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Slayers: Mysterious Play

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"Lina. LINA! Oh, darn it. Not again!" The young black-haired girl swore to herself as she watched her friend racing away across the school yard. "One mention of free food and she takes off like there's a shortage!" Amelia sighed and dropped her head in defeat. "And we were going to study together for our big entrance exams next week," she lamented.

"Oh-HO-HO-HO-HO!" Amelia cringed as she heard Gracia's thundering laughter behind her. "You should know by now that there's always a food shortage when Lina's around!" Amelia sweatdropped as she turned around and eyed her older sister. Gracia was dressed in her usual outfit, a pair of embarrassingly tight jeans and a midriff cutoff shirt.

"Don't you ever get tired of wearing that outfit, Gracia?" Amelia asked. The older girl stopped laughing long enough to look down at her sister and lower her shades slightly.

"It's all in the sunglasses, Amelia. Besides, I thought I told you to call me Naga. Naga!" Amelia rolled her eyes in exasperation as her sister embarked on another session of gratuitous laughter, causing several people around them to cringe and run in terror. If I wore an outfit like that all the time, I would be embarrassed to take off my sunglasses, too! the younger girl thought to herself.

"Ho-ho-ho! But I'm not here to laugh at you and your little friend Lina today, Amelia!" Gracia said more sternly. "Dad wants to know if you'll be coming home for dinner tonight."

Amelia shook her head slightly. Striking a dramatic pose, she raised a finger to the sky. "In order to become a true upholder of justice, I must strike down the evils of ignorance and defeat the terror known as the college entrance exam!"

Gracia tried to stifle a yawn. "Whatever, Amelia. So you're going to be staying late at the library again?"

"Of course!" Amelia exclaimed. "Besides, I promised Lina I would help her study for the exams today, too," she mumbled under her breath. Gracia had already turned to leave. "See you later, sis!" Amelia called after her sister's retreating form. "Now where did Lina go too?"

The girl in question wasn't very hard to find. Lina always stood out in a crowd. Her fiery hair was matched by her equally fiery temper, and she had no problems letting other people feel the flames of her temper when she wanted something. And right now, she wanted food.

"AAGH! All these people are in line for free ice cream samples! There won't be any left by the time I get up there!" Lina knit her brows together, trying to scheme up a way to push herself to the front of the line. Fortunately, Amelia's voice rang out across the school yard, setting off a light bulb inside Lina's head.

"Lina! Liiina! Why'd you run away like that? We have to study today!"

Lina grinned evilly at her friend, and stepped out of the line to approach her. "Hey, Amelia, come a little closer!"

Amelia slowed down as she approached her friend, huffing from the run. "Why, Lina?" she asked.

"I have to tell you something," Lina said.

Amelia looked confused. "Why can't you tell me right now?" she asked innocently.

"Just do it!" Lina demanded.

With a sense of foreboding, Amelia leaned her head in closer to Lina. The redhead whispered something to the shorter girl. "But why are you thanking me? I haven't made any sacrifices for yo-" Amelia's puzzled query came to an abrupt end as Lina brought her elbow down on Amelia's head, knocking the younger girl out.

Turning around, Lina let out a high-pitched scream of distress. The people in the ice-cream vendor's line turned in surprise. "Oh help me! Please, somebody!" Lina said, fountains of tears springing out of her eyes. "My friend has collapsed suddenly from the heat! Will anybody help us?" she gushed.

As the people rushed from the line to Amelia's form, Lina skipped up to the ice-cream vendor. "Oh, not you!" she said as the vendor was making his way out with the rest of the crowd. "You were giving away some free ice cream samples, weren't you?" she said, smiling greedily. The vendor sweatdropped as in the background, Amelia mumbled "Ohh... look at the pretty stars, Miss Lina..."

- x - x - x -

"Did you really have to do that, Lina?" Amelia asked as she rubbed her head sorely.

Lina nodded solemnly. "Think of the injustice of it, Amelia. A poor, starving girl like me, separated from the one thing that could save her from the tortures of hunger."

Amelia thought about it for a moment. "Well, when you put it like that... hey, wait a second!" she began.

The two girls continued their argument as they walked down the halls of the library. They stopped when they noticed the glare of the librarian. "Well, Amelia, if it's that important to you, I'm sorry I hit you on the head, OK?" Lina whispered to her friend.

Amelia smiled back at her. "It's OK, Lina. I just wish you would be more gentle when you do things like that. If you keep hitting me on the head, I won't be able to help you study!" she whispered. Lina sighed and nodded slightly.

Studying had never been Lina's strong point. Of course, she was intelligent, smarter than perhaps even studious Amelia. But exams bored her. Lina preferred to read fantasy novels involving dragons and magic and sorcerers. In fact, the only parts of a mundane school education that she ever showed any interest in were the lunch hour and physical education, and her grades reflected it, too. But somehow, Lina always managed to talk, scheme or connive her way out of failing her courses.

Amelia, on the other hand, had a strange, almost slavish devotion to studying the books. It had something to do with her dream of becoming a lawyer. "Lawyers have to be smart, Lina!" she would always say, before dragging her unwilling companion off to the library. But they were nearing the end of their high school education; a college entrance exam was something completely different. Lina knew she couldn't cheat, squirm or bribe her way out of that. So, she had asked her best friend to help her do some real studying. Which brought them to the library, today.

"How can you study? I'm starving!" Lina's stomach growled to enforce her complaint. Amelia looked up from the thick book she was pouring through and gave a little sigh.

"Lina, we've only been here for an hour! How can you be hungry already?" the younger girl said.

Lina rolled her eyes. "I can't help it, this is so boring! I really need to get something."

Amelia sighed and placed a marker in her book, standing up.

"I thought you said you had to study," Lina snorted.

Amelia shrugged. "If I don't go with you, Lina, then I bet that you'll never come back. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't do what you asked me to?"

Lina groaned, remembering. "That's right. Make me study for these entrance exams, NO MATTER WHAT." Amelia beamed and nodded at Lina brightly. Muttering swearwords to herself under her breath, Lina made her way to the snack machine at the top of the stairs. Rummaging through her pockets, she found a coin and was about to drop it in the slot, when a tingling sensation ran across the back of her neck. Shivering involuntarily, Lina dropped the coin, which went spinning across the floor.

"Lina, dropping money? Hey, are you feeling all right?" Amelia asked, with a note of concern in her voice.

Lina, however, had frozen. "Amelia! Do you see that?" As the coin struck the floor, a shower of tiny red sparks rose from where it had connected and floated up slowly into the air. Lina stood, fascinated, as the sparkles lazily drifted towards the stairs.

Amelia looked around with confusion. "See what?"

"Never mind! Just come on!" Lina whispered eagerly.

"But the coin!" Amelia began, as Lina grabbed her and dragged her up the stairs.

"You really can't see those, Amelia? Those red sparkles?" Lina said, as they ran up to the top floor of the library.

"No, Lina," Amelia answered, "but there must be something here if you're willing to leave food and money behind to follow it." Lina shot her friend a glare, then turned her attention back to the door they had stopped in front of.

"Special Collections - Do Not Enter!" Amelia read out loud. "Hey, where are you going? Didn't you read the si-eep!"

Lina silenced the younger girl by clamping a hand over her mouth. "Shh! You don't want that librarian to hear us, do you?" she whispered hotly, while dragging Amelia into the room.

Lina took a few cautious steps into the aisle, ignoring Amelia's remarks about breaking and entering, legal punishment, and the thwarting of justice. The magical red sparkles she had been tracking had disappeared without a trace in the aisle.

"Was it just my imagination?" Lina wondered, when suddenly her eye was caught by a strangely bound book. Pulling it out of the shelf, she called over to Amelia. "Hey, come here and look at this!"

"AAAH! Lina! Put that back! We're going to get in big trouble for this!" the younger girl panicked.

Lina snorted and flipped open the book, saying "Don't be such a weenie! Now let's see… ' The Universe of the Four Gods ,' she read. " 'This is the story of the sacred lands ruled by the four beast gods. But it is also an enchantment.' Ooh! Do you hear that Amelia? It's a book of magic!"

Lina's eyes blazed with eagerness, and Amelia grabbed her arm and began protesting more vehemently. "Lina! We're not supposed to be here at all! And besides, if you get caught up in another one of your fantasy novels, we'll never be able to finish studying today!"

But it was too late. Lina was already reading the rest of the passage. " '... for once the story is read, the universe becomes real.' Wow, that's pretty strange stuff." Absentmindedly, she flipped through the rest of the book. Her eyes widened as she saw them. "Hey, wait a second. This book is blank! What kind of a novel is thi-"

Both of the girls suddenly fell silent as the book took on a fierce red glow. Lina dropped it, yelping in surprise, as Amelia clutched onto her friend's arm and yelled in a panic, "I told you this was a bad idea! Let's get out of heeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

With a crackle and a blinding flash of dull red light, the two girls vanished, and the book clattered to the floor in the empty room.

- x - x - x -

Lina groaned and rubbed her head. "Oww... it feels like I've been beaned with a soccer ball!" Cracking one eye open, she surveyed her surroundings. That brought her awake abruptly. She was sprawled in the middle of a dusty road, and no buildings were in sight for miles. Amelia! she thought to herself suddenly, remembering what happened in the library. Looking down, she saw that her friend was still passed out on the ground next to her. And they were both still wearing their school uniforms. "Is this a dream?" Lina murmured to herself. "Amelia! Hey, Amelia, wake up!" Lina shook Amelia's shoulder roughly, a note of concern in her voice.

"Ooohh… owww... Why'd you have to hit me so hard, Lina..." the young girl mumbled sleepily. "OUCH!" Amelia sat up fully and rubbed her head where Lina's elbow had come crashing down on it. "What was that for?"

"Because I didn't hit you that time, dork!" Lina yelled back angrily. "Besides, I had to see if it would hurt you so I could tell if this was a dream or not."

Amelia looked confused. "But then couldn't you just pinch yourself instead of hitting my head again, Lina?"

Lina sweatdropped and waved her hand dismissively. "Details, details!" she grinned.

A cough interrupted them. "If you two ladies are done discussing things, maybe you'd like to come with us?"

Lina and Amelia both jumped and turned around to face the strangers. They were a group of smelly, unshaved men, and while Lina didn't know much about what had happened, she did recognize trouble when she saw it. "Umm, Amelia," she whispered. "I think we'd better find a way out of here, and fast!" But Amelia had already stood up and dusted herself off.

"Oh, thank you, kind sir! I can see your noble desire to help two young girls who've lost their way in the wilderness!" Amelia spouted, running up to the bandit who had spoken.

"Amelia?" Lina mumbled in disbelief.

The other bandits look confused for a moment, before bursting out into raucous laughter. "Hah hah... 'noble desire' ... hah! We're gonna fetch a good price for the two of you, that's for sure! Even with those strange outfits," the leader said, snickering. "At least they show a lot of leg," he added with a leer.

Amelia paled and backed away from him, as Lina ran up to her and grabbed her arm. "Idiot!" she hissed at Amelia. "Let me handle this!" Shoving Amelia behind her, Lina cleared her throat. "Well, I'm sure you gentlemen have many wonderful plans in store for us, but - OH LOOK! A FLYING MONKEY!" she shrieked, pointing above the leader's head. Instinctively, the bandits turned and looked in the direction Lina was pointing. Lina didn't miss the opportunity to grab Amelia's arm and set off in a dead run in the opposite direction.

"HEY! Get back here, you little wench!" the lead bandit yelled.

Lina didn't even bother looking back as they dashed down the dusty road. Suddenly, Amelia yelped and tripped. Damnit! Lina thought to herself as she stopped and tried to help Amelia up. "Do you have to be a klutz right now, Amelia? We've got to run!"

Amelia winced and moaned. "Owwww... I can't walk on it, Lina!" she said, panicking.

"Fine, rest there!" Lina demanded, turning to face the bandits who had now surrounded them. "You're gonna pay for that, you little snot!" the leader growled.

Lina crouched down into a fighting stance. "We won't go down without a fight!" she warned, eyeing the men's blades nervously.

A gentle voice broke through the tension. "Tch, tch. Picking on younger girls. You guys are begging for someone to teach you a lesson, you know?" Lina and Amelia both turned towards the sound of the voice. Standing in the road behind the bandits was a young man, covered from head to toe in beige clothing. "That's unfortunate," he continued. "I was hoping that I could keep my clothes free of your filthy stench, but I guess it's unavoidable now."

The bandits turned to face the newcomer. "You talk big for a little man," the leader sneered. "Those girls can wait, it's going to be more fun gutting you!" he yelled, charging towards the young man with his sword.

Beneath the hood, the man smiled slightly. As the bandit came closer, he set himself into motion with blinding speed, grabbing the man by his sword arm and sending him flying across the road into a few more bandits. There was a moment of shocked silence, before an angry yell rose out of the other bandits, and they all rushed the young man.

Amelia squeaked and covered her mouth in fear, but Lina stood there with her jaw hanging open. He's suicidal, facing all those guys with his bare hands! she thought to herself. But her opinion quickly changed as she watched him fight.

The man moved like liquid, dodging and weaving between the bandits' swords and knives, landing well-placed kicks and punches on his attackers. Lina saw suddenly someone approaching him from behind. "Look out!" she yelled, pointing. The man reacted, but not quite fast enough. The bandit attacking him managed to catch the tip of his knife on the stranger's hood, tearing it apart.

A shocked silence rose all those around. For the young man's skin was a pale shade of blue, with rocky formations jutting out from his chin. The man stood there, shaking in anger. "Now you've done it," he muttered, his turquoise eyes hardening. The few remaining bandits backed away in fear as the kanji character for "chimera" blazed out of his forehead. He launched himself at the bandits like a demon possessed, sending them flying left and right.

"Wow..." Lina and Amelia stared at the young man, who stood panting over the unconscious forms of the bandits he had defeated. Amelia was the first one who managed to recover. She sprung up, and would have thrown herself at their savior had it not been for her twisted ankle, which caused her to fall flat on her face halfway to the man, who sweatdropped.

"Oh thank you, noble paladin of justice! Your virtuous heart couldn't bear to let two young, defenseless girls be defiled by the likes of these villains!"

Lina turned a bright shade of red and smacked a hand to her forehead as she heard Amelia's exaltations. "Amelia!" she hissed. "Shut up, you're embarrassing me!"

"But Lina!" Amelia began to protest, with watery eyes. "This noble man saved us from evil by the virtue of his own heart-"

"Actually," the young man interrupted. "Now that you two are safe, I was wondering what payment you could give me in compensation for my efforts." Amelia stared at the man in bewildered surprise, but Lina felt her temper start to boil.

"WHAT? You mean to say you want PAYMENT for that? Hey, you're the one who got yourself involved in the first place. Just who do you think you are?" she shot back angrily, shaking her fist at the man.

He ignored her, cursing, and muttered under his breath "Damn. Saving two brats, ripping my new hood, and not a penny to show for it."

Lina sputtered, her anger choking off her ability to speak. "Why you- you-" she started. Amelia was still trying to comprehend the fact that their savior didn't seem to have that kind of a heart after all. The man turned to them and sighed.

"Well, since you asked, my name is Zelgadis. I suppose you two beggars want to find the nearest town?"

"Why don't you go to he-" Lina started angrily, but Amelia somehow managed to get up and cover her friend's mouth before she could say much more. "Umm, thank you, Mr. Zelgadis... but we're actually looking for a way back to the library. What is this place?"

Zelgadis looked puzzled for a moment. "Library? There's no library around here for miles," he said.

Lina, in the meanwhile, had managed to squirm her way free of Amelia's grip, and growled "Surprising that you would know, since I doubt you can read, jerk!"

Zelgadis shot her an irritated glance, but Amelia shook her head emphatically and interrupted. "No, there must be! You see, we were reading this book, and then suddenly we were here."

Lina calmed down enough to nod at Amelia, frowning, and added "I don't know what magic brought us here, but I'm pretty sure that this isn't the same world we came from."

Zelgadis raised an eyebrow. "You're from a different world? Now hang on a second, that may be worth something," he began.

"WHAT?" Lina immediately turned red again and flipped Zelgadis the bird, while Amelia tried to hold her angry friend back. Zelgadis started laughing at them, but suddenly stopped as a bright red light enveloped the two struggling girls.

"Aaah! Not again!" Amelia yelped, covering her head as the light consumed her. Lina, on the other hand, broke free from Amelia's grasp, and landed a solid fist on top of Zelgadis' head.

"You're not getting away that easily, you- OWW!" She shrunk back, holding her hand in pain. "What, are you made out of stone or something?" she cursed, rubbing her fist.

Zelgadis didn't answer her, staring wide-eyed at the place where Amelia had been a moment before. "Where did your friend go?" he managed to stammer.

Lina belatedly noticed that Amelia wasn't trying to physically restrain her anymore, and spun around in shock. Amelia had disappeared! "Wha... wha... what did you do to her?" Lina whirled on Zelgadis, anger clouding her features. "You stupid jerk! How did you do that? Bring her back this instant!" Lina felt a sense of panic rising in her chest. Am I going insane? she thought to herself . Better to get angry first, and think about that later. Besides, if I am really insane, then I'm only getting angry at myself, so it's ok. "Shut up and stop rationalizing, Lina!" she said out loud to herself.

Zelgadis blinked, and looked at Lina. "You're just bad news, aren't you? Bringing bandits and sorcery with you, and then talking to yourself. I hope it's not catching."

Lina cursed and was about to try and hit him again, when she remembered her throbbing hand. "Hah! Sorcery! Like you're one to be talking, stone boy!"

Zelgadis flinched at her words, then swore under his breath. "Fine. I'm outta here. The city is three miles to your north. You'd better go there before more bandits find you, kid. I'm not going to save you next time." He walked over to one of the fallen bandits and picked up the shredded remains of his hood. "Shit," he mumbled under his breath, looking at the torn cloth in annoyance.

Lina stared after him for a moment, something like a conscience nagging at her stomach. Maybe I shouldn't have said that , she thought to herself. Snap out of it, Lina, you're just hungry! she said to herself sternly. "If Amelia isn't here anymore, she must have gone back home. At least she's safe, then. But that won't do much for me." Gritting her teeth, she called out to Zelgadis, who was bending over some of the bandits. "Hey!" she said. Zelgadis didn't seem to hear her. She stomped over to him, with a look of irritation in her face. "I said hey!"

Zelgadis didn't pause as he continued his search through the bandits' clothing for money and other valuable items. "I heard you the first time," he muttered.

"Fine!" Lina said, throwing up her hands in exasperation. "At least tell me which way is north, so I can get away from you!"

Zelgadis paused and stared at the girl for a moment. Her eyes were glowering, and her flaming red hair was lit with golden streaks from the afternoon sun. But most of all, the look of utter determination on her face caught his attention. He shook his head slightly. "You really are green, aren't you?"

Lina crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently. "North?" she reminded him irately.

Zelgadis sighed. "Hang on. You'd probably get lost anyway. Help me get all the stuff from these guys, and then I'll take you into town."

Lina stared at him for a moment, surprised. "Hmph! Well, if I have to," she said finally, and walked away to start digging through one of the other fallen bandit's clothes.

Zelgadis suppressed a chuckle as he watched her. "That girl is really something else," he thought to himself wryly.

- x - x - x -

Amelia rubbed her head, groaning. "Ohhh... Lina... three times in one day is really too much, you know," she moaned, rubbing her head. She tried to sit up, but yelped when a sharp, wincing pain raced up her leg. "Ahh! It wasn't a dream?" she said in shock, looking down at her swollen ankle. Amelia glanced at her surroundings. She was back in the library, in the room that Lina had dragged her into. And on the floor next to her was 'The Universe of the Four Gods.' But Lina was nowhere in sight. "Oh no!" Amelia breathed, and picked up the book cautiously.

Wincing and squeezing her eyes shut, she slowly cracked open the cover. When no fantastical red light came streaming out to attack her, Amelia opened her eyes and began to read. " 'The priestess of Cephied, having armed herself and gathered coins from her fallen foes, now set off in the direction of the city of Sairoon, in the company of the Celestial Warrior.' " She glanced at the illustration next to the page, and did a double take. "Hey, that looks like Lina! And that strange man!" she exclaimed. "But Lina? A priestess?" Frowning, Amelia turned the page and read a few more lines. " '... being irritated by the Celestial Warrior's silence, injured herself once again trying to smash the Chimera's head with her elbow...' " Amelia sighed. "Yep, I guess it must be Lina. I hope she's all right!"

Meanwhile, Lina was rubbing her elbow, her face stormy. Zelgadis didn't miss a step. "I told you not to try that again," he said placidly.

"Oh, shut up!" Lina grumbled. "You haven't said anything since we started walking. Don't you even want to know my name?"

Zelgadis glanced over in Lina's direction. "Actually, I was hoping I could drop you off in the city and never see you again," he said. "So there wouldn't be much of a point in getting your name."

Lina bit her lip silently. He was right, she knew. The city would have just as many dangers as the open countryside, if not more. She needed a plan. It's a good thing I pocketed some of those bandits' coins for myself, Lina thought to herself silently. Not that I thought I could rely on this jerk anyway.

"What? No witty retort?" Zelgadis said with surprise, noticing his companion's unusual silence. "Ok, then, kid. What's your name?"

Lina glared at Zelgadis. "First of all, I'm not a kid! I'm just short, alright?"

"And flat-chested, too." Zelgadis observed. "Well, if you'd just cut off your hair, you could pass as a boy with that personality."

"Do you want to know my name or not?" Lina growled.

Zelgadis shrugged. "Sorry!" he said in a very unconvincing manner.

She bit her lip and tried to control her temper. "It's Lina," she said finally. "Lina Inverse."

"Well, Lina Inverse," Zelgadis said, coming to a stop. "It looks like we're here." He pointed to the wide gates of Sairoon looming ahead in the road.

Lina couldn't stop herself from gaping as she walked through the city. The sights, the sounds, and the smells were incredible. By studying the architecture of one of the large towers in the city, she managed to conclude that she was somewhere in ancient China. But how? she thought to herself, overwhelmed by the realization.

"Close your mouth," Zelgadis hissed into her ear. "Do you want to make us the target of every thug in the city, too?"

Lina still seemed to be too caught up in the sights of the city to be concerned with Zelgadis' warning. "You're one to talk," she said carelessly. "You look like a thug yourself, wearing that bandit's scarf around your head like that." Zelgadis glared at her from under the cloth, but Lina was blissfully oblivious. "Oooh! What's that?" she asked him suddenly. Zelgadis blinked. "THAT!" she said again, waving wildly towards an ornate red roof rising up from the center of the city.

"THAT is the Emperor's palace," Zelgadis informed her. "Oof! And be a little more careful," he said, pushing her back as she stumbled into his side.

"An emperor!" Lina exclaimed. "Perfect. If this is anything like those other fantasy books I've read, he should be surrounded by the most powerful court magicians! He'll manage to get me back for sure! Well, nice meeting you, Zel, but I've gotta go!" She took off in the direction of the palace with a broad smile on her face.

Zelgadis sweatdropped and stared after her. "She's not really that dumb, is she?" he mumbled to himself. "OW!" A stone had come sailing through the air and hit him squarely on the forehead.

"I HEARD THAT!" Lina shouted back at him, showing him the finger before turning and stomping off towards the palace.

Zelgadis gritted his teeth, his left eye twitching. "No way! I am not going to follow her!" he growled. "Rescuing her for free, destroying my best hood, and surviving her insults all the way here. Damn! At least I got a few coins out of this-" He stopped, feeling his pocket, his face clouding over. "My pouch? Gone?" Suddenly he thought of Lina's uncomfortable shove against him moments before. "Why that little-" Gritting his teeth, Zelgadis ran after Lina's retreating form.

- x - x - x -

"Damnit!" Lina cursed, and kicked the wall she was leaning against. She was tired, beginning to have a headache, and most of all, hungry. "This wall goes around the whole palace! And it's too high to climb. How am I supposed to get inside?" Sighing dejectedly, she sunk down along wall tiredly. "I'm exhausted! What I would give for some of that free ice cream right now..." she mumbled.

"Hey, boys, you think she's hungry?" a taunting voice called out to her. "C'mon, baby," another one joined in. "Come with us, and we'll show you a good time!"

Lina cracked an eye open at the source of the commentary. She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach, but there were only three of them this time. Hmm... if that Zelgadis guy was convinced that she was a sorceress, then maybe...

"Oh, not again," she said loudly. "Don't you guys ever learn?" The three men surrounding her grinned toothily. Standing up, Lina flipped her hair over her shoulder carelessly. "You'd think my reputation would have preceded me in this stinking hole of a city," she said, rubbing her hands together.

"Oooh! You got a reputation, cutie? That makes it even better!" one of the men chortled.

Lina stepped out into the street to face them squarely. "Why, I'm none other than Lina Inverse!" she said, taking up her best emulation of a typical Amelia pose. "Mighty sorceress and bandit killer extraordinare!" She paused, staring down each of the men. "You should be trembling in fear at my very presence!" she added.

The three guys gave her incredulous stares of disbelief. "Oh yeah? Well, miss Bandit Killer, where's your proof?" one of the men asked her tauntingly.

Lina smiled, and drew out the sword she had "borrowed" from the leader of the first bandit troop. "Do you see this? This was the sword of the leader of the Desert Bandit Clan!" she said confidently. "Do you dare challenge the one who defeated them?" They're not going to buy this for much longer, Lina thought to herself, as she eyed the possible exits.

"Wha? But- that's the sword of my brother! He was leading the rest of the gang on the outskirts of the city!" One of the men was pointing at the sword, his eyes wide.

Lina facefaulted in disbelief. Recovering quickly, she brandished the sword dangerously and said "That's right! I managed to scatter your troop and defeat your brother in combat! So you'd better get lost, scum!" she yelled.

Instead of running, the man who was pointing drew his own sword, tears streaming out of his eyes. "You heartless fiend! I must avenge the death of my beloved brother!" he bellowed, taking a swing at her. Lina quickly ducked out of the way and began to run in the opposite direction as fast as she could. "Crap! This wasn't exactly the reaction I was hoping for!" she swore.

- x - x - x -

Zelgadis pulled at the scarf around his head in irritation. He was hot, tired, broke, and he stunk like a bandit. And it was all that Inverse girl's fault. And he had lost her. "By Cephied's arse," he swore angrily. He looked up at the palace before him. "Well, Sairoon is the city of Cephied," he thought to himself. "You think you could cut me a break, Cephied? I thought I was supposed to be one of your special warriors," he muttered. "At least, that's what everyone always told me this damned stone skin you gave me was for," he said, tugging at the scarf uncomfortably and continuing down the street. Zelgadis sighed in irritation. "Well, what was I expecting," he thought to himself. "It's not like that Inverse girl is just going to show up again and fall into my arms," he grumbled.

- BANG -

Zelgadis went rolling into the center of the street, having been hit by a small object moving at a high velocity. The object was currently squiggling in his grasp and swearing loudly. Wait a second, a girl's voice that cusses like that? He blinked in surprise as he realized it was Lina he was holding in his arms. Zelgadis took a quick moment to look up to the palace and shout "Hey! Thanks, Cephied!" before turning his attention back to Lina, who was busily whacking at him ineffectively with the handle of her sword.

"Let go of me, you idiot! Can't you see I'm being chased by some bloodthirsty bandits?" she screamed.

Zelgadis stood up, lifting her to her feet. "Not again!" he said boredly.

Lina stopped struggling and looked up at him, squinting. "Oh great! What, are we joined at the hip or something?" she said, trying to look exasperated. But he noticed the look of relief in her eyes.

"You mean you're REALLY being chased by bandits again?" he said, surprised.

"I DEMAND BLOOD VENGEANCE!" a male voice sounded from across the street, sending several people running and screaming in all directions.

"Does that answer your question?" Lina said, smiling weakly. "He's the brother of the leader you knocked out! He thinks I killed him!"

Zelgadis pushed her behind him. "I'll take care of this," he said in a very heroic manner.

"You feeling sick or something?" Lina queried, puzzled. "I thought you didn't like me."

Zelgadis snorted. "I don't like you, runt. But the nerve of that guy, giving you all the credit for my exploits!" he fumed.

Lina rolled her eyes. Well, whatever works, she thought to herself.

Zelgadis pulled back the scarf, revealing his rocky features, and sending more of the crowd scattering as they gasped and pointed. He threw the scarf at the bandit's face, yelling "Hey! I'm the one you want! I'm the one who defeated your brother!"

The three thugs stopped, looking completely confused. "Uh, boss, which one do we go after?" one said.

"Well, the girl has the sword," another began.

"But the guy has your brother's scarf," the other added.

"Yeah, but he looks kind of dangerous."

"Hey, that girl's mouth is pretty dangerous too!"

The leader of the thugs dropped his head, several veins popping up on it while the other two debated. "SHUT UP YOU IMBECILES, AND KILL THEM BOTH!" he roared, charging at Lina and Zelgadis.

Zelgadis was just about to land a punch on one of the thug's faces, when a blaring horn froze them all in place. The palace gates swung open before them, and a legion of horse-mounted guards came trotting out.

"AHEM! His Imperial Majesty Emperor Gabriev would like to know who dares disturb the peace in the presence of His Most Noble House!" the captain of the guard said coldly. Lina, Zelgadis and the three thugs sweatdropped nervously. Lina was the first to recover.

"It's all their fault, officer!" she yelled, pointing at the thugs. "They tried to attack me, a poor, helpless girl!" she said, trying to look cute and innocent.

The leader of the thugs turned on her, his face red. "She's no innocent girl!" he roared. "She's really a devious sorceress who murdered my brother!"

Zelgadis looked upset, and cut in. "Hold it! She's no sorceress, she's just a common thief! Besides, I thought I told you that I was the one who defeated your brother! Get it straight!"

Lina's face turned red. "WHAT? Don't you call me a thief, you mercenary scum!" she yelled back at Zelgadis. "You stole from those bandits too! Besides, who are you calling a sorceress?" she yelled at the bandits. "He's the one with the weird skin!"

She pointed at Zelgadis, who twitched in irritation and yelled back "You just had to point that out, didn't you!"

The captain of the guard rubbed his forehead in annoyance. "Fine, fine. Just shut up!" he yelled at all of them. "You're ALL to be taken prisoner immediately for disturbing the peace, and giving me a headache!" he commanded, motioning to his guards.

"Hey! Wait a second!" Lina yelled, as the guards grabbed her. Zelgadis sighed and shrugged at the guards. "Just don't mess with my clothes," he said irritably as they escorted him in. The three thugs put up a fight, but were quickly subdued by the guards and dragged away.