Slayers:Volume 09 Chapter 3

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Magic Sword? Finders, Keepers!



"Eeeeek!"

Well, I couldn't blame Sherra for shrieking in surprise. Even I was pretty shocked, faced with a small army of minor demons.

The demons, agitated by Sherra's outburst, turned as one to face us. With Sherra gasping beside me, I quietly cast a spell, but the demons all roared in unison before I could finish! An impossible number of spells flew through the air straight at us, far too many to possibly dodge.

Luke stepped forward, drawing his sword. A dim glow came into existence around the blade - was it a magic sword? Raising his weapon high, he cried, "Demon Gale Strike!" and swung down. A pale plane of air tore through the air, easily dispersing the spells headed our way. What was that? Diem Wind?

Hmm...

Luke turned to face us, beaming with pride. "Did you see that, Milina? I-"

"Brag later," Milina interrupted, leaving Luke standing with a crestfallen expression on his face.

I was only dimly aware of their exchange, though - I was far more concerned with what Luke had done just moments ago. Without any discernible casting, without any visible preparation, his sword had produced a spell with power equal to, or even greater than, a Diem Wind. A magic sword of considerable power, then. Even if producing Diem Wind was all it could do, it still meant that the sword gave its wielder the ability to take on incorporeal beings like pure mazoku.

I'd have to buy it from him later - cheaply, of course. But this was no time for price haggling. First, we had to take care of the enemies in front of us.

"Astral Break!" Milina said, taking the initiative. A lesser demon took the full brunt of her spell and soundlessly dissolved into a pile of dust. Simultaneously, Luke and Gourry charged at the demons to both sides, their swords held ready. And... last, but not least, I let loose my magic!

"Zelas Brid!" A ribbon of light shot out of my hand, cleanly impaling two demons at once. Following my will, the spell changed direction, killing another demon before disippating silently into the night air. I could hear heavy thuds in the darkness - Gourry and Luke had both taken care of one each. That left...

"Above you!"

Milina's warning barely registered to my senses before a shadow above me blocked out the moon. I leaped back just in time to avoid being squashed by a lesser demon. They were on the rooftops, too? I scrambled to my feet, falling into a ready stance, but the demon wasn't looking at me. Its eyes were fixed on Sherra, instead.

Damn! Neither Milina or I would be able to get a spell ready in time...

The lesser demon raised its right arm high, its claws glinting wickedly in the moonlight.

Instead of running away like I'd hoped, Sherra actually moved forward, stepping in front of the demon and planting her right fist squarely in the demon's flank. It didn't even look like a very strong punch, but the lesser demon twitched once... and fell over without a sound, unmoving. What in the world?

"Nobody told me she was that strong..." I muttered.

Sherra must have heard me, because she flushed, her voice taking on a slight hint of embarrassment. "I do not recall ever saying I was weak," she said defensively, her fingers playing nervously with her pigtail.

Come to think of it, it had looked like she avoided the knife just a few minutes ago...

Anyway, that meant there was just one less thing to worry about. I turned my attention back to the fight. Let's see... how many were left?

"Gourry! How many left on your side?" I called over my shoulder. Probably no more than two or three, knowing his skills, but it was always prudent to check.

"I don't know! There's two or three left over here!"

Not quite what I'd been expecting. What did he mean by, over here?

"Same here!" Luke shouted, apparently having overheard us. "But I think I can hear a commotion a few blocks over, too! You think there's other groups of demons in the village?"

Other groups? I couldn't hear anything except the demons we were fighting, but I could make sure easily enough.

"Raywing!" I said, rising straight up into the night sky. I looked around and-

"What?!"

I almost lost control of my spell in my surprise, the barrier of wind wavering unsteadily. There were flames shooting up all over the town! I couldn't make anything out clearly, but if this was all the work of demons, that means there might be a hundred or more scattered across the area. I'd thought that the demons had been summoned by the men in black, but that obviously wasn't the case.

The exact number varied according to the caster, but it was common knowledge that most sorcerers could only summon and reliably control up to two minor demons at a time. In other words, if the men in black were behind this, it meant they numbered at least two or three score. With numbers like that, they wouldn't have needed to summon demons in the first place - they'd have been more than a match for the five of us.

Still... they'd appeared too suddenly for it to have been a random attack by a band of wild demons. There would have been some sort of uproar as they approached from outside, but from my vantage point high in the iar, I could see flames rising from all over, not just at the outskirts of town. What in the world was going on?

A dim light made itself known at the corner of my eye. It was close - disturbingly so. Reflexively, I turned to stare at it, and just glimpsed a black silhouette in the small flare. One of the men in black? Wait, that meant the light was...

A Fireball!

I dropped just as he threw the spell at me. I almost made it... but the Fireball exploded above me, the force of the explosion driving me straight into the wall of a house. I bounced off of it and slammed into the ground. If not for the barrier of air still surrounding me, I might have been seriously injured, or worse.

Shaking cobwebs from my vision, I got to my feet, dispelling Raywing and leaning for support against the wall. "Look out, all of you!" I called. "The men in black are still around! They might try to sneak up on us while we're busy with these demons!"

In a situation like this, the men in black would be able to act with impunity; any damage they caused would be chalked up to the demons.

"On the rooftops as well?" Milina asked. I nodded.

"There was one up there."

"Then we should take care of him first," she said, coming to stand beside me.

"Right."

I gave her a curt nod and we both started preparing our spells.

"Levitation!"

Milina's spell must have had some sort of modification, because we started rising far faster than normal. Not as fast as Raywing, but much faster than usual for a Levitation spell.

Soon, were above the roofs. I took a look around, and... there! A hint of movement in the moonlight was all it took for me to see them. I grinned, letting loose the spell I'd already prepared in that direction.

"Dam Brass!"

The man in black jumped to the side just before my spell collapsed the part of the roof he was standing on... but the area where he landed caved in as well! My Dam Brass had been enhanced with my talismans, the destructive power of the structure demolishing spell becoming far greater than normal.

The man tried desperately to retain his footing, but he had nowhere to go and fell through the hole caused by his own weight. He managed to land on his feet with a dull thud, but unfortunately for him, he'd landed right next to a lesser demon! With a low growl, it let loose with a volley of Flare Arrows, engulfing the man in hungry crimson flames.

He must have been hiding some sort of black powder in his clothes. With an earsplitting boom, the man actually exploded in a ball of fire, taking the demon with him.

With this, I could be sure the men in black weren't working together with the demons. There were sure to be more hiding in the area, but for now I couldn't see them. Our work done, Milina and I descended.

"Almost done over here!" Luke called as soon as we landed.

"Here, too!" Gourry cried. It looked like the situation was well under control... here, at least. But there were still a lot of demons in town.

"All right! Let's keep up the pace and beat up the rest of these freaks!"

I received three enthusiastic affirmatives, and one disbelieving shriek, courtesy of Sherra, in reply.



"Goo... guh... g'mornin..." I said slowly, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

"It's lunchtime," Milina replied, as calm as always. Everyone, even Sherra, was already gathered at the table.

I shrugged. "Can't help it. We only got to bed around dawn, after all. Hey, innkeeper? Can I get a chicken and steak set, a fried fish set, and a noodle soup over here?"

Having ordered a light breakfast, I sat down next to Gourry.

Last night - well, technically speaking, this morning - the sun had begun to rise by the time the last demon dissolved into dust.

of course, we hadn't been the only ones out there than night. Soldiers from neighboring large cities and mages from the Sorcerer's Guild had been there as well, fighting alongside us. A lot of the town had been demolished, but at least we'd managed to take care of all the demons and keep the town from being completely destroyed. Thankfully, the inn we'd been staying at had been untouched.

But...

"But we lost the men in black," Luke grumbled, spearing a piece of cream sautéed flounder with his fork.

"Yeah. Looks like all we really managed to do was protect Sherra."

"Excuse me? Protect?" Sherra asked, giving me a pointed stare. "Forgive me, Miss Lina. I was not aware that shoving people off of rooftops and forcing them to fight dozens of lesser demons passed for protecting."

Bah! What a smartass! "Well... umm... right! I just did that because I knew how skilled your really were, all along!"

Sherra just rolled her eyes and gave a derisive snort.

"Anyway," Gourry interrupted, fixing Sherra with his gaze. "Don't you think it's about time you told us about yourself?"

"Umm..." Sherra looked away, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

"I think I remember Lina telling me about you, but I wasn't listening at all, so..."

I slammed my fist on the table, completely flabbergasted.

"You weren't listening at all!?"

"Well... heheh. Yeah," Gourry said, scratching the back of his head and laughing sheepishly. "Uhh... well, I might have heard it, but I don't really remember a thing, so technically it's the same as if I'd never paid attention in the first place..."

"Stop stammering! Wait, does that mean you've just been following me around without thinking at all?"

"Umm... I guess?"

"I told you not to stammer!" I shouted, driving my elbow into his temple. "Listen up, because I'm only saying it again for you once! I wanted to get a magic sword for you, so we're following Sherra around and being nice to her because she looks like she might have one and we have to get on her good side, okay?"

"My, you really are phrasing it quite simply," Sherra said, looking annoyed for some reason. Couldn't imagine why.

Anyway. "So, all joking aside..."

"Was it? Was it really a joke? What you just said?"

"All joking aside," I gritted, ignoring Sherra, "I bet you have your own worries and concerns. Probably a lot of stuff you don't want to talk about. But I don't think this is the kind of situation that'll go away just because you try to ignore it."

Sherra pointedly ignored me, deliberately fixing her gaze somewhere else.

I tried harder. "Look, Sherra. This is just a guess, but... you know something about what's going on, don't you? There's something about the sword in Bezeld that's related to the sudden appearance of demons..."

"What?" Luke shouted, unable to contain his surprise. Beside him, Milina merely raised one pale eyebrow. Gourry, of course, stayed blissfully unaware as always.

Sherra just let out a heavy sigh and said nothing, a silence falling over our group.

The innkeeper came with our food, but through a supreme exertion of willpower, I ignored it and stayed where I was, quietly looking at Sherra.

At length, Sherra opened her mouth. "That... well..." she said reluctantly. "When he was drunk, my father... always used to say that the sword was something that should never have been brought into this world."

Bingo. It was a sword.

With another superhuman effort, I kept myself from grabbing Sherra by the collar and shaking her until she spilled everything about the sword.

"He said it was a sword that created evil... a thing that should never see the light of day..."

"A sword that... creates evil?"

We all leaned in closer unconsciously.

"Yes. He didn't tell me the details, but if what he said truly does have something to do with the sudden appearance of demons... If someone, or something, has unleashed the powers of the sword... then I must put a stop to it," she said, more to herself than to us.

"I see. So you're heading towards Bezeld to try and do something about it by yourself?"

Sherra nodded.

"But do you know how you're going to go about doing it?" Milina asked quietly.

"Well... umm..." Sherra stammered, biting her lip. Normally, there would have been an awkward silence, but Luke took care of that for us.

"All right, Sherra! Leave it to us! We'll take care of it!" he cried, banging his chest with one fist.

"Do you have anything to stake your word on?" Milina asked, looking mildly annoyed.

"Nope!" Luke said, not looking the least bit cowed. "I don't, but my word is my honor! That's what it means to be a man!"

"Silly and childish," Milina said, a small smile appearing on her face. "Silly, but I can't say I dislike that side of you."

"You can't say you dislike it?" Luke repeated, his eyes shining. "Does that mean you're finally ready to accept my love?"

Milina's tone turned brisk once more. "We don't have time to joke around. Let's hear the rest of what you have to say."

"Jo, joke around? I wasn't joking..." Luke sniffled, looking heartbroken. His sadness didn't last long, though.

"Bah! Though you might be cold to me now, the day will come when my efforts bear fruit! I'll never give up!" he shouted suddenly, in such a loud voice that everyone turned to look at us. Apparently the word "embarrassment" wasn't in Luke's dictionary... though it was in mine.

I had to change the subject. If I didn't, who knows what kind of sappy nonsense Luke might start spouting?

"But anyway, assuming that the sword is literally a sword that 'creates evil,' and it's behind the sudden rash of demon appearances, it's not such a stretch to see why the men in black are after it... Since they're probably the secret force of some king or lord."

"Why's that?" Gourry asked, tilting his head to one side.

"You really don't understand? it's because a sword like that has lots of potential for military use."

"Military use? But didn't you say it created demons? Why would anyone want to bring something that dangerous to their home?"

"That's why they'd do the opposite. For example, you could hide the sword in an enemy country's lands and set it to automatically summon demons. Then that country's military force would be worn thin without you having to even lift a finger. You could take that opportunity to invade, or even absorb the lands into your own under the pretense of helping them rebuild. In other words, it's much, much more effective and efficient than going to war."

"Wow, I see. It's amazing how you come up with sinister plans like that so eas... err, I mean, it's nothing. Never mind." Gourry's sudden silence might have had something to do with the venomous glare I sent his way.

"Yeah, the world'd be plunged into chaos if someone as dastardly as Lina Inverse ever got their hands on that sword," Luke commented casually, not one to miss such a ripe opportunity.

"Who're you calling dastardly, huh?"

"Well, I don't think I have to repeat myself."

"Bah!" I opened my mouth to deliver a stinging retort.

"But enough clowning around," Luke said, cutting me off before I could even begin. "Assuming for a moment that a sword like that really exists, there's no way we can let those men get their hands on it."

"Grrr... Well... I guess you're right," I growled, reluctant to let such a slight go unpunished. I couldn't continue the argument now that we'd moved on to more serious topics, though. I silently struggled with the urge to argue, shelved the issue for the moment, and nodded.

"I've got a proposal to make," Luke said.

"A proposal?"

"Mhmm. I just want to make sure with Sherra: if we can put a stop to these demon raids with the sword somehow, then it shouldn't matter what we do with it afterwards, right? As long as nobody uses it for evil, that is. Like say for example that one of us happens to take it."

"What? Ah... yes. I would be reluctant to pay you money, but just taking the sword doesn't seem like it would be so out of the question..." Sherra replied uncertainly. Did she even know how much a magic sword might sell for? Or maybe she thought that a sword that just summoned demons wouldn't be of much worth?

"Good." Luke snapped his fingers and turned to us.

"Next, you two. I'm guessing you wouldn't agree to joining us on the condition that we split the profits from the sword fifty-fifty."

"Right," I said, nodding. We were after the sword solely to use it. Though I guess we could pay Luke and Milina our "half" and take it... losing money like that wouldn't sit well with me, especially when there was the chance we could get it for free.

"So, hear me out. The five of us'll band together to beat the men in black."

"Didn't you just say that we couldn't work together?"

"Let me finish, Miss Lina. We'll join forces to take on those men, and also to take care of this sudden demon invasion. If the sword's still safe and sound once everything's said and done, the first side to lay hands on it, gets it. The losers give up cleanly, no bad blood. How's that?"

So that's how they were coming out, huh? Well...

"Is that so? I've got to make sure of something before I reply. What if we have to break the sword in order to stop the demon summonings?"

It was only a fleeting moment, but Luke's expression changed before he hastily covered it up.

Luke was in this solely for the money to be gained from selling the sword. In other words, if we had to destroy it to stop the demons from appearing, he'd lose everything. On the other hand, we were out to use it - if the sword really did summon demons uncontrollably, we had nothing to lose from getting rid of it. His proposal had inadvertently turned out to be heavily skewed in our favor.

"Well... uh..." Luke stammered. Pinned by my implacable stare and Sherra's pleading gaze, he laughed awkwardly. "Of... of course that ain't a problem! Putting an end to this mess is what we should be focusing on, after all!"

"Good. We're in. Is that okay with you, Sherra?"

"Of course. Anything that will end the demon attacks. The sword is in an abandoned mine, in the mountains north of Bezeld. I will explain further when we arrive."

"It's settled, then! A truce until this whole chaos is over, no cheating!" I paused and looked over at Luke. "Say. This might seem a bit out of the blue, but your sword is an enchanted one too, isn't it?"

"Huh? Well, yeah. I don't know who made it, though."

Right! My suspicions were confirmed! Now to go into the haggling stage! Hopefully I could get it cheap.

"Hey, look. How about selling that sword to us? Come on, I'll pay you five hundred thirty coppers!"

Judging from the dumbfounded expressions on Luke and Milina's faces, they weren't too thrilled.

"What? Five hundred and thirty copper coins?"

"That's right. Quite a bargain, don't you think?"

"A bargain?" Luke repeated, clear disbelief in his voice.

Couldn't imagine why. It was only twenty coppers less than what I'd offered for the Sword of Light back when I first met Gourry. I couldn't offer more than that for a sword that could only generate Diem Wind! It was smart bargaining; any merchant would agree. Though for some reason, normal people liked to call it highway robbery...

"I'll have you know that Gourry here handed over a much more impressive sword for only five hundred fifty! Though I don't have it any more..."

"I did not!"

I shot Gourry a venomous glare to shut him up. He glared right back.

"I can't sell my sword at that price," Luke said, leaning back in his chair and kicking his feet up onto the table. "Maybe for five hundred thirty billion," he added casually.

It was my turn to be shocked. "Fi, five hundred thirty billion!?"

I'd heard some outrageous prices in my time, but... who the hell did he think I was? A king or something?

"I take it you don't want to sell, then."

"Not to a cheapskate like you," Luke shot back.

Mm... Well, so much for that. I'd just have to place my hopes on the sword in Bezeld!

If we found the sword, it was ours for free, but if Luke got to it first, we'd have to pay. Considering the average price of a magic sword, there was an awful lot on the line. Not to mention, we didn't even know where the sword was. Come to think of it, we didn't even know if there was a sword in the first place.

All the proof we had that the sword existed was the word of Sherra's drunkard father. It was entirely possible that there wasn't any sword at all, and the demons had come about because of some other, completely unrelated event.

But... to be honest, worrying about that kind of thing was ultimately pointless. For now, a sudden and uneasy alliance, destined to break up from the moment of its birth, had been formed.



The village of Bezeld was ominously still, just as I'd expected from a place where a demon outbreak had begun. The streets were clean, the usual sidewalk merchants hawking their wares nowhere to be seen. Many houses were empty, the inhabitants fled to parts unknown. Stationed around the town were soldiers, their faces hard and cold. A great silence hung over the entire town, and even though it was around lunchtime, practically nobody could be seen in the town square. As if the land itself was shaking with fear.

...At least...

That's what I'd been expecting.

Contrary to my expectations, Bezeld was the very picture of a peaceful and lively town. Merchants had set up stalls all along the streets, horses drew heavy wagons through the crowd, the stores were full of people, and children darted around, their carefree cheers adding to the general hubbub. The only real difference I could tell was that perhaps there were more guards and hired sorcerers around than normal.

From what our innkeeper told us, there had been a scare recently as villagers wondered whether Bezeld would be next in line to be attacked, but as the nearby towns started to fall, the people began to think that perhaps staying where they were would be safer. After all, there were a lot of soldiers stationed at Bezeld, so the townspeople figured that home was as safe a place as any.

Still, as I sat looking down on the village from our rented room, I thought at least it wouldn't have hurt them to look a little jittery. Magic lights illuminated the dusky streets, and even from where I was, I could hear the rowdy sounds of merrymaking from the taverns.

It wasn't even close to midnight, but it was a fair ways into the night all the same. If the villagers had been even a little anxious about the possible attack of demons, it was well past time for them to hole up in their houses... but from what I could see, there were plenty of men and women walking around in the dimly lit pathways, seemingly unconcerned. There were even people entering and leaving the inn we were staying-

Wait.

I frowned and squinted, leaning over the windowsill a little. A girl had just left the inn, and from what I'd seen before she disappeared into the darkness, I'd bet good money it'd been Sherra.

There was a good chance the men in black were hiding somewhere in Bezeld, and Sherra surely knew that as well. So why had she left without a word of notice to us? I mulled over it a little. That's right! The innkeeper back at Sherra's town had said she might have been born here. Hmm...

The curiosity inside me reared its ugly head, battering me with questions. Sherra's past had seemed a troubled one so I hadn't asked too many questions, but come to think of it, there were a lot of whos and hows and whys about her that I didn't know the answers to. Who was her mother? Was she really born in Bezeld? My mind produced more queries at a steady rate.

Mmm. I only gave it a moment's thought before snagging my cloak and throwing it over my shoulders, heading downstairs and out into the hallway. After Sherra it was.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I wasn't going after her because of simple curiosity. I'm not the prying type like that. I was just heading after Sherra in case the men in black showed up. Why was I sneaking behind her, unnoticed? Well... that is, I was a little curious as to where she was going, and...

Right. That wasn't important. I stepped outside and looked around, hoping for a glimpse of-

There! I caught a glimpse of Sherra in the dim arcane lights, heading away from the inn. I slipped silently into the shadows, following her. She headed a short way along a big street, then turned, entering a side street. I couldn't see her face from where I stood, but from the way she'd paused a little before moving, it almost seemed as though she was nervous. I had only followed her for a little while when she suddenly ducked into an even narrower alley. I guess she had a lot on her mind - she didn't even look over her shoulder once, heading farther and farther away from the center of the village.

Sherra accosted by drunkards

Little by little, the tavern lights faded away, the magic flares keeping the dark at bay growing fewer and farther between. She obviously wasn't heading into the best neighborhood. Even as the thought occurred to me, Sherra stopped dead in my tracks. I hid myself hastily, but it wasn't me she'd noticed.

"Oi, little lady. What'sh a shweet girl like yas doin' alone inna place like this?"

It was a group of four men, run of the mill street trash, from the looks of them. One of them swaggered up, his ugly grin made only uglier by his scruffy and unkempt beard.

"'sh not safe fer a girl like yas t'go alone," he slurred, obviously more than a little drunk. "Howsh about me'n me pals here escort ya?"

"I'm busy," Sherra replied tersely. "Please stand aside."

"Haw haw!" the man guffawed. "Didja hear that? 'I'm busy,' she says! 'Please stand ash, ash, ashide!' As pretty as yer please!

"I dunno whatcher out here t'do, little lady, but whaddya shay 'bout fergettin' that an' havin' some fun with ush, eh? Whaddya shay?"

"I'm busy." This time, her tones were positively glacial. "Please stand aside."

Heh. Poor fools. They wouldn't know what hit them.

"Aww, don't be shuch a, a, a bitch. C'mere, you," the bearded man said, reaching toward Sherra with one hand.

Just when I expected Sherra to grab the lout's arm and deliver a resounding blow, the bearded man disappeared!

"Guh!"

The grunt hadn't come from any of the four men, but from Sherra. She collapsed forward, the bearded man easily catching her limp body.

The man had dodged her blow, ducking under her swing and planting his fist squarely into her kidneys. It wasn't the kind of maneuver I'd expect from a drunken ne'er-do-well... That meant-

I hastily began casting a spell, running out towards the men.

"Flare Arrow!"

Two of the men who'd been standing to the side suddenly turned to me, bolts of flame bursting from their hands. With a yelp I threw myself sideways into a nearby alley, the fire splashing harmlessly off the bricks. They'd known I was there!

The bearded man turned away with Sherra as the men who'd attacked me stepped forward. "Lina Inverse, I'll leave you with these two gentlemen. Now if you'll excuse me, Sherra and I must be on our way." His voice was perfectly clear, not even slightly slurred. And familiar, at that... Wait a minute!

"Zain!"

Damn it! I hadn't expected such a secretive group to appear disguised as a bunch of drunkards, especially with their faces unmasked. I shoved the thought away and took a quick breather, considering the situation. Zain disappeared with one of his men into a nearby alley, leaving two enemies behind. Hah! They thought just two men would be enough to keep me occupied?

I placed my palm flat against the nearby wall and whispered a word of power under my voice. "Van Rail!"

Immediately, tiny spiderwebs of ice branched off from where my hand met the stones, racing off across the ground. Anyone who had the bad luck to be entangled in these magical vines would instantly be bound in place, or worse, completely encased in a block of solid ice.

My thoughts were cut short as a well placed Flare Arrow hit the ground, evaporating the ice. I see - they were holding their spells ready, waiting for me to make a move out of my alley. They were only buying time while Zain made his getaway. Like I'd let them!

I activated my talismans. Darting out from the alley, I thrust my hands forward and cried, "Diem Wind!"

Backed by the power of four demon kings, my spell packed a far greater punch than the men had imagined, the fierce howl of wind drowning out even their surprised cries. In a narrow alley like this, the gale became only fiercer, sending them flying away. All right, time to make my move! I ran out into the open, sprinting into the alley Zain and his friend had entered.

A fork in the street loomed suddenly before me. Left? Right? Which way should I go?

A ringing voice from above solved my dilemma for me. "Freeze Arrow!"

I dove to the side, barely avoiding the half dozen bolts of ice that speared the ground where I'd been standing. A quick glance upwards revealed the man who'd gone with Zain moments before, looking down at me from a rooftop. Another attempt to stall me, then. Zain was probably already a fair distance away by now - I really didn't have any time to spare fighting this guy.

The choice was clear. I began the incantation for Raywing - I had to get into the air, out of the narrow alleyway. The barrier of air would probably deflect any spells the man above me got off, and I needed the view. But the man turned away and vanished into the darkness while I was casting.

Damn! That could only mean he didn't feel the need to stall me any longer. In other words, Zain and Sherra were already out of my reach...



"Now what?!" Luke shouted, banging the table with one fist.

I'd searched in vain for Zain and Sherra from the air, but all for naught. Even the two men I'd sent flying with Diem Wind had been gone when I went back to check. I decided it would be hopeless to continue the search by myself and headed back to the inn to explain the situation...

"This ain't something you can just gloss over," Luke continued, obviously incensed. "They're after the information in Sherra's head, y'know! Who knows what kind of horrible things they'll do for it? Are you gonna take responsibility for that?"

Needless to say, I had no witty retort. If I'd just shouted out when I noticed Sherra leaving, or if I hadn't let my guard down when Sherra had been accosted by Zain and his men pretending to be drunkards, this could all have been avoided. Of course, Luke took no heed of my trite demeanor.

"Honestly, if you just didn't let your damned greed get the better of you..."

Milina's quiet voice cut him off cold. "You can complain all you want later. We should all concentrate on finding Sherra first."

"Uh... yeah! Right! Miss Lina, we'll settle this later. Come on, show us the place where you lost her!"

"Right!" I replied, all too happy to lead the way. That's what I'd come back to do in the first place, after all.

With me at the head, the four of us ran into the darkness, on a mission to save Sherra.



"This is the place," I said, stopping at the fork in the road where I'd been stopped by the man on the rooftop. "The kidnappers must have passed by this spot. And no matter how strong Zain is, there's no way he'd be able to run far or fast holding an unconscious girl. That means their hideout is somewhere close by!"

"Right! Then let's split up; we'll take the right side, and you take the left! If something comes up, send a Lighting into the sky," Luke barked. With that, he turned away from us and ran down the right alley before Gourry and I could even say a thing.

"Well, Gourry! Come on, you heard the man."

"Okay!" Gourry replied, following me down the left path.

"But Lina," he said suddenly, "I don't think it'll be very easy to find her even if they're close by."

"Well, you're right."

I nodded. We were surrounded by old, derelict buildings, most probably uninhabited. It was a pretty safe bet to say that some of them would have basements or attics. It wouldn't be easy searching all of those houses for just one group of men and a girl, not by a long shot.

"But we can't just give up because our chances are slim, though," I continued, drawing my short sword. A flare of mana began gathering at the tip as I pointed it at the house directly in front of us. "We'll just go through them one at a time!"

"Dam Brass!"

With a dull roar, my spell blew the door completely off its hinges and we ran in, searching the rooms.

Unfortunately, luck wasn't on our side, and we came up empty handed.

"Next one, then!" I cried, pointing to my next hapless target.

"But Lina, why would Sherra go out alone at night?" Gourry asked, following me into the deserted house.

"Only one person knows the answer to that, and I'm not her," I replied. "Whatever it was, it was urgent enough that she couldn't ignore it, even if it meant going out alone. Or she might have overestimated her own strength... or there might be more to this situation than meets the eye... whatever. This isn't the time for questions. We have to find her first."

The next house was as empty as the first. And the third. And the fourth. And...

I started getting annoyed, bursting in and blowing a hole clear through the ceiling to the roof instead of checking the rooms individually. Each empty house only annoyed me more.

"All right, the next one..." I said. But before we could start moving, the pitch black sky in the distance suddenly lit up. A Lighting spell! It was Luke and Milina!

"Come on, Gourry! Let's go!"

"Right!"

Together, we ran toward the light in the distance, where Luke and Milina were waiting.



We could see a brief flash of light in one of the windows. It looked like the fighting had already started.

The house was fairly large, three stories high. More flashes, probably spellfire, illuminated the third story windows. I'd have liked to charge straight up with a Raywing or Levitation, but the window was too small to burst through with Raywing, and the slow moving Levitation would leave us as sitting ducks if any of the men in black happened to see us. We'd have to run into the house and take the stairs.

The doors were already blown clean off their hinges - probably Luke's doing. There was nobody on the first floor, and nobody on the second floor either. We took the stairs leading up to the third floor-

"Ack!"

The moment I took the last step up to the third floor, a stream of incandescent light passed straight in front of my nose. Passing by me, it slammed into the wall next to us, blowing a gaping hole into the sturdy wood. Dam Brass... I shivered, thinking of what might have happened if I'd been just a little bit faster.

"You're late!" a familiar voice cried, and I half turned to see Luke and Milina.

"We beat two of them, but they're holed up in there and won't come out," Luke explained. There was a long hallway with rooms on both sides. We were on one side, and the men in black were probably making their stand on the other end.

"Are there any on the first and second floors?" I asked.

"None. Only here!"

Hmm. That meant that if we took care of the men here, it'd be over.

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's get this over with!"

"It's not that easy! You think we're hiding here because we feel like it?"

The men in black were sending spells down the hall, using its length to their advantage. It'd be suicide to charge down the hallway, and I couldn't use any of my more destructive spells when Sherra was likely being held captive.

Hmph. A little problem, but nothing insurmountable with a little quick thinking and shrewd application of magical force! I cautiously peeked out, looking down the length of the hall.

"Eek!"

I ducked back, narrowly avoiding the Freeze Arrow that'd been headed straight at my face. Another close call, but I'd confirmed the enemy's positions. One man each in the two rooms at the end of the hall. That meant...

I swiftly turned around, heading back down the stairs and dragging Gourry behind me.

"Huh? Hey! What're you doing? Are you running away?"

I ignored Luke's shouts on my way down to the second floor; I didn't have the time to explain.

"Lina? What are you doing?" Gourry asked, apparently as confused as Luke.

"Draw your sword! Get ready to take on the men in black," I replied tersely, heading down the second floor hall.

"What? But Luke said there weren't any men on the second floor..."

"Just shut up and do as I say!"

We entered one of the rooms at the end of the hall. Like I'd thought, the house was constructed in a way that each floor was identical. In other words...

I pointed up at the ceiling and focused my magic. "Dam Brass!"

Dam Brass!

My spell did its work, blowing a hole in the ceiling and raining down a shower of wooden splinters, shards of stone... and one very surprised man in black!

He had only the time to utter one startled cry before Gourry's blade flashed once in the dim light and silenced him. One down, one to go! I ran into the adjecent room and once again cast Dam Brass. This time, however, all that came down was a spray of debris. Standing on the edge of the hole I'd made was a man swathed in black clothes, smirking down at me.

"You fool! Did you think something like that would work twice?"

As it turned out, it was the man in black who was the real fool. A slash from behind dropped him on the spot. He'd thought he'd avoided my attack from below by moving out of the way, but in doing so he'd lost sight of the third story hallway. Naturally, Luke and Milina had taken the chance to run down the hall and attack from the door.

"How're things up there?" I asked.

Luke looked around for a moment. "I think that's all of 'em," he called down. "But I don't see Sherra, either."

"What?"

We made our way back up to the third floor, joining up with our two partners. Inside the room, I could see food stacked at the walls along with other basic supplies. It had been their hideout. But like Luke had said, Sherra was nowhere to be seen.

Luke clicked his tongue once in disappointment. "You think they have another hideaway besides this place?"

Hmm... I took a quick look at the supplies stocked in the room before replying. "No, this was the right place. Sherra was here not long ago."

"What? Really?"

"Do you recognize something of hers?" Milina asked.

"No," I said, shaking my head. "All the things here were for the men in black. But take a good look: there's enough here for about ten men. But we only took care of four. That means the rest of the men took Sherra and made a run for it. Now, here's the question: where do you think they went?"

"Ah."

"I see..."

Luke and Milina both nodded. Gourry scratched his head, hopelessly confused.

"Right," I said, nodding. "They're headed for the mountains to the north, to the sword of Bezeld."



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