A clear, almost mocking sound rang in the air as the sword shattered with ridiculous ease.
Gourry"s confused exclamation was buried under the tourism official"s earsplitting wail.
"Hey, you! What do you think you"re doing!? You just broke the village"s legendary sword!" He advanced on us, his face a mixture of rage and anxiety.
"What are you talking about?" I snapped back. "What kind of sword snaps when you just lean on it? Legendary, my ass!" The official"s face paled abruptly at my retort.
"Urk! Well... that... that"s... well... that"s just one of its legendary properties!"
"Like hell it is!"
Full of righteous indignation, my fist slammed straight into his face with a meaty thud.
* * *
Weapons of Legend.
There are some weapons so famous that their names become instantly recognizable. The Demon King"s Stave of Bones. Ceifeed"s Flare Dragon Sword. The Elmekia Blade, which only cuts on the astral plane. The legendary Blast Sword, so sharp it can even slice through the scales of a Deimos Dragon. The list goes on.
But the thing is, cheap swords temporarily enhanced with enchantments or gems aside, it"s not every day you find a legendary magical weapon just lying around waiting for someone to take it.
That is, unless you believe in the rumors.
There"s a cave somewhere where an enchanted weapon slumbers, waiting for its destined owner to appear. A strange cult based in somewhere or other is secretly concealing a marvelous sword. There"s a lake in who knows what country where you can throw in a plain sword and a beautiful lady will appear to hand you a legendary blade. And the most common one, of some sword stuck in some stone somewhere, that becomes yours if only you can draw it forth. The most frustrating cases are when there are real swords stuck in boulders, just outside of villages and towns.
All fake, of course. Nearly all of them are placed there by the villagers themselves. If you ask them why, they"ll reply that they did it to try and attract visitors to the village. In other words, they create cheap tourist attractions with fancy-looking swords cut to look like they"re stuck in boulders. Some places even collect fees just for the privilege of looking, or charge per try to any people who might want to try their luck at drawing the sword out.
That"s right. Just like the village Gourry and I were visiting.
"Ooh, I"m so mad! I didn"t even expect it to be a real legendary sword, but honestly! All the villagers were in cahoots to swindle us out of our money. I mean, it wasn"t even that much, but still! It pisses me off."
After knocking out the tourism official, Gourry and I returned to a restaurant in town to grab some lunch and talk things over a little.
"Calm down. Getting angry will do nothing," Gourry said around a mouthful of fried salmon. He sat across from me, munching away without a care in the world.
"Stop talking like it"s none of your business!" I snapped, reaching for a piece of steamed chicken. "This is all for you, you know! We"re looking for a new sword!"
Right. Gourry and I were journeying across the world in search for a new magic sword. He might quite possibly be the dumbest person in the world, but Gourry Gabriev"s skills with a sword were top class. He used to have a powerful weapon called the Sword of Light that could even hurt mazoku, but he lost it a while ago in the middle of a conflict that I caused. That was why we were following rumors all over the countryside in search of a replacement.
"But you can"t expect to find a legendary sword so easily, right?"
"Of course. If anyone could find it, then it wouldn"t have stayed lost long enough to become legend."
"Well, personally, I"m just fine with a normal sword..."
"What"re you talking about?!" I gripped Gourry"s fork hand tightly, looking up at him with glistening eyes. "I know you"re a great swordsman, but even you"re not invincible."
Slowly, surreptitiously, my left hand began moving pieces of fried salmon over to my plate, piece by piece.
"And if all you have is a regular sword," I continued, making sure he focused on me, "you won"t be of any use against mazoku or wraiths. You haven"t managed to get over your reflexes from when you had the Sword of Light, either. I can"t even look, it makes me so nervous. You haven"t forgot that time you were fighting a sorcerer and tried to slice his Flare Arrow in half, have you? You were almost burnt to a crisp!"
Apparently, he had forgotten. I let out a long sigh. "Whatever. Anyway, I won"t be able to rest easy until you have a magic sword."
"But... can"t we just buy one, instead of going around looking for one? That mage"s store we dropped by a while ago had a lot of swords."
"Look. Those swords have only been enchanted to be just a little sharper or stronger. I"d be impressed if you could even touch a ghost with one, much less cut an incoming spell. And against a true mazoku? It"d be worse than useless. In other words, if you want a decent enchanted sword, you have go and look for it, yourself."
"They don"t sell decent enchanted swords at stores?"
"Of course not. Even if some store did manage to get a hold of a legendary weapon, some royalty or noble would pull strings to get their grubby hands on it. So if we want to find a sword like that, we have to look for it ourselves."
"I see. So it"s no easy matter."
"That"s why I told you not to be so easygoing."
"Oh! There they are!" A voice interrupted our conversation, and I turned to see an old man standing with the same official I"d beaten up just a few hours ago. Were they here to complain about the broken sword?
The pair slowly advanced towards us, the old man sidling up to talk in a lowered voice. "Excuse me, but aren"t you the adventurers who just tried their hands at drawing the sword?"
"And what if we are? Are you here to complain because we broke your legendary sword?" I replied, smiling. The old man just smiled right back.
"No, no, of course not," he replied, the grease practically dripping from his voice. "In fact, I merely wanted to talk things over a little with you..." He sat on a chair next to me and lowered his voice even more. "You see, I"m the mayor of this village... and as you can see, it"s not the wealthiest of places. It"s hard to get to, and there are no monuments or attractions nearby. That"s why we had to do what we did, you understand."
I see. He didn"t want me spreading the word that the legend was fake. I smirked evilly. A sympathetic person might be compelled to agree, but such bleeding heart pleas had no effect on the fighter and genius sorceress, Lina Inverse! Though, come to think of it, my being a fighter or genius sorceress didn"t really have much to do with anything in this case...
"Not the wealthiest of places, you say? You certainly dress well for the mayor of a poor town, don"t you think?"
"You know, you look very healthy and well-fed, especially considering your age. And your clothes are made of some really fine material. Same for your official over there, too."
Another flinch. The color drained quickly from both men"s faces. I could see it plain as day-these weasels were keeping the money the sword brought in for themselves.
"We-well, in any case. I thought it would only be fair if I returned the money you paid to see the sword and attempt to draw it." So said, the mayor drew a sack of coins from within his tunic and placed it on the table. The pouch looked a bit too fat, considering it was only supposed to contain our entrance fees.
"You wouldn"t be trying to bribe us to keep our mouths shut, by any chance?"
"No, no. I just think that it would be most unfortunate if strange rumors happened to besmirch the village"s legend..."
"So you"re going to shut us up, and keep on filling your purses with the money the sword brings you?"
The old man flinched yet again, hurriedly waving his hands. "No! Of course not! We won"t be using the sword again, trust me!" His eyes, however, told me a different story. "I can"t afford to pay you any more, but... oh, of course!" The mayor clapped once, as though he"d just remembered something. "You seem to be looking for a legendary sword, right? Well, it just so happens that I know of a story involving one such sword. If you would look the other way just once..."
I narrowed my eyes. Only a fool would believe a story about a legendary sword, from a man who"d already been caught scamming people with a fake one.
"Hmm... Well, I guess it couldn"t hurt to hear you out."
"Oh!" The mayor was overjoyed. "Right!"
"But," I added forcefully, shooting him a glare, "if you"re lying..." I let my words trail off menacingly.
"Y-yes, of course!"
"Okay. Let"s hear it."
"Mmm... yes, well. If you follow the big road east of here to the north for four or five days, you"ll reach a village called Bezeld."
"There"s a mountain there, and in that mountain is a cave..."
Wait. A cave? In a mountain? This seemed familiar...
"And inside the cave is a stone with a sword stuck-"
"Give it a rest!"
Once again, my fist found a nice home, buried in a man"s face.
* * *
"Bah. If you"re going to lie, at least put a little effort into it..."
After knocking out the mayor and taking more bribes to ensure our secrecy, Gourry and I left the village. The sky was clear, and the sun shined merrily down on us. A wagon pulled by a donkey passed us, clattering by on rickety wheels. Though we hadn"t manage to get any clues about magic swords, I supposed it was all right to travel aimlessly like this from time to time. Though I wouldn"t have shed any regretful tears if a roving band of marauders happened to pop up so I could kick their asses and rob them blind...
"So, Lina. What are you thinking of doing now?" Gourry asked, once we came in view of a little town. Coal was heaped in piles around it.
"I don"t know," I admitted. "I was thinking of maybe visiting Bezeld."
"Bezeld?" Gourry"s brow furrowed-it was what passed for deep thought with him. "I"ve heard that name somewhere..."
"The name of the town the lying mayor just told us."
"Oh, right." Gourry nodded, smiled, frowned. "But didn"t you say he was a liar?"
"I did. He"s a liar for sure."
Gourry fell silent, and for a time all I could hear was the chirping of birds.
"I don"t understand. Then why are we going to Bezeld?"
"Because we don"t have anywhere else to go."
"It"s not like there are many rumors about legendary swords that"re worth trusting, you know. And even if a rumor turns out to be true, chances are that someone else has already gone and taken it. So, I figured there"s nothing to lose from going to Bezeld since we don"t have anywhere better to go."
"I see. A laid-back, wandering trip, then?"
"Right," I said, smiling. The smile vanished when a loud crashing sound rent the air, banishing the lazy silence. Nothing in the immediate vicinity was amiss, but a huge plume of black smoke was rising from the town we"d been headed toward.
"It looks like we can"t relax just yet. Let"s go, Lina!"
"Okay!" After all, where there are problems, there"s danger... and money!
With that thought fixed firmly in mind, Gourry and I sprinted toward the town.
* * *
The townspeople were already gathered in a large crowd by the time we got there. A house had been nearly demolished-hit by something like a Fireball, from the looks of it. Portions of the building had been completely destroyed, and smoke rose thickly from inside.
"What happened?" I asked, but the villagers only turned wide eyes to me and shrugged, as bewildered as I was.
"That"s what I want to know," one said. "We don"t have an inkling of what happened here, either."
"By the time we heard the sound and got here, it was already like this..."
"A girl was living here alone! Hey, you! Can you help us out here a little?"
"Okay! Leave it to me! It"ll be over in a flash!" I shouted, thrusting out a hand. "Vu Vraimer!"
The ground around the house obeyed my words of power, rising up to become a golem. The crowd voiced their surprise with appreciative murmurs.
"Golem! Clear these stones!"
Following my commands, the golem began to clear away the smoking rocks. But it wasn"t long since he"d started before a second explosion rang out from the forests behind us.
"Golem! If there"s anybody inside, move the stones trapping them and wait! If not, keep working until you"ve moved all the debris!"
Leaving the house in the golem"s hands, I took off with Gourry, running into the forest. It wasn"t long before a third explosion came, closer than I"d expected. I shared a glance with Gourry, nodded, and together we turned and dashed toward the sound"s origin.
* * *
The girl landed softly on the forest floor, her languid movements reminiscent of a cat"s. She looked to be about fourteen, maybe fifteen years old, a little on the small side, with large eyes. In other words, just a normal, average village girl, her long black hair twisted into a single triple-braided pigtail that passed over her shoulder.
"You didn"t think you"d be able to get away, did you?"
And in front of her stood a man like a shadow, his entire body shrouded in black clothes. Only his eyes were left uncovered. I would have called him an assassin, but there was something about him that wasn"t quite like an assassin at all.
"Say you did manage to escape from me!" the man continued. "Then where would you go? You have no family, and your home is already in shambles thanks to my Fireball. What, are you going to wallow in your own loneliness under the night sky? It"ll be better for you if you stop this useless struggling and come quietly with me."
"You"re pretty eloquent considering what you look like, you know!"
It wasn"t the girl who said that, oh no.
"What? Who said that!?"
It was none other than me, accompanied by my trusty partner Gourry. We"d finally found our way, following the sounds and traces of fighting these two had left behind.
"Who the hell are you people!?"
"Only an idiot would tell that to someone as suspicious looking as you!"