"But-how?" I stammered. "I didn't give it any commands! And this computer isn't linked to a network! I don't even have the internet connection active right now! Who's controlling this game?!"
Gourry snarled and stalked over to where DS sat watching our reactions, grabbed him by the coat and would have thrown him across the room if the other man hadn't stopped him with a hastily uttered restraining spell. That got my attention in a snap. "You're a sorcerer!" I threw the jewel case at him and missed. "Is this your work?!"
He extricated himself from Gourry's paralyzed fingers with a disgusted look on his face, as if he was touching spoiled fish. "The spell that puts them into the game was stolen from a very powerful friend of mine. An anonymous source left the CD in this coat I'm wearing. I think it was done at the restaurant tonight."
"How did you know we'd be interested in it?" I demanded. "Did you know what was on it already? Or are you lying to me?"
He grinned that irritating grin again, reached into his pocket and tossed me a folded up piece of paper, which landed on my desk. I picked it up and unfolded it. "DS: Give this to Lina Inverse and Zelgadis Greywers. The spell is in the code. They'll know what to do." Then it revealed the password I'd used to get into the game. The note was unsigned, of course. I frowned at it as I reread it. "What does it mean, 'the spell is in the code'? What code?"
"The programming code," Zelgadis said. Gods, he sounded like a ghost. "What was used to design the game."
"Magic woven into a computer language?" It made sense, though until now such a possibility had never occurred to me. The programming languages used to turn commands into programs worked just like a magic spell. I'd heard the metaphor so many times it had quit meaning anything to me: Computer magic. Of course! But that was one hell of a spell if it could convert a living creature into something a computer program could interpret and manipulate. And who was this friend of DS', who had created such a spell? Just a sorcerer, or a programmer, too? A Cybermage! Furthermore, who had left the note and CD in DS' coat? I tried to remember the people I'd seen at the restaurant but it was no use; aside from DS staring at me, I couldn't remember seeing anyone do anything out of the ordinary.
"So," I turned to DS, who looked more serious than I'd seen him since he walked through my door, "this friend of yours, the one who created the spell this game supposedly uses-who was he? Or she?"
"No one you'd know," he replied casually. "Just someone I met once. Very powerful, though. A genius with a uncontrollable lust for power and control."
I took a big chance and got within reach of his butt patting hand. Gourry loomed next to me like an angry statue. "And just who was it that this power hungry genius of yours wanted to control in this case? My clients? And would you please free Gourry now?"
"Why should I?"
I mastered my temper with admirable control. "Because I'm asking you nicely."
He put his hand on my hip and grinned. "That's not asking nicely..."
I refused to hit him on the reasoning that that was probably exactly what he wanted me to do. I didn't even yell at him, or snarl at him or slap his face. I just looked into his eyes and did absolutely nothing...just let him see his own horrible death in my gaze...pain, lots of pain...and me enjoying causing him lots of pain. The hand left my hip and returned to its master, whose life I generously decided to spare. "Good boy," I said with what I thought was a pleasant smile, but probably wasn't. "Now release him, then answer my question. Please."
He whispered a spell, and Gourry snapped out of it, confused because he wasn't holding anybody's lapels anymore. Then he realized he'd been put under a spell and got really pissed. Since his temper was counterproductive, I shut him down fast. "No time, Gourry, save it! I need information Mr. Nice Guy, here, has." I crossed my arms and smirked at DS. "So who created the spell and who gave you the CD?"
"I told you-"
I held up a hand. "Whatever. Try me. I might have heard the name."
He fumed at me for a long time, the fire in his eyes very sexy in spite of how annoying he was in general. He was drop dead gorgeous when he was angry, but I kept my cool and continued to glare at him until he decided to cooperate. "My friend's name is Karla, have you heard of her?"
"Not into technology from what I've heard," I snapped at him. "Nice try."
"Bitch." He shoved me aside as he got up and headed for the door. "I come here to help you and this is what I get!"
I ran after him, catching him by the arm just as he reached the door. "No, wait! We'll listen! I promise!"
The look he gave me stopped my heart and caught the breath in my throat. Then he did that infuriating laugh and patted me on the cheek. "That's better." He returned to his chair, me tagging along behind him with a face that was probably redder than a tomato. What a jerk! If I didn't need the information he had I might have killed him, even if I would've had to fight Gourry for the privilege.
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"Zelgadis had recovered somewhat and was sitting in my chair, staring with empty eyes at Amelia on the computer screen. But he was thinking, I know that set of his jaw. He was trying to figure out how to defeat the game's spell-code and get her and the others out of there. Or maybe how Amelia had been pulled into the game when we had it here in our office, on a computer that wasn't linked to a network or the internet (at the moment). My theory was that the game operated independently of its creator, the spell carrying out the will of the one who cast it without the magician being present.
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"Unless the magician was present in the form of the disarmingly sexy, endlessly irritating guy who had brought us the game and a note he supposedly found in his pocket upon leaving a restaurant this evening. Everything he told us could've been a lie. I know I didn't buy that bit about Karla being the sorcerer whose spell had been written into the game's code. She didn't just give away her magic and was way too clever to allow it to be stolen-wait a minute. Her power and life force were sealed in a circlet. What if the circlet's latest host was a programmer? But whoever it was would have to be strong enough to dominate her will and consciousness, not the other way around, as was Karla's usual arrangement with her hosts. I bounced my theory off Dark Schneider to see if it would stick.
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"Bingo! "If you would've let me finish, I would've told you that," he smirked.
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"I sat on the edge of my lopsided desk (thanks a lot, Tamahome, the bill's in the mail) and asked him thoughtfully: "Do you have any idea who's wearing the circlet?"
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"Another stupid grin. I was really starting to hate this guy. "No."
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"I fought for self control. "Ok...who slipped you the note? Maybe they know."
FONT="ARIAL" size="2""I'll bet they do," he agreed cheerfully. "You're so clever, Lina!"
FONT="ARIAL" size="2""Who. Gave you. The note.?"
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"He shrugged.
FONT="ARIAL" size="2"I bit my lip. "Maybe your girlfriend saw who did it?"
FONT="ARIAL" size="2""She would have said something."
FONT="ARIAL" size="2""Was your coat hanging near your table," I asked him in a tight voice, "or did you check it at the door?"
He pretended to think about it, though I was sure he remembered perfectly well what he'd done with his coat and was just being a butthead for the pleasure of seeing my face turn every shade of angry red in the spectrum. "Ah! I checked it!"
Oh boy!" I mocked him. "Maybe the coat check person did it! Or maybe they saw who did! Let's call the restaurant and talk to them!"
Whatever." I turned to pick up the phone and call the restaurant, but a pounding on our door stopped me in mid-reach. Nobody moved for a second, then the pounding came again.
FONT="ARIAL" size="2""Lina! Zelgadis!" A man's voice shouted from the hallway. "Let me in! Hurry!"