Part One: Journey to the Unknown

Darkness. Rolling darkness filling the mind, capturing the soul, tearing at the very existence until it felt like the hell would go on forever and ever. Dimly, laughter was echoing in the background, an evil, chilling, laughter that rang madly in the absolute blackness.

The darkness continued.

Gasping, struggling, another scream joined, then other voices combined with the noise, sounds that couldn't be registered in the mind. The darkness, the darkness, the darkness; tearing, it had to ... the laughter changed in pitch, to wail insanely, sounding almost inhuman. And the shrieking continued, the tearing, the shrieking, the -


A blood curdling scream rang out from the top floor apartment of the 12-story building illuminated by dim moonbeams from the waning moon in the clear night sky above. Below, a dog barked in the darkened streets while a cat paused in its midnight prowl through the garbage cans to stare upwards curiously.

Sitting bolt upright in bed, a red-haired teenager gasped irregularly, gulping down copious amounts of air and clutching her thin bed sheets so tightly that the whites of her knuckles showed. As she stared at the walls of her room with a haunted expression on her face, she barely registered the pain that her fingernails were inflicting on the palms of her hands, even through her blanket. Her heart thumped at an impossibly swift pace and she gulped down another breath of air, slowly forcing herself to loosen her hand's death grip.

It was just a dream, it was just a dream, she chanted incessantly in her mind. It was just a dream ...

Sucking in air once more, she finally slumped forward, closing her eyes as she did so. With shaking hands, she nervously smoothed back her unruly bangs, barely noticing the sweat that came off onto her hand as she did so. Why? Why did it have to come again now? the distraught girl wondered. After all these years ...

Slowly, the pounding of her heart subsided to a more normal pace and she collapsed back against the soft folds of her bed. Staring up at the white plaster ceiling, she gazed at the dancing moonlit shadows above, even as a part of her cringed to see darkness. It had been six years now, six years without that haunting nightmare, six years without waking up in the middle of the night screaming from fear. Had it really been that long ago? She'd almost forgotten that such a thing had once tormented her sleeping and waking hours, the only reminder being the small night light that she kept in her room no matter where she was sleeping.

"Why?" she whispered to the empty room, her voice hoarse and unfamiliar to her. "Why now?"

For a moment, she lay there, turning her head so that it faced her left side, toward the rest of the room. There was an oak desk on the side of the room across from her, her small night light flickering faintly to the bottom right of the desk, the open bathroom door next to the night light, the closed closet at the other end of the room, and a lamp and digital clock on the small wooden table next to her head. Although nearly everything about the room was unfamiliar, just seeing solid objects helped to calm her.

Breathing more regularly now, the sweat-soaked girl threw back the covers of her bed sheets and swung her bare legs over the left side of the bed. Tucking a strand of hair behind her right ear, she lifted her left hand to delve beneath the shade of the lamp next to her, briefly glancing at the blue-digits on her clock to note that the time was 3:32 AM. Her searching hand finally found the handle to turn the lamp on; there was a click and then a soft glow filled the room, overcoming the faint luminescence of the night light.

Exhaling carefully, the girl smoothed out the folds of her long green t-shirt and stood up, flinching a little at the smooth coolness of the wooden laid floorboards. Shuffling across the floor, she walked over to the square-shaped night light, knelt down, and unplugged it from the wall. Then she stood up and placed it down on her desk in front of a gold-framed photo, her hair shining a ruddy gold and her skin reflecting a copper hue as shadows danced around her small figure.

Suddenly pausing, the girl hesitantly moved her right hand toward the rectangular framed photo on her desk, seeming almost afraid of picking it up. Slowly, her fingers encircled the small cold object and lifted it up from the surface of the desk, bringing it closer to her face.

In the flickering light, the smiling faces of two girls could be seen staring back from the confines of the photo, one holding a gigantic stick of cotton candy in one hand and a triple scooped ice cream in the other, a faint smudge of ice cream around her grinning mouth. The other girl smiled fondly down at the red-haired child. Both wore matching straw hats and sun dresses, but the red-haired girl wore a pink one while the purple-haired girl wore a white one.

Blinking rapidly, the now older redhead stared down at her younger self. She still remembered that day she'd gone to the fair with her sister. She'd stuffed herself full to bursting with sweets and the like while her elder sister laughed at her antics and chided her for eating so much. They had gone to the big tent and applauded the acrobats in the show, cheered each other on whenever one tried a new game, and giggled at the clown's frequent jokes.

Closing her eyes, the girl forced back the sorrow that threatened to engulf her every time she looked at the photo or thought about her sister. The day she had spent at the fair was one of the last happy memories she had, the photo the only surviving one of her sister that she saved from the fire six years ago. She'd kept it close to her at all times, afraid of losing the only thing she could cling to. She used to calm herself by staring at the picture for hours on end after her nightmares, but there was always a sense of sadness and loss, a bittersweet memory of her dead sister haunting her mind. She hadn't had to look at it for a long time. With her sister gone, she had no one ... She'd been alone ever since ...

Feeling a tear trickle down her cheek, she hurriedly brushed the salty wetness away and placed the photo back down on the desk. Tears were a sign of weakness, and she was not weak. She'd been through too much for that.

Seeking to find a way to distract herself from the flood of memories, the girl pushed back the hand-crafted accompanying chair in front of the desk and sat down. Turning on the plastic light in the upper left corner of the desk, she picked up the white envelope on top of her newly bought school electronic organizer. Opening the worn out envelope once more, she took out a plain white letter, one that she had read to herself many times. And now, she found herself reading it once more.

To whom it may concern:

We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to attend MS High School. Please show this letter to the MSHS organization in your city at least two weeks before school begins and you will be given transportation to the school. Enclosed is a list of materials that you will need to install in your school electronic organizer. To do so, show this letter to any of the bookstore attendants sometime during the week or so before school begins and everything will be taken care of. We look forward to seeing you on August 28th.

Yours Truly, Teri Ream
Principal of MS High School

The letter had come on August 10th to her rugged one room apartment in Sepia, a relatively large industrial city on the west continent of Glats. She'd been struggling to fend her way in the world, a girl of only 16 without family or friends. The waitress job she'd gotten in the Center Bar had been a stroke of luck - even with its late hours, bad pay, and lecherous drunken men, she was still thankful that it gave her enough money to afford the cramped one room apartment she lived in as well as the basic necessities. She used to live on the streets and beg for food from restaurant chefs, particularly one female chef who had taken pity on her and saved scraps of various delicacies just for her nightly visits. However, she hated having to burden the young lady, so as soon as she turned 13, the age where working was allowed, she'd frantically searched for jobs. However, in a world ruled by industry, waitressing was one of the only things she could do. That was three years after the fire. And now it was six ...

Firmly restraining her emotions, the girl looked down at the letter once more. One week ago, she'd gotten the letter. Just when she thought her life was finally beginning to stabilize, along came the letter of acceptance from MS High, the most prominent school in the world. No one knew how they picked students or even how they managed to find their addresses. The most anyone knew about the school was that anyone who came out of it was immediately successful and that the school took care of all expenses. It was anyone's guess what MS stood for; in fact, no one outside the staff and students of the school even knew where it was.

So of course I decided to snatch up this opportunity, the girl thought ruefully. I need anything I can get and this is definitely going to make my future look up. Besides, who'd be dumb enough to refuse an invitation to the top school in the world?

Sighing, she looked around at her unfamiliar surroundings, the comfortable one room apartment in Pamer, the seashore city MSHS had transported her to when she'd shown the letter to the prim head attendant on the first floor of the 50 stories tall office building MSHS had in her home city. She'd been given instructions upon arriving at Pamer, firm commands that she show up at the main dock 8:30 AM sharp on August 18th, ten days before school would begin. Until then, she was given 200 gold credits to add onto her personal card, money stored in each individual's plastic rectangular "bank," and told that she could basically explore the quaint resort city to her heart's content, buying whatever it was that she needed or wanted. She'd been living here for four days now, but August 18th was tomorrow.

Suddenly feeling very alone, the girl shivered slightly as a small breeze came from the open screen window on the right wall beside her bed. Again, the darkness of the nightmare came back and she trembled in fear, clutching the letter tightly in her shaking hands. Once more, her voiced question came to mind. Why ... Why now?

Swallowing once, the girl looked back down at the photo of her and her sister to force the dream from her mind.

"I won't give up," she whispered brokenly, her voice echoing hollowly in the empty room as she stared down at the picture. "After all, I'm Lina Inverse."

Not a single ray of light fell onto the just waking city of Pamer, the reason being a completely covered grey sky with dark clouds portent of a coming storm. In this deep grey sky, sea gulls swooped giddily free, apparently unaffected by the gloomy, windy weather.

In the twelfth floor apartment where Lina Inverse was, the red-haired girl stood at the door of her loaned room gazing at the floating dust specks in the path of the room's main ceiling light. Already, she'd made the bed, cleaned the entire room, and packed her possessions because she couldn't think of anything else to do with her time. Checking her wrist watch, Lina sighed. The hands read a time of 7:00 AM. She still had one hour and thirty minutes before she had to arrive at the dock and already she was impatient to be on her way.

Leaning down, she picked up her blue duffel bag and slung it over her shoulder, the sound of the picture frame clinking lightly against the plastic school electronic organizer. The duffel bag contained all of her few personal belongings. So far, she'd allowed herself the luxury of one wallet for her personal card, two pairs of blue jeans, two white t-shirts, and a pair of socks, but that was basically all the personal things she'd gotten with the 200 credits given to her, and those only cost 41 credits total. The wrist watch and long green t-shirt were something she'd scrounged up from the garbage cans long ago in Sepia, while the picture frame contained its photo even when the fire occurred. As for the sneakers, she'd found them in the garbage can of some big department store. The only other things that she'd really bought with her money in Pamer were the school electronic organizer, SEO for short, and food, their cost leaving her with 94 credits, not including the 189 credits she'd saved up. However, even then, the meager amount of food that she bought was bought sparingly. I guess it's true when they say old habits die hard, Lina reflected wryly, smoothing back her tangled hair. I even kept the green t-shirt and torn blue jeans I wore in Sepia ... Then, giving one last sigh, she turned and exited the apartment.

As she shut the mahogany door behind her, Lina took out the digital card key that she had been given and locked the door for the last time. Placing the key back into her right side pocket, she patted it lightly to be sure it was firmly in place, then walked to the elevator and pushed the down button. While she waited, she stood there nervously twiddling her fingers and dragging her uncombed hair over her shoulder to twirl it around her right index finger. Finally, the bell signifying that the elevator had arrived rang.

Surprised, Lina looked up, then stepped into the mirror-paneled classy elevator, her waist-length hair flowing freely behind her. Once in, she turned and pressed the button on the side panel to bring her to the first floor. Glancing around at her surroundings, Lina uneasily shifted from foot to foot; she'd never really liked closed spaces, places where you couldn't escape from if an emergency occurred, places like this. And so, to drag her mind away from unpleasant recollections, Lina looked at her figure in the mirror. Examining herself, she looked at her reflection: at her unruly past shoulder-length hair, at her rumpled shirt, at her slim new jeans, and at her worn down white and blue sneakers. All in all, she was the very picture of a street vagabond, someone who'd lived her life taking care of herself in the city dumps.

Matching her ruby eyed reflection stare for stare, Lina had to admit that even now, with a future ahead of her, she still felt like that little scared girl she'd been six years ago. It was almost as though nothing had changed in her life, that going to MS high was just some surreal dream. Most people who received the letter of acceptance were ecstatic; she was just calculating how far the education would get her in life.

With another ding, the elevator stopped moving and the door slowly slid open. Taking a deep breath, Lina mentally reinforced her nervousness, hoping to quail the anxious fluttering in her stomach. As she strode efficiently to the main desk, she briskly took out her key and handed it to the desk attendant.

"My, my," the middle-aged female greeted cheerfully, a smile on her face. "Leaving so early?"

"Yes," Lina responded, a little taken aback at the woman's friendliness. When the attendant looked like she expected an explanation, Lina gritted her teeth, then forced on a cheerful mask and chirped, "Couldn't sleep last night."

The brown-haired woman clicked in sympathy as she took up the key and placed it in the dimensional key hold under the desk. "If you want, there's coffee in the employee room."

"No, I don't drink coffee," Lina declined, still in an all too optimistic voice. Then, remembering her manners, she added, "But thank you anyway."

"Well, hope to see you again someday!" the woman called after Lina as she exited out the glass sliding doors of the apartment.

Lina waved back as happily as she could, then turned down the street toward the main dock, a frown on her face as a jogging couple passed by her. Geez, I hope the staff at MS High's not gonna be that cheerful, Lina thought in annoyance. I don't think I can handle being that perky for six years. Strolling leisurely along the street, she briefly closed her eyes, feeling the cool salty sea breeze caress her face and lift her long hair up into the air like a dancing wave. Great, so now what do I do for one and a half hour?

Suddenly, out of the corner of her left eye, she noticed a flitting shadow slip into a dark alleyway.

"Huh? What was that?" said Lina bemused. "Hmmm ... maybe I should go and investigate. Might be illegal activity! And illegal activity means reward, and reward means ..."

Grinning, gold coins started circling Lina's head. Somewhere in the background, a cha-ching sounded. "Money, money, money, money, money!" Lina chanted happily, crossing the stree t to the left side and walking toward the alley.

Then, catching herself, she closed her eyes briefly and forced herself to become serious so that she wouldn't forewarn the person of her presence. After all, it wouldn't do to be killed before getting the reward. Taking a deep breath, Lina opened her eyes, then stepped into the alley she thought the person had ran into.

It was with great familiarity that she surveyed her surroundings. There was a garbage dump, just like the ones she'd foraged through in Sepia, there was the stench of rotten food and such wafting through the alley, and there was the fleeting shadows of scurrying mice and rats. Ok, so where could that thief be? Lina pondered, stepping over a crushed soda can silently, her ears already alert for any sound other than hers. Moving deeper into the narrow seven feet wide alley, she was careful to avoid moving either too swiftly or too slowly, instead concentrating on being aware of her surroundings without interference of her own actions. Man, this guy is good, Lina thought appreciatively as she stalked onwards. I'm already in this deep and the thief hasn't betrayed his or her presence ye -

From an even deeper part of the alley, the unmistakable crepitation of paper was heard. Lina grinned internally as she hurried onwards, her heart slightly speeding up in anticipation of the soon-to-come struggle. I've got you now, she smirked as she neared the pitch black part of the alley, the blackness that indicated a dead end was coming up, something that the thief wouldn't be too happy about. Now all I have to do is ...

Lina halted her steps abruptly, suddenly realizing that she'd already reached the end of the turnout. "What the ... ?"

There was a swishing sound of a flapping cape from above. Without a second thought, Lina instinctively flipped backwards, toward the open end of the alley. Landing in a ready to attack position, she focused her mind on her shadowy cloaked opponent, prepared to move at the slightest whim. However, much to her surprise, the figure had hardly landed when he or she disappeared. Wha -

The next instant, she felt herself dragged back against a muscular male's body, a strong right arm encircling her neck while the other arm encircled her waist. Instinctively, Lina attempted to kick backwards, but only hit the left leg, a leg that was so rock hard it hurt her more than him. My god, what is he made of?! Lina thought painfully through a haze of anguish.

Obviously annoyed with Lina's efforts, the hold on her throat tightened, and suddenly, Lina found that she couldn't breathe. Desperately, she brought her hands up to the encompassing arm and struggled to pull it away from her throat so that she wouldn't die. Sensing her predicament, the hold loosened slightly, though not enough to allow her the freedom to move.

"Don't try to escape," a deep velvety voice growled in her right ear. "Otherwise ..."

The pressure on her neck tightened slightly in warning, then relaxed to its former position again.

"Now, do we have an understanding?" the male's voice continued smoothly.

Damn him! Lina cursed, her anger rising to a boiling point. As if sensing her underlying rebellion, the man tightened his hold on her, dragged her body even closer, and encircled both of her legs with his right one so that she couldn't move at all.

"I asked, do we have an understanding?" the voice repeated cooly.

Cursing him to seven hells internally, Lina forced her head to nod almost imperceptibly even though her resentment was almost more than she could take.

"Good," the man said approvingly.

Then, to Lina's surprise, he released her and took a few steps back. Blinking a few times, she turned around to face him, her astonishment still not quite hidden in her face expression even as she took note of his overshadowed face, his well-hidden strands of purple hair, and the beige cloak covering him from head to toe, excluding the fingerless gloves that he wore exposing rocky blue skin.

"Why?" she asked softly, carefully hiding her new surprise at his obviously inhuman skin.

The man only looked at her from beneath the hood of his mask without answering. For a moment, there was silence as a small breeze blew through the alleyway, blowing the crumpled up newspaper by Lina's feet a few feet backwards and rustling the clothes of the two still figures. Then the man spoke.

"Did he send you," he said flatly.

Lina blinked in confusion. "Huh?"

The man narrowed his eyes as a deadly glint appeared in them.

"You know what I'm talking about," he stated threateningly. "Don't play dumb or you might get hurt."

"I really don't know what you're talking about," Lina began.

"So, I've finally caught up with you, Zelgadiss," said a smooth, yet sinister voice.

Both Lina and the unknown man looked up in the direction of the voice. There, floating in the sky without any support, was a hooded man in a black cloak, a red jewel gleaming on his forehead.

"Vrumugun!" Zelgadiss spat out in hatred.

"There is no escape," Vrumugun said in a monotonous voice. "Although it is a pity that the girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She will die with you."

And so saying, he closed his eyes and muttered undecipherable words under his breath as he upturned the palm of his right hand. For a split second, Zelgadiss seemed to start at the declaration of Lina's innocence, but he recovered almost instantly. What's going on? Lina wondered, first looking up at the glowing orange light emerging from Vrumugun's right hand, then looking left toward the faint light at the entrance of the alley which was blocked by the domineering figure of her also chanting interrogator. But before she had time to think of another way to escape, her captor suddenly rushed to her side.

"Don't move a single step if you want to survive," he growled, a look of intense concentration on his face as the wind swiftly picked up around them in anticipation of the coming climax.

Lina nodded, unable to think of anything else to do. From high above, a single word was spoken, one that didn't carry down to the ground below. Then suddenly, a giant ball of fire was rushing toward them. Gasping, Lina turned toward Zelgadiss, but stopped when she saw a blue glow surrounding his figure. His mouth moved to finish whatever it was that he was saying, then a small crackling dome surrounded both of them. Lina involuntarily began to take a step backwards, then recalled what Zelgadiss had said about not moving. Instead, she craned her head upwards to look at the fire fighting against the barrier.

A laugh was heard from above, then Vrumugun's voice drifted down, "You are doing very well right now, Zelgadiss, but let's see how you can manage with twenty spells at once!"

Wait a minute ... spells? Lina thought in confusion. But she barely had enough time to process that information before twenty other balls of electricity, ice, and fire hit the screen. At her side, Zelgadiss groaned under the sudden strain, sweat trickling down his face as he fought against the power. For a second, he kept his shield up; then he gritted his teeth in agony and screamed, his barrier cracking, then collapsing. A shriek welled up from Lina's throat, and she covered her face with her arms, somehow comprehending that she was about to die.

Somewhere deep within her, an abrupt power welled forth, and suddenly, a bright burst of light emitted from her body, stopping all of the spells Vrumugun had thrown at them so that they flickered, then disappeared into small shimmers. For a moment, Lina continued to shudder; then, when she realized that she was still able to move, hesitantly dropped her hands to her side. What ... What just happened there? she thought wide-eyed. Am I ... alive?

Zelgadiss was staring at her in complete shock, while Vrumugun seemed to be stunned as well, his right hand paused in an outstretched position. Both of them continued to fix their whole attention on her until she shifted uncomfortably under the close inspection. Then, without a word, Vrumugun abruptly faded out, leaving Lina to stare up at the space where he had been in utter disbelief, effectively banishing the perplexing thought of what happened from her mind.

"Who are you?" Zelgadiss croaked in wonderment, his hands slumped at his sides.

"Never mind that, how did he just disappear?!" Lina shrieked, pointing at the empty sky. "And while we're at it, just what the hell are spells?! Is there really magic?! Why is he trying to kill you?! And - "

Zelgadiss sweat-dropped as he watched the red-haired girl continue on her rant of questions. "Hey, just who's supposed to be doing the questioning here?" he muttered.

That made Lina pause for a second. "Oh, well, you're supposed to, but I think that after that near death experience, you owe me some answers!" And so saying, she grinned and flashed a thumbs up sign. "Ne, Zel?"

"Zel ...?!" came the sputtering reply.

"Yup!" Lina winked. "I think it suits you. After all, you do seem to be rather brief in your speech."

"Hey ..."

"So of course a shortened name matches the short speech!"

Zelgadiss sweat-dropped as the girl held up her right index finger knowingly and concluded, "So Zel it is!"

Zelgadiss sighed, lacking the patience to argue with such unbelievably ridiculous logic. Then, before he could continue to question the girl further, he suddenly remembered the reason why Vrumugun was after him in the first place. His right hand moved to the left pocket of his cloak immediately and searched through it, only retreating when he felt the reassuring coolness of metal on his fingertips.

Lina looked at him curiously. "Hey, what's in your pocket?" she asked, pointing at said pocket.

"None of your business," Zelgadiss replied shortly.

Lina pouted. "Talk about unfriendly," she muttered under her breath.

Zelgadiss chose it ignore that comment, instead repeating the question, "Who are you?" Then, he narrowed his eyes, the dangerous glint back in them again.

"That's right, you were sent by him, weren't you," he stated softly, moving to block the exit to the alleyway.

Lina tilted her head slightly in confusion. "Who's this him we keep talking about?" she asked, her ruby eyes questioning the hidden ones beneath the hood.

Zelgadiss looked at her through slitted eyes to observe her. She could just be playing innocent, luring him to lower his guard, and then strike when he wasn't prepared. But that wouldn't explain Vrumugun's look of disbelief when she stopped his spells. And what power she must have! To be able to stop all of them at one go ... And yet, she seemed just as surprised as he was. Could it be that she didn't know she had that kind of power? She seemed to be alright, but it could all just be a ruse. But then why go through all the bother? Just what kind of a game was he playing at anyway? Was there some vital piece he was missing?

"Um ... I'm still here, y'know ..." Lina muttered as the silence dragged on, correctly guessing that her interviewer was lost in his own little world.

Well, that snapped Zelgadiss out of his thoughts. Focusing his attention on the girl, he paused to briefly consider the situation once more. Then, nodding, he made up his mind on the course of action he would take.

"This will only take a second," he said, raising his hands and clasping together, the two index fingers up against each other. Muttering a spell quickly under his breath, he aimed the resulting blue light straight at Lina.

"H-Hey!" Lina shrieked in surprise, too shocked to do anything.

The light hit her full force, enveloping her in its power for one second. Then it flickered and faded away again, leaving only a slight tingling sensation that lasted for another five seconds.

"What did you do?!" Lina demanded, angrily marching up to Zel with her hands clenched into tight fists.

"It's a tracking spell," replied Zelgadiss cooly. "I'm warning you right now - don't go to him or you'll reveal his location."

And so saying, he leaped up into the roofs and dashed off, leaving Lina to shout angrily after him, "JUST WHO THE HELL IS THIS HIM?!?!"

"Master, I have interesting news to inform you of," Vrumugun said softly, bowing down at the feet of his employer.

"There had better be a good excuse for not killing Zelgadiss," said a deadly voice from the shadows of the office.

Vrumugun cringed at the death promise in the voice and bowed even deeper. "There was a girl," he began. "A girl who prevented me from killing him."

When there was no reply, Vrumugun went on to say, "She stopped twenty-one spell attacks of lightning, fire, and ice without dying, or even fainting, from the effort."

The man sitting at the desk gave no indication of hearing this information.

Seeing this, Vrumugun softly stated, "She might be the one."

"I did not need you to clarify the situation for me," the unflinching voice said.

Vrumugun lowered his eyes and whispered, "Please excuse my behavior."

For a few moments, the man behind the desk remained silent. Then he finally spoke again. "For now, observe the girl from a distance. Zelgadiss will have hidden by this time and we cannot do anything else because he has the item."

Vrumugun cringed slightly, sensing the disapproval in his master's voice.

"Nevertheless, you have done well to inform me of this new development," the shadowed man continued. "That is why your life is spared. Now go."

Bowing once more, Vrumugun hastily obeyed his master's orders and faded out of the room. Left alone, the unknown man picked up a pen and began to write a note on a white sheet of paper. "Yes, a most interesting development indeed," he mused thoughtfully as he wrote. "A most interesting development indeed."

Lina stared at the distant horizon where a nearly pitch black sky met with stormy ocean waves. The rumble of thunder resounded ominously through the heavens as the wind steadily grew stronger, portent of the coming storm. Heedless of her surroundings, Lina continued to stare straight ahead, lost in thoughts of magic and things that she had never dreamed existed. Suddenly, she jerked her head to the side, breaking apart from her thoughts because of the raindrop that had just landed on her face. "Rain?"

Another raindrop splashed onto her face in answer to her question. Shivering slightly, Lina swung her legs around and pushed herself off the circular wooden post, one of the many that supported the planked piers by the sea.

"Just what I needed - rain," she grumbled softly, bending down to lift up her duffel bag as the wind picked up and ruffled her hair into even more of a tangle.

Checking her watch quickly, Lina drew in a sharp breath. The time was 8:28 AM, just two minutes before she was due at the main dock.

"Oh no, I'm going to be laaaaaaaate!" she cried, running down the pier toward her destination, a slight drizzle starting as she ran.

By the time she got there, the drizzle had become a showering downpour, drenching her clothes and causing her to regret being so stingy with the money. "Oh, jeez, what would I give for an umbrella right now," Lina moaned, dragging her wet hair out of her face as she halted her wild run to pull up in front of the thoroughly soaked dock.

Looking up, Lina gasped in awe. There, amidst the torrents of rain and howling winds, stood a gigantic white ship. It spanned the length of much of the pier to be nearly as long as the height of the 12-story apartment building she'd just left. As for the number of decks, it seemed to cover five, not including the top one! Twinkling lights shone from the entire ship, lending the image of a lighthouse in a storm, while a few teenagers were gathered on the metal gangplank in front of the ship's docking area, a small line leading from the dock all the way up to the uppermost floor inside the ship itself.

"Wow ..." Lina murmured in appreciation, not even noticing the rain that fell like needles around her.

"Um, excuse me, but are you going to MS High?" a soft voice inquired from behind.

Lina turned around swiftly, momentarily squinting through the storm to see who had spoken. There, looking extremely shy, stood a tall girl with long purple hair and bangs, a backpack supported by both of her shoulders. She wore a dark green sweater with a red pleated skirt and held a black umbrella over her head while sheepishly looking at Lina.

"Please excuse me," she apologized again, "but do you think we could go into that ship together?" And then, rushing on, she quickly said, "My name is Sylphiel. I'm only a first year student here, so I don't know anyone around here, but it would be nice to have someone I know, and you seem really nice, and we're both kind of late, so, if you don't mind, that is ..."

Lina blinked a few times, trying to process all of that information. The rain that was pelting her body wasn't doing much to help the thought process either; about the only thing she really registered was the fact that she was late and that students of MS High were supposed to board the ship. "Er ..."

The girl raised her right hand to her mouth, self-mortification written all over her face. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I'll just go, I won't bother you anymore."

And so saying, she began to walk toward the ship, her eyes downcast in humiliation.

"H-Hey! Wait!" Lina managed to yell after her.

Sylphiel paused in surprise as Lina hurried to catch up with her.

"We'll go in together," Lina grinned, flashing a thumbs up sign as she adjusted the duffel bag on her right shoulder. "By the way, my name is Lina."

Sylphiel smiled exuberantly. "Lina," she repeated happily, walking the rest of the way with her new companion.

Upon reaching the small line at the end of the dock, a dark-haired middle-aged man greeted them as they walked beneath the canopy.

"Hello, welcome to MS High," he smiled. "May I see proof of your identification and the letter of acceptance, should you be a first year?"

Lina and Sylphiel both bent down and swung their baggage over their shoulder to search for their respective personal cards and the letter of acceptance.

"You're a first year as well?" Sylphiel whispered to Lina as they handed the two items to the man to look over.

Lina nodded. "Why, are there people from other years on this ship, too?" she asked curiously.

Sylphiel closed her umbrella and placed it in her backpack as she replied, "There are people from all six years on this ship."

Intrigued, Lina was about to question Sylphiel further when the man cut into their conversation. "Everything seems to be in order," he smiled, handing back the personal card and letter of acce ptance to both girls. "Go right on in."

"Um, what about the line?" Lina asked, pointing at said line.

"Oh, those are the upper classmen who are late," replied the man with a laugh. "This is their punishment." He winked at the obviously confused girls and added, "Be glad that you're first years. You two go on ahead now, and don't be late next year!"

Still a little bemused, Lina and Sylphiel stepped to the right of the orderly line and walked up the gangplank to the entrance, through which warming light was shining out of.

"They're first years, Kate!" the middle-aged man called from the back of the line.

The woman sitting behind a desk inside the door yelled back, "Alright!" Then, turning to the two girls, she smiled and jerked her hand backwards, over her shoulder.

"Go on in," she grinned, then asked the sweating teenaged boy in front of her, "Tell me the name of the three major starter industrial cities on the east continent of Alir in the Development Period along with the founders of those three cities."

Lina and Sylphiel sweat-dropped as they passed by.

"This is punishment?" Lina wondered aloud while Sylphiel giggled slightly.

"Well, it was summer," Sylphiel commented as they trudged through the short brightly lit corridor, dripping water onto the wooden floorboards as they went.

Lina grinned, then paused when she reached the end of the all too short hallway. A gigantic rectangular room was there with a large number of students sitting or standing as they chatted. Above, in the center of the room, an elegant crystal chandelier glittered dazzlingly as it reflected the light it generated. In the right corner, students sat on the eight couches surrounding the large glowing fireplace, each of them laughing and joking about experiences they'd had over the summer, while another set sat on the brown fur rug on the ground in front of the fireplace itself. On the opposite wall, a little more to the right, a snack stand seemed to be set up with several students in line for hot chocolate, foodstuffs, and the like. To the left corner, a similar scene was occurring, only without the fireplace; instead, there was a large wooden table surrounded by ten couches. Food was placed on the table and friends were talking to other friends, gesturing and laughing in comradery. Everywhere, there was happiness and familiarity, a sense of easy-going friendliness.

Feeling a sudden bout of insecurity, Lina quickly pushed the unpleasant thought of rushing out the door and running back to her hometown, Sepia, from her mind. Instead, she concentrated on observing her surroundings so she could figure out where she was supposed to go. Instantly, the students entering the room from the overhang at the opposite end caught her attention.

"Come on!" Lina gestured to Sylphiel, realizing that this was the exit.

And so saying, she strode confidently across the floor to the arch-like exit of the room, Sylphiel close behind her.

As the two girls walked beneath the overhang, a cheerful voice called out, "First years or older?"

Lina and Sylphiel jerked their heads sideways to see a desk that spanned the entire right portion of the medium-sized room with six impeccably dressed employees spread out behind it, most of them talking to a student.

The brown-haired lady in the middle smiled and continued, "From your bemused looks, I'd say that you're first years. Am I right?"

"Yes," Sylphiel replied, nodding slightly.

"Come right over!" the lady beckoned. "I'll handle registration for you guys; just give me your personal identification card for a moment, alright?"

Lina and Sylphiel complied at once, each taking a moment to give the woman their cards.

"Hmm ... let's see," she muttered, slipping Lina's card into the computer below the desk. "Oh, before I forget, the system at MS High is to have your personal identification card act as a key to your room as well. Also, if you slip it into the little slot ben eath the up and down buttons by the elevators, your room number will flash and an arrow will point to the direction you should go."

Lina and Sylphiel nodded in comprehension.

"Alright. Inverse, Lina. First year student. Your room will be on the second deck, number 2035," the woman read off the computer screen.

Then she took the card out of the computer and handed it back to Lina, who immediately dropped it back into her wallet. Next, she slipped Sylphiel's card into the computer.

"Lahda, Sylphiel Nels. First year student. Second deck, number 2044."

Sylphiel smiled in appreciation as the woman handed her card back. "Thank you," she said happily, putting it in the front pocket of her backpack.

"Thank you," Lina echoed.

"Sure thing," the employee winked. "Elevators will be in the corridor outside this room. Just keep walking straight out the door to your left, turn right, and you'll see them. Don't forget to report back to the main hall, that room you first entered, at 9:30 AM."

"Huh? Why?" Lina asked curiously.

The woman cheerfully replied, "That's when the boat will cast off. The assistant principal of MS High for your western continent of Glats will want to give a speech before that, and I think that you two won't want to miss it, especially since you missed the first one already."

Lina laughed weakly and began walking toward the open archway leading to the corridor as Sylphiel blushed. "Heh, heh, heh ... Be seeing you then!" she waved, ducking under the overhang.

"H-hey! Wait!" Sylphiel cried, rushing after her friend.

"Have a nice time!" the brown-hair ed employee called from the desk.

Outside the room Lina and Sylphiel slowed their pace to gaze around at the large brightly lit corridor. The three elegant elevators to the right weren't hard to miss, so Lina took her time in observing her surroundings, not even noticing that several more students passed them, chatting excitedly as they did so. The corridor itself was a marvel; beautiful paintings hung from the walls and small lamps glowed lightly every few feet. To the far right, it seemed to open up to a giant dining room, with windows surrounding it. Each table was covered by a white cloth and a few waiters were bustling about setting the tables up with a vase of flowers, seasonings, napkins, and utensils.

"The food service looks like it's going to be good," Lina commented as she stopped in front of the middle elevator and pushed the button to go down.

"Everything looks like it's going to be good," Sylphiel breathed raptly, her eyes shining to see the elegance, yet comfort, that surrounded her.

"Hey, why do they have elevators around here instead of transporters?" Lina asked, tapping her feet impatiently.

"Well for one thing, those cost a lot," Sylphiel replied. "And for another, MS High is rich, not frivolous. They wouldn't spend ten times as much money on transporters if elevators could work just as well."

"Mmm ..." Lina murmured absently, leaning back against the door of the elevator as she crossed her arms in thought.

"Er ... Lina?" Sylphiel began hesitantly.


A ding sounded and the elevator door opened swiftly. Lina blinked a few times, suddenly realizing that there was nothing supporting her back.

"YEEEEEEEEAAAAGHHHH!!!" she screamed, flailing her arms wildly in an attempt to keep herself from falling backwards.

Needless to say, it didn't work since gravity applied itself in this situation and caused Lina to collapse onto the person in the elevator. Sylphiel cringed and covered her face with her hands, not wanting to see the resulting crash.

Then, peeking through her fingers, she sheepishly finished, "You should never lean against an elevator, Lina."

Lina stared up at the ceiling dizzily as the world spun around her. "Say it ... faster ... next time ..." she managed to say, her eyes still spinning from the fall.

Beneath her, a groan sounded.

"Huh?" Lina started, abruptly coming to her senses.

Quickly, she sat up and looked down to her left side. A blond-haired guy was there, sprawled unceremoniously on the ground; apparently he was the person who had originally been in the elevator. He wore a light blue t-shirt over dark blue jeans and his blue eyes were rather disoriented. Who wouldn't be after having someone land on them?

"Oops," said Lina, scrambling to her feet.

"Ow ..." the teenager moaned, struggling to get to his feet as well.

Lina laughed weakly as she rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. "Er ... sorry about that!"

The boy stood up to his full height, his waist-length hair falling over his back, and looked down at Lina, who, apparently, barely reached his shoulders. "Oh, so it was you who fell on me, huh?" he said, scratching his head comically as Sylphiel suddenly backed away with downcast eyes.

Lina, not noticing her friend's sudden shyness, decided to put on her cute girl act. "I'm so very, very sorry, mister!" she squealed, her eyes twinkling with innocence as she brought her two clenched hands to her chin. "Are you alright?"

The boy laughed warmly, his bangs covering his eyes briefly before he brushed them back. "I'm ok." Then, looking at Lina cheerfully, he patted her on the head once and said, "In any case, don't fall on people in elevators anymore, alright little girl?"

And so saying, he waved a farewell and strode off down the corridor, turning left into the registration room.

"L ... Little girl?" Lina managed to grit out, still in her cute mode. Then her face got very dark. "Why that lousy, good for nothing ..."

"W-Wait!" Sylphiel cried, coming out of her stupor enough to grab Lina by the left arm before she could dash off to pound the unknown male. "We still have to go to our rooms, remember?"

"I'm going to pound that idiot to oblivion and beyond!" Lina snarled, apparently not even remotely over being called a little girl.

"Please, don't!" Sylphiel pleaded. "Don't hurt him! For my sake!"

That made Lina pause for a moment. Turning to Sylphiel with a wicked gleam in her eyes, she grinned a huge grin.

"You like him, don't you," she said teasingly.

Sylphiel blushed a bright red and let go of Lina's arm immediately to turn around in embarrassment. Poking her two index fingers toge ther, she looked down at the ground and hurriedly said, "N ... No I don't. Um, in any case, we should be going to our rooms now, don't you think?"

And so saying, she began walking in the direction of the elevators ... and passed them entirely. Lina sweat-dropped.

"Hey, Sylphiel, you're going the wrong way!" she yelled out.

Sylphiel blushed even more and turned around immediately, walking over to the elevator nearest to the dining room and stopping in front of it to wait for the next elevator to come. Lina shook her head once in amusement, then joined her friend, choosing to lay off the teasing for a while. A few seconds later, the ding of the elevator sounded again, this time opening to let out a group of five students. Lina and Sylphiel quickly stepped by them into the marble elevator.

"We're on the second floor, right?" Lina asked, tucking a damp strand of hair behind her right ear.

Sylphiel nodded and Lina moved to the right end of the elevator and pressed the button for the second floor. A moment later, the humming sound of the elevator began and the golden metal doors closed. There was a slight jerk, then the elevator moved down toward the second deck.

"Oh, look at this!" Sylphiel exclaimed, pointing at the sign on the left side of the elevator door.

Curious, Lina walked over to look at what was so interesting. There, embedded in the marble wall, was a picture of the ship with floor numbers on each section. Below was another sign, this time with a listing of the floor numbers and what was on each floor.

"Arcade, game room, pool, gym, snack area," Lina read off, listing the attractions to be found on the top deck.

"Mall, snack area, dining room, main hall, registration room," Sylphiel continued, reading the things to be found on the fifth deck, where they just were. Then, looking up, she added, "The first deck is for the crew, the second is for first and second years, the third is for third and fourth years, and the fourth is for fifth and six years."

Lina grinned. "This should be fun."

A ding sounded and the elevator stopped moving for a moment. Then the door opened, allowing Sylphiel and Lina to step out.

"That registration desk woman told us to put our PIC in the small slit underneath the up and down buttons, right?" Lina asked Sylphiel as she took out her personal identification card.

"Yes," Sylphiel nodded, already slipping hers in.

A moment later, blue numbers flashed on the small rectangular screen below the slit, forming 2044. Then the numbers disappeared to be replaced by an arrow pointing to the left for a moment, then up, then right. Immediately after, the card slipped out again. Lina placed her card in as well. This time, the number 2035 came up followed by a blue arrow flashing left, up, and left.

"Ok, so we're both going the same way for a while," Lina grinned, taking her ejected card from the slit and walking down the wooden-floored corridor. "I wonder how they organize us anyway."

"I think that it's alphabetically and by your year," Sylphiel offered. "After all, our last names are pretty close to each other, so our room numbers are close to each other as well."

"Maybe so," Lina smiled as the two turned right and walked for a short while down the middle path.

After reaching the parting of right and left, Lina and Sylphiel both said good-bye to each other, promising to meet in front of the elevators again at 9:20 AM, ten minutes before they had to show up above. As Lina turned away from Sylphiel to walk to her room, she absently checked her watch to see how much time she had left. It read 8:53 AM.

"Plenty of time," Lina shrugged, reaching her room, which was just a little ways away from the intersection.

Taking out her PIC again, she slipped it into the little slit beneath the door handle. There was an audible click signifying that the door had unlocked, then the card popped back out. Lina efficiently took her card back and pushed down on the door handle to swing it open, letting light flood through. Inside, there was a relatively large bed in the bottom right corner with a small night-stand and lamp next to it. Across from the bed, just in front of Lina, was a tv set on top of a wooden table. Just above that was an open door, probably leading into the bathroom. In the upper right corner of the room, there was a large dressing table and a closet. Everything looked comfortable, almost as though it was a home away from home.

"Except that I've never really had a home ..." Lina sighed, dropping her duffel bag onto the ground and closing the door behind her, shivering a little at the slight breeze the movement caused.

Restless, she checked her watch again. 8:55 AM.

"Guess that I'll change into some dry clothes," she commented wryly to the silent room.

In another darkened room, a shadowy figure sat on a leather seat in front of a disorganized desk. One single lamp shone its feeble light onto the desk's surface as shuffling sounds of several sheets of papers filled the room. The room seemed to be deathly silent when, suddenly, a small beeping sound broke through the absolute stillness.

The figure stopped working.

An instant later, a small white sheet of paper materialized in the air just in front of the person, shimmering sparkles of red light flashing in the air to indicate magic had just occurred. The figure did not seem impressed by this, though, and impatiently grabbed the note to read it through.

For a moment, there was silence. Then a sharp intake of breath came from the shadowed person. For what seemed like eternity, this sound echoed through the room, rebounding hollowly against the dark marble walls.

Finally, the figure smiled cruelly and murmured, "Well, well, well ... what have we here?"

Lina shifted uncomfortably as she and Sylphiel walked into the warm heat of the bustling main hall. Sylphiel had changed into a tan turtleneck and light blue jeans while Lina had changed into her other white t-shirt and torn blue jeans, the jeans she'd worn over and over again in Sepia. She'd thought that the comfortable familiarity of the worn out pants would help her relax, but instead, she now felt out of place in this elegant room where well-dressed students chatted freely with each other in friendly comradery. Shaking her head once, Lina forcefully pushed the insecurity to the back part of her mind. There was no reason to be afraid of these students, they were only human.

"Lina, are you alright?" Sylphiel asked in concern as the two slowly halted in the middle of the smooth marble floor after winding around several groups of students.

"Huh?" said Lina, jerking her head up in surprise. Then, seeing the worried look on Sylphiel's face, she waved her right hand up and down in reassurance. "Oh, it's nothing!" she laughed.

Sylphiel looked a little doubtful and was about to question Lina further when the chandelier above them suddenly dimmed. The conversation around them slowly lessened to a dim murmur, then finally to barely a few stolen whispers. All of a sudden, a spotlight flashed on the space above everyone's heads in the center of the room.

"What's going on?" Sylphiel whispered to Lina.

"Dunno," Lina shrugged. "But we're going to find out."

"Students of MS High," a male's voice boomed throughout the hall. "I, Larza Weldings, assistant principal of the western continent Glats, welcome you to our school. For those who are returning, you will already know this speech, and for those of you who are new, pay close attention to what I will be saying."

All of a sudden, a shimmer of yellow light appeared in the spot where the spotlight was shining on and suddenly, a brown-haired middle-aged man wearing tan slacks and a green sweater materialized in the air. There were a few shrieks below as well as many gasps, but all of these came from the first years. Lina did not scream in utter horror, but her e yes did widen to see magic occur in a place where she least expected it. At her side, Sylphiel had also gasped in shock, but she didn't shriek like the other girls.

"Yes, what you just saw was magic," Larza was saying above them. "And this magic is what you will be focusing on at MS High along with swordsmanship. You will, of course, be taking other subjects - history, math, survival skills, and one other major area - but for the most part, magic and swordsmanship are your top priorities. The other major course you will be taking will be decided on upon reaching the school's grounds, but I repeat, it is secondary to magic and swordsmanship."

Beneath the calm man, a wild chattering was starting among the first years, several students hissing, "Magic doesn't exist," or "is this a joke?"

"I assure you, this is no joke," Larza's voice boomed out, apparently used to this reaction from first years. "All of the students from second year and above will support me in that; please question them if you'd like."

The murmuring grew louder.

"Guess that the assistant principal hadn't explained this to first years at 8:30 AM," Lina mused aloud. Then she laced her fingers behind her head and shrugged. "Oh well, so we didn't miss anything important in that first speech."

Sylphiel looked at Lina in surprise, then laughed a tinkling laugh.

Meanw hile, Larza was continuing his speech. "More will be explained upon your arrival at MS High, but for now, enjoy your stay aboard the ship. We will be arriving later today, at around 5:30 PM. Gather in this room again when that time comes. For now, I wish you all a wonderful voyage."

With that, he faded out, the spotlights shut off, and the main chandelier light came on again. Immediately after, there was a slight lurch, indicating that the ship had finally cast off to sail for the unknown location where MS High was located. Slowly, the murmurings of the students in the hall grew louder and laughter returned as students either remained in the room or walked out of it.

"Come on, let's go," Lina beckoned to Sylphiel, filing out of the room amid a crowd of excited students.

"Oh! Yes," Sylphiel replied absently, apparently still a little dazed at the prospect of learning magic.

Lina grinned as she walked with Sylphiel to the elevators. "Magic, huh?" she wondered absently as she entered the middle elevator with a large group of students and pressed the button for her floor. "Hmmm ..."

"How could we have lived our lives without knowing it existed?" Sylphiel frowned perplexedly. "It's pretty hard to miss something like that."

"Well, whoever hides it didn't do a 100% job," Lina amended, thinking about her experience with Zel and Vrumugun earlier that day. Then, suddenly realizing what she'd said, she hurriedly changed the subject. "So, uh, what do you want to do today?"

"I don't know," Sylphiel murmured. "Maybe shopping?" However, at the look on Lina's face, she laughed weakly and amended, "Er, then again, maybe not."

"Is there a bookstore around here?" Lina said aloud as the elevator dinged on the third floor to let out some of the students.

"I remember reading that there was a mall on the fourth floor, where we just were," Sylphiel replied. "There might be a bookstore there."

"Mmmm ..." Lina murmured, her mind already debating whether to buy some magic books if there were any at the bookstore. There was no denying the fact that she was interested in magic, and right now, she wanted to learn everything she could about the subject.

The elevator stopped one more time to allow the remaining students to file out on the third floor.

Once the elevator door had closed once more, Sylphiel looked down at the ground with downcast eyes and shyly asked, "Lina? Um, I was wondering ... how is it that you weren't surprised to see our assistant principal appear in the air? It almost seemed as though you knew magic existed."

For a moment, Lina jerked her head up in surprise at hearing this, her earlier slip coming to mind immediately. Does she know? she thought frantically. Then, seeing her friend's obviously uncertain posture, she relaxed. No, she doesn't know ... but should I tell her?

However, even as she was debating what to say, the elevator gave one last ding and opened its doors to let Lina and Sylphiel out.

"Anyway, what do we do?" said Sylphiel, her eyes bright with eagerness.

Shaking her head slightly to clear up her thoughts, Lina decided, I'll tell her later ...

Breaking into a smile, Lina began to walk in the direction of her room. "Well, let's get our PIC first so we can actually buy stuff," she said to Sylphiel as they walked. "Then we can go to the mall."

"Alright," Sylphiel smiled, already anticipating the amount of persuasion she was going to have to apply on Lina in order to get her to try on some clothes. "Let's meet in front of the elevators again in five minutes, ok?"


Lina stared in absolute disbelief at the slim olive green formal dress Sylphiel held up in front of her. "Hey, Lina, try this on!" Sylphiel cajoled. "It'll really bring out the color in your eyes."

"Um ..."

"Oh! This one would be perfect for when it's cold," Sylphiel cooed, shoving the green dress into Lina's unwilling hands and holding up a dark-blue sweater which she'd just picked off a shelf. "Or how about this one? And this one, and this one, and ..."

Lina sweat-dropped as the pile of clothes in her hands grew taller and taller, eventually blocking her line of sight entirely. "Why did I ever come in here," her muffled voice groaned from behind the pile.

Sylphiel grinned happily as she pushed Lina into one of the changing rooms at the back of the clothing store. "And don't come out until you've tried every single piece and shown them to me!" she said, shutting the metal door behind her to give Lina privacy.

Behind the now shut door, Lina blinked a few times as though not quite processing what had just happened. "H-Hey! Sylphiel!" she finally managed to call out, dropping all of the clothes on the ground.

"It'll be fun!" came the reply. "Just try it out, ok?"

"Fun?!" Lina sputtered.


"For whom?!"

"Um ..."

Lina sweat-dropped. Oh well, it can't hurt to try, she mentally sighed as she resignedly picked up the turquoise sweatshirt on top of the pile.

Several hours later, a very exhausted Lina sank wearily into the well-carved dining room seat at a table for four, her single bag containing two purchases, an emerald sweater and a mauve turtleneck, dropping down to the ground with a loud thunk. She'd spent 10 credits total on those two things, leaving her with 273 credits. Sylphiel sat across from her, ten bags of purchases surrounding her figure. Lina didn't want to know how many credits Sylphiel had spent.

"I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I want a bath! And there wasn't even a bookstore there, either!" Lina complained, leaning back against the seat and looking out the window across from her.

Even now, a dim mist obscured her from seeing what was going on outside as a slight drizzle covered every side of the ship. The dining room was brightly lit with chandeliers and a few students sat at various tables chattering away while eating food from the buffet in the upper right corner of the room. Tantalizing smells wafted from that area, causing Lina to drool for the food. After all, it was 2:30 PM, way past lunchtime.

"The food's free, right, right, right?" Lina asked Sylphiel eagerly, leaning across the table and grabbing her friend by the cuff of her turtleneck.

Sylphiel sweat-dropped in embarrassment. "Er ... yeah," she said weakly.

The next instant, a white and blue blur sped from the center table toward the buffet table. Within a minute, it sped back toward the table, revealing that Lina was carrying a ten feet high stack of plates - in both hands.

Sylphiel's eyes widened in astonishment as the red-haired girl proceeded to dump the plates on the table and attack them with amazing ferocity. Within minutes, the food was gone and from the buffet table, cries of "where did all the food go?" was heard.

"Lina ..." Sylphiel began, breaking out of her stupor.

"No time for talk, gotta eat more!" Lina excused, rising from her seat to run over to the buffet table again.

"Wait!" Sylphiel cried uselessly after her. "What about the rest of the students?"

"MS High is rich, they can handle it!" Lina yelled back from the buffet table, already finishing up the rest of the food she hadn't eaten and asking the waiters who were standing nearby for more, to their utter chagrin.

"Hmmm ... was that the girl who fell on me in the elevator?" a male's voice wondered from Sylphiel's side.

Sylphiel nearly jumped out of her seat in surprise, but when she turned around to see the tall blond boy Lina had fallen on, she quickly looked down at her hands and blushed furiously.

"Y-Yes, that's Lina," Sylphiel stammered shyly.

"Oh, so Lina's her name, huh?" the boy grinned, looking down at Sylphiel.

Brushing his long bangs out of his eyes, he cheerfully introduced himself. "My name is Gourry Gabriev, first year. And you are ... ?"

"Sylphiel," the still blushing girl replied. "Sylphiel Nels Lahda, first year."

"Oh, hey, we're both first years!" Gourry said excitedly. "Is that other girl a first year as well?"

Sylphiel nodded, then looked toward the buffet table to check up on how Lina was doing. Upon seeing that Lina had succeeded in badgering the waiters to get more food and was currently awaiting the arrival of the food, she sighed.

"Maybe I should ask Lina to save me something," Sylphiel mused aloud.

"Don't worry, I'll get you something!" Gourry declared, walking toward the buffet table.

"Oh, no! Wait! It's alright!" Sylphiel called uselessly after him.

Gourry only grinned back at her, causing another flush to burn her face. Within two minutes, Lina and Gourry returned together, each carrying a large number of dishes in each hand while Lina yelled obscenities at the blue-eyed male, all of which didn't do the amount of moral damage she'd expected.

"HOW COULD YOU TALK TO THIS IDIOT?!?!" Lina shrieked at Sylphiel once she'd dumped her plates on the table, Gourry following suit. "CAN YOU BELIEVE HE HAD THE NERVE TO COMMENT ON HOW BIG MY FIGURE WOULD GET IF I CONTINUED EATING LIKE I AM NOW?!?!"

"Sssshhhh!" Sylphiel hissed uncomfortably, noticing that the entire dining room's attention was centered on their table. "People are staring!"

"LET THEM STARE!" Lina yelled angrily.

"Here's your food," Gourry said calmly, handing three plates out of his massive pile to Sylphiel. "If you want more, I'll revive the waiters and ask them to fill up the buffet table again."

What he was referring to was the dead faint the waiters had dropped into when they'd seen the contents of the buffet table disappear before their eyes again courtesy of Lina and Gourry. Needless to say, they wouldn't be recovering anytime soon.

"Hear this, you evil food thieves! I, Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune, won't let you get away with your crimes! Feel the power of the fist of justice!"

"Huh? What?" said Lina, blinking in confusion at having been interrupted in the midst of her tirade.

The next instant, a girl with short purple hair jumped from the chandelier above the table and landed face down on the ground next to the group, her white cape fluttering ungracefully over her head. She wore a white blouse with blue jeans and didn't move from her position. Needless to say, everyone sweat-dropped.

"Hey, you ok?" Gourry asked, crouching down beside the girl and poking her with his index finger.

The girl narrowed her eyes at feeling the poke and immediately flipped herself up and backwards, only to crash into another empty table.

"The fires of justice will not be quenched by your evil influences!" came the muffled voice of the girl from beneath the table and table cloth.

"Hey, hey, hey ..." Lina muttered, closing her eyes and placing her right hand on her forehead in disbelief. "That is one dis-illusional kid."

Sylphiel could only give a weak laugh, apparently agreeing with Lina.

Meanwhile, Gourry had walked over to the overturned table and flipped it up, letting the girl crawl out to safety. "Little girls shouldn't be jumping from chandeliers or flipping into tables," he chided as he straightened out the table.

Amelia began crying, two flowing rivers of tears emerging from her eyes.

"Waaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!! I never get it right!" she sobbed. "It's just not fair!"

The entire dining room sweat-dropped again.

"Hey, listen, if you want to be a hero, don't attack people for pointless reasons," Lina lectured, walking over to the girl, Sylphiel close behind her.

"But you took all the food from the buffet table!" Amelia protested, pausing in her tears.

"Oh, that?" Lina laughed, rubbing the back of her head. "Relax, MS High is rich, and man, do I mean rich! It can handle the food expenses no prob, so if you want more food, just ask for it."

And so saying, she offered her right hand to the girl with a grin on her face. Amelia stared at the proffered hand with unbelieving eyes. Then, after a brief hesitation, she took it and stood up smiling.

"Thank you," she said happily. Then, looking down, she shyly added, "And ... I'm sorry for attacking you."

"It's alright," Sylphiel said reassuringly from Lina's side.

"Yeah, no harm done," Lina shrugged.

"You guys are so nice!" Amelia cried, almost as though she thought she was dreaming. Then, suddenly, a determined look crossed her features. "All right!" she declared. "From now on, I will be your protector! I will not allow other people like me to mistake your food intentions and attack you!"

Lina nodded once, then, when the words finally sunk in, jutted her head forwards with bulging eyes. "What did you just say?!?!"

"Calm down, Lina!" said Sylphiel, futilely attempting to sooth her friend.

"Yes, I will be the protector for you three!" Amelia continued, her eyes twinkling innocently, apparently oblivious to Lina's reaction. "Fighting against evil when it attacks you because you took food and righting the misconceptions people must have about being unable to replace the food!"

"Hey, did you say three?" Gourry said, raising an eyebrow. "I'm a guy, I don't need a protector!"

"Forget about that, we don't need a protector either!" Lina screeched.

"Oh, but is it true that you two girls need protection?" Gourry continued unheedingly. Then, a light bulb flashed over his head and he dropped his right fist onto his left palm as an idea came to him. "That's it!" he stated proudly as he nodded. "From now on, I'll protect you two as well!"

"Yes, Gourry, let's protect them together!" Amelia cheered as Sylphiel blushed. "We will vanquish the evil forces against them and save them from all danger!" Then, jumping up on the same table she'd overturned and posing heroically with her right index finger pointing up at the ceiling, she declared, "As surely as the star of justice shines upon us, we will triumph over the forces of evil!"

"Um ..." was the best that Gourry could manage at that last statement, while the rest of the dining room broke into applause.

"DOES ANYONE HEAR WHAT I'M SAYING?!?!" Lina shrieked, about ready to tear her hair out from frustration, Sylphiel looking on in embarrassment at her side.

"Thank you, thank you," Amelia bowed, to the clapping room.

Then, hopping down from the table, she walked over to Lina, Sylphiel, and Gourry. Cupping her right hand over her mouth conspiratorially, she whispered, "By the way, what's your names?"

All three face-faulted.

"Did I say dis-illusional? I meant insane," Lina moaned as she dragged herself up off the ground. Then, sighing, she muttered, "What did I get myself into ..."

"Are you certain that she's the one?" the same shadowed person who'd gotten the note said to the sender over an intercom. "Look at what she's done aboard the ship so far: absolutely nothing."

"But you cannot see power from your visuals," came the cold reply. "And believe me, she has power."

"Are you certain that your servant did not lie about that?"

There was a short laugh from the other end. "No, Vrumugun would not dare to do that to me. I own him, after all."

"True." There was a long pause, then the shadow continued, "Still, we cannot trust your servant 100% on this. You'll forgive me if we delay from taking action right now."

"I understand."


The intercom became silent, as the shadowed figure ended the connection. Turning to look at the screen on which Lina Inverse was displayed alone in her room, the deep breathing of the shadow echoed throughout the room as fiery purple eyes glazed over, drawing their full attention to the red-haired girl.

"I can't believe that it's already almost five fifteen," Lina sighed, looking at the time on her wrist watch and then dropping her hand behind her head to land on the pillows of the bed. "And the only thing I did was go shopping in the morning and play billiard in that magically stilled game room this afternoon."

Lina grinned at that, the recollection of Sylphiel's billiard skills coming to her mind. Saying that Sylphiel wasn't very good at the game was an understatement. She'd defied the premise that you got better as you went along, causing the balls to jump up in the air, hit the ceiling, break a light, hit people's body parts, and generally go everywhere except in the pockets. To add to that, her face had been bright red the entire time since Gourry was cheering her. Of course, he'd been cheering everyone on, an amazing feat since he couldn't get the names right half the time, but Sylphiel still seemed rather nervous around him. Gourry himself was rather good at billiard, as was Lina once she'd caught onto the game, and Amelia was ok, too.

I never thought that I'd be loosening up and making friends, Lina thought in amusement as she stared up at the blank ceiling. Especially after my life ... There must be something about having people around me that makes me act happier and sillier than I've ever been.

Sighing again, Lina forced herself to get off the bed she was lying on. She was glad that she'd met some friends, but the mystery surrounding magic was still nagging at the back of her mind. Who else knows about magic? Lina wondered as she slipped into her sneakers. Is it just MS High? How is it that the rest of the world doesn't know it exists? And what was going on this morning with Zel and that Vrumugun character?

With these thoughts whirling through her head, Lina lifted her duffel bag onto her right shoulder and opened the door to go out and meet Sylphiel, Gourry, and Amelia in front of the elevators. Closing the door behind her, she walked down the corridor and made the appropriate turns which would lead her to her destination.

"Hello, Lina!" Sylphiel called out just as Lina turned the last corner, causing her to break apart from her thoughts.

"Oh, hi!" Lina waved, seeing that Sylphiel, Amelia, and Gourry were already there. "Sorry I'm a little late."

"You're late?" Gourry asked, scratching his head as Amelia pressed the up button for the elevator. "No, we're early, it's still five twenty-three and we don't have to be up there until five thirty."

"Um, I think th at she meant she was late coming to these elevators because we agreed to meet here at five twenty," Amelia corrected.


"Anyway," Lina sighed, "let's get going, we don't want to be late for this."

As she was saying this, the elevator doors opened with a ding. Quickly, the foursome boarded it and took it up to the fifth deck.

Once they had checked out at the same registration desk they'd checked in at, all four hurried to the main hall in anticipation of what was to come.

"What do you think MS High is going to be like?" Amelia whispered excitedly to Lina as they wove their way around many student groups to end up at the opposite end of the hall, where the door that led out to the shore was closed.

"Dunno," Lina shrugged, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "But we're going to find out soon, won't we?"

"I hope that it's nice," Sylphiel murmured at Lina's side, looking around the room nervously.

"Don't worry," Gourry grinned. "I'm sure that we'll all like it."

Slowly, the conversation in the hall died down and the last stragglers came in from the registration room.

"It seems that all of you are here," a male's voice boomed throughout the hall. "Good, we will be stopping at MS High as soon as I finish this speech."

"That's the assistant principal of our western continent Glats, right?" Lina whispered to Sylphiel.

"Yes, Larza Weldings," came the soft reply.

"First years, pay attention to this, once you disembark from this ship, go to the small building you will see by the ship! I repeat, go to the small building you will see by the ship! There, we will proceed to direct you to your lodgings and explain how the school system works. For now, that's all you will need to know. Second to sixth years, go to the larger building a little further from the ship. You know the procedure. I welcome you to MS High and wish you a successful year!"

And so saying, the boat slowly grinded to a halt. The chatter in the room rose to new levels, this time excited declarations of what was to come ringing prominently in the hall. The door that led out to the short corridor opened and Lina anxiously walked through it, her heart pounding at an impossibly fast pace. Ahead, the same woman and man who she'd first seen when boarding the ship were standing by the bright open door which led to the outside. Both of them smiled as Lina approached and waved a cheerful farewell.

This is it ... Lina thought breathlessly as she stepped out onto the same gangplank they'd used when students boarded, the bright light of the sun momentarily blinding her. This is MS High ...

Part 2   |   Fanfiction