Shards of Chaos Chapter Four
"... he hurt my pride. So I kissed 'em upside the cranium with my aluminum baseball bat my name is mud." Primus, My Name Is Mud
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Mina Inverse had lived her entire life knowing she had a "grand and important destiny". One could hardly ignore the call of fate (which bears a remarkable resemblance to the sound of a person without much musical sense dementedly playing a kazoo to the tune of a funeral dirge) when one's parents were such well known and respected (and feared, let us not forget feared) individuals. With Lina Inverse, Sorceress Supreme, Dragon Spooker and Bandit Killer, and Gourry Gabriev former Swordsman of Light and Companion to the Bandit Killer (Mina wasn't exactly sure, but apparently being a Companion was alot like being a sort of walking stress relief squeeze ball or punching bag/ human target) it is no surprise that "Great Things" were expected of her.
Mina began her training at a very early age. Lina Inverse might have been divest of her considerable magic talent, but she retained a frighteningly large arsenal of magical knowledge which she willingly shared to the general populace, for a rather exhorbitant fee. This, supplemented by Gourry's position as a respected guardsman meant that The Gabriev family, while not swimming in cash, never wanted for anything. Of course, Lina took it upon herself to teach Mina everything she knew.
Mina took to it like a paraplegic dwarf in iron underpants to water.
Mina had inherited her razor sharp intellect, and could pick up magical theory infinitely more quickly then Lina had in her own youth. The embarrassment stemmed from the fact that Mina had also inherited Gourry's natural talent for magic. This put Mina in exactly the opposite boat from Lina, who had always been a bit slow to pick up magical theory but for whom magic (especially the really destructive kind) had always come naturally.
Still, Mina gritted her teeth and forced her way through Lina's teachings with a determination that rivalled even Lina's to teach her. Partly because she wanted desperately to please her mother, who obviously wanted her to follow in her magical footsteps, and partly because she had learned early on that Lina with an idea was alot like an avalanche; one quickly learned to go with the flow or life became very difficult, very quickly. It is therefor unsurprising that the two of them did not get along very well during the onset of Mina's adolescence, when a young person's brain becomes a sea of hormone induced rebellious insanity. This animosity was further fueled by the fact that while Mina had looked remarkably like Lina as she grew up, the resemblance quickly became less pronounced as the evidence of her puberty became decidedly MORE pronounced.
To put it another way, she grew a nice rack.
In addition, her hair eventually went from Lina's unruly and untamed mess to a sort of happy medium between said mess and Gourry's more luxuriant mane. While Lina went through her life being called no more than cute (at least if you knew what was good for you) Mina could honestly be considered beautiful. Not that Lina would ever admit that her daughter's attractiveness got to her, it should just be noted as a contributing factor to the tensions between them.
For all of the problems Mina had with her mother, she absolutely adored her father. Gourry, for all of his mental faults, was an excellent counterpoint to Lina's push for magical excellence. He was a gentle man who doted on his daughter. Whereas Lina would only grudgingly admit when Mina did well (in her presence), Gourry was very proud of how hard his intelligent daughter worked and praised her often. It also helped that Gourry was endowed with the superhuman patience necessary to deal with years of Lina. Mina loved her mother, but the two didn't often see eye to eye. With her father, Mina never had to prove anything.
Perhaps it was because of this fact that Mina turned out to be such a natural swordswoman.
From an early age she had been fascinated with swordplay. Whenever possible, she liked to go with her father to the garrison in town and watch her father train the young recruits there. Gourry was not a stupid man, contrary to popular belief. It was simply that he was in no particular hurry to arrive at the same conclusions everyone else did three days ago, and he had a tendency to be somewhat absentminded about the little details, such as the names, importance, and histories of whoever he happened to be fighting at the time. Gourry eventually noticed his daughter's interest in his work, and was soon including her in his training sessions.
It didn't take long for her to outshine even the best of Gourry's pupils.
She loved swordplay. Her body reacted instantly and instinctively to it's many intricacies, and her agile mind served her well, finding the blind spot or chink in her opponent's defenses with ease. Learning magic was like pushing a boulder up a steep incline for her, whereas the art of the sword was as easy as falling.
So Mina was brought up with the best of both worlds at her fingertips. She would never be the Sorceress that Lina was... but she was easily twice the swordsman (so to speak) that her father had been. True to form, she prepared to carve her own legend into the world. Taking on her mother's professional name, (Mina Gabriev just didn't have quite the same ring to it) and old costume, (let out in some places and adding a longsword of course) she'd left home and vaulted into the fast paced world of professional adventuring with a passion.
Only to discover that varied and sundry small monsters and pitifully inept bandit gangs did not the equivalent of 4 dark lords and a demon beast make.
Mina watched the naked and scorched bandit gang (formerly the Bruisers of Lower Westside) run away screaming and sighed heavily.
"This sucks." she eloquently put it.
The last few days had been a low point in her already dismal career. Bandit gang after bandit gang relearned the terror of the Inverse name, and all Mina had to show for it was a pitifully small pile of coins and a few random pieces of sorcerous junk. Lower Sailoon just wasn't the best place for heroism and amazing acts of derring do... the Kingdom of White Magic was disgustingly full of heroes, all of whom were out to make a name for themselves. It was so prevalent, the local peasantry had taken to calling them Damsel-in-Distress chasers (say it REAL fast, you'll get the joke -DT) and making a decent living off of providing leads (usually false and very far away) to same.
Mina found herself perversely hoping for a major disaster.
Speak of the devil... and perversity...
Mina suddenly found herself being accosted by a pair of very dexterious, very knowledgable hands on her bosom. A familiar voice from her past, full of taunting cheerfulness, whispered near her left ear.
"My, my Mina Inverse... all grown up I see. Little excited are we?"
She spun about and planted a fist in the mocking trickster's face, while simultaneously backing up and placing her hands on her hips. Xellos fingered his jaw and grinned.
"Xellos... you purple haired creep... I'd fireball you but you'd probably enjoy it."
"Too true, too true. So, how have you been? Adventurer's life treating you well?"
Mina scowled. "Not particularly, but then you probably already know that. Mom's told me all about you."
Xellos raised an eyebrow (and yet somehow managed to maintain his cheerful slit-eyed mask) and seated himself on a handy stump recently provided by a stray flare arrow.
"You wound me deeply young Inverse."
Mina's scowl deepened. "I should be so lucky. So what is it YOU want... I somehow doubt this is a social visit."
Xellos picked a bit of imaginary lint from his clothing and sniffed. "My, such an attitude. I'm of a mind not to assist you after all."
"From what I've heard, thats not exactly a bad thing."
"Please... surely Lina must have also told you what a font of information I can be."
Mina crossed her arms. "What kind of information?"
Xellos grinned slyly. "A quest perhaps?"
Mina looked thoughtful. "Go on."
Xellos' grin deepened. "What's the magic word?"
"Crimson fire burning bright, gather-"
"Ok, ok, fair enough! Fair enough!" he waved his hands frantically.
He sighed. "I trust you are familiar with the Black Hills?"
She shrugged. "Vaguely..."
He leaned in conspiratorily. "Well... rumour has it that a particularly nasty bandit gang has-"
"XELLOS DAMN IT! Is that all? Another bandit gang? I'm going to fireball you anyway." She clenched her fist in front of his face.
"Hear me out first! This particular Bandit Gang has been operating untouched for years. It's far larger than a gang,-- more of a horde actually. Rumour has it that it's success is due to it's mysterious leader, known only as the Bandit King. No hero who has challenged the Bandit King has ever been seen again." Xellos' voice rose and fell in a singsong quality emphasizing his storytelling talents. He smiled inwardly as Mina tried unsuccessfully to hide her interest... got ya.. hook, line and sinker.
"If this is such a terrible army of bandits, why haven't I heard of it before? Why hasn't the Queen sent in mercenaries to deal with it?" she was still skeptical, but interested.
"That is the strange thing... the bandits remain entrenched in a nearly impregnable fortress, and raid only occasionally into the nearby towns. Since rousting them out of such a well guarded place would be extremely costly, and since they don't move very far from the Black Hills, Amelia has decided to ignore them for the most part. The only thing she can really do about it is send heroes and hope the Bandit King gets careless in his challenges and falls... without the Bandit King the bandits would fall apart rather rapidly. The heroes have not been overly successful as I'm sure you can see."
Mina looked at him suspiciously. "What do you get out of all this?"
"Why Mina, can't I do something nice for the daughter of a former traveling companion?"
She shook her head. "I've got a better question for you: How can you say stuff like that with a straight face?"
He never missed a beat. "Centuries of practice dear." His face fell, and he looked, if at all possible, embarrassed. "To be honest, the Bandit in question has a weapon that is rather harmful to Mazoku. Since it would be impossible for you to wield it, I was hoping that you would allow me to get rid of it, in exchange for this information."
Mina frowned... it made sense... but something about all of this didn't quite sit right with her. She didn't think Xellos would reveal something as important as a weapon capable of hurting Mazoku to her pretty much for free, regardless of whether she could wield it or not. Still, the thought of a owning a Mazoku slaying weapon... she smiled inwardly... it was worth a try.
"I'm not promising anything, but thanks for the information Xellos." she allowed grudgingly.
Xellos smiled and disappeared... the ball was rolling now...
Mina stared up at the impossibly huge man who by all rights should be splattered across the stony ground as opposed to looming over her like an ominous thundercloud. The sword cocked nonchalantly over one massive shoulder was easily longer than she was, and her longsword felt pitifully inadequate in her tight grasp.
If I survive this, she thought to herself distantly, Xellos is going to be a purple smear on a wall somewhere.
The fire popped and crackled merrily behind him, and he advanced slowly, his odd yellow overcoat flapping in the breeze.
"What's the matter little girl? No heroic speech? No proclamations of my impending doom?" he let out a great sigh and shook his head. "Kids these days. No respect for tradition."
An uneasy chuckle escaped the bandits who crouched out of the line of fire around the battlefield. His mocking smile did not reach his eyes.
He's uneasy about something... but what? Her thoughts bounced around in her head as she circled the giant warily. For his part, the Bandit King had ceased his advance just outside of sword range. He just stood there and watched her, waiting. She opened her palm, a ball of flame appearing in her hands, and smiled grimly. "The name's Mina Inverse, not kid." with that, she thrust her hand forward.
"FIREBALL!" As soon as the fireball leapt from her hands, she charged after it.
When he moved, she almost couldn't follow it. One minute he was there, mocking stance and all... the next he simply wasn't, and her fireball exploded in a blinding conflagration of pyrotechnics. Instinct screamed at her and she dived aside at the last moment, as that terrible blade of his ripped a tortured furrow in the stone where she had been standing. Rolling to her feet she stabbed with her longsword held two handed at his unprotected back only to stagger back incredulously as his sword met hers in a resounding parry that forced her several feet back. This guy is a monster! No one that big can move this fast! She quickly formed a flare arrow and prepared to hurl it.
The Bandit King chased the girl about the base of the fortress, dodging her spells and parrying her desperate attacks easily. Something about her name had jogged something inside him... he knew this girl... knew her from somewhere, and yet she didn't seem to recognize him. She was familiar and yet something about her did not quite match the picture of the frail little girl in his elusive memories. Still, he found himself enjoying the fight... he had to actually TRY to stay ahead of her...
Mina was fast becoming tired and the Bandit King seemed completely unconcerned, even languid. The bastard appeared to be enjoying himself. It occured to her for the first time that she might actually die here... Her. Mina Inverse. Something in her burned at the thought, and she gritted her teeth in defiance and charged forward.
"BURST RONDO!!" she flung both hands forward, one palm outstretched, the other gripping her sword tightly. A stream of tiny comets streaked toward him and he grunted as a few of them hit the mark. Frowning, he spun his sword easily in his grip and parried the rest of the deadly stream. Narrowing his eyes, he stalked forward, his full attention on the battle now.
She gasped for air, nearly on the verge of collapse and looked up at him. The bandits on the sidelines were completely silent, engrossed in the battle and leaning forward, as though waiting for that final stroke that would end her life. She only had one last thing to try... but there was no way he was going to let her complete that spell... an idea struck her and she grinned wearily. Nothing to lose at this point... screw it.
Dodging past his whistling blade, she spread her hands wide and shouted. "RAYWING!" a bubble of force appeared around her and the bandit king scowled.
"Trying to flee are we? I DON'T THINK SO!" he roared, raising his sword high above him in both hands.
She closed her eyes. He hesitated, confused for a split second, wondering if perhaps she was giving up. Something in him paled at killing a defenseless woman, who was quite possibly the only link to the past that had eluded him for so long...
That was when he realized she wasn't giving up...
She was concentrating.
"Darkness beyond twilight, Crimson beyond blood that flows-"
He frowned, the words strangely familiar to him but just outside his memory. With a growl he brought the ponderous blade down with all of his might...
"Buried in the stream of time is where you power grows-"
The weapon struck the bubble of force with a jarring crash, sparks shrieking off, motes of tortured magical power dancing like fireflies... the bubble flickered, weakening, as fragile as a soap bubble...
"I pledge myself to conquer, all the foes who stand-"
Again the blade shrieked against the magical barrier, this time sinking in, the bubble at the limits of its strength. The Bandit King leaned his considerable weight against the blade and watched as it slowly, torturously inched its way toward the girl's tranquil face.
"Before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hand!"
Her eyes opened at last and a grin more like a grimace reached her lips. The blade was less than an inch from her face, the Raywing suddenly shattering, the now white hot blade coming down with full force...
The cataclysmic surge of dark fire struck the bandit king full in the chest and blasted him back several feet before the explosion turned the world into a roaring inferno. Whatever cries of alarm or fear the bandits let out were drowned out by the shrieking, wailing cacophony of tortured winds that fed the Black Magic spawned abyss. Bandit forms melted and ran together, disappearing into so much startled vapor. The walls of the fortress exploded, deciding to hell with it and skipping the step of solid to liquid and just going straight to a gas. The ground shook and startled villagers miles away looked toward the horizon and wondered at the momentary raising of a black sun...
Mina Inverse dropped her sword and collapsed to her knees, her vision narrowed to a dark tunnel. She'd spent her last bit of strength in that desperate attack, throwing everything she had left into one all out magical uppercut. It had cost her, but she'd done it... she'd finally...
Out of the stygian fog of black smoke, a somewhat the worse for wear blackened and singed yellow overcoat forced its way out of the gloom. She looked up, wide eyed and suddenly terrified as the red-haired giant calmly walked out of what small residual fires remained of her terrible spell. He patted some of the ash from his coat and frowned, levelling his sword at her, its point inches from her startled face. He was obviously not happy.
"That," he began with the air of someone who had just been kicked in the shin, " hurt."
Mina allowed herself one choked, disbelieving yelp before the darkness swept her away into a tide of oblivion, and then, mercifully, she knew no more...
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"... he hurt my pride. So I kissed 'em upside the cranium with my aluminum baseball bat my name is mud." Primus, My Name Is Mud