh?  Naga?!" Lina gaped.  "But... it's just a big hulky guy!  No big deal!  Let's go get the book."
    Naga signaled a time out, then leaned over to whisper to Lina.
    "Listen, I'm trying rather hard to get Lily here to think for herself," Naga said,  "I don't think stepping on her idea is a good way to raise her self esteem, do you?"
    "But... but I mean... ooooh!" Lina protested.  She turned back to the Librarian Warrior, and talked through gritted teeth.  "Okay, fine.  We'll do the silly trials.  What first?  We don't got all day here."
    A slow smile spreading over Pendix's incredible underbite, he snapped his fingers.  A magically triggered library cart rolled in from nowhere, with a couple books on it.
    "THE FIRST TRIAL!" Pendix announced, gesturing to the books.  "Sort these."
    Lily perked up.  "Oh, that's easy," she said, and stepped forward, putting the third book behind the first in front of the second and swapping the fourth and fifth.  "There.  That's the right way, I think."
    "CORRECT!" Pendix said, clapping once in approval.
    "What, that's it?  That's the entire trial?" Lina asked.  She started to perk up as well.  "That's so easy!  Okay, I'll do the next one.  Point me at the books!"
    Instead, the Librarian handed Lina a card, reading 1004.51.5.
    "THE SECOND TRIAL!  You will find this book in the west wing.  Bring it back to me," Pendix said.  "You may not use any spells, simply your Library Skills!"
    Lina snatched the index card, smiling.  "Got it.  No problem.  Come on, guys, this is gonna be a breeze!"
    The actual wings of the library were the real reason it was called the Great Library.
    One copy of every book in existence was stored in this building.  Thanks to a continuing enchantment placed on its shelves, each time a new book was written, anywhere in the world, it would appear on a shelf in the correct order and wing when nobody was looking.  Granted, not too many books were published in the world because more than half of the population was illiterate, but it was enough to give the Great Library a sense of scale usually only found in ballrooms of very rich nobles.
    Lina wandered along the sixty foot high shelves of this colossal room, scanning the numbers.  The others tagged along, like curious travelers who feel like there's a road accident up ahead.
    "1004.50.3, point-4, point-5, point-6, point-7," Lina counted, running along the bottommost shelf.  "And onto the 1004.51's, point-1, point-2, point-3, point-4, point..."
    The shelf ended on point four, wrapping back around to the top of the next shelf.
    Lina looked up.
    And up.
    "Oh," Lina said, gazing at 1004.51.5, currently fifty five feet over her head.  "Not a problem.  Ahem.  LEVIT--"
    Pendix bopped Lina lightly on the head with a ruler.
    "No spells!" he said.  "You must use your LIBRARY SKILLS!"
    "What library skills?!" Lina asked.  "It's right up to the ceiling and there's no ladder in this room!"
    "A good book-lender always finds a way to access the glorious information stored in these texts," Pendix recited from obsessively memorized holy books of the Librarian Warriors.
    Lina looked back up.  "Okay.  We'll do it the direct way!"  She cracked her knuckles, got a good grip, and started climbing and climbing and climbing and pulling a loose book accidentally and falling and falling and WHAM.
    "Uh, Lina?" Gourry asked, crouching down and poking her lightly.  "You're not dead, right?"
    Lina got back up, rubbing a bump on her head.  "Stupid shelf... no way is this gonna beat me!"  And up she went again, finding toeholds among the empty spaces, grabbing at the near frictionless polished wood for handholds, until she slipped and fell on top of Naga.
    "Oh, good, something soft," Lina said, relieved.  "Okay.  This isn't working.  Suggestions, anyone?"
    "We could throw you up there!" Gourry suggested, excited by the genius of his idea.
    "No," Lina said.  "Next suggestion?"
    "Gff off mf," Naga suggested.
    Lina looked over at Lily, who had taken off her pack, and was digging through it.
    "I think I might have.. umm... I'm not sure, but..." she said, mumbling her words as she searched.  Then she withdrew a grappling hook and a long, long coil of rope.
    "Whaaa?!" Lina asked.  "What're you doing with that in your pack?"
    "I.. I like to be prepared," Lily said.  "My mom told me that the two most important things an adventurer can have is, um, a lot of rope and a book of matches."
    "Oh, right!" Gourry agreed, clueing in.  "That was in 'Soe, Youe Wante To Be Aye Hero Inne 21 Easy Steppes!' I read that book once when I was a kid, it was very big back home."
    "Lucky!" Lina smiled.  "Okay.  Can I use your rope for this, Lily?"
    Lily blinked.  "Uh... okay.  Here you go."
    "Thanks," Lina said, snatching the rope, and whirling the hook around, aiming.
    "Yes?" Lina asked, not pausing.
    "You're welcome," Lily said.
    Lina Inverse nodded, then let the hook fly!... it arced backwards in a weak radius, and clattered on the ground.  The limp rope still in Lina's hand.
    "It occurs to me that I've never actually used one of these things before," she explained.  "Er.  How do you get the hook thingy to stick to the shelf?"
    After a few false starts, and a couple more bruises, Lina finally scaled down the towering wall of recorded knowledge, book clenched between her teeth in victory.  "Goff if!!"
    "Excellent!" Pendix said, clapping once.  "Now, the THIRD TRIAL!  A seasoned book-lender must be able to face... the bookworm!"
    "I'll take this one!"  Naga said, tossing her cape with a flourish.  "Combat and magic are my specialty, as a black sorceress.  Bring on the little worm, I will crush it like a worm!"
    The Librarian whistled.
    An eighty foot long, ten foot wide brown worm with spiked, armored shells on its skin slithered into the cavernous book wing from the main lobby, opening a mammoth mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, hissing at Naga.
    "THAT'S a bookworm?!" Lina asked, jumping back.
    "He's well fed and trained specifically to instruct book-lenders in self defense!" the Librarian said.  "Go get 'em, Rover!"
    "OHOHOHOHOHOO!!" Naga laughed, her voice bouncing off the walls to the point of ear irritation.  "This will be simple; I'll polish it off in one single shot!!"
    Lina waved her arms around madly.  "Naga!  You promised no high energy magic!  We're sitting under tons of earth!!"
    Naga's gigantic fireball piffled at remembering.  "Oh.  I had forgotten.  Very well!  I have other ways of slaying my enemies, as Naga the White Serpent can strike from any direction without warning and with the deadliest of weapons!  OOHOHOHOHOOHOOHOHOOOHOHOOHOHOHOOOHHOOOO!!!!!!"
    The laugh bounced off the domed ceiling, flinging itself around the room like a mad ping-ping ball.  Lina covered her ears in case they started bleeding.
    The worm also flinched in agony at the sound of Naga's laugh, rolling around on the ground to shake it off.  The room rumbled like a small earthquake, books on shelves clunking...
    "It trembles in fear before my beauty and might!" Naga incorrectly observed, putting a hand up to her mouth to cut loose with a really confident one.  "OOOOOOOOOOHHHOOOHOOHOHOOHOHOOHOHHOOHOHOOOHHOHOOHOO!!!!!!!"
    The worm, unable to withstand this assault, thrashed and smashed its body against a shelf, before its brain gave up and lost consciousness.  The books fell off the wall he impacted, like a tidal wave of bound paper, burying the bookworm in texts, lores, travelogues, farming manuals and pulp fiction.
    Naga was impressed with herself.  "I apparently am frightening enough to the cold-hearted monster that it would rather give up than fight me.  I prevail!  OOHOO--"
    Lina clamped an iron grip over Naga's mouth.  "So, that's that.  Bookworm defeated."
    "Now you will put all those books back on their shelves in correct order," Pendix spoke, gravely.
    "Is that the fourth trial?"
    "No.  But you're doing it anyway."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.