MIXED DOUBLES

Author's Note: This fanfic has been rated P for Psychotic. I wrote it basically as proof to myself that I could finish a piece of writing longer than a 12-line poem. Most of it was done on my lunch breaks while I was working downtown this summer... the first draft has been on one of my websites for a while now. This is a sort of preliminary rewrite. I'm still not particularly happy with it.

Author's NoteĀ²: No, since you ask, this has no plot whatsoever.

Author's NoteĀ³: Yeah, it's a little late to make a note of this, but it'll move this fic up in the lists and perhaps garner more reviews. Mixed Doubles has a sequel! And the sequel has a PLOT! *gasp* You can read 'Me, Myself, and My Reflection' here: http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=607842

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Lina's curiosity was starting to get the better of her.

Now, as long as you aren't a cat, curiosity is usually a *good* thing. Curiosity is the cure for boredom, the path to discovery, the root of all art and science. In the right hands, it can lead to amazing discoveries and profound truths. In the *wrong* hands, however, curiosity can be more dangerous than spilled gunpowder in a matxch factory... and as the hands in question here belonged to Lina Inverse, the brown paper package they were holding might as well have been ticking.

"Something wrong, Lina?" asked Gourry, watching her examine the parcel. The two of them were making their slow and mucky way up a mountain path, which was slick with mud from the last night's rain.

She held up the package. "Don't you wonder what's in this?" she asked.

Gourry shrugged. "The man at the sorcerer's guild told us we weren't supposed to ask."

"I'm not asking," Lina replied, in as reasonable a tone as she could muster. "I'm just wondering. He never said we couldn't wonder, now did he?"

"Well... no," said Gourry, although his expression betrayed some uncertainty about the logic of this.

Lina smiled sweetly. "There you are, then," she said. She would never understand how Gourry was just able to shrug things off like that. As far as she was concerned, being told not to ask about something just made the answers about two hundred times more interesting. "There's no problem. Just wondering about it is fine."

She turned the package over, weighing it in her hands. It wasn't too large... about the size of a big book but not as heavy, and it felt soft, like a rolled-up blanket. It must be either made of or wrapped in thick cloth... in the latter case, it was probably something breakable, but Lina couldn't even make a guess what 'it' was. And, as Gourry had pointed out, they'd been emphatically instructed not to ask.

Wondering couldn't possibly hurt, though... and right now what Lina was wondering was whether opening the package would count as 'asking.'

The first thing Lina and Gourry had done on arriving in Atlas City, two days earlier, was to find themselves a job. They hadn't had much of a choice about it; they were both tired, dirty, and hungry from travelling, not to mention that doing battle with the Dark Lord of all Dark Lords has a way of leaving you in need of new clothes. Unfortunately, they were also flat broke... so the alluring smells of Nyo Heron's roast beef were reluctantly passed over in favour of a trip to the local employment office.

The man at the EO had directed them to the Atlas City Sorcerer's guild, where Aloysius the Blue was in need of somebody to deliver a small but very important parcel to the laboratory of Corbold the Magician, who would pay them upon their arrival. It really sounded like money for nothing... the only catch was that Lina and Gourry were emphatically *not* allowed to ask what was in the package.

"Don't ask." Those had been the sorcerer's exact words. "Don't ask." Not "don't wonder" and cetainly not "don't open it up for a look."

It turned out that the job was not quite so easy as its advertising had made it sound. Apparently, this Corbold guy was either a secretive type or else researching something particularly dangerous, because he lived a good day's walk from Atlas City, way up in the mountains. Even so, Lina and Gourry would have been there before now if a sudden hailstorm hadn't driven them into the shelter of an abandoned cabin shortly before noon the previous day. The hail didn't let up until well after sunset, and by then Lina had decided to give up and spend the night where they were.

They'd attempted to make up for the delay by getting an early start in the morning, but between the terrible roads and another batch of nasty-looking thunderclouds piling up overhead, they'd be lucky if they made it by dinnertime. Lina thought that after all they'd been through getting him is package, Corbold had better give them something to eat when they arrived.

On the up side... or perhaps not, depending on how you look at it... all the delays meant Lina'd had ample opportunity to be curious... and more than enough time to rationalize what she was tempted to do.

They'd been told 'don't ask'... well, she wasn't exactly asking.

And it wasn't as if this 'Corbold the Magician' would be able to *tell* she'd opened his package... not if she wrapped it up properly again.

And she wasn't going to steal it or damage it at all... well, probably not, anyway.

And really, didn't she have the right to know what she was carrying? After all, what if it were dangerous? Surely the Atlas City Sorcerer's Guild didn't think it was all right to send somebody into the wilderness carrying dangerous goods and not knowing about it! For her own safety and Gourry's, she practically had a duty to open this package!

"My feet hurt," she annoucned. "Let's sit down for a while."

"Okay," said Gourry, nodding amenably. He sat down on a roadside stump and pulled one boot off, then upended it, tipping several small stones out onto the ground. Lina perched herself on a boulder on the other side of the road, and started untying the strings on the parcel.

"Hey," Gourry said when he glanced up. "What are you doing?"

"Finding out what this is," Lina replied matter-of-factly.

"But wait," he protested. "Didn't they tell us we weren't supposed to know?"

"No, they told us we weren't supposed to *ask*," Lina corrected him. "They never said we couldn't find out on our own."

"But..." Gourry repeated.

"Quiet," said Lina. She stuffed the strings in her pocket and unfolded the paper. Under it was another layer of wrappings; this one composed of an old tea towel with most un-wizardly blue duckies on it. Under *that* was a second towel, then a third... and finally, about a dozen layers in, was a small mirror with some peculiar heiroglyphic symbols etched into its face.

"Ohh," said Lina. "It's a Shadow Reflector."

Gourry scratched his head. "Looks like a mirror to me."

"It *is* a mirror, Jellyfish." Lina noticed its surface beginning to fog, and quickly began wrapping the mirror in towels again so it wouldn't get the chance to copy anything. "It's magic. If you let it charge up, it'll make a duplicate of anybody reflected in it. The original Reflector was lost for centuries, but a certain famous sorceress and her sidekick rediscovered about a year and a half ago," she added. "It turned out to be faulty, and got broken in a battle shortly afterwards."

"Wow. How come you know so much about it?" Gourry was curious.

Lina started to answer... then changed her mind. She didn't exactly want to tell that particular story. "Oh... I guess I picked things up here and there," she said vaguely. "Anyway, some people from the Professional Magicians' Society in Greenspond found the pieces of the mirror and used them to reconstruct the spell, only they managed to fix the bug in it so that it made perfect copies of people."

"Mm-hm," said Gourry... Lina recognized the look on his face that suggested he was humouring her but not really listening... and emptied the stones out of his other boat. As he was pulling the footwear back on, he asked absently, "what do you use it for?"

"Well," Lina began, then frowned. That was actually a good question when you thought about it; what was a Shadow Reflector actually *good* for? "I don't know," she admitted. "Somebody must want to use this one for *something*, though... let's get going." She tied the string neatly around the package and stood up.

"I thought your feet hurt," Gourry said.

"They're better now," Lina told him. "Come on," she added, glancing at the threatening black sky. "I want to get there before it starts raining again."

She started up the path again... but she hadn't gone ten feet when her foot found a patch of wet leaves. Before she could stop herself, they slipped out from under her and she fell flat on her face... right on top of the parcel.

It made an interesting tinkling sound.

"Lina!" Gourry grabbed her arm and helped her to her feet. "Are you okay?"

"Yes!" She spit out a mouthful of mud and peeled a leaf off her forhead. "I'm fine. I just..." Lina looked down at the package and experimentally tilted it a little. Something inside went 'clink.'

Gourry frowned. "That's not good, is it?"

"What do *you* think?" demanded Lina. "Of *course* that's not good!" She seated herself back on her boulder and began undoing the parcel again. "Don't just stand there, help me put this thing back together!"

Fortunately, the Reflector wasn't broken *too* badly. It was in six large peices, five of which had part of the edge along one or two sides. Lina lay one of the towels out on the ground and easily arranged the first five pieces in their places. The sixth one was a bit more of a problem. It was an almost perfectly symmetrical diamond, and there appeared to be two different ways to fit it into the rest of the pieces.

"There... I think that's it." Lina nudged one of the other pieces to the left a bit so she could drop the last one into its spot. "Got it!"

Gourry shook his head and reached for the piece. "No, I think it goes the other way."

"It does not." Lina slapped his hand away and pushed the edges of the pieces together. "There," she said. "Perfect!" She held out her hand over the fragments and cast a sealing spell. The bits of glass twitched, then their edges began to glow. When the glow faded, the joins were no longer visible; the mirror was back in one piece as if it had never been broken. "Come on, Gourry," said Lina, gathering it up.

"Wait," he protested, pointing to a place on the mirror. "Look at that... you've got it in backwards, Lina. There's still a crack right here."

"That's just dirt," Lina replied, without even looking. She found the towels and, for the second time that morning, started wrapping the mirror up in them again.

"If it's backwards, will the magic still work?" Gourry wanted to know.

Lina paused. "Well..." she said slowly. There was another question she wasn't certain how to answer. A faulty Shadow Reflector would probably make faulty copies... she suddered a little at the memory of the wussy little duplicate she'd gotten out of the original Reflector. Physically, the clone had been perfect, but in terms of personality it was her exact opposite; peace-loving, girly, and about the biggest coward Lina had ever met. The incident was high on Lina's personal list of things she'd rather forget about.

Whatever it was Corbold wanted this mirror for, Lina doubted he'd be pleased if it made flawed copies... and if he wasn't pleased, he might not pay them.

"You're right," Lina said.

Gourry looked startled. "I am?"

Lina nodded. "We'd better test it and see if it still works all right," she decided, pulling the towels off the mirror. "Hold still, Gourry."

"Hold still?" he asked. "But..."

"That's right." Lina aimed the mirror at him. "It takes a moment to charge."

"But Lina, are..."

"I *said* hold still."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Gourry, finally managing to get the entire sentence in.

"Why not?" asked Lina. "The worst a clone of *you* could be is smart." The mirror began to hum and its surface went dark, obscuring the symbols engraved on it. Shafts of purple light burst from the glass, followed by a thick cloud of dark, damp smoke that rolled across the ground and enveloped Gourry. When it cleared, a second Gourry was standing next to the first.

Or... well, it was *sort* of a second Gourry.

The new one was not exactly what you'd call a precise copy. It was the same *height* as Gourry... six foot four or thereabouts. It had the same long blond hair, wide blue eyes, and was wearing identical blue armor, right down to the dents and dings it had sustained in the battle with Shabrinidgo. There was even a duplicate Sword of Light in the scabbard across it's back. The cheif difference between the original Gourry and the clone was that instead of Gourry's thick-muscled build, the duplicate boasted bodily porportions that rather reminded Lina of an old friend.

Some thirty seconds passed in stony silence while the two Gourries looked at each other... or, to be a bit more accurate, while the original gaped at the clone's chest, and the clone stared open-mouthed at Gourry's pants. Finally, both looked up, pointed at each other, and asked, in perfect unison: "Hey... was this *supposed* to happen."

Lina's brain thawed out of it's state of shock, and her mouth dropped open. Either Gourry had been right after all when he said she was putting the mirror together wong, or this Corbold the Magician guy had a few hobbies Lina didn't want to know about. The duplicate Gourry was a *woman*! It took a few more seconds before Lina had recovered enough to move, and then she burst into helpless laughter.

The two Gourries reached up and scratched their respective heads, the original with his right hand and the clone with her left. Then the original exclaimed, "watch out, Lina! The mirror!"

Lina stopped laughing. "Huh?" she asked, then realized what she was talking about; she was still holding the Shadow Reflector and while everybody had been staring, it had gotten time to charge again. It's surface was almost dark enough to make another duplicate. The last thing Lina needed was three or four female Jellyfish wandering around. She quickly reached for one of the towels and turned the mirror around...

Only to have the magic smoke pour out of it and envelop her.

This time, Lina kept her head. She wrapped the towel securely around the mirror so that it wouldn't be able to copy anybody a second time, and *then* she turned around to take a look behind her.

There are a certain number of things that are very funny, with the proviso that they are happening to 'somebody else.' This situation definitely qualified. Gourry's buxom female counterpart over there? Well, *that* was absolutely hysterical. The skinny little red-haired boy Lina was looking at? *That* was *not*.

Lina and her clone stared blankly at each other for a few seconds, but it was a much shorter few seconds than the Gourries had spent. Then the boy's eyes drifted downwards, and lighted on the mirror.

"HEY!" he exclaimed, reaching for it. "Gimme that!"

"No!" Lina yanked it away.

"Give it back!" he insisted, grabbing for it.

"What are you *talking* about?" Lina stood up on tiptoes to hold it away from his reach. "This isn't yours, moron!" The Shadow Reflector itself, of course, belonged to Corbold the Magician... and the twenty-five gold pieces he was going to pay to the person who delivered it were *hers*!

"I said give it *here*!" The boy snatched at the mirror once again. As he was exactly the same height as Lina, she had to lean far back to keep him from getting at it. He leaned forwards... and both of them lost their balance and toppled over.

Lina landed flat on her back. The boy pulled the Reflector out of her grip with one hand and put the other out to catch himself... and his palm came down on Lina's left breast.

"HEY!" she shrieked, sitting up and driving her knee good and hard into his stomach. "Watch what you're grabbing, you little pervert!" She yanked the mirror out of his other hand and got up... only to have him tackle her from behind while she was brushing herself off.

Gourry's duplicate tapped the original on the shoulder. "Say," she said, "I have a question. If they kill each other, would that be murder, then, or suicide?"

"Hmm." Gourry rubbed his chin as he considered this. "I really don't know."

"FIREBALL!" screamed Lina.

Her clone somersaulted out of the way just barely in time. The spell roared past him and detonated, sending a group of pine saplings violently up in smoke. Lina dived for the mirror.

"FLARE ARROW!" the boy countered.

A dozen bolts of flame earthed themselves between Lina and her prize, leaving scorch marks on the ground and forcing her to jump back to avoid her cape catching fire. The boy gave her a self-satisfied smirt and stepped towards the Reflector. As he reached to pick it up, Lina grabbed the hem of his shirt, dragged him to the ground, then got a handful of his hair and pulled. Hard.

"Y'know," said Gourry, "either way, I think maybe we ought to stop them before they do."

"Yeah," his clone nodded, then ducked as another flare arrow whizzed by. "They're gonna set the whole mountain on fire if we don't."

Gourry rolled up his sleeves. His duplicate did the same, and they marched into the fray.

"I got it!" Lina crowed, holding up the Reflector with both hands. "I got... HEY! Let go of me right *now*, you blond gorilla!" she wailed as Gourry picked her up and dragged her away from her clone.

"Put me down, you dominatrix!" the boy hollered, kicking and struggling as the female Gourry did the same to him. She put him down on Lina's boulder, while Gourry carried Lina over to his stump. "She took the Shadow Reflector!" the boy protested angrily.

"Well, what do *you* want with it?" Lina wiggled her way out of Gourry's arms and got to her feet.

"There's a sorcerer who's going to pay me twenty-five gold pieces for bringing him that!" he informed her.

"Not likely!" snapped Lina. "He's going to pay *me*!"

"In your dreams! You're just a copy of me!" said the boy.

"*Who's* a copy?" Lina asked. "Which one of us was holding the mirror, jackass?"

"I was, until you showed up, bimbo!" the boy snapped back.

"You were not!" Lina turned several shades of purple, and Gourry and his clone eached moved fast to grab their respective redheads before they could resume trying to kill one another.

"Now, now, Lina," said Gourry, sweating nervously as he glanced at the clones.

"It's not nice to hit girls, remember?" the female Gourry asked the boy.

Lina and her counterpart both opened their mouths... but nature unceremoniously cut them both off before either could say a word. A bolt of brilliant yellow-white lightning arced across the sky, followed by a bone-shaking shudder of thunder that send everyone scurrying for any available shelter... half a second too late. Before they made it, cold, stinging rain started *streaming* down, soaking both Linas and both Gourries to the skin as they scrambled underneath a rocky overhang.

"Well, this is just peachy," said Lina as everybody sat down. The overhang made a sort of open-air cave that didn't do anything to keep the wind out, but was nevertheless dry... and would have been *almost* big enough for four people if they'd really, really liked each other.

Gourry and his duplicate made sure they were in between Lina and hers.

"No kidding," said the boy. "Now what do we do?"

The Gourries shrugged.

"I know what we do," Lina replied. "You give me that mirror, and..."

"Not a chance!" the boy interrupted.

Lina almost got up to clobber him, but then she took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down. "All right," she said through her teeth. "Let's think about this logically."

"Good idea," the boy nodded. "'Cause it's perfectly obvious that I'm the original."

"Oh? And how is that?" Lina wanted to know.

"Well, who would know?" said the boy. "Who got copied first? It was Gloria, right?" He pointed to the female Gourry.

"Actually, it was Gourry," Lina couldn't resist correcting.

"Whatever," said the boy, waving a hand dismissively. "My point is..."

Lina interrupted. "They were both here when there was only one of us," she said, "so they'll remember who's the real one!"

"Exactly!" Her clone nodded and turned to look at Gourry and Gloria. "Well?" he prompted. "Who was here first?"

"She was," Gourry pointed at Lina.

"You." Gloria indicated her fellow clone.

"ARGH," groaned Lina, smacking her forhead. "Okay, allow me to clarify. Gourry, *after* whatshername there appeared, you two both asked me if this was supposed to happen... so you asked *me*, right? Not *him*."

The Gourries thought about it.

"Don't remember," they said finally.

"How can you not remember, you six-foot barbie doll!?" The boy grabbed the straps of Gloria's armor and shook her.

"I wasn't paying attention," Gloria protested.

"Me, either," Gourry chimed in. "Besides, Lina, it's kinda hard to tell... you've barely got any more figure than he does!"

The boy looked startled, then glanced at Lina and started to laugh. "He's right!" he exclaimed.

"Why, you..." Lina began.

"Hmm," Gourry pondered a moment, then added, "Say, kid... if Lina's got really small breasts, does that mean *you* have a really small... erk," he finished, as Lina's clone grabbed him by the collar.

Lina took her own turn at laughing.

"*That* is *not* funny," her clone snarled.

She ignored him. "Okay, listen, everyone," she announced. "I have a great idea." She held up the once again safely towelled mirror. "One of us is supposed to deliver this mirror to Corbold the Magician. Right?"

"Um... right," the boy said warily, without loosing his grip on Gourry's throat.

"Gurk," said Gourry.

"So," Lina went on, "the guy's probably doing some kinda research having to do with Shadow Reflectors, then, right? So he'll know something about them."

The boy let go of Gourry, who fell back against the rocks with a thunk. "You mean like enough about them to tell a reflector copy from a real person," he said.

"Exactly!" Lina nodded. "So as soon as the rain stops, we'll go to his lab and deliver it, and he can pick out the orignals and pay us." She held out a hand to the clone. "Deal?"

He looked at her suspiciously, then took the hand and gave it a brief, firm shake. "Okay. Deal."

"And until then," Lina finished, "I'll hold onto the mirror."

The boy jerked his hand back. "Ex*cuse* me?"

"You heard me!" said Lina.

"That's not fair!"

"Well, you got a better idea?" asked Lina. "I'm sure not letting *you* hold it!"

"I'll hold it," Gourry volunteered. Lina and the boy both looked at him, and he swallowed nervously. "Er," he went on, wincing in expectation of getting doubly fireballed, "I'll carry it until we get there, and then whoever Corbold says is real can have the mirror to give to him."

Lina pursed her lips. Her clone could probably agree to that... he seemed to remember things as if 'Gloria' was real and Gourry the clone, but if Gloria was nothing but Gourry with breasts, the boy would know that Gourry was just idiotically honest enough to keep his word.

Hopefully, he would forget that Gourry was also laughably easy to talk down. "Okay," said Lina. "That work for you?" she asked, turning to the clones.

The expression on the boy's face was as if something didn't taste very good, but he shrugged. "I guess."

"Great!" said Lina. She handed the mirror to Gourry and brushed her hands off. "Now we just have to wait until the rain stops." She sat down on the other side of Gourry, as far from her clone as possible... an arrangement he seemed only too happy with.

Lina crossed her fingers and said a silent prayer to the Air and Water Dragon Kings to let the rain continue. She needed time to think of a plan. Deals be damned, she was *not* about to let her clone within miles of *her* payment.

"What a jerk," she said under her breath. "Greedy, selfish, violent little... *I'm* not that hard to get along with, am I?" She looked pleadingly up at Gourry.

"Sure you are," he replied.

Lina smacked him upside the head and sat down to sulk.

"Gosh," Gloria remarked to the boy. "She *is* just like you."

"What are you talking about?" he snorted. "That bossy, bad-tempered little harpy?"

"Yeah." She nodded. "Except for the breasts, she's *exactly* like you!" Gloria paused a moment to think. "You know," she added, "he had a point. If she's got small breasts, then *do* you have a small... OW!"

Lina's prayers must've been heard, because it kept raining.

The little space under the overhang might've been dry, but it was also tiny and cold, as well as completely devoid of anything to occupy a mind numbed by continuous rain. As time passed, the spot seemed to get progressively more and more cramped... and unsurprisingly, the four people crowded into it got more and more cranky.

"Hey, Rian," Gloria spoke up sometime around sunset. "About the mirror... aren't you gonna fix it?"

"Can't," Lina replied, before her clone could answer.

"You can't?" Gourry echoed. "Why not?"

"Because," Lina began, "to do..."

Rian interrupted her. "To do that," he said, "we'd have to turn that piece back around, and..."

"And to do *that*," Lina loudly cut him off. "We'd need to get it out first. But..."

"But," said Rian, "it would be impossible to break..."

"To break the mirror again in exactly the..."

"Exactly the same way, so if we..."

"So if we tried, we might end up causing a..."

"Causing a bigger problem!" Rian finished. By this time, he and Lina both were nearly shouting, and Gourry and Gloria looked decidedly nervous.

Lina forced a smile. "Okay," she said, "let's not argue. We can all act like civilized human beings, right?" She knew full well what the real answer to that was, so she went on without waiting for anybody to reply. "It's getting late," she said, keeping a tight lid on her temper. "We should all go to sleep now, so we can get started early tomorrow morning. That way, we can get to Corbold's Laboratory before lunchtime, get paid, and be back in Atlas City for dinner. Is that all right with everybody?"

Rian shrugged. "Works for me, I guess."

"Great!" Lina replied with false cheerfulness. "You two can sleep over there," she pointed to the far end of the dry place... which had been steadily shrinking as the rain continued, "and Gourry and I will sleep here. Goodnight!" she beamed.

"Um..." Rian raised one eyebrow suspiciously. "Right."

"How come you're so happy all of a sudden, Lina?" Gourry asked, as they tried to figure out how to settle down for the night while staying both dry and comfortable.

"Sssssh!" Lina put a finger to her lips and glanced at Rian and Gloria... the clones were also busy sorting out sleeping arrangements, and didn't appear to have heard. "Quiet," Lina whispered to Gourry. "Here's what we're going to do. Once they fall asleep, you and I will take the Shadow Reflector and go to Corbold's Laboratory by ourselves."

"What about the..." Gourry began, but Lina clapped a hand over his mouth.

"Can't you keep your voice down at all?" she demanded.

"Sorry," he said in a lower tone, but still not quite a whisper. "I thought we were gonna let the magician decide who was real, though."

Lina shook her head. "You're real, right? You know that. You're the real Gourry."

"Well... yeah," said Gourry. "I guess."

"And I'm the real Lina, right?" she went on sweetly. "We've been travelling together for more than a month. You remember me."

"Yeah," Gourry repeated, "but they think *they're* the real ones, too."

"That's because they're clones," Lina told him. "They don't know any better."

Gourry thought hard. "But if we were the clones, then *we* wouldn't know any better."

Lina was on the verge of tearing her hair out. "Look," she said through her teeth. "We're the real ones, okay? You and me. Not them."

"But how do you know?" Gourry persisted.

"I just do," said Lina. "So stay awake... got it?"

"Stay awake," Gourry nodded.

Two cold, damp, and thundery hours later, the rain had petered out to a drizzle and the clones were both asleep... as was Gourry, who was lying on his back, snoring like a buzzsaw. Lina had tried several times to make him roll over, without success. This might not've been such a bad thing; Lina herself was chilly and drowsy, and might've fallen asleep herself if it hadn't been for the racket. She tried to keep herself awake by playing x's and o's with herself in the mud by her feet.

She was nodding off when a shadow flashed over the path. Startled, Lina peeked out from under the overhang to see what had caused it. The nearly-full Moon was a fuzzy bright patch behind the clouds, as as Lina watched a dark shape passed across its face.

A dragon. Great... like this day could get any worse.

Lina stretched. She really would have preferred to wait a bit longer to make sure the duplicates were *really* asleep, but sleeping more or less in the open on a mountain frequented by dragons was emphatically *not* a good idea. If it was going to take somebody by surprise, she'd much rather it be the clones.

"Gourry," she whispered, giving him a poke.

"Gnnnf," he muttered, turning his head.

"Gourry!" Lina repeated.

"Ngggn... anyfin you say, Lina," he muttered.

Lina gritted her teeth. "*Gourry*!" she hissed, in as loud a whisper as she could manage without actually speaking aloud. When he *still* didn't wake up, she gave him a nudge in the side... with her elbow. He started to yelp, but she quickly stuffed one of the towels in his mouth.

"Mmmmphm?" he asked around it.

"Quiet," whispered Lina. "We're leaving. And gimme that." She picked up the mirror, which was sitting safely wrapped in the rest of its towels, next to Gourry, then waited with as much patience as she could muster while Gourry got up. Once he was finally upright, she grabbed his arm and almost *dragged* him out onto the path.

As they tiptoed past where the clones were apparently sleeping, a hand suddenly darted out and caught her ankel. Lina managed *not* to fall flat on her face, though it was a very near thing. She looked down... and there was her clone, grinning up at her.

"And where are *you* two going?" he asked.

Lina had to resist a powerful urge to smash the Shadow Reflector over his head. "Let go of me right *now*!" she ordered, trying to kick Rian in the teeth. He sat up quickly, and before she could re-balance she'd fallen on her backside. "You were *awake*?" she demanded.

"Of course I was," Rian replied. "If I hadn't been, you'd have snuck off with the Reflector."

"You were *expecting* me to?"

"Well, it's something I would do," he said. "And you're me, right?"

"I am *not*!" snapped Lina.

"Nnng," said a voice from somewhere behind Rian. Gloria sat up sleepily. "Wanna be quiet?" she asked. "Tryin' to sleep." She yawned, then rolled over and shut her eyes again.

"Give me the mirror." Rian held out a hand for it.

"Fat chance!" Lina hugged it against her chest.

Rian grabbed the top of it and pulled. "*You* obviously can't be trusted to hold it!"

"Watch where you put your hands, you..." Lina began at the same time as her duplicate said, "give it *here*, you..."

"Self-centered," said Lina.

"Conniving," said Rian.

"Decietful..."

"Violent..."

"Stuck-up..."

"Greedy little..."

"Son of a..." Lina put in.

"... bitch!" they both shouted at once. Both of them pulled... and then both fell over backwards as the towels slipped off the mirror. Rian was left holding them, with the Shadow Reflector itself still clutched against Lina's chest.

"Uh-oh," said Rian.

"Quick!" Lina snatched a towel from him. "We have to cover it up again!"

"Right, right," he nodded, holding the second one out to her. The surface of the mirror was brilliant in the moonlight, darkening slowly as its face fogged with magic. "Hurry, I can see it charging," he added.

"There!" Lina folded the first towel over the mirror and reached for the second... then paused as a shadow passed over them, momentarily blocking out the moonlight. She and Rian both looked up... right into the glowing red eyes of a dragon.

"Woah!" hollered Rian.

"Look out!" Lina exclaimed. She dropped the mirror and scrambled out of the way as the dragon landed right where they'd been sitting. It was the same type as the one that had belonged to the Dragon's Fang Bandits; an enormous male with metallic blue scales and long horns on its head. The dragon inspected first Lina and then her clone, then it looked down and picked the mirror up in one enormous scaly claw.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Lina got up and started preparing a spell, but Rian put an arm out in front of her.

"You just sit down," he said firmly. "I'll handle this."

"Why you?" Lina demanded.

"Because you're just a girl."

"WHAT?!" Lina shrieked.

"Lina, look out!" Gourry drew his Sword of Light. Gloria, now fully awake, did the same and both of them rushed the dragon. It reared back on its hind legs and roared, then leapt into the sky with a thunder of wings on air.

"ARRRRRRRRGH!" screamed Lina. She grabbed her clone by the collar and shook him until his teeth chattered. "You nincompoop! It took the mirror!"

"Yeah, I'm aware of that!" he snarled back. "What do you want to *do* about it, huh?"

Gloria re-sheathed her sword and squinted at the sky. "What would a dragon want with a magic mirror?" she wondered.

"Why do you think dragons collect treasure?" asked Rian.

"They're like ravens," Lina explained. "They like shiny things."

"It must've seen the mirror reflecting the moonlight," Rian added.

Lina shook a towel in his face. "This is your fault!" she snapped. "If you hadn't pulled the wrapping off the mirror, this wouldn't have happened!"

"Well, if *you* hadn't been trying to run off with it," Rian said angrily, "I wouldn't have had to try and take it away!"

"Oh, why couldn't you just have gone to *sleep*?" Lina demanded.

"Why couldn't *you* have kept your own deal, huh? If you were really so sure you're the real one, you wouldn't have had to do that!"

"I wanted to do it before you did it first, freak!"

"Witch!"

"Pantywaist!"

"Ninny!"

"Creampuff!"

"Pancake!"

"Jerk!"

"Useless!"

"SHUT UP!" screamed Lina.

"*You* shut up!" her clone hollered back. "I hate bossy girls!"

"Well, *I* hate stuck-up boys!" Lina informed him.

"Shouldn't we get the mirror back?" asked Gourry.

The argument came to the metaphorical screeching halt.

"Yeah," Gloria nodded. "If we don't have the mirror, then *nobody* gets paid!"

Lina and Rian blinked in unison, then tilted their heads back to look at the sky. A dark silhouette in the clouds showed where the dragon was still circling. It paused a moment, then dived into the woods.

"Come on!" said Lina, brushing mud and leaves off the seat of her pants. "We'll follow it!"

She took off at a run in the direction where the dragon had landed, with her clone, Gourry, and Gloria right behind her.

"That kind of dragon likes to live near water!" Rian shouted. "We should look for an underground river or something!"

"I *know* that!" Lina hollered. "Do you think I'm stupid or something?" She lengthened her stride, hoping to leave him behind, but he caught up easily. The trees appeared to be thinning... hopefully in a moment they'd see where the dragon had gone.

"Woah! Stop!" shouted Rian.

Lina skidded to a standstill, just in time. Right in front of her, the ground suddenly dropped away into a steep, ten-foot slope covered in small rocks, which plunged steeply into a roaring river. She looked around quickly and saw, about twenty yards upstream, the path they'd been following earlier came up to the riverbank and continued out a few feet as a rickety wooden dock, which had a raft tied to it.

"There!" she said, pointing.

"Great!" Rian nodded. "Let's go!"

"Hey!" Gourry exclaimed as the two of them ran down the dock onto the raft. "Wait up!"

"Yeah, doesn't this seem like too convenient a coincidence?" Gloria wanted to know.

Lina and her clone weren't in the mood to listen. "You two coming, or not?" Lina asked, and when Gourry and Gloria still hung back on the shore, she cut the rope and the raft rushed off down the river.

"Look for caves," said Rian. "If this is the main river on this mountain..."

"I know. I *know*!" Lina snapped. "It wasn't far from here... we should see it any min..." she paused. "Hey... boy, do you hear something?"

"Hear what?" he asked.

"Sssh. Just listen."

For a few seconds they both strained their ears to hear over the roar of the river. Lina started thinking maybe the sound had been her imagination... but then there it was; the not-too-distant thunder of falling water. Lots and lots and *lots* of falling water.

Lina and her clone exchanged a glance, then both slowly turned their heads to look downstream.

About a hundred feet away the river seemed to meet the sky and end as suddenly as if some god had taken an enormous pair of scissors and snipped it off. And the distance between them and there was narrowing fast.

"Oh, no," groaned Lina. "This joke is *so* old..."

There was fifty feet left to go. Forty feet.

"Hey, girl?" said Rian.

"What?"

Twenty-five feet.

"I hate you."

Ten.

"Don't worry," Lina replied. "The feeling's entirely mutual."

Zero.

A minute or so later, assorted debris from the raft began to bob to the surface of the small lake below the waterfall... a few planks floated up, followed by a white leather book, a glove, a rubber chicken for some reason... and then a head of red hair.

The boy sputtered and thrashed as he spit up water, then shook his hair out of his face and looked around.

"Girl?" he called. "Hey, *girl*?"

Some bubbles drifted up and popped, and then Lina came gasping to the surface. "You *bastard*!" she coughed.

"Hey, don't blame *me*! The raft was *your* idea!" he shot back.

"Well, *you're* the one who lost us the mirror!"

"I was not!"

"You were so!

"Nuh-uh!"

"Yuh-huh!"

"NUH-UH!"

"YUH-HUH!"

"Oh, go back where you came from!" Rian said disagreeably, and started splashing his way to shore.

"After you!" Lina snarled. "Hey! Wait for me!"

Back on dry land, Lina lit a small fire while her clone wrung the water out of his shirt and cape and hung them over tree branches to dry. Under slightly warmer and dryer circumstances, Lina would have laughed at how skinny and goose-pimply he was... but at the moment not much seemed funny. Her own sopping clothes were sticking to her skin and freezing cold. How fair was it that boys were allowed to take their shirts off in front of girls, and not vice-versa?

Rian sat down on the other side of the fire and held his hands near the flames to warm them. Lina shivered a moment longer, then decided to heck with it. She turned around and undid the clasp of her cape but tried to keep it sitting on her shoulders while she undid her own shirt and tried to shake the water out of it.

"I know you're looking, you pervert," she said darkly.

"Don't flatter yourself," grumbled the boy. "Even if I were, you don't have anything worth looking at."

She'd have slugged him if she hadn't been topless.

"Way to go, girl," Rian added as she put her clothes back on. "You *knew* that waterfall was there, didn't you?"

"If I had, I'd have left *you* on the raft and gotten the hell out of there," she told him. "And quit calling me 'girl.' My *name* is Lina."

"Well then don't call *me* 'boy.' Mine's Rian."

"Fine," said Lina.

"Fine," said Rian.

"Fine."

"Fine!"

"FINE!"

Rian took a deep breath and prepared to out-shout her, but something else beat him to. An unearthly trumpeting sound with no apparent source echoed over the mountains, shaking the trees and sending flocks of roosting birds into panicked flight. Lina and Rian scrambled to their feet and looked around.

"What was *that*?" asked Lina.

"Beats me," Rian replied. "Where did it *come* from?"

Then the waterfall exploded.

Or at least, that's what it looked like. An enormous splash erupted from the base, sloshing over the shoreline and drenching both kids to the skin all over again. And when they looked up, there was a dragon in the middle of the lake.

"There it is!" Rian exclaimed.

"Wait!" Lina grabbed him. "That's not the same dragon!"

And it wasn't... this one was the same species, but smaller and without horns, and its scales lacked the metallic lustre the other one's had; a female.

"But..." Rian began. He and Lina looked at each other. "Oh, *great*," they groaned in unison.

"Wonderful!" said Lina. "Now we've got *two* of them to deal with! Why did you have to go and pull the coverings off that mirror?"

With a second bugling roar, the male dragon burst through the waterfall, too. He came up almost right underneath his female duplicate, who hissed at him angrily. He shook the water off his scales and snapped at her, and she responded by clawing at his snout.

"I don't think now's the time to be discussing that," said Rian.

"Come on," Lina motioned him to follow her. "While they're fighting!"

They hurried towards the edge of the lake towards the waterfall. From a few yards closer, they could just start to see the entrance to the dragon cave behind it. The curtain of water covered nearly the entire opening... but Lina and Rian were probably already as wet as they could possibly get.

"Okay," Rian began. "Here's what we'll do..."

The female dragon shoved the male towards the edge of the lake. He crashed up against the shore, and Rian and Lina had to dive out of the way to avoid him rolling over them. Big trees toppled like dominoes when the dragon's enormous body hit them. He got up and shook his horned head as if to dispel dizziness... and his baleful eye fell on Rian.

"Dare Brando!" Lina hollered, and the ground underneath the dragon exploded. The spell was not powerful enough to throw the animal into the air the way it would have a human being, but in trying to back away from the blast, the dragon slipped on the mud and slid back into the water. "Tree!" Lina told Rian, pointing up. She cast levitation and rose into the air.

He followed her and both of them clung to the branches about two thirds of the way up the tallest pine tree in the vicinity. They were above the reach of the dragons here, but as Lina watched the male get up she realized that he could easily uproot it... and now the female was wading to shore, too!

She tried to think fast. *One* dragon she could take out easily, but *two* of them was different. The last time she and Gourry had fought one of these, it had taken a dragon slave to kill it... but if she didn't get them both at once... even the beautiful sorcery genius Lina Inverse couldn't cast two dragon slaves in a row! Her mind raced... have to get them both into one small area...

"Uh-oh," said Rian.

Lina looked down. The male dragon had pushed himself up on his hind legs, and was putting his foreopaws against the tree.

She gulped. "All right," she said, "listen. We'll have to somehow get them both back into the cave, and then fire a big spell in after them."

"What about the mirror?" Rian wanted to know. "It's probably in the cave, too. I don't know about you, but after all this bullshit I'd like to get paid!"

The male dragon dropped back onto all fours to hiss at the female, and for a moment Lina and Rian thought they might go back to fighting and leave them free to get into the cave, but instead the female backed up, and the male got up again and started shaking the tree. Sturdy as it was, the tree couldn't take that for very long, and there was a wooden creak.

"Woah!" Lina threw her arms around the trunk and held on for dear life.BR

"Time to go, I think!" said Rian. "Levitation!"

"Hey!" Lina protested, casting her own spell to follow him. "Haven't you ever heard of ladies first?"

They cleared the top of the tree just as the roots began to work their way loose of the soil. There was a horrible groaning sound as the tree toppled over in slow motion, then fell into the lake with a splash. The dragon gave a roar of triumph and went to pick through the branches for his intended victims.

"All right," said Lina. "I've got a better idea. You get down there and distract the dragons. I'll go into the cave and get the mirror, and once I'm out, we run for it. Okay?"

"Why can't *you* distract them and *I* go into the cave?" Rian asked.

"Look, we'll do rock paper scissors, all right?" Lina asked. Rian nodded. "Right," she said. "One... two... three!"

She kept her own fist curled for 'rock.' Rian extended two fingers for 'scissors.'

"Rock breaks scissors," said Lina.

"Best two out of three?" Rian asked hopefully.

"Just *go*!" Lina pushed him towards the ground. He landed hard and did an involuntary somersault, landing right at the feet of the female dragon. She looked down at him, her long, slender red tongue flickering in and out like a snake's.

"BURST RONDO!" shouted Rian, holding up his hands.

Two dozen balls of orange light popped into being and exploded in quick succession. The spell wasn't powerful enough to harm the dragon, but they singed her scales and she snapped at them as if they were annoying insects. Attracted by the noise, the male dragon came lumbering over to see what was going on.

Lina took a deep breath swooped down through the waterfall to land on the floor of the cave. Inside it was damp and smelly, and everything was covered with slick, gritty black goo that appeared to be at least partially organic in origin. She pulled her collar up over her nose so she could breath without gagging, and looked around.

The Shadow Reflector caught her eye quickly; it was the only thing in the entire cave that didn't have gunk all over it. She ran to pick it up, pulling off her cape to wrap it in so she wouldn't wind up with another Rian in here. That done, she should probably get out of here as quickly as possible... but her eyes lingered on the heaps of cups and coins and gems stashed against the cave walls. She hesitated a moment, then quickly started stuffing her pockets.

From outside came a loud roar and a watery crash, and a wall of water dashed over Lina, soaking her yet again as the female dragon splashed inside. The dragon made an annoyed noise and glared down at Lina.

"Flare arrow!" Lina cried, aiming the spell right for the dragon's face.

The darts of fire hit their target and detonated, and the female dragon screamed in pain as the explosions blinded her. Slipping and sliding on the wet hoard, Lina grabbed a jewelled sword, two more big diamonds and a badly tarnished silver chalice, and ran for it.

"RAY WING!" she hollered as the dragon's thrashing tail barely missed knocking her off her feet. The spell lifted her out through the waterfall...

... and she emerged from it right in the male dragon's face. He opened his mouth and began to lunge for her.

"DEMONA CRYSTAL!" a voice on the other side of the dragon shouted, and a split second later, there was a crackling sound as the lake water froze solid, trapping the dragon in place. Lina aimed for the shore and landed with a bounce, about thirty feet from Rian.

"You got it?" he asked, running to see.

"Yep!" She proudly help up her spoils.

Something went 'snap.' The male dragon was trying to work his way free of the ice.

"Quick!" said Rian. "Take the stuff and run for it while he's still trapped! I'll get rid of them!"

"How?" asked Lina.

He climbed up on top of the fallen tree to have a better view of the lake. The female dragon was still in the cave; Lina could hear things smashing and clattering as she stumbled around, unable to see. The male continued to struggle in the ice... a spiderweb of cracks was snaking its way across the surface. The ice was thick, but dragons are, by virture of sheer bulk, extremely strong. It probably wouldn't be more than a minute or two before he was free.

Rian raised his hands above his head. "Darkness beyond twilight," he recited, keeping his eyes on the dragon. "Crimson beyond blood that flows."

The ice cracked again with an almost musical 'ping,' and the dragon began to climb out on top of it. For a moment it looked as if it might break under his weight, dumping him in the water again, but it held. The dragon started making his way across it towards Lina and Rian.

"Buried in the flow of time is where your power grows..." Rian paused and swallowed. The dragon was limping a little; the cold had done some damage to its legs, but it was making pretty good time nevertheless. If it came much closer, the spell would destroy it *or* the female in the cave, but probably not both. "I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand..." Rian wasn't going to have time to finish the casting.

"FIREBALL!" Lina hurled the little spell not at the dragon itself, but at the ice it was standing on. There was a woosh of flames and then a splash as the ice was vaporized into steam and the dragon fell into the water. It roared angrily.

"Before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hand! Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed..."

Lina held up her hands. "BOMB DI WIND!" she shouted. The shock wave of compressed air pushed the water up in front of it as it rushed across the surface of the lake, and hit the dragon full on. The enormous animal was shoved back almost to the cave entrance.

"By the power you and I possess!" Rian finished triumphantly. "DRAGON SLAVE!"

The spell roared through the waterfall and exploded, tearing the cave apart from the inside out. Lina and Rian both crouched in the lee of the tree trunk and covered their heads as bits of half-molten rock and dragon treasure went flying like shrapnel, setting small fires where it fell into the bush. A moment later, boiling lake water surged past, putting the fire out and leaving clouds of steam rising from the mountainside.

Then there was silence.

Lina and her clone put their hands on top of the trunk and slowly straightened up for a look.

The waterfall had been pushed back about fifty feet, and there was an interesting hemispherical dent in the cliff where the dragon cave used to be. Steam was billowing off the much-lowered surface of the lake, filling the chilly night air with damp, almost tropical heat, and there were rather fewer trees around... and there no trace whatsoever of the dragons.

"Yes!" cheered Lina, jumping to her feet.

"We did it!" Rian cheered. "We got them!"

"Victory!" Lina made the v sign with both hands.

"Not bad for a girl," said Rian, his tone implying that this was significant praise. "Now, let's take a look at that treasure."


"Treasure?" Lina quickly snatched up the bundle and clutched it against her chest. "What about the treasure?"

"Well, we're going to split it, aren't we?" asked Rian. Lina blinked, pretending incomprehension, and he glared at her. "Oh, come *on*! I should get at *least* half of it!"

"What, are you nuts?" Lina demanded. "You had the easy job... I was the one risking my life in the cave!"

"Oh, as *if*!" he snorted. "All *you* had to do was run in and grab! *I* was out here with two angry dragons almost stepping on me!"

"Well you just had to keep them distracted," Lina reminded him. "If you're too dumb to do it from a safe distance, that isn't my fault! Besides, you didn't even do a very good job! One of them came in after me!"

"I was a little busy right about then! The other one was sort of trying to *eat* me! You can keep forty percent of that," Rian added, nodding towards the loot. "It's more than you deserve, anyway."

"Not a chance!" said Lina. "*You* can have forty percent... and that's just 'cause I feel like being nice!"

"Hello, there!" called Gourry's voice.

Lina and Rian looked up to see him climbing down the edge of the dragon slave crater, his statuesque clone not far behind him.

"Gourry!" Lina waved. "How'd you find us?"

"Oh, that was easy," said Gloria, "we just went towards the explosion!"

"We got the mirror back!" Lina held it up. "And a whole mess of treasure, besides!"

"Sixty percent of which belongs to me," said Rian.

"Does not!"

"Does so!"

"Nuh-uh!"

"Yuh-huh!"

And so on.

It was shortly after dawn the next morning when the foursome finally arrived at the Laboratory of Corbold the Magician. Everybody was tired and cranky, Rian had never managed to recover his shirt and cape, and neither he nor Lina was happy with the way they'd eventually agreed to divide up the treasure she'd recovered from the dragon's cave.

The entrance to Corbold's lab was a rather forbidding set of heavy wood doors set directly into the mountainside, with a torch burning in a bracket on each side. Lina reached up and banged twice on the doorknocker. Everybody waited.

"Don't tell me," muttered Rian. "All *that* to get the guy his stupid Shadow Reflector, and he doesn't even have the decency to be home when we get here."

"He *better* be home," Lina said darkly. "If he's not, I'm going to do something violent."

"I'll help," Rian promised.

There was a click, then a slow creaking of hinges that, if Lina knew anything about sorcerers, had probably been left unoiled for years specifically so that they would creak ominously.

"Hello?" Lina asked.

The hinges sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard as the door swung fully open. The man on the other side was about four feet tall and as bald as an egg, with a scraggly white beard that trailed on the floor by his feet. "Hello?" he asked, peering nearsightedly up at his guests.

"Um... hi," said Lina. "I'm Lina Inverse and this is Gourry, Rian, and Gloria. We're here to deliver this mirror to Corbold the Magician." She held it out, still wrapped in her cape.

The little man fished a pair of wire-rimmed glasses out from somewhere underneath his beard and balanced them on his nose, then looked first at Lina, then at Rian, and then back at Lina again.

"We kind of had a little accident," Lina told him.

Corbold... if that' who this was... nodded absently and craned his neck to look up at Gourry and Gloria... and then he dropped to his knees and burst into tears.

"*No*!" he wailed. "My research! My precious, precious research!"

"Your..." Rian looked at him, then turned to Lina as if she knew what the magician meant. She just shrugged. "What?" Rian asked.

Corbold got up and grabbed Rian by the shoulders. "Who did it?" he demanded tearfully. "Who told you to deliver that to me?"

"Uh..." said Rian.

"It was Aloysius the Blue," Lina said. "At the Atlas City sorcerer's guild."

"Aloysius!" wailed Corbold. "I should have known! Two years of my life, down the drain... wasted!" He bent his head until it was resting against Rian's chest, and sobbed. "It was to be the accomplishment of my career... I'm not going to last much longer, you know! My reseach!"

Gourry scratched his head. "What's he talking about?"

"Years!" the little sorcerer moaned. "All that time perfecting the formula! And when I'm finally ready to test it on a mirror, that rat Aloysius has to go show me he did it first! Do you know how *hard* it is to make the reflector alter something like that! Do you have any idea how complex the duplication spell is, even without modifying anything in the copy? All that work, wasted..."

"Hold it," said Rian. "You were researching... *what*?"

"This!" Corbold replied, gesturing to Lina. "Getting the Shadow Reflector to make a clone of the opposite sex! Oh, Aloysius, *why* did you have to rub my nose in it..."

"Um, no," Rian told him. "This was an accident... you see, I fell on the mirror..."

"No, you," began Lina, then paused. "Okay, sure," she said. "*You* fell on the mirror."

Rian shot her a withering look. "And I... and *we* sort of put it back together wrong."

Lina unwrapped the mirror and showed Corbold the back of it. "See?" she asked, indicating the crack Gourry had pointed out to her after she'd first repaired it.

He inspected it. "My word... you mean it? Oh, well this is interesting!" Suddenly happy again, he went on, "tell me... are you identical in all other respects? Let me see... same heights, same builds... what about your personalities? Do you *act* the same?"

"Oh, trust me," said Gourry.

Gloria nodded. "Lina and Rian are *exactly* alike!"

"Lina and Rian?" Corbold asked, fortunately before either could take offense. "You each came with your own names?"

"That's the name my parents gave me," they answered in unison.

"Extraordinary! So what about your memories... which of you is the original?"

"Actually," there was a little problem with that," said Lina. "We couldn't..."

"Couldn't decide," Rian interrupted, "who was actually..."

"Actually here first, and..."

"And these two idiots over here weren't any..."

"Weren't any help, so we were hoping..."

"Hoping maybe you could..."

"Could help us out..."

"Out with that."

"Please?" Lina added.

Corbold had been looking excitedly from one to the other while this was going on, and now he clapped his hands for glee. "Oh, happy day!" he exclaimed. "Give me that mirror... I must take a look at this!" Lina handed the Reflector to him and he and lovingly brushed imaginary dust off of it. "Who'd have thought it could be that simple?" he said apparently to himself. "Putting the piece in wrong must've caused some distortion in the spell... I'll have to do sdome tests... maybe I can figure out..." he suffled back inside, and the door closed behind him.

The foursome stared at it.

"Um..." said Gourry.

The door creaked open again. "Say, I almost forgot!" said Corbold. "How much do I owe you? And I'd better pay you both, hadn't I... if the memories all work out, there's no way to tell which was first. Don't worry, I'm quite able to afford it. I've got a royal sponsor! How much?"

A royal sponsor, eh? Lina and Rian looked at each other. Aloysius the Blue had told them Corbold would pay twenty-five gold pieces for the mirror's delivery.

"Fifty gold pieces," they said.

"I'll double it!" the little sorcerer said happily. He shut the door again.

This time it was several minutes before it opened, revealing Corbold carrying two bulging bags of money. "There we go!" he said. "For the lovely lady," he placed one of the bags in Lina's hands, "and one for the charming young man!" the second bag went to Rian. "Have a nice day, children!" he said brightly. "And if you're going back to Atlas City, be sure you say hello to my friend Prince Philionel! He's going to be passing by that way shortly."

"A prince?" Lina asked, perking up. "You know a prince?"

"Indeed I do!" Corbold nodded enthusastically. "Wonderful fellow, Philionel is! A model of royal virtue! He's on his way back to Saillune... say hello to him for me, I'll be much too busy looking at this mirror! Goodbye now!" and the door closed for the final time.

"Well," said Rian, into the quiet Corbold left behind. "That was... weird."

"I wonder what he's going to *do* with that mirror," Lina said.

"I wish I knew," Rian replied. He thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Actually, scratch that. I'm just as glad I don't."

"Yeah." Lina nodded. "Me too."

Rian weighed the bag in his hand, then shrugged. "Well, let's go, Gloria," he said. "Now that we've got some money, lets go back to the city and find something to eat... and then new clothes, like we planned. See you, guys," he added to Lina and Gourry before starting off down the path.

"Hey, what about them?" Gloria wanted to know.

"Sure, we're..." Gourry began, but Lina grabbed his belt.

"Noooo," she said, "*We* are going to the road that leads to Saillune... because I want to meet that prince! Come on!"

"You don't want to see the prince, Rian?" Gloria asked, as Lina dragged Gourry off in the other direction.

"No," he said. "Why would I? Let's go. I'm starving."

"Okay," said Gloria agreeably, falling into step behind him. "Say, Rian," she added, "do you think we'll ever see them again?" She pointed back at the disappearing shapes of Lina and Gourry.

As a matter of fact, right then Gourry was asking Lina the very same question... and getting the exact same answer.

"Geeze... not if I have anything to say about it!"