leeing the party early was harder than Lina was expecting.
    The basic problem was this.  She had stuffed Giga's book under the cushion of the armchair, and naturally, that's exactly where Gourry decided to plunk his keister for the night's duration.  If Naga found that thing, life could be bad; if her sister couldn't be trusted with the Dragon Slave, Naga certainly couldn't be trusted with the Giga Slave.  But at the same time, Lina had left herself hanging, waiting to open that damn thing and now this interruption was.. well, an interruption.
    Naga knew this, of course, which is why she stimulated idle conversation and kept the affair going as much as she could.  Probably waiting for Lina to crack and give her the books or tell her what was going on.  Instead, Lina sipped the one ale she had drawn for the night and gritted her teeth and waited.
    "But aren't you worried?" Naga asked, chatting up with Gourry.
    "A little.. a lot.  I mean, it's MY Sword of Light," he said.  "But now that I think about it, I think it'll be okay .  I've lost it before and it always comes back to me.  Even that one time Bongo stole it from me back in school a few days after grandpa gave it to me.  I didn't see it for a month, but then I got it back when the principal raided his locker and found a bunch of nude pictures and weapons and stuff!  Of course, I had to file a lost and found claim for it and there was a meeting with my parents..."
    "How interesting!" Naga said, and refilled Gourry's drink.  "Do go on."
    Lina's hands clenched and unclenched.  This wasn't going anywhere.
    Then the candle flickered and went out, dipping the room into total darkness.
    "Oh, blast, we ran out of wicker," Naga said.  "Ne, Lina?  Is there another candle around here?"
    An opening! Lina thought, grinning wickedly.
    Nobody could see anything, but the sounds that followed went like this.
    "Ano.. I think there may be a candle in eeeep!" "What?" "OOHHOOO!  An intruder!?  I will--" BONK "Naga?  What's wrong?  Wha- HEY!" (WHAM) (crash) "Lina?  Lina?  Ow, that's my foot!" "I'm sorry!!" "It's okay, just-- hey, no shoving, Gourry!" "That wasn't me.." "Where is everybody? I can't--" THUD "Oof! Whoa--" BOOM, SMASH!!
    When Naga finally located a candle and lit it, the room was a mess, the armchair overturned with its cushion gone, and someone had broke out of the window to escape.
    The city was amazing.
    But just saying that the city was amazing in no way expressed exactly how amazing it was.  Try to imagine the most amazing thing you've ever seen, the most beautiful object, the most elegant design and the most staggeringly impossible creation the gods have ever daydreamed to consider, amplify it through a haze of awestruck glory, and go 'Whoa.. that is REALLY AMAZING, man!'  Then you might have the right idea.
    Because to Amelia and Zelgadis, whose idea of a city was a few four story buildings, a littering of wooden houses and shops and maybe a castle or two, the shining city on the hill that loomed before them was nothing short of miraculous.
    Golden spires scraped at the clouds, polished and gleaming structures of glass and crystal.  White domes of all sizes, littered with gigantic windows, covered the ground; geodesics of enough size to encompass several villages.  Streets curved around these hemispheres, running with small wheeled things that were drawn by no horses.
    And the ships!  Docked here were a wide variety of elegant seacraft, streamlined, completely lacking in sails.  They bobbed in the ocean like blocks of floating ivory.  And what's more, the Guppy was about to plow into them at an excessive speed and cause a great deal of death to those inside.
    Zelgadis ignored the pretty view and frantically yanked levers, pushed buttons, adjusted dials in the bridge of the ship.  So far he had found the horn, the automatic rain wipers on the windows, and woke up the mapping turtle which lazily started to draw mathematical sequences.  But the ship had yet to realize that maybe slowing down would be a terrific change of pace.
    "What do we do?! What do we do!?" Amelia panicked, balling up her fists cutely under her chin and running in circles.  "We're going to wreck Dayvid's nice ship!"
    "Dayvid's ship can go to Terry Jones' Locker.  WE on the other hand are gonna Raywing on out of here," Zelgadis said, finally giving up and wandering back on deck.  "Come on."
    "We can't just wreck his ship!  It's not right!" Amelia said, following him topside.  "It's got to be one of those--"
    The ship halted with a jarring shock.  Zelgadis staggered slightly, before regaining his center of balance.  "What, did we hit already?  But..."
    A large, taloned hand clamped itself over the railing.  Zel jumped back in shock, and drew his sword.
    Although he wasn't expecting to see one when he woke up this morning, sure enough, a gigantic golden dragon had stopped the ship with sheer force, flapping its wings in the air gently to provide a countermeasure.  The struggle went on for a few moments, a tug-of-war which felt more like a push-of-war, until finally the engines of the Guppy gave a sad little whine and cut out, black smoke pouring from the exhaust pipes.
    "....." Amelia said, staring wide-eyed at the dragon.
    The golden dragon seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, floating up into the air, turning... turning over, turning into... and landing gently on the decks, a tall human with golden hair and a matching golden tail.
    "Hello," he said.  "Sorry about that, but we saw you coming in at unsafe speed and had to do something... are you guys lost?  And where did you get this relic?"
    "Relic?" Amelia asked, not sure what else to say.
    "Haven't seen a real wooden ship except in the museum," the dragon-man smiled.  "Oh, sorry... very impolite of me, forgot to introduce myself.  I'm Ryu, with the Council of Dragons Safety Commission.  Welcome to Central Lair.  Can I be of any assistance, humans?"
    There exists a place no human has ever set foot in.
    Not because it's inhospitable, or uninhabitable.  It's actually a very nice valley, which unfortunately happens to be surrounded by mountains which are completely impassable.  In here, a small ecosystem has maintained itself, with no outside influences, keeping the lifecycle up for thousands of years.  Since the valley has no name, let's call it 'Doomed', for some strange reason.
    A small burst of purple light popped into existence in the center of the valley, depositing Xelloss and a disgruntled Dayvid on the grassy ground.
    "This will do quite nicely," Xelloss smiled, looking around Doomed.  "Now, we should act quickly before we lose track of their scent in reality.  I'll teach you the spell, then cast it in dual psychic link with you to act as a control barrier and amplifier.  Follow?"
    "...no," Dayvid said.  "Dad, I'm a scientist.  I'm not a magician, I don't know what you're talking about."
    "Ah, then we're even.  I've got no clue what your usual jargon means either," Xelloss said.  "Of course, this unfortunately puts us at square one.  Hmmmm.  I suppose we could wait a month while I teach you how to tap black magic..."
    "I guess knowledge has to be slowly accumulated," Dayvid said, sinking slightly.  "It was like that when I was learning science.  Can we afford to take that... well, no, we can't, you guys are expected at the Island of Ultimate Despair soon... maybe we should go tell.. Lina? that we'll be late--"
    "No, no need," Xelloss said, placing both his hands on Dayvid's forehead.  "We'll just take a shortcut on the road of knowledge.  This may sting."
    "Shortcut?" Dayvid asked.  "What do you MEAAAAAAA!!!!------"
    Boiling in oil.  He had never technically been boiled in oil, but if he had to pick one sensation it was akin to, that would be it.  But it was oil burning on the INSIDE, searing flesh internally, your skin cold and dead in comparison to the raging fires scorching through him and down his spine racing along his fingertips and burrowing into his brain oddly only on the left side of his body like half of him was dipped into some weird transmuted pot of acid leaving the other half to panic and wave its arm and attempt to get away from the other half of his body until
    He collapsed on the grass, panting, sweating and roasting enough to make him seriously wish there was a bathtub around.
    And there was his father, dusting off his hands.  "Terribly sorry, but you DID want to get this over with soon..."
    "Whhhh.. whhhhhhhhhhh..." was all Dayvid could manage.
    "You ARE half-Mazoku, you know," Xelloss reminded him.  "You've done a brilliant job repressing your black half it since, well, you had no idea, but I gave it a poke with a stick and got it to wake up.  Congratulations!"
    Awkwardly getting to his feet, Dayvid flared with anger.  "Congrraaa... you... YOU DID WHAT!?"
    "You can beat me up again if it makes you feel better," Xelloss said, smiling cheerfully.  "Go ahead, get those negative emotions out.  It'll help you grow stronger.  That's how we get by, you see."
    "I... DO NOT.. want to be a Mazoku!" Dayvid growled.  "I'm a human being!  I'm not some evil demonic beast!  I'm a scientist and a human and not a dark monster or a.. a whatever!!"
    "So?" Xelloss said, his voice suddenly going more serious than it had in the last six days or so of his life.  "Realize this, son, I'll only explain it once.  You're half human.  Those who are not aligned, body, mind and soul to the Mazoku can do whatever they please.  Rebels.  Freaks.  Fun people.  Those who don't buy totally into the company mission statement, those with a mind of their own.  Dayvid, just because you're half Mazoku doesn't mean you are evil; be a nice goody two shoes or a killer or a pacifist or a madman or a scientist or whatever.  ...but you DO want to cast that spell and get Amelia -- and the others -- back.  I am correct?"
    "...yes..." Dayvid admitted, calming somewhat.
    "Well, then," Xelloss said, rolling up a sleeve.  "Let's get to work, son."
    Once Zelgadis had established who they were and where they came from, and notably what level the technology and magic had reached, it all became very clear to Ryu.
    "I need to call the Council about this," he had said.  "We've never had time travelers before."
    Even Zelgadis, who assumed he was able to grasp any new situation with ease, had a hard time accepting this.  But Ryu explained exactly what he had missed in history, in the handy dandy truncated abridged summarized version
    Roughly five centuries ago, probably around when Zelgadis and Amelia departed, the second great Mazoku War broke out.  Nobody knew why or where it happened, what triggered it.  Before Ceipheed could be revived, Shaburanigdo's minions had dominated basically all of the world, but the darkness wasn't strong enough to suppress the Dragons for long; they jumped into the fray and the war raged for the better part of fifty years.
    Most of the population bought the farm ("That's the colloquial term humans use, right?  I want you to feel comfortable, you see") in the process, but eventually, the Dragons won.  The Mazoku, crippled, ran into hiding and haven't been heard of since, except in token resistance and ineffective insurgence against the Council of Dragons, which governed over the world and had kept peace for hundreds of years.
    It was a utopia at this point.  Pain and simple, very straightforward as Ryu described the state of the world.  Crime reached an amazing low, bandits and pirates were now extinct, the people prospered economically, spiritually and physically.  Death was rare, as the Dragons were more than happy to spread healers of their kind with amazing White Magic powers.  The city they were in -- which was just as impressive inside than out, if not moreso, if that was possible -- was Central Lair, the current capital of the Dragon empire.  Chances were this Bahumut Trapezoid they sailed into was a hole in reality, which Ryu said the Dragons had to repair after the war in large numbers, and it shifted them ahead in time to where they were now.
    And.. that was that.  His story told, a little box on Ryu's belt beeped, and he said he had been paged by the Council to report on the two newcomers.  He left them at a small cafe, changed back into Dragon form, and flew off, leaving Amelia and Zelgadis quite stunned and confused.
    "I'm dreaming, right?" Zelgadis said, trying to find an opening in his fruit drink, which had too many little paper umbrellas.  "This has got to be some surreal dream.  I'm a rational person, I can handle the strange and unusual, but this is really pushing my limits."
    Amelia was busy watching the people passing by.  Happy people, usually smiling and saying good day to each other, sometimes doing some business, sometimes stopping to chat.  Horseless coaches slid silently and cleanly along the roads in this indoor city as well, without bumping, without traffic insults.
    "Beautiful..." Amelia said to herself.  She glanced over at Zelgadis.  "If it's a dream, it's a wonderful one.  Justice has finally won.  Crime is almost gone, and everybody is safe and happy.  Nobody needs to die or be robbed or anything.  Ne, Zelgadis-san, isn't it nice to know that when the next Mazoku war comes, the good guys will win?  We're not going to live in a bad world at all in the future!"
    "Good?" Zelgadis asked.  He gave up on his drink, setting it aside, and leaned over to talk quietly with Amelia.  "Listen.  Assuming this isn't some fever dream, I think you're missing some key problems..."
    "When did the second Mazoku War start, for instance?" Zelgadis asked.  "Right around when we left, according to that guy.  What caused it?"
    "There is a chance that we caused it," Zelgadis finished.  "I still have the water from the Lake of Reflections with me.  If we got stuck here, in the future, when Lina needed it for some reason -- you have to admit this sort of world-breaking thing usually happens at the end of a long quest, Amelia -- then maybe everything goes wrong.  Yes, that's a wild string of conjecture, and a hunch.  But that's how this stuff WORKS.  It's all Drama.  Do you follow?"
    "Aww, come on, Zelgadis-san!  That's silly," Amelia smiled.  "If--"
    "Second problem.  The Dragons won.  Totally and completely, and now they're ruling over mankind, it seems," Zelgadis said, cutting Amelia off.  "That's not how the balance of nature works, according to Shamanism and just about every event in human history.  It never stays tipped in total favor for long unless something is wrong."
    "What's wrong about peace and quiet?" Amelia asked.  "What's wrong with happiness?  This world is so ideal, Zelgadis-san!  It's perfect!"
    "Nothing's perfect," Zelgadis said.  "The other shoe is gonna drop.  Or it already did, and we can't see it.  And EITHER way, I want to get out of here, and go back to where we belong.  Can you at least agree on that?"
    "Well... I mean, it's a nice place, but..." Amelia said, glancing from the city to Zelgadis and back.  "We should go see Lina.  It's not right to leave a quest incomplete, right?  It's not honorable."
    "Or safe," Zelgadis agreed.  "We'll just have to ask the Dragons how to get back.  They probably want us out of their hair, anyway.  We're practically violent neanderthals in comparison to folks here......"
    He trailed off quietly.
    No.  Now, that is getting entirely too paranoid, even for him.  The idea was immediately dismissed.
    Feet running through a forest at night.  The crunch of twigs and leaves.
    Lina kept a good grip on her book, as she put as much distance between herself and the cottage as she could.  Okay, truth be told, she felt bad about causing widespread mayhem in order to escape, but it was for the best.  The longer she waited, the higher the chance Naga would find the book -- the more chance Naga would find the book, the more chance she'd learn the Giga Slave -- the more chance of THAT, the less of a chance humanity at large had of surviving.  Naga wasn't stupid, not by far, but knowing her she'd be just as immature with it as Lina was once...
    ...once, in her mother's attic, looking through her sister's things.  She wasn't supposed to touch them, being too young for that sort of stuff at eight years since her Nameday, but she just couldn't resist stuff she wasn't supposed to touch.  Like the cookie jar, or the cat's poo in the box, her sister's magic lightning-throwing lance.  Sure, she might get in some trouble, but it was never anything really bad.  Lina Inverse just wanted to know everything, see everything, touch everything.  Was that so bad?
    When she managed to open her sister's storage closet upstairs, using a handy lockpicking spell she had learned a week ago from a magical thief (he was a nice man and gave her candy, before taking it away from her again), she rooted carefully through all this neat magic stuff.
    Then she found, rolled up neatly in the back, a scroll.  Not really a scroll; a page from a book.  Horribly yellowed and old, full of holes, torn from its bindings.. but readable.  And on it was this really cool spell called the Giga Slave!
    And Lina, wanting to know everything and be the world's best sorceress in the world like her sister, memorized the spell before putting it back.  A few days went by and nobody commented, so she decided to test out the spell outside of her town.
    At first, casting it was easy.  It was strong, but she was a tough girl like the folks in her country usually were, and she could handle it.
    Then it got to be very hard to handle, as each word had to struggle to get out.  But she pushed on anyway.
    Then it was very hard to STOP saying the words, like the time she crawled into a barrel and had a friend push her down a hill.  She also felt very dizzy...
    When the spell completed, it ran wild, and mile-high Mt. Erectus just outside of town was completely vaporized in a tremendous blast of pure black energy, pulled from a golden river of chaos.
    Lina got a pretty bad spanking for that one.
    ...but in the here and now, she was smarter than to just hurl unknown spells around.  She'd read Giga's book, memorize what she could and then perhaps hide it somewhere safe, like her sister tried to do with that fragment of the lore.  Then she'd never cast them again unless she had an EXTREMELY GOOD REASON.
    But Naga, she had proven time and time again not to have much restraint.  Perhaps Lina could hammer the idea home that these spells weren't for crushing your enemy, they were usually for making world go boom, but until she could soften Naga up enough to do that it was better to hide out and be cool about it.
    And for now, she'd read the Giga Lores.
    'The True Human Magic, by Merlin Giga.'  She could FEEL power crackling at her fingertips as she opened it, finally, or maybe that was just anticipation...
    ...of a blank book.
    Lina fell sideways, still clutching the text in her unbelieving hands.  It was EMPTY?!  Clean white pages of nothing?!  Impossible!  There had to be some kind of...
    Now words started to form, as if an invisible pen wrote them.  Pausing to dip in ink occasionally.  Transfixed, Lina read the lines as they wrote themselves, in the handwriting of a man dead so long ago...

        And in my left hand,
        I held the ultimate human darkness,
        searing black flames in my fingers.
            With this, I took my first step.  Giga Slave.
        And in my right hand,
        I held the ultimate human light,
        holy fire of blinding brilliance.
            With this, I took my second step.  Giga Restoration.
        And my path was irreversible then,
        carrying both flames in balance,
        to my destination.
            With this, I took my third step.  Giga's Gate.
        And then I flew free,
        for I had found my salvation,
        as my people rejoiced.

    The page turned itself, and the pen copied out the Giga Slave, exactly the same font, the same stylized writing that Lina remembered from so long ago.  Next page.  Giga Restoration.  Next page, Giga's Gate.  Next page.

        And only for those who walk the path,
        Will the final truths be revealed.
            With this, I close.
                    - merlin giga

    The rest of the pages stayed blank.
    Naga snatched the book cleanly from Lina's hands.
    "A-HA!" she said, using a different vowel than usual.  "Caught you, Lina Inverse!  For shame, hiding things from Naga, your strongest ally!"
    "Aaa!!!!" Lina responded.  "Naga, don't read that!  Don't!--"
    Paging through the book with a look of puzzlement, Naga read.
    It's been a nice universe, really, Lina thought to herself.  She didn't have too many complaints.  Sure, she was hoping to get rich and retire with a fetching man sometime in the future which she apparently wasn't going to have anymore, but beyond that, things could have been worse.
    "What's this?" Naga asked, seriously curious rather than mockingly curious.
    Groaning, Lina gave up.  "What's it LOOK like, Naga?"
    "Looks like a blank book to me," she said, showing Lina the perfectly clean pages of the book.  "What, are you planning to start a private diary?  OOHOHOHOOO!  Hiding nasty things you want to write about Naga, are you?"
    Not used to the worst case scenario vaporizing itself in a cloud of hidden irony, Lina was completely at a loss for words.
    Uninterested, Naga handed the most sought after book of lores in history back to Lina.  "Very well, keep your silly little girl diary.  Really, Lina, you do need to learn to grow up and be less childish about such things.  And after all, you have myself if you need someone to talk to about those personal problems!  I wouldn't laugh at you or anything, I swear!"
    Nod nod, confused look.
    "So, the matter is settled and we shall resume the party?" Naga asked.
    Nod nod, stunned look.
    "Lina?  Is something wrong?"
    Nod nod, faint.

Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.