Chapter 1: A Sea of Stars
"Lots and lots of powers…?" Lina scoffed, not believing a word that she was hearing.
"Why yes!" The tourism official smiled, his voice positively dripping with false sincerity. "According to the legend, the original owner of this sword used it to confront the Hellmaster himself during the War of Resurrection. Surely a traveling sorceress and swordsman would find some better use for it than, ah, humble townsfolk such as ourselves. Four hundred gold pieces to take it away. What do you say?"
There were some weapons so famous that their names were instantly recognizable. The Demon King's Staff of Bones once clashed with earth-shattering force against Ceipheed's Flare Dragon Sword. The Elmekia Blade, a sword that cut only on the Astral Plane. Closest to home was the Sword of Light, which Gourry had given away following a recent conflict. The list was pretty short.
Rumors of these and other artifacts abounded, luring treasure hunters ever onward. A marvelous weapon slumbering in a forgotten cave. An enchanted lake where a beautiful lady would emerge and hand over a legendary sword in exchange for a broken blade. The lost temple of the Water Dragon King, concealing a staff capable of pacifying the seas themselves. And most commonly, a sword stuck in a rock conveniently located just outside of random towns and villages, waiting for a worthy owner to come pull it out.
Nearly all fake of course, cheap tourist attractions placed there by the villagers. Some places would collect a fee from anyone who wants to try their luck at drawing the sword out. Others charged just for the privilege of looking. Some went the extra mile and used blades enhanced by gems or enchantments to fool travelers into buying them at greatly inflated prices. Just like this village here.
"Well, the design is nice." Lina began, drawing the blade from its sheath and feeling its weight in her grip. A solitary diamond rested at the end of its silver latticed hilt, its gleam captivating the eye when held to the light. "And I can tell it's got good deflection."
"Uh huh! Uh-huh! That's right!" The tourism official nodded. "You have an excellent eye for quality!"
"And it's plenty sharp too! Actually better than most of the ones I've seen." Lina finished her analysis and handed the weapon to Gourry. The blonde swordsman quickly removed a bent and fire scorched sword from his belt, replacing it with the new one.
"Twenty-five." Lina said confidently, removing a handful of coins from a hidden pouch. The deal was already done in her mind.
"Twenty-five!? Surely a blade such as this is worth at least three-hundred and fifty!"
"No, I think twenty-five sounds about right."
"How about just two-hundred?"
"Um, miss!?" The tourism official wailed, his face contorting with a mixture of frustration and anxiety. "If you can't pay the going price you could at least barter toward a midpoint!"
"Oh I can pay." Lina waved the man off. "But this sword simply isn't worth that much. You might be able to fool some second-rate wizard but I can tell exactly what enchantments are on it. So with that I think you're getting a real bargain. I'm giving you twenty five plus..." Lina paused, twirling a finger through a lock of hair. She grinned deviously as an idea filtered through her mind.
"Plus the promise not to tell anyone else on the road just what sort of 'legendary' weapons your village deals in."
The official's face paled instantly at the retort. "Twenty-five." He gave his mumbled consent, taking the coins with one hand.
Enjoying a moment of satisfaction in an otherwise dull journey, Lina looked back toward Gourry for an endorsement of her cunning. The blank return stare reminded Lina that there was no moment too perfect for her 'protector' to ruin.
Holding a Light spell close to his map as the sky darkened and woods faded to black, Zelgadis gave a grunt of annoyance when Lina butted into his thoughts.
"So? So? How much further Zel?" Lina tugged at his sleeve.
"We'll get there when we get there." Zelgadis scowled and fought her off. Once again, Lina had ensnared him with a familiar siren's call: a cure for his hated chimerism. However, with all the detours and distractions that were part and parcel of traveling with her, the journey so far had been thoroughly unproductive.
"What nice weather we're having right Mr. Zelgadis?" Amelia chimed in. Lina's pattern of beating and looting every bandit gang they came across was making a wild goose chase take even longer. And now Amelia was picking up the habit, throwing herself into the fray with almost more enthusiasm than Lina did. Zelgadis shuddered, but couldn't help smiling at the same time. The Saillune princess had an outlet at last after months trapped at court, attending her royal duties.
"Yeah." Zelgadis replied, raising a hand and pointing toward the northeast, where faint red glow of the setting sun was visible over the horizon. "Anyway, there should be a town somewhere in that direction. If we stay there we should reach the marked location before noon tomorrow."
"Hey guys, does the sun normally set in the northeast?" Gourry squinted at the red haze in the distance, "I wonder if there's a fire over there."
Zelgadis watched silently as a jolt seemed to pass through Lina's body.
"This is no time to be standing around! Don't you realize what this means, Gourry? If that fire is burning down the next town, we're going to have to sleep outside tonight! Outside, in the cold!" Lina shrieked.
"What sort of monster would set a fire to a nice peaceful town..." Amelia added, the indignation building in her throat until it erupted in a crescendo. "The evildoers shall be smashed by the hammer of justice!"
"Well, yeah, but there's not much we can do about it..." Gourry mumbled, apparently content to mind his own business.
"Of course there is! We can hurry up and help put it out. For a reward of course." Lina urged as she wrapped a hand around Gourry's arm. A sudden windstorm kicked up, condensing into a barrier that carried the two through the air. Chanting their own incantations, Zelgadis and Amelia quickly followed suit.
Once they were in the air, they could see that the village ahead was wreathed in flames. Not just one or two buildings but a full quarter of the town had already been ravaged by the conflagration, and the rest would follow in short order. From the air, the party could make out monstrous figures darting through the flames, tormenting the terrified townsfolk. Lesser demons: the weakest members of the Mazoku race who possessed the bodies of animals in order to affect the physical world. Perhaps some local sorcerer had summoned more than he could handle; it was common knowledge that most could control no more than two, and the demons would reverted to their destructive instincts once released.
With the demise of the demon lords Gaav and Phibrizo and the inability to source power from them, Lina had found her repertoire of spells suddenly reduced to plainly unacceptable levels. So in addition to searching for a replacement sword, Lina had dragged Gourry along with her to visit mage's guilds, archaeological sites and libraries. Zelas Metallium and Deep Sea Dolphin were not as well known as some of the other demon lords, but information on them existed as long as one knew where to look.
"Zelas Brid!" Lina shouted as a ribbon of shimmering energy emerged from her outstretched hands. The Brass Demon in front of her scarcely had time to cry out before the spell stitched through its chest. Its body collapsed, withering to dust while giving off an acrid burning stench. Another beast attacked from behind, flinging a barrage of Flare Arrows. Lina smirked as the band of light snaked back, interposing itself before the projectiles and detonating each in midair before fading away. Alright, that one still needed a little work.
With a deep snarl the demon gathered its power, forming it into several floating orbs of arcane fire.
A bolt of light flashed across Lina's peripheral vision and speared through the demon's head. Quickly taking a look at her surroundings, Lina traced the flight path of the spell to a lone female figure crouching upon a rooftop. The woman looked to be in her twenties, her silver hair whipping about in the breeze, reflecting the dull orange glow of the remaining fires.
"We'll talk later. First, them." The sorceress gestured in the direction of the remaining creatures. With a nod, Lina turned her attention back to demon slaying until the last one was felled.
The evening chirping of the forest's birds resumed as the battle drew to a close. Alas, the damage was severe, with many wounded and nearly half the town consumed by flames. Even Lina couldn't bring herself to demand compensation as the wails of those who had lost homes, friends and family members filled the air.
"Yo, you weren't half bad!" A black-haired young man swaggered up as Lina took a moment to lean against a wall. She gave him a once-over. He seemed to be a mercenary, wearing a suit of light plate with a sword hanging from his belt. Objectively Lina could have said he was good looking, but something about his stark red eyes seemed just a bit too sharp and cruel.
"What do you mean weren't half bad?" Lina replied. "Hurry up and explain what happened here."
The man shrugged. "Well, my partner and I were just passing through when some demons swept in out of nowhere. There were a lot of them, and before we knew it, the houses started to burn."
His partner? Lina supposed he was referring to the other sorceress, which would add up to a generic pair of mercenaries.
"Maybe if your group had gotten here sooner," he continued, "we wouldn't be here with half the village burned down right now."
Lina scowled. "You've got some nerve blaming us. Now look here, old man!"
That had an effect, judging from the way the mercenary froze and his shoulders trembled slightly. A tic formed underneath one eye and a vein bulged out of his forehead. "Old... old man?"
"That's right!" Lina pressed, cutting him off. "I didn't see you doing anything. So just who do you think you are telling me that I'm not half bad when you hardly lifted a finger, huh? An old man that's who!"
The mercenary's lip quivered as he shrank before the verbal barrage, looking around pleadingly. Lina followed his gaze, taking note of the silver-haired sorceress approaching, stopping behind him. For her part, the woman ignored her partner's pitiful glance.
Peeling herself from the wall, Lina decided it was better to just get out while she was ahead.
"What are you following us for?!" The mercenary from earlier blurted as Lina lead her party into the dining floor of a tavern. He and his partner had already taken a table and were waiting for their meal.
"This is the only inn left in town idiot!" Lina shot back venomously. "I didn't come here because I wanted to see you."
"Err... did something happen between them?" Amelia whispered to Zelgadis, slowly shifting away from the action.
"Luke, how about the two of you put this off for some other time." The sorceress' quiet voice effortlessly defused the bomb that was about to explode.
"Well, as much as I like to see annoying girls get what they deserve," Luke said, "if Milina says so I ain't objecting."
The white-haired sorceress, Milina it seemed, began again, introducing herself charmingly. She noted offhandedly that she was traveling with Luke in search of some rumored artifact around these parts.
"Hmm, what a coincidence. We're here chasing rumors of a new spell." Lina quickly lied in response, silencing Amelia's building objection with a swift kick to the shin, under the table and out of sight. She called over the waiter, rattling off her order and adding a request for two rooms for the night.
"When you're a world-class sorceress like me you have to work hard to stay on top." She said.
The sun rose the next morning, sending tendrils of light streaming between the mountain crags, sweeping over trees and towns. A songbird alighted on a branch, bobbing slightly before bursting into into melody.
A piercing scream erupted from an adjacent building, sending the poor creature fluttering for distance.
"Wake up you bums!" Lina exploded into the men's room and gave each of their beds a hard kick. "Get up, we're leaving right now!"
"Hey, hey Lina!" Gourry objected. "What's the rush?"
"You heard them!" Lina replied. "Those two are treasure hunters. And if they're looking for what we're looking for there's a good chance it might actually be worth something. This is the best lead we've had in a while so it's absolutely essential that we get there first!"
"Woahhh... hey Lina check it out, there's a funny looking cloud up there." Gourry gazed up absentmindedly, loafing around without a care in the world.
"I don't care about some stupid cloud right now Gourry." Lina growled, sweeping her hands through the thick underbrush. The tourism official's instructions had stated that a hidden passage lay somewhere nearby, which would lead them to their next objective.
"Better yet, if you have time to stare at clouds, how about giving me a hand here?"
"It's already been three hours since we've started searching this path." Zelgadis added unhelpfully. "Lina, are you sure this is the right place?"
"My...my... what do we have here?" A voice drifted through the air, smooth as a dagger plunging through silk. The space above a nearby tree branch seemed to part, making way for a spinning black cone, replaced an instant later by a purple haired young man, smiling in a disarmingly friendly expression. The self-proclaimed 'trickster priest' Xellos.
We're on the right track to something, was Lina's immediate thought, But it might not be something we want.
"Xellos! What are you doing here?" Zelgadis was the first to react, his hand shifting to the hilt of his weapon. Naturally wary and distrusting, Zelgadis was never happy to see the Mazoku.
"Come now Mr. Zelgadis, after all we've been through together you needn't be so hostile. We're friends right?" The trickster priest lowered himself to the ground, leaning slightly on his staff for balance. "I've here to help you find for your objective because it is an object of interest to me as well. Have you heard of... the Temple of Chronos?"
"What?!" Lina could not help but yell out. "The Temple of Chronos? You mean the mystical ground whose location varies from day to day and can only be found once in a person's lifetime? The artifact said to grant its wielder anything he desires?"
"That would be it." Xellos agreed. "And lucky for you, its current location is rather close to here. Shall I take you to it?"
Hours of searching through the underbrush were instantly forgotten as Xellos lead the group unerringly along some path known only to him, to a cave entrance covered by a curtain of tall, grassy stalks.
Pausing to push aside the last few bunches of reeds, the Mazoku priest held out a hand as if in welcome. Lina's eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness until she could make out a flat metallic disc resting on the dank cave floor. As she stared, the center of the disc glowed blue, its parts shifting and sliding to form what appeared to be a world, divided by a massive mountain range that ran down its meridian. And beside the platform stood the two treasure hunters, Luke and Milina.
"Oh." Milina spoke first, doing her best to conceal the surprise in her voice. "It looks like we were searching for the same thing after all."
"Wow, this place must be pretty famous if you guys were looking for it too." Gourry said.
"Well of course!" Lina rushed into the cavern, rubbing her hands together. She scanned the disk with her eyes for any sign of further activity, making sure to keep a safe distance. "There are those who say this temple holds the power to transcend time and space and whomsoever enters it can be granted powers that put modern sorcery to shame."
"Well I have no idea what you are talking about but I guess the gist of it is that these ruins are pretty amazing right?" Gourry sidled up to the platform and scuffed it with a boot.
"Don't touch it just because you feel like it!" Lina snapped. "What if you make it-"
"Ruby Eye System Activated. Input from Ark Master confirmed. Initiating dimensional transfer sequence." A mechanical voice interrupted, permeating the air and echoing off the cave walls, seeming to originate from no direction in particular.
"H-hey is that supposed to happen?" Zelgadis stammered.
"Countdown to Dimensional Transfer Sequence."
"We should forget about this." Milina stepped back from the device, giving Luke a nudge that snapped him out of his stupor.
"And high-tail it outta here!" Lina added. They didn't need to be told twice.
"Ah!" Amelia cried out as her foot was caught on a fallen branch.
"Hey that's not fair!" Gourry exclaimed. "Don't just start skipping numbers!"
Darkness closed in from all sides, swallowing the surrounding landscape. The ground vanished, sending Lina tumbling uncontrollably through the blackness. Reaching frantically for anything she could grab hold of, Lina caught a glimpse of her companions spiraling through the void, their screams fading into the distance.
Author's Notes: The story is already written up to its twelfth chapter in its second arc, so updates will be pretty frequent until then. Just a heads-up, it's already pretty long, but I hope you all enjoy it.
The Slayers anime continuity predominates for our purposes here, with TRY being the act that came directly before. However, I will lift elements from other Slayers media here and there, as Luke and Milina already attest to.