vents of that day went by rapidly.
    First, Love announced that the healing of Amelia's condition was complete.
    "I just had to open her up to the love she feels for you guys," Love explained.  "That needed Talent.  I think I purged the anger and distortion she had, but she's exhausted from the effort.  Probably will be sleeping for another six hours before she can recover."
    So, the question remained : What do do with her saccharine highness now?  Gourry wanted Amelia to come with them, because he figured another person on the quest would always help, but Lina pointed out that they were potentially wandering into a very nasty place.  The last thing they needed was Sailor Justice (she still kept her pen's powers) deciding to clean up the town and scaring Loathing off.  Plus, Dayvid is probably missing her, she needs to be back with her family, we don't have enough rations blah blah blah.
    The group took a quick trip across the world via Myth's Sub Way Token, and Myth flagged down some passing Sailoon soldiers who were patrolling the area after the Bigtop Bigtop Bandit Slaughter Incident, writing them as heroes who found the missing princess and received many commendations and honors in thanks.  They left Amelia by the roadside for convenient pickup and hightailed it back to Testabourne.
    Next on the agenda was assembling the raiding party.  Myth had found a city where apparently most of the neighbors despised each other and the local lord despised his people and the waitresses despised their clients and the dogs despised the cats and so on.  Of course, there were also two other cities which were similar, but this was strongest, so it was more likely to be the right place.
    Love was a bit dismayed to see that Myth wasn't coming, but decided not to push her on the issue, taking the Sub Way Token and promising to be back soon.
    Once they had safely arrived at the Kiyamba Sub Way Station, Lina decided to push Love on the issue.
    "Do you know why Myth's scared?" Lina asked.  "I know she likes to avoid trouble, but she's missing out on her big story here."
    "Mmmm... maybe I should let her explain," Love said.  "It's really none of my business..."
    "I don't think she's going to chat about it, whatever it is.  Is it really all that bad?"
    "It's not pleasant," Love admitted.  "You know how Nightmare caused the Fall, right?"
    "He tried to kill one of you guys, and the Lord of Nightmares booted you out for disobedience," Lina said.
    "Actually, I think She intended to do that from the beginning, once we had learned enough to question Her laws," Love said.  "But that's besides the point.  Nightmare tried to kill Myth.  She was the first one of us to realize that we COULD end."
    "Oh, I get it!" Gourry said.  "Ne, Auntie.  It's like Neil Postman from down the street, right?"
    "Exactly," Love said.
    Lina waited for an explanation, but didn't get any.  "Okay, I'll bite.  Who's Neil Postman?"
    "He was this really loudmouthed guy who wasn't afraid of anything," Gourry said.  "Then one day he challenged one of my friends to a duel, even though we weren't supposed to fight for real.  He got cut really badly and almost died.  Ever since then he got really scared of swords and fighting, and stayed away from that stuff because he thought he could die.  Aunt Koirry told me it was because he... realized his own morality."
    "Mortality," Aunt Koirry corrected.  "Do you still have the Increasing Your Word Power book I gave you, dear?"
    "Dad ate it," Gourry admitted, embarrassed.
    "Anyway, that's the story," Love said.  "More or less.  I shouldn't say anymore."
    "Gotcha," Lina nodded.  "Okay.  Let's head out into the world and find us a wingless!"
    The area was no longer named Kiyamba; one of the many mysteriously named nations that fell off the face of the world inbetween the era of the Sub Ways and the present day.
    Instead, the town Lina arrived in was named Pleasantville.
    The sky was blue; the grass was green.  Tall trees, well cared for and each bearing fruit, flowers or proud evergreen leaves, lined the streets.  Row after row of houses, all white and clean, occupied the residential district they entered from the Sub Way gate.  Small children laughed and played in the street; someone nearby was doing some gardening.  Each house had a mailbox with a little red flag, a brick chimney and a welcome mat.  Total strangers waved to them politely and exchanged a few words of smalltalk, usually with Gourry.  It was the kind of town you'd usually see with nice, slow camera angles and background music that went 'doo doo doo dee da dee da doo da dee da dee da doo'.
    "Something's wrong," Lina said.
    "I don't know, I think it's a pretty nice town," Gourry said.  "Seems like a good place to raise a family."
    "It makes perfect sense," Love said, studying the children at play, kicking a ball around the road, without a care in the world.  "This is just the sort of place where Loathing would be hiding."
    "What makes you say that?" Lina said.
    Nearby, one of the children kicked the ball into the other team's goal, and did a victory war whoop.
    "You jerk, you tripped me!" another accused, grabbing at his ankle.
    "You're just a sore loser, you fat doofus."
    "Says who?!  You asshole!"
    "You goddamn son of a bitch!! I'll kick your ass, you sorry little momma's boy!!" the first kid yelled, before jumping the other one, fists flying.  "DIE!  DIE!  DIE!"
    Lina stared in dumb silence.
    "A place like this is like an untouched gourmet banquet to my brother," Love explained.  "What fun would a place be that was already corrupted?  He's definitely here, and playing."
    "Can you tell where he is, exactly?" Lina asked, looking away from the melee on the road.
    "No," Love said.  "I'm afraid I'm actually not going to be very useful to you on this quest, Lina.  I can explain how his mind works, but I have no useful powers, no magic, and no sword.  I suggest you try to find the place where he can do the most damage, though.  That's where he'll be hiding, and directing everything from."
    "In that case...." Lina said, putting some serious thought into the task.  She glanced around.  She checked the sky.  And after much consideration, she came to a decision.  "We'll go to the nearest restaurant."
    "You think he might be making the waiters angry over small tips?" Gourry guessed.
    Lina shook her head.  "No, but I'm hungry, and I think better on a full stomach."
    Not too far away, someone else was cursing.
    Zelgadis frustratedly patted out the fires in his clothing.  How could he have set his tunic ablaze from a simple cooking fire?!  Nothing was going right today!
    First his sword broke in half while he was busy dealing with some of the local monsters.  Then, he slipped on some loose gravel and fell sixty feet into a river below the mountain pass he was crossing.  Then the piranhas tried to eat him, although they just broke teeth on him, it was still very irritating.  And to top it all off, he'd ruined a perfectly good outfit and would have to walk around half naked until he could replace it -- which he COULDN'T do, because his cloak was now ashes and humans wouldn't deal with him without a suitable disguise!!
    But that was okay; Zelgadis could handle that.  It was just bad luck.  He was a reasonable guy and could... screw that, he was PISSED.  He just woke up on the totally wrong side of the bed that morning and now he was having an awful day, where everything from the trees to the rocks seemed to be out to get him, and everything was so totally awful and he was so angry about it all and--
    He readied the recently broken, but servicable, half-of-a-sword when he heard someone approach.
    "I don't care who's out there.  Don't mess with me," Zelgadis said, ignoring any polite greetings.  "You have no idea what a day I've been having."
    The dirty homeless guy walked out from around a tree, puffing on a rotten little cigarette.  "I could only imagine," he snickered.  "Been watching you.  Interesting guy.  Nice skin.  Do you put yourself in a rock tumbler every now and then to make it nice and shiny?"
    "Screw off," Zelgadis said.
    Bugger was privately quite pleased.  He had kept a monitor on the dripfeed of Slow Poison he had been feeding Zelgadis; a magical spell, like a nonexistent intravenous drip bottle.  Normally it was given to a victim much slower than this, while they were being tortured... that way, they slowly went insane, a smorgasbord of fear, hatred, sadness and terror.  According to his estimates based on the flow rate, Zelgadis would be very irrational right now, if not downright belligerent.  Soon paranoia would be in full swing, and it was time to plant a few seeds in his mind.
    "I know exactly who you are," Bugger said, deciding to be blunt but secretive -- the best way to confuse and distort Zelgadis's grasp on the situation.
    "Oh?  And who might that be?" Zelgadis said, turning back to his cooking fire.
    "Zelgadis Greyweirs.  Turned into a freak of nature by your grandfather Rezo, always in search of a cure, sometimes seen in the company of the enemy of all who bloody well live, Lina Inverse," Bugger rattled off.
    Zelgadis turned his head sharply, alarmed.  "What?  How did you--"
    "You know that she's laughing at you right now, mate?" Bugger said, smiling wide.  "Laughin' at how you lost that cure, the one thing that could've fixed you.  She's a vicious little tart, she is."
    "Go away," Zelgadis warned, voice low.  "I'm in no mood for lies and games.  I didn't put up with that crap from Xelloss, and I won't from whoever-you-are."
    "It's true," Bugger continued, dogging the chimera.  "She actually has your cure.  She's had it for a long while now, but didn't tell you because it's more fun to watch you beat yerself up lookin' for the flaming thing.  She and Gourry are both having a nice, hearty laugh at your expense.  You know how mean she is to him; she's just as mean to you, in other ways--"
    Bugger ducked as Zelgadis hurled his sword at him, the blade thunking into a tree near him.
    "I could get you a little revenge," Bugger said.  "I know where you can get what you deserve."
    "I said GO AWAY!"
    "Oh yeah?" Bugger taunted.  "Who's gonna make me?  Some demon half breed that's down on his luck?  What a pathetic sod YOU are, pal!"
    Zelgadis got to his feet, steamed beyond all sensibility.  "That's it.  You are DEAD!"
    And so, Bugger had to dodge fireball and flare arrow and ice blasts and lord knows what else Zelgadis was pulling out, evading and flying his way through the forest in a cat and mouse game.  This part was key, Bugger knew; get the chimera incredibly frustrated, while leading him towards the goal...
    Finally, Bugger dove into a nearby cave, deep into the darkness.  And Zelgadis, already six miles towards gone, followed him right in.
    The Mazoku evaded Zelgadis, zipping out of the cave mouth, and sending a blast of dark energy against the rock to bury the entrance.
    "Sealed, locked, and ready to rock," Bugger grinned.  "My day's looking up."
    A not-so-innocent bystander, waiting there an hour so far, seemed relieved.  "Good.  What's to stop him from magicing his way out, though?"
    "I put a seal on the rock to absorb magic," Bugger said.  "Oh, it won't hold forever.  Maybe a few hours.  But that's all we need, and that's all he needs to push himself totally over the edge.  I figure he'll come busting out as a feral beast.  And THAT, mate, is how it's done."
    "You're a sick bastard, Mazoku," the bystander said, adjusting his sunglasses.  "I can appreciate that, at least."
    "Yeah, I figured you would," Bugger said.  "C'mon, let's get back to HQ.  Time for phase two."
    "Nightmare will be pleased at your assistance."
    "I could care less," Bugger said truthfully.  "Goal here is to whip Lina like a bitch, not to please the wingless.  After this is done, I'm departing."
    "Good.  I loathe your company," Loathing said.  "Less of it I have, the better."
     The streets of Pleasantville had a quiet tension about them, a tight cord stretched almost to the point of breaking.  It wasn't obvious, in the way the people waved hello to each other and always smiled, but the smiles now seemed forced to Lina... mandatory, so nobody could see exactly how twisted up inside you were.
     And occasionally there would be a skirmish.  A little old lady walking her dog passed by a man carrying a keg of ale, and the dog decided it was time to relieve its bladder; on the man's shoes.  Next thing you know, the man is throttling the dog and the old lady is beating him over the head with her cane.  Not far from that, someone on a second story window was watering her plants, when some water splashed down on a waiter at a street cafe.  After some insults, she dropped a flower pot on his head, and he grabbed an armful of baked goods, charging up stairs with intent to do grievous bready harm.
     Lina stayed close to Gourry.  Not that she was scared, of course; it just seemed safer to travel as a closer group.  "This place is seriously bent," Lina critically observed.  "How are we going to find the person responsible for all this?"
     "I thought a bit about that, actually," Gourry said, intellectually.  "If I was going to try to do a lot of bad stuff to the town, I'd want to find a place with a lot of power, like the local castle.  Then I could have the army and the ruler to use.  Right?"
     "That's.. actually a good idea, Gourry," Lina said, stepping a bit closer to him to avoid a mailman, bearing down on them with a package tucked under one arm.  "Of course, if he's holed up in the castle, we'd have to get by the security... he'd be near the lord, right?  Somewhere he can issue orders."
     "It could be dangerous," Gourry said.  "I'll go check it out."
     "Why you?  I'm fine with danger too," Lina said.  "In fact--"
     "But I could pass myself off as a soldier," Gourry said.  "I'd blend in more.  Then I could just report back what I saw, and we could decide what to do next."
     "Where are you coming up with this plan?" Lina asked, boggled.
     Love spoke up.  "He did something similar when he was trying to find out if the local militia was a government conspiracy.  His father encouraged him."
     "Well... yeah, but that time it was a bad idea," Gourry said.  "It's a good idea now, right Auntie?"
     "It was always a good idea.  You simply had a questionable reason," Love said.  "You're a very clever boy, Gourry.  You should speak up more when working with others."
     "Oh, Lina usually smacks me when I say something stupid," Gourry said, without much emotion.
     "Does she, now," Love said suspiciously, peering at Lina.
     "Ah... great idea, Gourry," Lina covered.  "We'll wait here in this cafe while you go check out the castle.  Right."
     The swordsperson smiled.  "Gotcha!  I'll be back shortly."  He turned around, and set off at a brisk trot.
     "Soooo... coffee?" Lina suggested.
     "Do you really hit him?" Love asked.
     "No!  No.  Yes," Lina said.  "A bit.  But only because he doesn't understand anything!  And he keeps messing things up..."
     "Gourry may be slow to comprehend, but I think you're selling him short," Love said.  "Besides, if you don't encourage him, he'll be too hesitant to make an effort."
     "So I'm not exactly the caring, nurturing type," Lina said, defensively.  "Sue me.  It's not like I don't value him at all, you know.  He's a pretty good adventure companion, and... he's a good guy with a sword and stuff."
     "And that's all?" Love asked.
     "Before you start not-so-subtly hinting at something, no, it's nothing that you're thinking of," Lina said, heading that horse off at the pass.  "Like I've said a dozen times in these last few days, we aren't 'partners'."
     "I think I will take that coffee," Love said, claiming a nearby sidewalk cafe table.  "I'm buying."
     Those being the two words Lina most loves to hear, she was sitting down and had the menu open in the blink of an eye.  "I'll take the deluxe mocha mega java with cinnamon swirls and whipped toffee!!"
     "Gourry's handsome, isn't he?" Love sneaked in.
     "Yeah," Lina said.  Then she caught herself, and guarded.  "Of course, so was Rezo.  Doesn't mean anything if you're pretty, you know.  Merely a physical attribute with no connection whatsoever or connotation implied."
     "Yes, yes," Love said.  "And I'll have what you're having."
     Quite a distance aways, a boy paced nervously outside the princess's royal chambers.  His nerves were as twitchy as a n insect nervously watching someone stalk him with a 500 flyswatters, through 500 segmented eyes.  Which when you think about it was an awfully specific sort of twitchiness, but it's still the most accurate representation.
     Finally, the doors opened, and the royal doctor invited him in.
     On the bed, Amelia was lying down in a strange sailor costume, smiling and giggling to herself.
     "She's still a bit dazed," the doctor said, putting away his tools.  "There seems to have been an enchantment placed on her, but someone removed it.  Someone seems to have given her a power that increases her strength, which I can't identify; but it doesn't seem harmful.  She wanted to talk to you alone, but keep in mind she's not in a very good frame of mind..."
     Dayvid Davince nodded, relieved.  "Do me a favor, and send for a specialist in enchantments... I want to find out what's happened to her.  Pull any royal-type strings you have to."
     "I think I know of someone," the doctor said.  "I'll be back shortly."
     The doctor left, closing the door behind him.  Dayvid turned to face Amelia, when suddenly the small girl pounced him, smooching his cheeks.
     "I love you, Dayvid-kun!" Amelia giggled.  "Boy!  It's good to be home!  I love this palace, and the nice soft bed..."
     "Ghhh," Dayvid said.  "Gleehh... wha?"
     "You'd never believe where I've been!" Amelia said, climbing off Dayvid, as if nothing strange had happened.  "But I feel so empowered with love and happiness!  By the way, I tried to kill Lina I think, but it wasn't my fault."
     His mind quietly denying that he just got kissed, David got himself off the floor and regained a shred of dignity.  "Ah.. where was Lina?  Where have you been?"
     "I don't know," Amelia said.  "But they're in a lot of trouble.  There was this Dragon who wanted me to do bad things to them, so she gave me this really cool pen but lied to me, since Lina said she wasn't on drugs and I think maybe she was really being honest but I don't remember much after that.  Boy, I love this place!  Smell that air!"
     Dayvid sniffed.  It smelled like perfume and stuffed animals.
     "I'm excited!" Amelia beamed.  "Lina's on a really big quest and in danger.  Now, with my magic pen, I can find her somehow and help her out!"
     "Amelia, you can't go anywhere," Dayvid told her.  "We have to check you out, make sure you're healthy.  Maybe after that--"
     There was a knock at the door.
     "Hold that thought," Dayvid said, opening the door and getting a trumpet blast in the face.
     The doorman bellowed.  "Now announcinge aye visitor for from the Royal School of Magick And The Sciences in the Nation of Darata--"
     "Let him in," Dayvid practically begged, trying to rub some life back into his ears.
     The visitor entered, wearing a white lab coat that was standard issue for the few scientists in the world.  But it wasn't a him.  The woman crossed the room, pulling out a pocket light spell on a stick and shining it in Amelia's eyes.
     "Dilation with flecks of gold glow," she said, skipping the middleman of introductions and smalltalk and getting right to the diagnosis.  "Silver traces.  Dragon mood enchantment, same class as Enhance Calm, combined with nonmagical reversal--"
     "That's a funny little light," Amelia smiled.  "I love it!  Can I have it?"
     "Is she always this bouncy?" the woman asked, turning to talk right to Dayvid.
     "Uh..." Dayvid mumbled, a bit off balance from the affair.  "No.  No... yes.  A bit.  But not THIS bouncy.  Er, are you the specialist?"
     "Curious case," the woman said.  "I'll have to study it a bit more.  Specialist?  No, I'm a generalist.  I was on my way to see you, actually.  Call me Reason."
     She stepped over and shook Dayvid's hand before he could react.
     "Did you know that your princess's enchantment was reversed by a Talent?" Reason asked.  "She's had her sense of emotional love enhanced."
     "I'm lost," Dayvid said.  "What're you talking about?"
     "Let's go to your lab.  There's a great deal I need to discuss with you that you're not aware of already," Reason said.  "No point in chitchatting here.  There's important things to deal with."
     "Now wait just a minute, miss--"
     "Hey, Dayvid-kun!" Amelia called out.  "Do you wanna get married?"
     "My lab's not too far from here," Dayvid said quickly.
     The situation in Pleasantville was getting worse.
     Lina winced as she heard another glass shatter against her table; she had propped it up at an angle to work as a shield, where she and Love (aka Aunt Koirry) could hide.
     "Tell me," Lina said.  "In your life, and I know it's been a long one... have you ever seen an angry drink-throwing chair-smashing brawl at a coffee shop?"
     "Bars?  Yes.  Cafes, no," Love said.  "What started this?  I was busy watching the street for Gourry..."
     "Someone was arguing over a tip," Lina told her.  The sound of fists flying and highly intellectual coffee-house trash talk threatened to overwhelm her.  "Then one thing led to another..."
     "This is the sort of thing I can't stand," Love said, frowning just slightly.  "When one of us uses our Talents to control others.  I could see the Mazoku or the Dragons not understanding, but the wingless should know by now that humans are not meant to be a controlled force.  You can't bend them artificially to YOUR will for long; it never works out... plus it's quite tasteless, but that's more an aesthetic issue..."
     "Incoming!" Lina yelled, covering herself as a boiling hot triple espresso came sailing through the air, over her barricade--
     A sword neatly slashed the mug in half.
     "I'm back!" Gourry proclaimed, guarding the women behind the table.
     Lina stood up, dripping with scalding hot coffee.  "You klutz!  You just ended up dumping what was in that thing on us!!"
     "Oh... sorry," Gourry apologized.  "I didn't mean to."
     "Why, I oughtta--"
     "Liiina," Love warned.
     "--stop drinking coffee," Lina corrected.  "Considering how often I've had my person soaked in it lately.  Can you get us away from these nuts?"
     Gourry shoved a busboy armed with an extremely volatile herbal tea aside, and led Lina and his auntie out to the relative peace of the street.
     "You know, it's the weirdest thing," Gourry said.  "The castle's gone."
     "You sure you were looking in the right place?" Lina asked, just to check.
     "Sure.  But all they had left was a big crater," Gourry said.  "Apparently someone sent a bomb there yesterday and blew the thing up.  It wasn't a very large castle, mind you."
     "Considering this town, it could've been any one of these guys," Lina said, glancing around the city.  "We're back to square one-- sent a bomb?"
     "Yeah, through the mail," Gourry said.
     Just to emphasize the point, a mailman walked by, carrying a small package.  Lina watched him go by.
     "Thought occurs to me," she said.  "Let's say you wanted to cause a whole bunch of chaos in a very organized city.  You could go take over the army, but that would be too obvious, and you don't want to be found by this girl with wings who's going to probably come for you.  What's the next best organization to infiltrate, one that can reach anywhere in the city without a single comment?"
     "Oh NO!!" Gourry gasped.  "They've going after door to door broom salesmen!"
     Lina wobbled slightly.  "Not salesmen!  Mailmen!  Didn't you notice how even with everybody at each other's throats, the mail is still going?  This is mostly a residential place and everybody gets mail... stop that mailman!"
     Taking this as a direct order, Gourry sprinted after the postman, grabbed him by the back of the neck and carried him around to Lina, holding him up for her examination like a coat on a coat rack.
     "HEY!" the mailman protested, as Lina Inverse snatched the box away, and listened to it, one ear pressed to the side of the cardboard container.
     "Doesn't sound funny..." Lina said.  She considered opening it, thought better of it and did a gentle magical probe.  "Aha.  Latent fireball spell, a big one.  Designed to be triggered by remote.  What are the odds we're going to find these bundles of joy sent to every building in town?"
     "You can't stop the Legion of Disgruntled Postal Workers!!" the mailman frothed.  "Our leader Lenny is going to crush this city in a blaze of glory, and then it's on to the world!"
     "Ah, now this makes sense," Lina said, clapping once in delight.  "Okay.  Gourry, ditch this guy--"
     Gourry tossed the mailman into a nearby dumpster.  The lid swung neatly shut to trap him.
     "--and now, I believe it's time to make a visit to our local post office," Lina said.  "I've got a special delivery to make.  Postage due!"
     "And I'm gonna lick the stamp!" Gourry said, posing.
     Lina paused.
     "...what does stamp licking have to do with kicking ass, Gourry?"
     "Uh... I don't know.  What does Postage Due have to do with it?"
     "Nevermind," Lina sighed.  "Let's just go."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.