SLAYERS REFLECT #9 : Tomorrow Never Lies
By Stefan Gagne, Spoof Chase Productions.

arious entertainments are available in this world.  Just because most of the population thinks that stone sundials are a pretty neat idea doesn't mean they aren't civilized or advanced enough to throw a whooping good time.  There are plenty of barn raisings, usually followed by drunken barn dances.  Plays are put on frequently, with the occasional midnight play where the actors use minimalist costumes and audience members sit very far apart, if you know what I mean.  You also can entertain yourself by listening to music at a concerto in the 'alternative' scene, where everybody dresses funny and does things with sax and violins that would make their parents go white.  And, if all else fails, you can read a book.
    Myth runs wild in the printing industry, for example.  There's the 'Thousande ande One Tailes of The Bolde Adventures of The Mighty Warrior Whose Deedes Go Onne For Not Lesse Than Three Hundred Ande Thirty Foure Pages', always a popular read around the fire for its epic tales of heroism and bravery, and a good substitute for toilet paper if you happen to run out.
    More popular but less admitted to is 'Everything Youe Wanted To Knowe Aboute Sexe But Nobody Else Knewe', an informative and educational text with many full color illustrations and step by step guides.
    But if you're a sorcerer, what you really want to curl up with by the fire on a rainy day is a copy of 'Das Textuel Noir', the book of the black arts, or 'Ways of the Shamans' by Alison.  Magic books.  Lore books.  Good reading and good for you unless you accidentally blow up your house while practicing.  (Insurance companies know to charge higher premiums to thaumatologists.)  And since many sorcerers believe in share and share alike from dead bodies alone, they horde books of power like treasured contraband.
    "No, you CAN'T read over my shoulder!" Lina said for the third time.  "Go away!"
    "Come on, Lina!" her obligatory tagalong Naga insisted.  "It's the Mirror Lores!  I want them just as bad as you do.  Think about all those ancient secrets!"
    "I told you, I'd like a moment or two alone to read and practice these," Lina said.  "You can have the book when it's your turn.  Fair?"
    "You're HIDING something, aren't you?" Naga said, eyeing Lina suspiciously.  "Lina, Lina!  You're so naive!  You can't keep a secret from your strongest rival!"
    "I'm not hiding anything," Lina lied.  "Can't I just have a quiet moment?  Is that too much to ask?"
    "Yes!" Naga said.  "But I will allow a moment's respite.  I'll just go straight back to the inn right away.  You don't need to worry about me!  OOHOOHOOHOOHHOHOHOOO!!"
    Naga turned one eighty and immediately marched back down the hill.
    Lina Inverse gave a sigh of relief.
    The coach was stopped for the night, with Lily and Gourry busy shopping for supplies, and Lina finally had some time to check out the book.. books that she had obtained recently.  She had spotted an abandoned cottage on a high hill just outside of the town they were in, and figured that would be an ideal, isolated place to peruse, once she snuck away from Naga, who unfortunately had followed her.
    The foreword in Silverquick's book specifically said that the spells were intended for her alone.  Chances of something really hideous happening if Naga got them were pretty high, if he'd go out of his way with an oracle spell to predict how to get this lore to Lina alone... not only that, but the second book which she never even remembered getting her hands on was troubling.  Best to sort this out well ahead of the ferry they would take the next day to the Island of Ultimate Despair, which Mel.. Xelloss had insisted wasn't as bad a place as the name made it sound like.
    Besides, she was itching to try out a few of these mirror spells.  A hand mirror tucked into her backpack would probably be enough to experiment with.
    Hiking the pack up onto her shoulders, she continued to trudge uphill.  For some reason, these new powers didn't excite her anymore.  They just worried the hell out of her.
    The mood aboard the SS Guppy, proud mechanic ocean going vessel, was jovial.
    Having avoided being melted by volcanic lava and having obtained the waterskin of whatever it was they came to get, things were looking up.  The group was having an impromptu party on decks, with Xelloss providing the music.  When Amelia suggested a group social occasion of celebration to raise the already high morale, the priest casually mentioned that he just happened to bring a violin aboard and yes, he was quite good at playing it, actually.
    Xelloss perched on a rail, playing a jovial little jig, while Amelia whirled a highly frightened and twitchy Dayvid around.  Dayvid made the mistake of saying that he's never danced before, and naturally Amelia offered (being used in the loosest sense of consentuality) to teach him how.
    Zelgadis, however, decided just to hang out off to the side and sip a cup of punch that Dayvid had invented a machine that morning to make.  He was more of the wallflower type.  Frequently he actually blended into the wall.
    He didn't feel excited about the situation.  They had traveled far, shirking off attacks from loons at sea and maniacs on land, and what was the reward?  A bunch of water he had no use for yet and a strange vision he didn't understand which unsettled him greatly.  The others didn't get either of these things, and only saw unrelenting victory.  Let them party, he didn't feel like begrudging them the festivities.
    Of course, Xelloss proved to be ambiaural; able to talk and play music at the same time, and much to Zel's chagrin, the priest enjoyed annoying him while the two kids engaged in their violent parody of dancing.
    "So, what was it like down there?" Xelloss asked, playing along with a catchy beat that Zel actively refused to tap his foot to.  "I wish I could have gone, but that naughty Silverquick used his lockout spell again..."
    "Amazing.  A Mazoku has some limits to where they go and what they can do?" Zelgadis asked, having no problems taunting Xelloss right back.
    "Come come, Zel-kun.  We're not omnipotent," Xelloss said, smiling.  "Sure, we like to make it look that way, but let's be frank.  Anybody armed with an incredible array of magical weapons and/or light powers could probably give me a black eye or three.  See?"
    "And yet, this one spell seems to prevent my access to the Mirror Lores," Xelloss said, tisking.  "Silverquick's little group was far too dangerous for a group of humans, the Mazoku believe.  Thaumatological hackers all; they posed a great risk to us.  We have an active interest in keeping humans as harmless as they are, you realize."
    "What a shame.  So, now that Lina has the lores, I take it you're going to backstab us and steal them?"
    "Zel-kun!  That hurts!  I thought we were buddies?" Xelloss asked, smiling.  "Whyfor ever would I do such a thing?  I'll simply ask her if I could take a peek at that nice book once we meet up at the Island.  I can't think of a reason why she'd refuse me, after I've been so benevolent and helpful."
    "Benevolent.  Right.  I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop," Zelgadis grumbled.
    "Such a gloomy gus!  Have you ever considered, my dearest Zel-kun, that perhaps the other shoe isn't going to fall?" Xelloss asked, his song twitching into a more serious mood, the beat still clicking along.  "Here you are, all mopey and moany, waiting for the end to come.  Waiting for that horrible nasty mean old Mazoku in your midst to switch sides as he's done before, oh you KNOW he's done it before, and attack you and steal your magic and aid the Mazoku in destroying the world.  That's the other shoe, right?  I didn't leave anything out?"
    "More or less," Zelgadis said, suddenly not liking this conversation.
    "I really do hate doing what's expected of me," Xelloss said, downshifting the music into a slow dance.  He glanced over at Dayvid, who was now being taught to dance cheek to cheek by Amelia, and looked to be near the point of a nosebleed.  Smiling, he resumed conversation with Zelgadis.  "You know the difference between me and most Mazoku?"
    "You're more annoying?"
    "Was that supposed to be humorous?  Your taunts need work.  Perhaps Naga could teach you... but I digress," Xel said.  "The difference is that they're evil, sadistic maniacs who kill and crush and destroy and plot and plan and do devious things."
    "And you are...?"
    "I'm an evil, sadistic maniac who prefers to do what's not expected of me," Xelloss said, a weird twinkle in his eye.  "Why should I live up to what other people think I'll do?  People die that way.  Viruses adapt to the body and destroy it by relying on the predictability of systems.  The mutants, the freaks and the unpredictable survive -- and they have a much more fun time of it, too.  Rather a lot like your Lina-chan, yes?"
    Zelgadis glared at Xelloss.  "What about Lina?"
    "She's quite the little deviant," Xelloss said, smiling warmly.  "How hard she tries not to fall into the usual dramatic traps of the hero, as I try not to bump into the brick walls of the villain.  It's basically the same thing, from another angle.  Whereas you squat here in a puddle of your own loathing, typically.  Have you ever considered breaking out of that loop?  Perhaps if you hadn't been turned into a chimera--"
    "If I wasn't a chimera, I'd be an asshole," Zelgadis snapped.  "I'd never have learned a damn thing about responsibility, or honor, or anything other than.. 'looking out for number one'.  I happen to know this on very good authority."
    Xelloss's smile widened.  "Whose, precisely?"
    "...none of your business," Zelgadis said, glancing away.
    "The worst within, yes?" Xelloss asked.  He changed his music again, a sultry tango; much to Dayvid's horror, Amelia knew that particular dance.  "I know a few things about the lores, about the bargain of them.  To ensure that those who seek the lores are emotionally fit to handle them, they must confront and recognize the worst they could have become.  Seems yours took the direct course, so to speak.  It unsettled you, then?"
    "No," Zelgadis said.
    "I'll take that as a yes.  So why haven't you learned anything from this encounter, Brier Chimera?"
    "And what, exactly, should I learn from this?" Zelgadis asked, frustrated.  "Just tell me and leave me alone, okay?  The leadup is really giving me a headache."
    "What, just tell you?" Xelloss asked.  "But it's such a lovely secret.  Wouldn't it be more fun to figure it out yourself?"
    "You're the one with all the philosophy, with me just the whiny little chimera, right?" Zelgadis asked.  "So prove you're the superior one and go gloat.  I know you want to.  C'mon.  Give it to me!  Get on with it!!"
    Xelloss scooted away.  "Feisty!  Very well, because you were nice and asked me in such an interesting manner.  Seeing as how that one big decision you always wished you could go back and change turned you into a hideous twit, perhaps you should get over your little handicap and actually ENJOY life for a change?"
    A pause.
    Zelgadis didn't look particularly enlightened.  "That's it?  That's your big wisdom?"
    "Simple, but effective," Xelloss said.  "I was expecting you'd sit over here and sulk.  Remember, Zel-kun; the predictable die, whereas the Lord of Nightmares and Her favored ilk persist in chaos.  If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go terrify Dayvid by playing the Labarda.  I understand it's been banned in six countries!"
    Zelgadis waved Xelloss off, and the trickster priest scooted across the deck, to make sure the full volume and impact of his zesty, spicy forbidden dance song was heard.  Both dancers stopped, in confusion.
    Sitting on the side, he was pleased that Amelia had never heard of the dance, and thus Xelloss's expectations to tease Dayvid were foiled.  He finished off his punch, and moved to loiter closer to the center of the party for a change.
    Using a nearby branch, Lina forced the door open.
    The cottage hadn't been used in a year.  A lot of it was dusty and in disrepair, but no worse than the attic back home, where she originally studied books of magic.  Had the same musty odor, too.  Perhaps she was just drawn to that sort of atmosphere when it came time to do some serious magical work; more likely it was just chance.  At least here she could get some peace and quiet, with the precautions she set up around the house.
    Lina picked a nearby rocking chair, lighting the lantern on a table next to it.  She dusted off the chair, dumped her sack on the floor and pulled out the Mirror Lores.
    It wasn't like other books of magic.
    Usually, if you picked up something like 'Ways of the Shamans', 80% of the book would be taken up by elaborate, painstakingly well done drawings of dragons and beasts and sorcerers in action.  There'd be really eye-catching frames around each page, patterns and designs in artistic style; the letters would be in such an intensely decorate font that sometimes they could be very hard to read.
    'The Mirror Lores, by S. Quick' wasn't like that.  A forenote was there, telling Lina how this book was made especially for her, and that was done with nice calligraphy, but the rest of the pages were in very boring handwriting.  Crib notes for spells, no illustrations, no decorations.
    There were eight spells total.  It seemed that they were ranked in terms of power, with the last four requiring energized water from the Lake of Reflections, according to Silverquick's notes. ("Although truth be told, I didn't include that spell here for a reason," he wrote in the margin, addressing Lina directly, which was getting to be a bit creepy to her. "I made an endless supply which will be provided to the right people at the Lake, and that'll have to do.  Security, you know.  Never code your own spells without security permissions, Lina, for future thaumatologist reference.")
    In fact, the entire book felt like designer's notes, with that slight personal touch.  For example, the spell Lina figured she'd need was pretty obvious :
Oracle Trigger (class three, water-enhanced spell)
    Upon execution, this spell enchants a mirror that was created
    using Ritual Waterfreeze (version 2.0 or later, see appendix)
    to give repeat effects of the Oracle Burst spell.  Strong drawing
    of power is needed in the third line of the incantation in
    order to enhance the accuracy of the visions, as well as a
    generalized sense of purpose, initial startup behavior sensors
    for the mirror to detect the emotional desires of the user.
    Variate the flow of power to be stuttering at the 1hz level
    during the second line to implement a voice-activated interface
    for the user instead of the less predictable mind-activated
    interface.  DO NOT break the mirror during an Oracle Burst
    vision!  Unpredictable results including brief, low powered
    World Merge may be possible.
        Seealso : Oracle Burst, Ritual Waterfreeze 2.0, World Merge
            Shining reflection of what might be,
            Hear my calls and my commands,
            Show me the door of the future most true
            Of impossible and possible lands.
    Personal Note : Oracle Trigger is the most commonly requested
    implementation of mirror magic, although leaders don't seem
    to understand that it tends to show what MIGHT HAVE BEEN based
    on decisions rather than WHAT MUST BE in the future.  Or rather
    it shows WHAT MIGHT BE in the future.  Laymen, honestly -- you
    give them a glass hammer and they try to drive screws with it.
    Do me a favor, Lina; if you survive this and make that mirror
    for Sailoon, warn them this time to take care of it!
    Lina backed up a bit.
    "IF you survive this..."
    Not very encouraging.
Click to continue...
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.