"Get out of the way, girl! Pests like you shouldn't exist in this world!" a man in a grey coat snapped, brushing past the pleading form of a young red-haired girl in annoyance.
"Please, anything!" the despairing girl cried as she stepped toward him to plead. "I -- "
"Shut up!" the man roared, slapping the child with the back of his hand and walking off without a second thought. Behind him, the crumpled form of the young girl struck roughly against a brick wall and slumped to the ground.
As the man's echoing steps faded away into the depths of the pitch black night, the girl laboriously struggled to her feet, only to stumble a few steps forward and collapse again. "Please ..." the girl whispered breathlessly, lifting her eyes to gaze intently into the empty shadows of the night as though hoping to find a savior in the darkness. "Someone. Anyone ..."
After a few moments of silence punctuated by the howling of a growing wind, the girl clenched her fists together, gritted her teeth, and forcefully pushed her body off the ground. Then, upon regaining her footing, she leaned against the wall for support, closing her eyes briefly as she looked up at the gathering dark clouds melding together to form an overhanging arch in the sky. A storm would be coming soon.
Stumbling forward another halting step, the girl's hair flew wildly in the foreboding air as she nearly lost her balance, only saving herself from falling by clutching at a nearby lamp post for support. She took a deep gulp of breath. Then she pushed herself away from the iron infrastructure and continued her torturous route toward her home.
Above, the rumbling of thunder spread through the air and the clouds seem to loom more ominous than before, portent of an especially raging storm. There was a stillness that pervaded through the city air as though the world was holding its breath. Only the midnight rustling of dried crisp leaves filtering through the streets interrupted the utter silence.
As the girl turned around a dimly illuminated street corner, she tripped over a crushed empty soda can and lurched forward, her eyes dull as she stumbled a few steps before numbly regaining her balance. Breathing heavily, she looked ahead at the ruined abandoned apartment building where she and her sister were staying at temporarily. She'll be disappointed, the girl thought sadly, hanging her head. I tried so hard today to find something for us ... Unwillingly, a tear drop slid down her right cheek only to be dried soon after by the howling wind.
It was then that a fiery explosion ripped through the crystalline night air, causing the girl to gasp and snap her head up. As she watched in horror, the four uppermost floors in the deserted building were torn apart in a brilliant array of fire, wood, and glass. In a display faintly reminiscent of fireworks, shards of glass and wood were flung with accompanying fiery sparks from the building to fall in showers of glinting gold upon the cement pavement below.
"No ..." the girl whispered, the reflection of the raging fire glinting in her eyes as they widened in near madness. She took a halting step forward.
Above, the rumbling clouds finally burst open, causing rain to pour down in torrents, drenching her stunned form and extinguishing the edges of the raging fire. Watching the hiss of steam drifting upwards from the flames, the girl felt an anguished cry well up from within. "NO!!! LUNA!!!!!!"
Gasping, Lina sat bolt upright at her desk, her eyes dilated white as she stared ahead, horror etched across her face. Sweat trickled down her right cheek plastering a single strand of red hair to her skin, but she didn't notice, the echo of her childhood scream reverberating hollowly in her head. Midnight. All was silent throughout the house, the only sound being the humming of the ceiling light which tirelessly illuminated the books spread across the desk. Almost unbidden, her eyes were drawn toward the unplugged nightlight at the left end of the room and at the small duffel bag next to it where the still packed picture of her now dead sister lay. Her mouth opened and her hoarse voice rasped one word.
"She certainly has an interesting character," Rezo commented, looking at the viewing screen on which a red-headed girl stared down at her books restlessly. "Apparently she seems quite affected by memories of her childhood in addition to her other reoccurring nightmare."
"That's no matter," the other figure stated monotonously. "It's the fact that she is afraid of fire that bothers me. How will she be able to win against Vrumugun if she refuses to cast a simple fire spell?"
"Hmmm ... that would be a problem," came the reply. "But it is rather nice that she has a weakness, wouldn't you agree?"
"A weakness is unfavorable at this stage," the shadowed figure growled in return. "I believe that she has the capabilities to defeat Vrumugun, but with this disability, she's rather limited in her attacks and could easily die."
"Unfortunate for her, isn't it?"
"Rezo ..." the other figure warned angrily.
Rezo smiled and held up a hand in deference. "Don't worry. You know that she has skill. She'll just have to apply that skill more thoughtfully in the upcoming match."
"You don't plan on having Vrumugun go easier on her?"
Rezo laughed in amusement. "Of course not. If she can't handle Vrumugun, she's not the one. Besides, my grandson will be there as well. If there truly needs to be a fire spell, he will be the one to cast it."
The shadowed figure frowned. "I thought we agreed to have the match be between Vrumugun and Lina only, with your grandson watching from the side."
"I believe you were the one who was worried about Lina's liability."
There was silence from the other figure while the glare of the viewing screen flickered dimly into the depths of darkness. Then the shadow spoke. "Very well."
Rezo bowed in deference, the cruel smile on his face hidden by the dark shadows of the room. "As you wish."
In the open arena of MS High, a giant explosion erupted from the center causing dirt and small burning pieces of twigs to scatter wildly into the air before pattering to the ground.
"LINA, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!?!" a very stressed male voice screamed from the enclosure.
"Shut up!" Lina yelled back from her current crouched position while coughing because of the amount of dust in the air. "I know what I'm doing!"
"WHAT WAS THAT, THEN?!"
"YOU CALL COUNTERING A FIRE SPELL WITH A BRAM GUSH A FLUKE?!"
"He does have a point there," Zelgadiss commented from his position at the outskirts of the arena while the rest of the class sweat-dropped behind him. "Let's see, bram gush ... that's one of the most lethal shamanism air spells out there, if I recall correctly."
"Wasn't one of the first things we learned not to over-react in battle situations?" Amelia said in disbelief.
"Uh, well, maybe Lina was out of options," Sylphiel suggested, though her tone didn't sound all that convinced.
"Hey, hey, hey ... are you guys my friends or aren't you?" Lina growled under her breath.
Yelping in surprise, Lina instinctively rolled her body to the side as the burning ball of energy hit the place where she had been a moment ago and ignited a small spurt of flaming grass. "What was that for?!" the red-haired girl sputtered angrily, leveling her instructor with a glare as he emerged from the dust cloud.
"You want the details?" Lanz scowled, walking menacingly toward his student, his black cape billowing around his lithe figure. "Multiple damage to the arena, accidentally hitting students, accidentally hitting teachers, responding to threats of fire with huge destructive attacks when I specifically told you not to, and -- "
Lina laughed weakly, her hand behind her head in embarrassment. "Guess I didn't do too well on this particular test, huh?"
"WHAT DO YOU THINK?!"
"Well, there's always room for improvement," Lina quipped cheerfully, holding her right index finger up while striking a cute pose.
"Hey, you ..."
"Anyway, you should be testing other students now, so I'll be leaving!" Lina hastily continued, walking to the side to join her group of friends and pushing Amelia forward into the ring. "Amelia, we wish you luck!"
"But it isn't my turn yet!" Amelia protested, looking back at Lina frantically.
"One must always be prepared," Lina responded, nodding sagely.
Amelia narrowed her eyes. "Lina, you just don't want to be tested anymore."
Lina laughed weakly while tilting her head cutely. "Oh, you think so?"
By this point, Lanz was looking extremely annoyed. "We're wasting time. Testing will commence now!" And so saying, he lifted his right hand up, then hurled the speedily formed icy arrows at the duo. Within moments, the practice battle between Amelia and Lanz had begun.
Sighing in relief, Lina lowered her head and closed her eyes as the caressing billow of the wind swept through the arena and rustled the grass beneath her. What do I do? she wondered, her brow creased in thought.
At her side, Zelgadiss' gaze flickered toward the obviously distracted girl. "Hey, Lina, what's wrong?"
"Eh?" Lina uttered unintelligibly, her eyes flying open in surprise as she jerked her head to face Zelgadiss.
"I said, are you okay?" Zelgadiss repeated in concern.
For a moment, Lina stared up at Zelgadiss, meeting his piercing blue eyes with her own troubled ones. As they stood there silently, neither spoke. Beneath them, the grass swayed gently while in the background, the sounds of small explosions rang through the arena as the battle between Amelia and Lanz continued. Then, when another gust of wind began to blow through the open space, Lina blinked and turned away, a huge grin on her face.
"O-Of course I'm fine," she laughed cheerfully, brushing her bangs back nervously. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Even to her, those words sounded hollow, but Zelgadiss apparently decided not to press the issue since after a moment, he turned his attention back to the current magic duel. As the rest of the class observed Amelia and Lanz, Lina's usual carefree demeanor fell away to be replaced by a strangely introspective expression. As she stared down at the ground blankly, the words she had said earlier repeated in her mind. Why wouldn't I be?
"I'm so happy now that school is over," Sylphiel said cheerfully as she smoothed out the wrinkles in her now folded black leggings.
"Eh? Why?" Lina asked in surprise, turning to look at her friend.
"Ah, well, that is ..." Sylphiel blushed. "Um ..."
"Lina, it's because she wants to give Gourry the cookies she made today in cooking class," Amelia whispered into Lina's right ear in a not so secretive manner.
"Lina!" Amelia shouted in dismay, grabbing onto her friend's right arm before she could run to Sylphiel and search through her belongings. "The cookies are for Gourry, not you!"
"But I want some, too!" Lina whined, turning pleading eyes toward Sylphiel.
"Don't worry, I have the recipe for the cookies in my backpack so when we get home, I'll make another batch for everyone," Sylphiel said reassuringly.
Lina grinned cutely while flashing a peace sign. "Lucky!"
"Thank you, Sylphiel!" Amelia chimed in. "Oh, I have an idea, why don't we have a sleepover tonight? After all, it's Friday!"
"I'd like to do that," Sylphiel smiled happily.
"We get to eat lots of food, right?" Lina grinned, a glint of greed in her eyes. "Count me in!"
"Lina, you always think about food first," Amelia sweat-dropped. Then, grabbing her school uniform, she commented, "Anyway, class today was really fun, wasn't it?" Her eyes suddenly sparkling brightly, Amelia clasped her clothes to her chest and blissfully continued, "We've learned so much already to help aid the cause of justice! Father would be so proud!"
From her relaxed standing position, Lina sweat-dropped as she palmed open her locker, deliberately tuning out Amelia's justice prattling. After swinging open the metal frame, she picked up her already folded class ensemble and started to place it inside, but stopped when she realized something was hanging from the top of the locker. Immediately narrowing her eyes, Lina quickly looked around suspiciously. Then, realizing that whoever had placed the paper inside her locker was probably not around, she reluctantly reached in and tugged it off.
Once it was brought out into the light, it could be seen that the paper was half of a map with the word 'cae' written in the middle. Frowning in confusion, Lina absently turned the map over, only to have her breath catch in her throat as one all too familiar name could be made out: Vrumugun.
Blinking once, Lina clenched her hand tightly around the piece of paper. Then, shaking her head to break free of her stupor, she quickly placed her clothes into the locker and shut it.
"Hey, I'm going to go ahead and get a drink of water before we go," Lina said cheerfully, straightening up and swinging her backpack onto her shoulders while flashing her friends a grin. "See you guys outside!"
"Ok, see you then," Amelia waved.
"We won't take too long," Sylphiel added, also smiling at Lina.
"I'm sure!" Lina stated loudly, already walking out of the locker room.
So, today's the day, Lina thought grimly as she stepped outside into warm sunlight, the white slip of paper firmly clenched in her left hand. Upon stepping a few feet away from the building, she lifted her head to stare up at the streaked white clouds in the sky. Zel probably has the other half of the map. But ... why is Vrumugun going through the bother of setting up a meeting with both of us when he said that he was planning to kill us? Wouldn't it make more sense to kill us separately? Glancing down at the paper once more, Lina sighed and grudgingly acknowledged, Still, you have to give him credit for being smart enough to make the battle a few days earlier than expected. That way our friends can't try to interfere ...
To her right, Zelgadiss could be seen approaching silently, his white over-shirt unbuttoned as usual and the cuffs of his sleeves slightly rolled up. As he drew closer, Lina instinctively turned her head to greet her friend.
"So, are you ready for you know what?" Lina grinned, smacking her hand against Zelgadiss' back as soon as he had stopped next to her.
Wincing slightly, Zelgadiss looked down at Lina in disbelief. "Hey, can't you take this a bit more seriously?"
"What, this isn't serious enough for you?" Lina responded playfully, wacking Zelgadiss on the back so hard that he was slammed down into the dirt. " ... Oops."
"Are you trying to kill me before the fight?!" Zelgadiss sputtered angrily, picking his face off from the ground.
Lina laughed in embarrassment while rubbing the back of her head. "Aw, c'mon Zel, this is just a way to show my appreciation!"
"I'd hate to see how you show your anger, then," Zelgadiss muttered under his breath as he stood up and brushed himself off.
"What was that?!"
"Anyway, we have to go meet Vrumugun now," Zelgadiss hastily continued. Looking down at Lina's still clenched left hand, he nodded as he saw the faint glimpse of white paper. Holding up an identical slip of paper between his index and middle finger, he inquired, "What does your half of the paper say?"
"Eh?" Lina uttered, a bit startled at the sudden change in topics. Then, glancing down at her still clenched left hand, she swiftly turned the paper over to the side with the map and replied, "Oh, um, it says 'cae.'"
"And my paper has 'lum' written on it," Zelgadiss answered.
Lina grasped her sheet of paper and lifted it up to face level while grinning. "Ah, I get it. It's a map of Mount Caelum."
Zelgadiss nodded, swiftly grabbing Lina's piece of paper and walking off. "Stay here," he called back over his shoulder. "I don't want you to get involved."
Lina looked down at the hand which had been holding the paper, then looked up again at Zelgadiss. " ... HEY! What do you think you're doing?!"
" ... A little late with the reaction, aren't you," Zelgadiss muttered under his breath.
"Shut up! It's because I expected you to go with me!" Lina snarled, angrily running up to block Zelgadiss from going any further. "Don't you trust me?!"
"This is my fight," Zelgadiss explained cooly. "You have nothing to do with this."
A stress mark appeared on Lina's forehead. "Oh ... is that so?" she growled in a strange voice. Laughing a little evilly, she raised her hands in front of her body, a faint glow of blue beginning to pulse from her hands.
"H-Hold on there, Lina! We're not in the arena right now!" Zelgadiss exclaimed, slightly panicked.
Lina laughed a not so nice laugh, the glowing blue in her hands increasing by the second. "Your point being?"
"At this rate, you won't reach Mount Caelum until sunset," a monotonous voice said from above.
"Vrumugun!" Zelgadiss spat out in hatred, already recognizing the voice without even looking up.
"EH?!" Lina cried in shock. Jerking her head to look up, she gasped when she saw the floating cloaked figure above. "When did you get here?!"
"It's nice to see you, too," Vrumugun replied wryly.
Lina raised an eyebrow and gave Vrumugun a strange look. " ... Was that a joke?"
"Forget it," Zelgadiss snapped in exasperation, pushing Lina behind him. Raising his head to stare up at Vrumugun, he narrowed his eyes and stated flatly, "This fight doesn't include Lina. Leave her alone, I'm the one to fight you!"
Vrumugun smirked cruelly. "It's too late."
The next instant, a deep haze of orange light flooded the area, encircling the three people in a dome-like shape for a brief moment, then breaking apart into shimmering shards which dispersed into the air. In its wake, the only sound that remained was the whispering of the wind as it rustled through the grass and caused the fallen leaves of autumn to swirl in a colorful dance through the air.
And far away in the distance, on the rooftop of MS High's main building, a solitary figure wearing a tan trench coat observed all of this in a silent crouched position, a pair of binoculars firmly grasped in his right hand. Emotionlessly, the man brushed back his waving brown bangs and straightened up, his coat billowing around his figure as he did so. Turning his head to look to the right at the cloud-surrounded domineering mountain which seemed to reach for the sky, he smiled cruelly.
"So, it's begun."
At the summit of a rather rocky mountain terrain, a bright flash of orange suddenly appeared, glowed brightly for the space of a second, then dimmed into shimmering shards of magic which dissipated soon after. Where once there had been only the endless landscape of grey rocks now had three figures facing each other defiantly. As a strong wind rushed across the face of the mountain, a cloud of dust was swept into the air and flew across the battleground like an ocean wave. In the background, the verdant greenery of the hills around Mount Caelum could be seen whenever the smoke-like clouds surrounding them opened to reveal the world below.
"Well, shall we begin?" Vrumugun smirked, drawing back his hood in anticipation of the battle to come.
"Hmph," Lina snorted, tossing back her long red hair. "You're going to regret ever messing with -- "
"Don't fight," Zelgadiss interrupted, holding his left arm up to block Lina from stepping forward. Looking over his shoulder, he firmly declared, "I'll be the one to face Vrumugun."
Lina frowned. "Zel!"
Reacting quickly, Zelgadiss leaped to the right while simultaneously pushing Lina to the left. "Stay out of this, understand?" Zelgadiss shouted. Then, not bothering to wait for a reply, he raced toward Vrumugun.
Left on her own, Lina lifted her face up from the dirt, a flame of anger burning in her eyes. "Zelgadiss ..." she growled, obviously annoyed about being pushed into the dirt. "What do you think you're doing?!"
Meanwhile, Vrumugun was currently engaging Zelgadiss in combat. "Flare bit!" he shouted, throwing the materializing discs of fire at the approaching teenager.
Instinctively, Zelgadiss cast ray wing and flew upwards to avoid the attack. Then, turning to face his opponent, he yelled, "Flare arrow!"
Instantly, the crackling bolts of energy manifested in his hands to be hurled downwards toward Vrumugun.
"Hmph, pathetic," Vrumugun smirked, leaping back just out of harm's reach so that every single arrow exploded harmlessly on the ground in front of him. "Flare lance!"
In the air, Zelgadiss dodged the fire attack by moving left, then flipped once and landed in a crouched position just behind Vrumugun. Immediately after landing, he turned swiftly while instinctively putting up a shield. As expected, three yellow streams of energy crashed into the hastily constructed barrier, then dissipated as the barrier proved to be the stronger force.
"Oh? So you managed to avoid that, eh?" Vrumugun commented, nonchalantly gazing at Zelgadiss from his position a little bit away. "You've gotten better since you went to MS High."
"Heh, did you think I'd be easy to defeat?" Zelgadiss retorted, breathing a little heavily as he looked up from his still crouched position. "I'm just getting warmed up!"
And so saying, he slammed his right hand on the ground. "Earth below me, submit to my will! Dug haut!"
"Child's play," Vrumugun said monotonously, flying high up into the air, far beyond the reach of the spikes of earth which now protruded from the ground.
"Oh, you think so?" Zelgadiss smirked from a position much closer than Vrumugun expected.
"What?!" Vrumugun gasped, looking upwards.
There, silhouetted by the afternoon sun, was Zelgadiss' form. Already, his hands were positioned with the palms facing Vrumugun. "I think it's time we end this. FIREBALL!"
There was a loud explosion as the earth erupted where the fireball hit the ground. Shielding her face with one held up arm, Lina stopped running toward the battle scene and began coughing at the amount of dust in the air. Stray bits of dirt, pebbles, and twigs flew through the air and scratched her bare arms and legs, but Lina only gnashed her teeth together as she hurriedly cast diem wind to blow away the dust so she could see. A little ways away in the sky, Zelgadiss was floating laboriously, perspiration streaking down his face. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he stared down at the clearing dust while breathing heavily. Did I get him?
"Zel! Behind you!" Lina screamed from below.
Zelgadiss twisted his head backwards in shock. "What?!"
The next instant, a sharp blade of energy cut into his side, slicing his clothes and cutting into his skin painfully. Hissing sharply, he fell backwards toward the ground below.
"ZEL!" Lina cried in horror. Thinking quickly, she hastily brought her hands to a circular position to her right, then thrust them forward in her friend's general direction. "Ray wing!"
From her hands came a blue burst of power which sped toward Zelgadiss and formed a bubble around him, gently setting him down onto the ground safely. Sighing in relief, Lina rushed to Zelgadiss' side and bent down in concern. "Zel! Are you alright?"
Zelgadiss gritted his teeth as he forcefully pushed the upper portion of his body off from the ground with his left hand while his right hand clutched his bloody abdomen in pain.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he rasped, closing his eyes briefly. "I just forgot that Vrumugun teleports faster than most people. But we don't have time to worry about my health, where is he?"
"Right behind you," came the calm reply.
Gasping, Lina whirled around and adopted a defensive posture as Vrumugun emerged from within the clearing dust, his cloak rustling in the mountain breeze. Lifting his head to stare straight ahead into Lina's angry eyes, he smiled sadistically.
"Well, shall we begin? Lina Inverse."
Lina narrowed her eyes and stood up. "Zel, you know a healing spell, right?" she asked quietly so only Zelgadiss could hear.
"Ah ... yes, I know one ..." Zelgadiss responded, immediately catching on to what Lina was getting at.
"Well, then," Lina grinned, looking over her shoulder at her friend and winking while giving a thumbs up sign. "Let me handle Vrumugun for awhile as you heal yourself, ok?"
Zelgadiss began to protest, then winced as his wound opened up a bit more. Looking up at Lina's determined face, he reluctantly nodded.
Having received permission, Lina then turned to Vrumugun. "Well, looks like you're facing me now," Lina stated cheerfully, though a definite threat was burning in her eyes. Taking a step forward with her left foot, her hands flew to form a circular position at her side.
"Yes, it looks like it," Vrumugun agreed amiably, drawing his hands in front of his body.
Another strong wind blew across the mountain, picking up dust and earth to scatter through the air. Below, the wispy clouds drifted in an undulating motion across the sky languidly. It was like the calm before a storm.
Summoning power into her hands with a silent chant, Lina began the battle. "Freeze arrow!"
Vrumugun only smiled slightly in response and leaped into the air. Staring down at Lina, he brought his hands over his head sinisterly and, without any words, fired a stream of crackling electricity at his opponent.
Grunting slightly, Lina swiftly dodged to the right while simultaneously flipping backwards to end up in a defensive position facing the now grounded Vrumugun. "So, you're not planning to go easy on me even at the beginning, huh?" Lina commented belligerently, her eyes narrowed warily.
Vrumugun smirked as another wind blew across the battlefield and caused his cloak to waver menacingly around his figure, but he remained silent, giving no answer.
"Hmph, well, if that's how you want to play it ..." Lina sniffed confidently, her hands already raised toward the sky. "I'll take care of you at one go! Icicle lance!"
Vrumugun calmly brought has hands together and spread them to the side, forming an invisible barrier that caused the spell that Lina threw at him to disperse into harmless shimmers of blue. But Lina was already on the offensive. Racing at full speed toward Vrumugun, she easily dodged the beams of energy aimed at her and began another chant. Seeing this, Vrumugun stooped over, preparing for an onslaught of energy from the front. Sure enough, a ball of wind shot out from Lina's outstretched right hand, a wind strong enough in pressure to mark a path in the earth as it approached its target. Tossing back his cloak, Vrumugun expectantly blocked the attack. However, much to his surprise, while still blocking the spell, he felt a slight breeze pass by above and then heard Lina's voice again from behind him. Twisting his head backwards in a sudden panic, he only heard the last of Lina's chant. " ... Gather in my hand and give me power! Demona crystal!"
A blue stream of ice engulfed him before he could even speak. In its wake, only a frozen landscape with a solid ice-encased figure on the surface could be seen. Breathing heavily, Lina stood with her hands outstretched in the last position of the cast spell. Is ... it ... over?
Only silence answered her. Silence, and the howling of the wind as it swept once more across the barren ice-filled land. Below, the flowing mist-like clouds rolled onwards around Mount Caelum. Sighing in exhaustion, Lina dropped her hands to her side. Then, looking once more at her frozen opponent, she turned her back on the scene.
Startled, Lina jerked her head in the direction of the voice, only to be immediately barreled over by Zelgadiss. An explosion sounded. Coughing heavily, Lina twisted her head to look up and gaze into Zelgadiss' concerned eyes.
"Lina?" he began softly, still shielding her, but keeping his body a polite distance above hers even as a slight pink color tinged his cheeks.
For a moment, Lina could only stare wide-eyed into his eyes. Unconsciously, her heart sped up. Her mouth parted slightly and then ...
"I-IDIOT!" Lina yelled, blushing bright red while pushing Zelgadiss completely off of her. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"Mfph," was Zelgadiss' only reply since Lina had pushed him face down into the dirt.
"Rather distracted, aren't you?" came a very familiar voice from the direction of where the attack had been fired from.
Lina slumped down, a dark look of disbelief coming over her face. "It can't be ..." Turning her head around reluctantly, she sighted Vrumugun floating above the cracked pillar of ice where he had been contained in just a moment ago.
"Still not dead yet?" Zelgadiss hissed, automatically struggling to his feet with his hands held in a ready to attack pose.
"NOOOOOO!" Lina moaned, tearing at her hair in frustration. Then, pointing at Vrumugun suddenly, she grinned and cheerfully stated, "Hmph. Well, figures that you wouldn't be defeated that easily."
"Oh? So you were expecting this, then?" Vrumugun observed in amusement.
Lina only smiled as she stood up and walked toward Zelgadiss. "Wait just a moment, will you?"
"He's not going to -- " Zelgadiss began.
"I'll give you one minute to recuperate," Vrumugun interrupted as he calmly landed onto the icy ground and proceeded to sit down. "It will be interesting to see what you plan to do now."
Lina waved over her shoulder at Vrumugun as she stopped at Zelgadiss' side.
"Well, what do you want?" Zelgadiss whispered, looking down at Lina.
"Listen, Zel. Something's wrong with Vrumugun," Lina whispered back.
Zelgadiss gave Lina a strange look. "And you just figured that out?"
"Idiot!" Lina hissed, strongly resisting the urge to hit her friend. "I mean, doesn't it seem strange that he managed to dodge your attack and escape out of that ice? Plus, all we've been doing up until now were physical attacks, no astral plane ones."
Zelgadiss' eyes widened. "And you think that ...?"
Lina nodded, her face utterly serious. "He might be a mazoku."
"But there haven't been any in existence for nearly 4,000 years!"
"So our history teacher is wrong then?" Lina suggested.
"Then how can he be able to cast all those spells?" Zelgadiss countered. "Mazoku normally rely on their own power, don't they?"
Lina furrowed her brow in thought as she tapped her cheek with her right index finger absently. "Hmmm, well, maybe he's part mazoku?"
"Time's up," Vrumugun's voice cut in. Standing up and dusting his cloak off, he narrowed his eyes at the two teenagers. "Shall we begin?"
Without waiting for an answer, he shot two narrow beams of energy straight at them.
"Zel! Distract him for me!" Lina cried as she ran in a circular curve to Vrumugun's left side.
"Alright," Zelgadiss muttered. "Let's see how you like this. BRAM GUSH!"
A whirlwind of air flowed from Zelgadiss' outstretched hands and sped toward Vrumugun, creating an indentation in the ground as it went to mark its path. Without blinking an eye, Vrumugun held out his hand and stopped the attack effortlessly with a shield. However, as the wind exploded in torrents around his figure, another attack came from the front.
"What?!" Vrumugun snarled in shock, drawing his left arm over his face as he frantically added more power to the shield just in time to stop the stream of lightning from hitting him.
Stumbling back a few steps, Vrumugun breathed heavily as dust clouded the air, his eyes wide in amazement. How did he master that spell so quickly?
Above, Lina quickly assessed the situation and crossed her arms in front of her face. "Spirits wandering through the flow of time, lend me your power to bind," she chanted, raising her hands toward the sky. "Astral chain!"
Vrumugun gasped in surprise as a stream of white light hit him, paralyzing his body so that he could no longer move. Her eyes flashing dangerously, Lina landed a little bit in front of Vrumugun, then swiftly turned around and fired a brilliant globe of light directly at him. A shock ran through his body as the light engulfed him and he closed his eyes in pain. Slowly, he felt his physical body collapse face forward onto the ground, smoke drifting upwards from his bent figure.
Watching Vrumugun's helpless form, Lina's brows creased as she looked on, her thoughts chaotic and troubled. Nevertheless, she firmly suppressed her personal emotions, concentrating instead on positioning her hands so that they would be prepared to attack again.
"Leave," she whispered, her voice cracking slightly as Vrumugun lifted his face off from the ground. Mentally shaking herself, she took another step forward, her eyes wide as Zelgadiss watched her in confusion from her lower left side. "Leave," she stated again, this time more controlled.
For a moment, there was silence, utter silence where even the wind dared not interrupt. Vrumugun smiled once, then gritted his teeth and forcefully pushed himself up to his knees. Breathing heavily as he clutched the ground with his hands, he raised his head to look straight into Lina's chaotic eyes.
"Why didn't you kill me?" he rasped, his voice hoarse and unfamiliar. "You could have."
"Didn't you hear me? I asked you to leave," Lina repeated angrily, her voice shaking almost imperceptibly.
"Your past?" Vrumugun continued heedlessly. Chuckling, he painfully brought his feet forward and pushed himself unsteadily off the ground. "Lina Inverse ..." he wheezed, as he stumbled another step forward.
"Don't come any closer!" Lina warned a bit frantically as Zelgadiss quickly adopted a defensive position. "I ..."
"You don't understand," Vrumugun coughed as he stumbled forward yet another step. "One of us must die today."
"You're insane," Zelgadiss stated flatly, his eyes narrowed dangerously.
Vrumugun paused for a moment, leaning over to catch his breath. "I suppose so," he chuckled, perspiration trailing down his face. Then, raising his right hand, he smiled once more, orange energy pulsating from his body. Slowly, light began to collect in the palm of his hand.
"That's it," Zelgadiss growled, the faint glow of blue surrounding his figure as well. "Lina, get out of the way! We have to injure him before he kills us!"
"But what if another hit will kill him?!" Lina cried.
"Then we'll just have to risk it!" Zelgadiss yelled back.
In a frozen position, Lina stared at Vrumugun in horror, his glowing figure reflected in her swirling eyes. For a moment, she thought she saw flames engulf him, flames which crackled and burned in sputtering sparks, but then she shook her head and the vision was gone. Death ... Swallowing hard, Lina lowered her head so that her eyes were hidden in the shadows of her bangs. Slowly, she turned her back on Vrumugun so that she now faced Zelgadiss.
"Don't kill him," she whispered.
Zelgadiss blinked once, not sure if he heard correctly. "What?"
"I'll put up a shield," Lina continued, her voice growing stronger. "It'll be more effective if I don't have to deal with your attack in addition to Vrumugun's."
Zelgadiss dropped his hands so that they rested at his side. " ... Lina."
"So you'll help me then?" Lina grinned, raising her face to look up at Zelgadiss.
Zelgadiss hesitated for a moment, then nodded and stiffly walked to stand at Lina's side. Crossing his hands across his chest, he began to silently chant a spell for defense, reinforcing the barrier that Lina was putting up. The wind grew stronger as Vrumugun's spell neared completion. Stretching a shaking hand toward the couple, Vrumugun's eyes glinted once more, then widened as a sudden stream of white light impacted with his body. In surprise, his mouth parted in a silent scream, the last action he took before disintegrating into nothingness.
Silence once again.
"No ... No way ..." Lina whispered in horrified disbelief. "What ..."
In the desolate landscape, laughter rang out from above, causing Lina and Zelgadiss to twist their head upwards.
"Well, well, well," the red-cloaked man greeted evilly. "Looks like you've won this battle."
"Rezo!" Zelgadiss snarled, his hands clenched at his sides in silent fury. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"Why, I'm killing an unneeded servant," Rezo smirked, looking down at his grandson. "I should have thought that it would be obvious."
Lina's eyes hardened upon hearing that. "You ..." she breathed furiously, her voice shaking with anger. "How could you do such a thing?!"
Rezo laughed in amusement. "It was easy," he said in a matter of fact tone. "Vrumugun would not have beaten you, that much was clear. Furthermore, you refused to kill him. As for me, he had outlived his use. What remained to do, but to kill him?"
"Didn't you want him to kill Zel, though?!" Lina screamed, her mind reeling at what Rezo was saying.
"Oh, didn't you figure it out yet?" Rezo smiled, infuriating Lina even more. "For quite a while now, my interest has been focused more on you."
Both figures below started at this announcement.
Rezo smiled once more, looking toward the distance at the clouds in the school's direction. "Meet me here once more on the night of the first full moon in January. Bring your friends," he stated sinisterly as he faded away in a shimmer of red. "I look forward to seeing you again."
For a moment, the two figures remaining on Mount Caelum remained still, stunned over the tumultuous speed at which everything had occurred. Then, blinking once, Zelgadiss suddenly recalled something he had heard long ago. Staring straight ahead into the horizon, he softly began to speak.
"When I was still living with Rezo, he used to meet with some of his friends from time to time," he said quietly. "Whenever they came, I was ordered out of the room, but I was always curious about what they would talk about." Taking a deep breath, Zelgadiss lifted his head to look up at the sky. "The only time that I overheard anything, they were talking about someone they were waiting for. I didn't know anything about what they were looking for, but they referred to this person as 'the one.'"
"And is that who Rezo thinks I am?" Lina asked simply.
"I think so," Zelgadiss replied remotely.
"But what does it all mean?" Lina continued, her voice a reflection of her confusion. "Who did Rezo meet with? What makes me the person he's looking for?"
"I don't know," Zelgadiss answered honestly. "But what I do know is that we'll have to work even harder now. If we're up against Rezo ..."
Lina frowned, her eyes hard. "That's right, he's forcing our friends to get involved, too."
Zelgadiss sighed wearily. "We need to explain everything to them as soon as we get back."
Lina made a noise of assent, then suddenly grinned while holding up her right arm in a flexed pose. "With all of us combined, Rezo has no chance of winning!"
"You ..." Zelgadiss sweat-dropped in disbelief.
"Anyway, let's go now, Zel!" Lina cheered, pumping her fist into the air. "The sooner we get started, the better, right?"
Shaking his head, Zelgadiss raised his arms into the air and cast teleport. A cool wind swept across the surface of the mountain as the remaining blue shimmers from Zelgadiss' spell faded away.
Turning her head to look back at where Vrumugun had last stood, Lina's eyes dimmed, an unreadable expression on her face. Motionlessly, she stared at the bleak scene, her hair billowing gently in the chilled wind. Then, bowing her head, she closed her eyes and called a single arrow of ice into her hand. The blue glow of shamanism crackled in her grasp as she grasped the ice and threw it into the air. Then, when she judged that it had gone high enough, she threw up an orange globe of light to combine with the arrow. Finally, she spread her hands apart, forcing the orange arrow to shatter into shimmering flakes of ice that drifted toward the ground like a flurry of snow.
For a moment, Lina watched the display silently, the glinting light from the lighting spell casting an orange glow on her face. Then, with one more lingering sweep across the mountain's summit, she bowed her head and whispered, "Teleport."
And the small flurry of ice continued to bathe the area with a dim glow faintly reminiscent of magic as the clouds surrounding Mount Caelum rolled onwards across the sky.
"So, Vrumugun has died, has he?" a purple-eyed figure mused thoughtfully. "The first obstacle has been cleared."
The brown-haired man at the opposite end of the room bowed. "I'm sorry, but I fail to see how Rezo killing Vrumugun justifies that she is the one."
"We are still not completely certain that she is," the other corrected. "However, she has passed the first test. Although she did not kill Vrumugun, from what we've seen, she could easily have done so. By using a highly diverse array of attacks to avoid killing, her skill is shown much more clearly. Rezo used Vrumugun to bring out her true ability and when it appeared that Vrumugun had lost without question, he ended the match."
"So we are ahead of schedule then," the man by the door of the room commented. "I suspect that she and her friends will improve greatly over the next few months. The tests at MS High will be enough to hone their skills so that they will be prepared for the second test in January. I will, of course, continue observing them in Vrumugun's place."
A chuckle sounded from the purple-eyed shadow sitting at the desk. "Do you know? For the first time in thousands of years, I feel truly excited." Smiling cruelly, the glinting purple eyes gazed at the viewing screen once more. "Lina Inverse, do you know?"
In Lina's brightly lit room, cheerful laughter could be heard, even through the firmly closed wooden door. Inside, Lina, Sylphiel, and Amelia were currently having their version of a sleepover as planned from the locker room that afternoon. At the moment, all three were sitting in a circle on the floor, dressed in their pajamas and conversing animatedly. Every now and then, one or the other would reach into the center of the circle to take food from the rather large food stack piled up in the middle.
"Ah, these cookies are great, Sylphiel!" Lina cheered, taking another bite from the one in her hand. "I really wish that I could cook like you!"
Sylphiel smiled in pleasure, the glow of the light in Lina's room adding to her warmth. "I'm glad that you like them."
"Sylphiel, do you think I could borrow the recipe sometime?" Amelia, picking up another cookie from the plate in front of her.
"Of course," Sylphiel agreed amiably.
"Anyway, so we're all going to be doing research at the library after school for a while now, huh?" Lina mused, munching on a cookie thoughtfully as she leaned back against her bed. Staring up at the ceiling, she sighed once in exasperation. "Thanks to this whole Rezo thing, all of us will have to spend a lot of time researching new magic spells and studying what's effective against what."
"I never thought that life would turn out to be this exciting once I came to MS High," Sylphiel smiled, her right hand at her cheek demurely.
"Exciting is not the word," Lina sweat-dropped, looking directly across the pile of food at Sylphiel in disbelief.
"But still, doesn't this battle make the justice pounding in your veins want to burst free?" Amelia announced animatedly, her hand clenched into a fist as a flame of fire burned in her eyes.
"Um, not really," Lina muttered in the background.
"Mazoku, race of evil, relinquish your evil ways and join the side of justice!" Amelia continued unheedingly, jumping on top of Lina's bed while Lina and Sylphiel sweat-dropped. "If you refuse, I, Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune, will smash you with the hammer of justice!"
"Speaking of which, don't you think that it's strange how mazoku still exist?" Sylphiel commented suddenly.
"Yeah," Lina murmured, her right hand beneath her chin thoughtfully. "A school like MS High should know about this kind of thing so it's strange that our history teacher taught us that mazoku died out."
"Maybe Vrumugun was the last one?" Amelia suggested, plopping down to Lina's upper right on the floor.
"Somehow I don't think that's the case," Lina frowned, absently reaching for another cookie. "My guess would be that either there's something even more powerful than MS High out there or that MS High is purposely not telling us the full truth." Then, taking a bite out of her cookie, Lina winked and continued, "At any rate, for now, let's just concentrate on having fun while we can, ok?"
"Alright," Sylphiel agreed, Amelia also giving a nod of approval.
"Ok!" Lina cheered, raising her cup of soda into the air. "So, what do girls usually talk about at sleepovers?"
Amelia and Sylphiel both face-faulted.
"Lina, you've never been to a sleepover before, have you," Amelia said incredulously.
"How did you guess?" Lina laughed weakly, her hand rubbing the back of her head in embarrassment.
"It wasn't that hard," Amelia muttered under her breath.
"Well, I haven't been to one either," Sylphiel ventured timidly. "But I always thought that girls talked about how their family was doing at sleepovers."
"No, that's not it," Amelia sweat-dropped as she slumped forward.
"Hmm ... maybe we're supposed to trade hints on how to cast spells," Lina suggested.
Sylphiel tilted her head in contemplation, then raised her right index finger. "Well, what about cooking secrets then?"
"Maybe food eating habits?" Lina conjectured.
"Or how to wash clothes efficiently?"
"A discussion of different philosophies?"
"Oh, I'd like to know whether you think aliens exist," Sylphiel brought up. "Wouldn't it be cute if they were all like stuffed animals?"
"Stop!" Amelia interrupted before the conversation could get any more asinine. "First of all, a sleepover conversation does not include a discussion of what to discuss!"
Amelia sighed in exasperation, then continued, "I haven't been to one in a while, but I think that you just talk about ordinary things like school or guys."
"Hmm ... well, we do talk about school ordinarily," Lina conceded, leaning back against her bed again. "But guys? That's not very ordinary."
"I agree," Sylphiel added. "We usually talk about classes and magic, but ..."
"Well, now that I think of it," Amelia frowned, thinking back to all their previous conversations. Then, realizing that she was getting off track, she hastily shook her head and declared, "Anyway, Sylphiel!"
"Y-Yes?" Sylphiel stammered, a little startled over Amelia's sudden change in mood.
Grinning teasingly, Amelia inquired, "So, how's things going with Gourry?"
"Eh?" Sylphiel blushed, her hands at her cheeks. "Um, well, that is ..."
Lina snickered at the side, suddenly very interested in Sylphiel's predicament. "Yes, Sylphiel, what's going on?" she probed, an evil glint in her eyes.
"N-Nothing," Sylphiel stuttered, waving her right hand back and forth as she unconsciously leaned backwards. Then, still blushing, she admitted, "I haven't told him how I feel yet."
"Eh? Why?" Lina frowned in confusion.
"It's just that ... I don't want anything to change," Sylphiel said softly, her eyes dimming slightly as she stared down at her hands. Then, abruptly, she lifted her face up to smile at her friends. "That sounds strange, doesn't it? Um, well, what about you and Zelgadiss, Amelia?"
"Huh?" Amelia uttered unintelligibly, blinking at the sudden change in topic. "Um, well, I don't think that Zelgadiss really wants to think about relationships right now."
"Why do you think that?" Sylphiel questioned.
"Well, there's the fact that he consistently avoids the girls who chase after him in school," Amelia began. "And have you noticed? Anytime the subject of love comes up, he's out of the room within seconds."
"The cold emotionless guy, huh?" Lina snorted in amusement, taking a drink out of her cup.
"It's just that sometimes it seems like he'll leave us without a second thought," Amelia continued, her brow creased in thought.
Sylphiel looked surprised for a moment, then nodded slowly in agreement. "And what about you, Lina? Do you like anyone?"
At that moment, the door swung open. "Hey, what are you three doing in here?" Hoshi asked cheerfully, looking in from the hallway.
The next moment, Hoshi was sprawled against the wall opposite Lina's now closed door. "That hurt," he groaned, his hand at his forehead. Then, sighting the sign on the door, he bent down to read it. "Sleepover. No guys allowed."
"Hey, what happened?" Gourry inquired, coming up the stairs inquisitively. Then, seeing that the area of devastation was in front of Lina's door, he turned around to go back down again. "Never mind."
"Wait!" Hoshi cried, rushing to the top of the stairs. "Gourry, we're going to have a sleepover, too!"
Gourry sweat-dropped. "Um ..."
"Hmph, they dare to exclude us," Hoshi muttered darkly under his breath. "Well, let's see how they like it if we exclude them! We'll have an even better sleepover than theirs!"
"Will there be food?" Gourry asked brightly.
"Let's have it in the living room then," Gourry grinned, already rushing to his room to get his things.
"I'll get Zelgadiss!" Hoshi shouted, his aura flashing around him as he heatedly walked down the hallway to the other end of the house.
In his dimly lit room, Zelgadiss sat down heavily on his bed in the upper left corner of the room. To his left was a desk with a neatly arranged surface, across from him was an open closet, and to his right was a bookcase. Everything in the room was in perfect order, organized to the minutest detail.
Leaning down, Zelgadiss reached under his bed for his guitar case and slid it out into the light. Elective of music and specialty of guitar, he thought ironically as he stared down at it. Then, sliding off the bed, he bent down to open the black case. As the glow from the light fixture on the ceiling struck the smooth wooden surface of the guitar, Zelgadiss hesitatingly reached his hand out to touch the bottom string. Closing his eyes reminiscently, his face took on a depressed look as he strummed across the strings quietly.
"Hey, Zelgadiss!" Hoshi yelled, slamming the door to his room wide open so that it hit the wall with a rather loud slam.
"W-What?!" Zelgadiss snapped defensively, the guitar case already closed and hidden under his bed. "Can't you knock before you enter?!"
"We're having a sleepover!" Hoshi announced, completely ignoring Zelgadiss' irritated greeting as he approached the teenager and grabbed onto his arm.
"We're what?" Zelgadiss repeated incredulously.
"And off we go!"
The next instant, the room was empty, a small dust cloud from Hoshi's hasty exit rising into the air. A few minutes later, the three males in the house were all stationed in the living room.
" ... This is stupid," Zelgadiss muttered as he stared at Gourry, who was devouring the humongous food pile on top of the living room table, and at the dancing Hoshi, who was scattering confetti everywhere. Then, hearing Hoshi's off-pitched singing as he began to do karaoke, he visibly winced, desperately wishing that his hearing was just a little bit worse. "Correction, this is beyond stupid."
"Hey, what's going on down there?" Lina called, walking down the stairs, Amelia and Sylphiel close behind. Then, sighting the food on top of the table, stars appeared in her eyes. "FOOD!"
"No, it's mine!" Gourry protested futilely as Lina proceeded to grab pizza off the table.
"Lina, you just ate a lot upstairs," Amelia sweat-dropped as she descended the last few steps.
"I'm still hungry!" Lina yelled back as she dodged the attacking Gourry. "Food is made to be eaten, right?"
"Lina, you're mean," Gourry sulked, tears streaming down his face as he watched Lina finish another pizza slice.
"Oh, hey, you're doing karaoke?" Amelia said excitedly. "I want to join!"
"Gourry, would you like some of the cookies that we didn't eat?" Sylphiel asked shyly, her two index fingers poking each other in a fidgety motion.
Gourry instantly brightened up. "Sure! I'd love some!"
"Hey, no fair, Sylphiel," Lina whined as Sylphiel hastily stumbled up the stairs. "I wanted them!"
Gourry laughed loudly, his face shining like a child's would. "Haha, too bad, I get them, Lina!"
"Sylphiel!" Lina wailed, abandoning the food in the living room for the moment as she rushed up the stairs after her friend.
"Ah, wait!" Gourry cried, racing after Lina. "Sylphiel, don't let her have them!"
" ... I'm going to sleep," Zelgadiss muttered under his breath as he followed Gourry up the stairs slowly.
The rest of the night dissolved into chaos.
Loud coughing could be heard in a remote corner of MS High's main library as a small mushroom shaped dust cloud drifted upwards toward the ceiling.
"Does no one clean these books?!" Lina muttered angrily as she waved away the dust in front of her face so she could get a look at what was written inside the book she had just opened.
"I don't think that many people come to this section of the library," Amelia coughed, taking another book off the oak shelf and adding it to the four already held in her arms. "Supposedly dead creatures aren't something people research normally."
"But we've been coming to this section for the past week!" Lina growled indignantly, slamming her book closed and reaching for another one on the shelf in front of her. Then, upon sighting the title of the book she took out, she sweat-dropped. "Who in the world would write about the digestive track of a dragon?"
Amelia also sweat-dropped. "Anyway, we should get going back to our table," she said hastily, walking past Lina into the main foyer of the library.
Pausing for a moment, she looked to her right at the rain pattering to the ground outside the clear glass window. The needle-like icy water slanted down from an entirely grey sky above to splash onto the pavement outside the brick building. As yellow light from the cozy interior of the library reflected on the puddle just outside the tall window, the drifting mist that floated over the area close to the ground seemed to be tinged with a lining of gold.
"November's rain is pretty cold, huh?" Lina commented, startling Amelia out of her reverie. Smiling brightly, she touched the cold glass pane. "Before we know it, it'll be snowing," she breathed softly, her breath fogging up the window.
"Yeah ..." Amelia murmured, glancing outside once more before walking toward the group's chosen table, Lina close behind.
At the table, Sylphiel, Gourry, and Zelgadiss were currently pouring over their respective books. Their backpacks were carelessly flung to the side of the wooden chairs they were sitting in and the light from above gleamed on the table's rectangular surface. Around them, a motley of students milled about on the library's carpeted floor, either talking with their friends or studying quietly at their tables. Cozy couches decorated various parts of the library and several people were curled up in them with a cup of hot chocolate bought from the cafe, engrossed in a good book. With the rain splashing down outside, the library was a haven to students seeking warmth and relaxation.
"So, how's things going with research on elves?" Lina asked Sylphiel, adding her books to the many piles already on the table.
"Oh, hello, Lina," Sylphiel greeted, looking up with fatigued eyes. "I'm a little tired, but I'm learning a lot about them."
"There's a lot of useless information in these books," Zelgadiss remarked, tossing the book he was reading to the side. "I'm having trouble finding things on chimera studies."
"What about you, Gourry?" Lina questioned, looking over at the intently concentrating blond male.
"Oh, Lina!" Gourry smiled, holding up his book so that she could see the pretty pictures of the fairies inside. "Look, aren't they pretty?"
Lina pounded Gourry into the ground. "We're finding information, information!" she yelled, a stress mark on her forehead as she glared down at the decidedly dizzy blond.
"But the pictures are so nice ..." Gourry said with swirling eyes.
"Anyway, I've been having problems with finding stuff on mazoku, so I helped Amelia with finding books on dragons for a bit," Lina stated authoritatively as she pulled up a chair and sat down to Sylphiel's upper right, across from Zelgadiss. "No one seems to know much about mazoku. From what I can tell, there's a lower order and higher order mazoku spectrum. White magic is usually effective against lower order mazoku, but divine magic is needed for higher order ones."
"From what I've looked at, Vrumugun was probably part mazoku," Zelgadiss continued as Gourry clumsily sat down to his upper right. "Judging by the red jewel on his forehead, he was a copy who was combined with a higher order mazoku." Clenching his hand together in a tight fist, Zelgadiss muttered darkly, "Figures that Rezo would do something like that."
"Wait a minute, how do you know that Vrumugun was higher order?" Amelia asked in confusion.
"He was still conscious after taking one of the more effective divine magic spells," Lina replied, calmly leaning back against her chair. "I was expecting him to pass out and have his friends come rescue him, but that didn't happen." Looking at Zelgadiss, she grinned and added, "Well, at least that's one reason why I would think Vrumugun was higher order."
"Yes, that's one reason. Another is that he was extremely skilled in magic," Zelgadiss explained, brushing back his bangs from his eyes. "Even mazoku have limits and Vrumugun's seemed to be extremely high."
"The subject that I'm interested in is what each type of magic calls on," Lina mused thoughtfully. "All we've been told were vague descriptions of where the power comes from, but nothing makes sense."
"What do you mean?" Sylphiel asked, tilting her head in confusion.
"Well, black magic usually isn't effective against mazoku for one thing," Lina frowned, tapping the table absently. "But why? Another problem is that divine magic seems to include spells that don't seem to follow the normal spell format."
"You mean how divine magic calls on the power of some kind of entity as well as those of spirits?" Amelia joined in.
Lina nodded. "Take teleport for instance. The words are calling on the power of spirits but why is it called divine magic and not spirit shamanism?"
"No one seems to know about the origins of magic," Zelgadiss said, his brow furrowed in concentration. "I knew about magic before I came here because Rezo taught me, but he never explained the specifics. When I came here, I thought that MS High might, but we were only told that the information was lost in the Dragons and Mazoku Period."
"Anyway, for now, we'll just keep on researching as much as we can about different things that Rezo might throw at us and ways to counteract them," Lina sighed, reaching for one of the books in her pile. Glancing down at her backpack, she slumped forward as she recalled the many homework assignments she still had to do that night. "Tch, at this rate, I'm going to fall behind in school."
"And our rooms are getting so cluttered, too," Amelia moaned, thinking of all the borrowed books scattered on the floor throughout her room.
"I know, when tests are over three weeks from now, let's have some fun and go hang out in Lux City," Sylphiel suggested optimistically.
"I'll go!" Amelia cheered immediately.
"Great idea, Sylphiel," Lina grinned, flashing a thumbs up sign at her friend. "We can cut back and relax for a weekend!"
"I heard that there's some really good restaurants around there," Gourry said brightly, his mouth already watering as he pictured gigantic plates of food.
"What about you, Zelgadiss?" Lina inquired, looking over at the silent male.
"Fine by me," came the cool reply.
The other four sweat-dropped at Zelgadiss' typical response to activities.
"Ok, so we're all going to Lux City at the beginning of December," Lina confirmed, pointing up at the ceiling assertively.
"This will be fun," Sylphiel smiled, her face glowing with happiness.
In the bustling metropolitan center of Lux City, five teenagers were currently strolling down one of the busier avenues. All were dressed in typical winter clothing, namely warm overcoats over thick sweaters and jeans. At the sides of the sidewalk, little clumps of grey unmelted snow lay melting slightly, adding to the feeling of a cold winter's day. Every so often, the late afternoon sunlight briefly filtered through from the overcast sky above, then waned again when another cloud blocked it. There was an atmosphere in the air that was tingling with excitement and the streets reflected that with their cheery decorations.
"Everything's so pretty," Sylphiel breathed out as she glanced at the display of a quaint toy store which featured a miniature evergreen tree. "I really love the month of December."
"What's so good about it?" Zelgadiss muttered under his breath, only to receive a sharp glare from Lina.
"Well, the winter festival is coming up soon," Sylphiel explained with a smile as she continued to walk. "Since the whole school is going to be working on it for the next two weeks, there's just this feeling in the air that something really special is about to happen."
"Something special, huh?" Amelia mused thoughtfully from Sylphiel's right side. Glancing over her shoulder, she sweat-dropped as she observed the oblivious Gourry who had stopped in front of a bakery window in interest.
"Ah, a bakery!" Lina cheered, turning back with the intent to join Gourry.
"Hey, we just got here," Zelgadiss sweat-dropped, already knowing that Lina was a lost cause.
Amelia sighed, shrugging her shoulders as she followed Lina at a more leisurely pace. "Oh well, I suppose we could stop for a while."
Soon, the group of five were situated at the table closest to the front window, each of them with a drink in front of them or in certain cases, a drink and some food. Sipping his hot coffee slowly, Zelgadiss looked to his right outside the window, deliberately tuning out the murmur of conversation in the store. Instead, he focused on the curvy script of the local ice- skating rink across the street.
"Have you ever been ice-skating before, Zelgadiss?" Amelia asked inquisitively from her seat directly across his.
Blinking, Zelgadiss took another sip of his coffee. "Yeah, I've skated a few times."
"Let's go there after!" Lina grinned, dropping her right hand on Zelgadiss' left shoulder, having already finished her food purchase.
"Where are we going?" Gourry piped up, having also made short work of his snack.
"The ice-skating rink," Sylphiel replied with a smile.
"I've never been ice-skating before, but it sounds fun," Gourry grinned, reaching for his cup and gulping down its contents.
A few minutes later, Lina was seriously regretting her choice to leave the warmth of the bakery.
" ... I hahte thihs," she mumbled incoherently from her face-down position just three feet away from the opening into the rink.
"Lina, you've never been ice-skating before, have you," Amelia sweat-dropped as she observed her friend from her position a little bit behind her.
"Oh my, I'm starting to wonder if I should let go," Sylphiel said nervously, looking down at her hands which were currently clenching the side metal railing.
"It's ok, most people fall down once or twice their first time," Amelia comforted as Lina proceeded to get up and fall straight down for the fourth time. " ... Lina's an exception."
"I heard that, Amelia," Lina growled, pushing her face off the floor. Looking down at the ice, she brushed the surface with her right index finger and held it up to the light. "Is there something magical in this stuff that keeps people from walking on it?" she wondered.
"No, that's not it,"Amelia sweat-dropped.
"Tch, ridiculous," Zelgadiss commented, having completed one circle around the open outdoors rink. Stopping with ease directly in front of Lina, he raised an eyebrow. "Haven't figured out how to stand up yet?"
"Hey, Zel, it's harder then it looks," Lina snapped, her eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Just because you know how to skate already ..."
With a small smirk, Zelgadiss gestured toward the easily gliding Gourry who was already experimenting with adjusting his speed.
"Hey, Lina, this is great!" Gourry waved, passing by gracefully amidst the other people who were ice-skating. "You should try this!"
"Hey, Lina!" the red-head imitated brightly, her right hand up in greeting. Then, her face growing dark, she angrily finished, " ... MY ASS!"
And with that, she struggled to her feet again, only to fall backwards this time. Looking up into the blinding afternoon sun, she brought her right forearm to her forehead. " ... This sucks."
Shaking his head in disbelief, Zelgadiss skated over to Lina's side and held out a hand. "Get up," he said gruffly as Lina looked up in confusion. "You look ridiculous down there."
"Hey, show some concern, why don't you," Lina grumbled discontentedly as she took Zelgadiss' hand and was pulled up from the floor.
"Concentrate on just standing for now," Zelgadiss advised, ignoring Lina's remark as well as her death grip on his hand. Then, looking over at Sylphiel and Amelia, he requested, "Amelia, would you help Sylphiel?"
Startled, Amelia nodded, then reached out to Sylphiel for her hand. Hesitating briefly, Sylphiel accepted it, then took one step out onto the ice. By this time, Gourry had observed what was going on and stopped a little in front of the group to watch the impromptu lesson.
"Do you think you can take a step yet?" Zelgadiss was saying now, looking down wryly at Lina's determined face.
Lina nodded and took a step forward, her legs still a little shaky as she did so. Sylphiel watched this and nervously took a step forward as well, following Lina's example.
"Way to go, Sylphiel!" Gourry cheered from the side, waving at the purple-haired girl with a huge grin on his face.
"Ah!" Sylphiel started, looking up from the ground to sight Gourry. Then, smiling as well, she bravely took another few steps forward, this time without Amelia's help.
"Alright, if Sylphiel can do it, so can I!" Lina exclaimed heatedly, releasing her grip on Zelgadiss' hand and gliding forward on her own. A second later, she hit the ice again.
"Lina, you're really bad at this," Amelia murmured in disbelief as she looked down at her twitching friend.
Nearly one hour later, the group of five were sitting comfortably in the indoor cafe at the side of the rink with cups of hot chocolate in front of them.
"It's not fair," Lina pouted as she observed the skaters in the rink while casting a healing spell on her arm. "Why does it take me more than half an hour to get the hang of it while Sylphiel and Gourry figure it out after the first five minutes?!"
Gourry blinked blankly as he set down his cup. "Eh? But it's really easy, Lina. It's just like swordsmanship."
"Gourry, I don't think that you should say ice-skating is easy to Lina," Amelia whispered nervously as she watched Lina's aura flare up.
"Eh? Why not? It really is easy," Gourry said naively.
A five feet radius of empty space immediately formed around the clueless blond as Lina predictably leapt across the table and began beating him up.
"Lina's really violent, isn't she ..." Amelia sighed as she looked on at the choke hold Gourry was in courtesy of one red-haired girl. Then, pausing, she squinted at a poster put up on the wall a few feet to the right of the battling duo.
"What is it?" Zelgadiss questioned, immediately noticing Amelia's lack of attention.
"I don't know," Amelia mused thoughtfully, tilting her head to get a better look at the paper. "Looks like an advertisement of some sort."
"An advertisement?" Sylphiel repeated curiously, getting up from her seat to walk toward the poster. Stopping in front of it, she studied it with interest for a moment. "I think that it's an ice-skating contest for MS High on the day of the winter festival," she said in surprise.
"Let's see, all students of MS High may participate in this magic-using pair skating contest," Amelia read, moving to Sylphiel's side, Zelgadiss right behind her. "The competition is split into grade levels with each pair required to come up with their own routine. Music may be of any length and type as long as the total time is less than 5 minutes. First place is awarded 100 credits and three honorable mentions are awarded 50."
"MONEY?!" a shout came from behind. "WHERE, WHERE, WHERE?!"
"Lina, do you have some money-mentioning radar?" Amelia sweat-dropped as Lina suddenly popped up in front of her, Gourry forgotten on the floor.
"Hmm, an ice-skating competition with magic involved, huh?" Lina grinned, her eyes shining like stars as she thought of the prize money. Then, whirling around, she slapped a certain lavender-haired teenager on the shoulder hard. "Zelgadiss, you're going to be my partner, right?"
"HEH?!" Zelgadiss sputtered, the shock overcoming the desire to wince in pain. "WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?!"
"Well, you're pretty good at normal ice-skating and your magic's up to my level," Lina reasoned with a completely serious face. "And since I don't particularly feel like working with someone I don't know, that leaves you!"
"Lina!" Amelia protested, her hands clenched in frustration. "No fair, I wanted to pair up with Zelgadiss!"
"Sorry, Amelia, you'll get another chance next year!" Lina grinned, her hands at the back of her head nonchalantly.
Pouting, Amelia latched onto Zelgadiss' left arm. "No way! You're just saying that so I'll leave you alone this year! Knowing you, you'll take him next year, too!"
"Tch, she knows me too well," Lina muttered darkly under her breath. Then, recovering almost instantly, she grabbed onto Zelgadiss' right arm. "Hmph! Too bad, Zelgadiss is my partner and that's that!"
"No, he's mine!"
"STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!" Zelgadiss yelled, wrenching himself free from both girls' grasps.
After a moment of silence, Lina shrugged banally. "Fine, have it your way," she said calmly. "We'll both have Zelgadiss as our partner."
"Will they allow that?" Amelia asked, a frown of uncertainty on her face.
"They will unless if they want to get a Lina Inverse Special Attack," Lina smirked evilly while cracking her knuckles in anticipation of what she was planning on doing.
"Hey, don't I get a say in this ..." Zelgadiss sweat-dropped from his slumped position between the two girls.
Meanwhile, Sylphiel was standing next to the now standing Gourry, her hands held together shyly. "Um, Gourry, there's this paired ice-skating competition coming up and ... and I was wondering if you would ... if you would ..."
"Be your partner?" Gourry finished with a smile. "Sure!"
Sylphiel looked up in surprise, then blushed slightly as she smiled up at Gourry happily. "Thank you, Gourry!"
"So you're paired with Gourry, Sylphiel?" Lina commented, walking up to the couple cheerfully, Amelia and a muttering Zelgadiss right behind her. "You're going to have a tough time since you're the only one who can cast magic."
"I'll be ok," Sylphiel assured Lina pleasantly. Then, looking up at Gourry, she beamed and added, "Besides, Gourry's really good with a sword, so we can do something with that."
"Then let's go practice more on the ice now!" Lina cheered, already heading toward the rink. "Since I can use magic, I should have no problems with standing up!"
"Lina, that's not something to be proud of," Amelia sweat-dropped at the side as she followed her friend out of the cafe as well.
"Why me, why me, why me ..." Zelgadiss muttered darkly under his breath as he plodded to the exit.
Gourry scratched his head in confusion as he watched Zelgadiss walk away. "Hey, did something happen to him?"
"Uh, I guess you could say that," Sylphiel said in embarrassment, recalling Lina and Amelia's little fight over him earlier. Then, shaking her head, she took Gourry's hand in hers and pulled him after her. "Anyway, let's go, Gourry!"
"Eh? Already?" was Gourry's confused statement as he was pulled out the door.
Laughing happily, Sylphiel called over her shoulder, "Of course! After all, we don't want to let Lina get too much of a head start, right?"
"Wow ..." Amelia breathed, pausing in front of the entrance to the school's arena in surprise.
"What happened here?!" Lina exclaimed, coming to a halt as well.
"Huh? What is it?" Sylphiel asked curiously, peering around Lina's shoulder. Her eyes widened when she saw the inside of the arena. "How pretty!"
What they were all referring to was the ice-covered ground of the arena which had definitely not been there last Friday. At the moment, bright sunlight shone from the blazing winter's sun above to reflect on the clear glass-like surface.
Taking a hesitant step onto the ice, Lina wryly remarked, "No wonder they moved swordsmanship. But what is this for?"
"It's for the ice-skating competition during the winter festival," Lanz answered from behind the three girls. Raising a hand in greeting, he grinned and added, "Well, it's also convenient as a honing training for what we've learned so far."
"Honing what we've learned so far?" Amelia repeated, a baffled expression on her face.
"Go up to the stands and put on some ice-skates first," Lanz directed, gesturing to his right at the half gathered class. "I'll explain everything to the class as a whole once everyone gets here." Then, seeing that another batch of shocked students had made it to the entrance of the arena, he sighed and walked off to them for another explanation of what was going on.
"Do you think that Lanz is going to give us tips on how to do well in the skating competition?" Amelia wondered aloud as the three walked up the stairs into the marble stands.
"Could be," Lina shrugged, her hands linked behind her head lazily. Then, sighting Zelgadiss and Gourry talking to each other, she grinned and waved. "Zel! Gourry!"
"Oh, Lina!" Gourry waved, looking up from tying the laces of his ice-skates. "Guess what? I've been chosen to demonstrate for your class this period!"
"Eh? What for?" Lina inquired, sitting down at Gourry's side and across from Zelgadiss, who was leaning on the front railing of the stands.
"I'm not sure."
Lina face-faulted. "You ..."
"Oh, class is beginning," Gourry noted, pointing down at Lanz.
"Students, I'm sure all of you are wondering what's going on here," Lanz announced, his voice booming in the silent arena. "By this point, all of you should know about the winter festival coming up in a little less than three weeks. And, of course, the week that it falls under will be a vacation week."
Grinning, Lanz paused for a moment, savoring the word. "Ah, vacation, some time to work on that dangerous look I've got going at last!" Then, clearing his throat while the rest of the class sweat-dropped, he quickly switched back to teacher mode. "Anyway, because of this winter festival, classes will be shorter than usual for the week of school before vacation begins. The remaining time will be spent in preparation for the festival, which will be set up around this arena."
The blue-haired male paused for a moment to let this sink in, then continued, "The main event of the festival is a paired ice-skating competition which involves the use of magic. That will take place here, but in the meantime, we will be using this rink to hone the magic that we've learned so far the first half of the period. In the second half, all of you can either practice more or work on your routine for the competition if you plan on participating." Looking up into the stands, he called out, "Gourry, would you please come down here?"
"Guess this is my cue," Gourry grinned, getting up and leaping into the air, easily flipping over the railings to end up standing next to Lanz on the ice.
"Gourry here is great at swordsmanship," Lanz gestured toward the blond male. "And perfect swordsmanship requires swiftness and balance. For our first exercise, we will be attempting to imitate the form that Gourry will be showing us."
Snapping his fingers, Lanz muttered a quick spell under his breath so that a line of orange cones suddenly appeared stretching from one end of the arena to the other. "Gourry, I want you to skate between the cones from here to the opposite end," Lanz requested, demonstrating what he wanted with the first two cones.
Nodding, Gourry placed one foot behind the other, his face setting into one of concentration. Then, in a sudden movement, he pushed off with his back foot and darted between the first two cones at an almost inhuman speed. Before he had even strayed too far from the next cone, though, he pushed off with the outer foot and glided between the next set of cones easily. In awe, the members of the class watched the blond clear every single one of the spaces flawlessly over and over again.
"This is the form that we will be trying to achieve," Lanz narrated as he watched Gourry in approval. "Very few people can match this with natural ability and even fewer can match it using magic." Pausing for a moment, Lanz grinned and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Well, what are all of you waiting for? Get down here so I can show you what to do!"
After a few minutes, the class was standing at attention in front of a set of cones, every single student interested in what Lanz was about to teach.
"Levitation is one of the basics for speed on ice," Lanz explained, casting said spell as he spoke. "If you can control this spell well, you will be able to make yourself lighter and thus maneuver around on the ice with more ease. However, the real challenge is to make your skating believable, something you must be able to do if you plan on entering the competition. This is the part that requires intense skill and concentration!"
To demonstrate this, Lanz pushed off with one foot so that he glided along the ice smoothly. Then, turning again, he continued, "Once you have this mastered, other spells can be added on. For instance, to do a jump spin, a manipulation of wind can be used such as diem wind or wind brid. At any rate, for now, we're not worrying about the harder bits." Then, raising an eyebrow, he looked at the crowd of students in amusement. "Well, do I have five volunteers to start?"
One hour later, Lina leaned against the side wall of the arena taking deep gulps of air, a huge grin on her face. "Looks like the practice on Saturday paid off," she stated confidently even as another student crashed into the wall beside her. "This is a piece of cake!"
"Don't get too confident yet," Zelgadiss advised, skidding to a smooth half next to Lina. "We only have two weeks to get ready for the competition and we still have a lot to learn."
"I know that," Lina sulked, her mouth set in a small pout.
"Alright, the first half of the period is over," Lanz announced from the sidelines, snapping his fingers so that only a few rows of cones remained. "The rest of the time is yours!"
"You heard him, Zel, let's start practicing!" Lina grinned, turning to her right to face a resigned Zelgadiss.
"Hey, what about me?!" Amelia protested, skating to a halt in between the two. "Did you ask the head principal yet if Zelgadiss could be paired up with both of us?"
With an assured smile, Lina tossed her hair over her shoulder and smugly replied, "Of course, I went before school and asked."
"And what did he say?" Amelia asked anxiously.
"It's fine," Lina reassured Amelia cheerily, winking at her friend. "He said that he would make an exception for us." Then, with a more serious face, she suggested, "Why don't we switch off practice days, Amelia? I'll practice with Zel today and you get him tomorrow, alright?"
"I suppose so ..." Amelia agreed hesitantly.
"So it's set then," Lina concluded enthusiastically. "Zel, let's go!"
"Sure, why even fight it?" the luckless lavender-haired male muttered as he shrugged and followed Lina to the other corner of the rink to join Sylphiel and Gourry.
In the shadowed entrance of the arena, one spectator watched the proceedings, an emotionless expression on his face. As he observed the movements of one particular girl on the ice, his mouth twisted upwards into a cruel smile. Then, brushing back his brown bangs, he pushed himself off the wall and turned his back on the scene. As he walked away, his long tan trench coat billowed in the chilled winter's air, a single speck in the desolate area around the arena. Lina Inverse, I look forward to seeing what you will do ...
Hmm ... the ending of this part seemed kind of abrupt, huh? Well, the reason is because I was starting to feel like I was straying a bit from the main story line with the ice-skating competition, so I decided to put that on its own as an interlude. I'm working on that right now and for those who are curious what the routines will be like, stay tuned! Also, did you pay attention to Amelia in this part? Actually, there was a little bit of foreshadowing for almost all of my main characters in this part. The reason? Well, I'm actually planning to do sidestories featuring each member of the Slayers gang starting with Amelia. All of them will be focused on their past, but don't worry, they'll all connect to the main story in some way! Thanks for reading this far, I really appreciate it when people email me every once in a while to tell me that they like my work. Sorry I took so long with my delays, but I am still writing so don't give up on me yet!
Part 5 | Fanfiction