arkness swirled around inside the cave.  The air was getting thinner.  His thoughts weren't coming easily.  Who put him here?  He wanted to hurt that person.  Why couldn't he get out?  Where was his magic?  He beat on the walls, not understanding what was going on, but wanting escape, flight, freedom, vengeance, punishment, anger, rage--
    Zelgadis was aware that something was wrong.  He usually kept his emotions in check, but now they were running wild.  Except each time he tried to concentrate on that, he just got angry at himself, and then go angry at everybody else and then he thought he was screaming and trying to tear apart the cave with his bare hands.  In a lot of ways, he was walking asleep; acting on instinct in a universe that made no sense.  Try as he might, he couldn't concentrate enough to understand.
    He remembered something... something about the cure he wanted.  Yes, he wanted a cure because he was a freak.  Did he say that?  Someone else said that, he said that, not him, him me.  And someone had the cure and was laughing at him.  Was that person really laughing?  Lina laughed a lot but it might not be about that but it might be.  Lina was keeping something from him him had said to him.  It was all Lina Inverse's fault that he was a freak and he had to punish her he said to him and he believed it but wasn't sure but believed it and wanted death from somewhere.  Again and again and again.
    The chimera pushed out with magical power, unfocused, no spells attached.  He felt a wall, and he pushed and pushed and screamed and pushed until the bubble burst.  The mountain collapsed around him, rocky rubble, with greasy sunlight.
    Howling, he took to the air, some part of him knowing his flight spell.  Now the ones who did this would pay.  Lina Inverse would pay.  He felt this was somehow the wrong thing to do but did it anyway, because he was so angry.  Logic took a back seat and moped.
    Zelgadis zipped out of sight, heading for the nearest town.
    It wasn't often that you saw armed guards at a post office, but now that Lina was seeing it, it almost made sense.
    The mail system was not very developed, at least not on a global scale.  Each city usually had a post office, and if you were lucky the letters wouldn't be eaten by bandits or burned or thrown into the sea inbetween point A and point B.  After all, anything could be in those letters from money lending papers to government documents, and such things were quite valuable on the open market.  Those doomed ones who were supposed to carry these things across open country either needed a very fast horse or wits of steel or both.  It was only natural for a group of people who put their lives in pointless risk so Aunt Mabel can find out that Zippy had three puppies to be close enough to the edge to only require a little... push...
    So now the postmen of Pleasantville had started packing primitive heat.
    "Crossbows," Lina said, observing the weapons from a hiding spot around the corner.  "Five shooters, latest technology.  Not good.  If they're accurate enough, they can pick us off if we try to rush them."
    "I could probably slice an arrow in flight," Gourry said, drawing his sword quietly; trained swordspeople were able to get ready for battle without that irritating 'Shing!' sound.  "They're bigger than insects and about as fast."
    "Could you snag ten of them in a row?" Lina asked.
    "Uhhh... I could try!"
    "Not a gamble I'd put money on," Lina said.  Noticing Gourry's slightly hurt expression, she added, "You're good with a blade, Gourry, but given that we'd probably get wooden sticks through our chests if even ONE slips by, I think we should think of something else.  Ne?"
    "Okay, good point," Gourry said.  "I could walk up and pretend to be lost, and while they're distracted, you can blast them with magic!"
    "Get real, Gourry," Lina said, rolling her eyes.  "A fully armored and armed mercenary walks up and they won't shoot first and ask questions later?  Besides, we're trying to sneak in."
    "But I do like the idea of pretending to be lost," Love said, supporting some of Gourry's idea.  "I'll do that.  I look plain enough."
    "You'll use a Talent to charm them?" Lina asked.
    "Overkill," Love said.  "I don't use Talents willy nilly.  I'll just bumble and be an adorably doddering woman with no clue.  It'll work.  I know people.  Then Lina can step out and zap them while I have them distracted."
    "Right.  All agreed?" Lina said.
    The other two nodded.
    Love took a deep breath, then... added a slight slump to her walk, as if she was having back problems, and shuffled around the corner with a worried expression.  She didn't change her appearance any, but Lina could swear she FELT older.
    "Oh, sonny!" she called.  One of the guards twitched and raised his weapon, but Auntie gave him a sweet, harmless smile and the man relented.
    "Whaddya want?" he asked, trying to sound nasty enough to spook the old woman off.
    "I'd forget me own head if it weren't attached..." Auntie giggled matronly.  "Could you tell me how to get to Main Street?  Oh, my poor self, I've lost my way and I need to get to my niece's tea party, she's so looking forward to it and I wouldn't want to disappoint..."
    The postman gestured off to the side, looking down the street.  The other did likewise.
    "You want to go one block that way, then two down," he said.
    "Is that down as in to my left or to my right, dearie?"
    "Right, obviously," the postman said.  "Then you continue past the Florists, after which OH GOD OH GOD I'M BURNING OH GOD--"
    Lina blew some smoke off her index finger, then snapped off two fast Freeze Arrows, locking the guards down in place.  "The old one two combo.  Stuns them, stops them."
    "A bit sadistic, don't you think?" Gourry asked.
    "Just think of them as bandits, Gourry," Lina said.  "Bandits with a very alternative uniform."
    "Oh, okay," Gourry nodded.
    Loathing paced ovals into the Postmaster General's room, feeling like a caged animal.  He grimaced occasionally.
    "I don't like waiting," he said.  "When are the bombs going to be finished?  I wanna set them off."
    His recently acquired companion checked a clipboard.  "'ard to say," Bugger said.  "We got a third of the force out planting the last ones.  Maybe a half hour."
    "And what about Lina Inverse?  Is your chimera hunting her down and keeping her out of my hair?"
    "Iffy," Bugger said.  "Depends on how fast he broke out of the seal.  He's probably seeking her out right now, though.  Don't worry!  Everything's coming up bloody goddamn roses and such.  Ain't that right, Nighty?"
    There was a third person here, and a fourth.  They simply happened to be sharing the same body.  The postal worker slept soundly, twitching occasionally in unhappy dreams; despite this, his mouth moved, and words came out.
    "Your plan will come to nothing," the postman said, although his voice was deeper than it normally would be.  "I have warned you against such bold strokes.  Drama failed with the same modus.  Simplicity is key when dealing with Lina Inverse.  Kill her.  She has come too far, farther than any have expected.  Kill her immediately with every power you can acquire, and deliver the bard to me.  Then perhaps I will agree that everything has come up bloody goddamn roses, foolish little Mazoku."
    "Watch your mouth, pal," Bugger said, pointing accusingly at the poor bastard Nightmare was speaking through.  "You wingless get too uppity, and maybe Mazoku aren't gonna be as mutual as we are now."
    The body remained silent.  Not out of intimidation, simply because it didn't feel a need to respond.
    "I hate the way he's doing that," Loathing commented.  "Torturing that guy with nightmares just so he can posses the body.  It's filthy.  And I hate how he seems to regard all the wingless as his little siblings."
    "So why are you working with him?" Bugger asked.
    "He's made promises," Loathing said, with a shrug.  "Perhaps worthless, but if he succeeds, it will all change.  You'd even approve, Mazoku.  When the wings--"
    There was a knock on the door.
    "Seems like a few of the soldiers are back from their rounds," Bugger grinned.  "See?  What'd I tell ya, mate?"
    The door swung open, and Lina leaned into the room.
    "Hello!" she said.  "Is there a naughty little boy named Loathing in here?"
    Bugger's stomach sank.  "It figures.  It just FIGURES that she'd find us and not be even noticed by my pawn.  Typical sodding bad day, oh yes, keep dumping it all on Bugger, I say--"
    "I'm not going with you," Loathing said, pulling a large, nasty knife from inside his trenchcoat.  It was shiny, and sharp, and looked more than adequate for sorceress sushi.  "I'm not going back to the Lord of Nightmares.  I hate her and she hates me and I'll never go back."
    Lina took out a jelly jar, uncapping the lid.  She ignored Bugger; just some smelly guy with no weapons or sorcerer's markings.  "So much for an easy catch.  Now, if you'll put down the knife, we can--"
    Bugger took a puff on his cigarette, then exhaled; the fumes inflated, spreading thick and sticky and fast, slamming Lina up against a wall like a wad of slime.
    "Never overlook a Mazoku, human," Bugger grinned.  "'cause--"
    Gourry was in the room in a flash, sword neatly slicing Bugger's head off.
    "Oh, please," the Mazoku's head said, as his body picked up the ball and set it back in place atop his shoulders.  "Like some bit of sharp metal's gonna keep ME in--"
    "LIGHT COME FORTH!!" Gourry chanted, and the blade vanished; a glowing nimbus of white light forming, sword length, and vibrating with positive energy.
    "But that's another matter entirely," Bugger admitted.  "See you later, wingless." And he knocked a hole in the wall and ran for it.
    The spell gone, Lina unpeeled from the wall, coughing and wheezing.  She felt like she needed four showers immediately, but there was business to attend to.  Gourry and Lina advanced on Loathing, who took a step backwards, keeping the knife in front of him.
    "No.  No way, I am not going," Loathing said.  He twisted the knife around in his grip, then held it up to his neck, point first.  "I'd sooner slit my throat than go with you.  Stay back!"
    Lina paused.  "Gourry, what do we do when the designated enemy has taken himself hostage?"
    "I dunno," Gourry said.  "First time it's happened to me--"
    An explosion ripped through the room, tossing everybody onto their feet; the roof exploded into chunks of rock, exposing the room to the open sky.
    Lina rubbed a bump on her head, grimacing at the pain and looking up.  "What NOW?!"
    Contrary to all expectations she might have had that day, hovering in the air was someone she hadn't seen in weeks.  Zelgadis.
    And from the look on his face, he wasn't happy to see her.
    "Lina!" he recognized.
    "Zel?!!" Lina gagged.
    "DIE!" he suggested, and hurled a fireball into the room.  Gourry dove, knocking himself and Lina to the side; the fireball melted its way through a wall, and set fire to a stack of several hundred sweepstakes envelopes.
    A voice taunted them from above.  "Looky who I found in my strategic withdrawal!" the Mazoku laughed.  "It's your old friend and my new friend.  Zel, there's the one who's been keeping your cure from you.  Let's take care of business, yeah?"
    Lina beat on Gourry's head slightly.  "Quit lying on me!  I've got to get a spell off before--"
    With a flare of dark power, Bugger and Zelgadis started to pour liquid fire into the rapidly disintegrating room.  Lina threw up a defensive shield; a weak one, since she still hadn't practiced white magic to her liking, but enough.  The threat passed, she took Gourry and opened her wings, flying into the sky to do battle.
    Silence filled the room, save the crackling of flames and the ooze of improvised lava.
    Loathing stood up from behind the scalding hot filing cabinets he had hid behind.  They were gone!
    "I did it!" he laughed.  "Nobody's going to take me back!  I ran 'em off!"
    "Not all of them."
    He turned, and saw someone across the room...
    "No.  No!  Not you!" Loathing growled.
    "Me," Love said.  "I'm here for you, brother.  Our mother wants us to come home.  She loves us, and it's time at last for the Council.  We have to go to her."
    "I'm not going," Loathing said, getting his knife out.  "You can't make me--"
    Love advanced, a wave of golden Talent flowing through her, threatening to overcome Loathing with calming feelings of comfort, with understanding that his sister was here because she loved him, she had been looking for him for a long time and wanted to help him, help her beloved brother--
    "NO!" Loathing shouted, fighting back, pouring dirty gold into the fire, hatred, anger, rage, sadness, loneliness, thirst for pain, running from agony, striking out, fear and loathing like a bad trip straight down the primal ladder--
    Waves collided, shattering against each other, an inverted tug of war for emotion.
    The two ignored the self destructing post office.  Their fight was too important.
    Three dots darted through the sky, hurling fire and lightning at each other.
    Gourry clung to Lina's torso for dear life.  "I wish you had more to hang onto!!" he said.  "You're too flat!  I'm going to fall to my death!"
    "GOURRY--" Lina growled, but was cut short, angling her wings to evade another volley of magic ice.  "This isn't working.  We need to get on the ground, where you can help out."
    "Yes yes!  Ground good!" Gourry agreed.  "Hurry!"
    Lina swooped low, her flight arc natural and graceful, unlike the wobbling movements of her opponent's flight magic.  She pulled up at the last moment, pushing Gourry off -- who thankfully landed on his feet -- and drawing her sword.
    "I can't hurt the Mazoku without Ultra Restoration, and I don't have the concentration right now to cast it," Lina said.  "You take on the ugly freak, I'll try to talk some sense into Zelgadis."
    Gourry oriented himself from pleading agoraphobia to battle ready warrior in a split second.  "Check," he nodded, and swing his blade out, firing a shot of the light power from its hilt.
    Bugger nearby got a hole burned through his chest from that one, and the tables got turned; predator prey reversal.
    "I'm going after him, yell if you need help," Gourry said quickly, sprinting after the fleeing demon.
    Lina watched him go, and winced as a flare arrow singed her arm -- she quickly hopped away, as Zelgadis landed.
    Something was really wrong with the chimera.  His skin was an unhealthy shade of blue-green, and his eyes were totally dilated; unused to the bright lights of daytime, unwilling to change.  He was breathing a lot harder than he should have been, and sweat like oil ran down his forehead.  The grip on his sword was almost enough to crush the handle.
    "What gives, man?" Lina asked, keeping her sword ready, defensively.  "You wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something?"
    "My cure!  YOU HAVE MY CURE!" Zelgadis accused, dashing forward, flinging blow after blow at Lina; swings sparking as she parried each in turn.  "I hate you I hate you I HATE YOU!"
    "I could swear we left that guy behind!" Lina joked, her way of dealing with fright.
    This was not a good situation by far.  Zelgadis was clearly better with a blade than Lina, and in this berserker mode, he was stronger than ever.  But if Lina took to the skies and turned the battle magical, she stood a good chance of hurting Zel pretty badly... at least by keeping it on the ground, she wouldn't have to worry.  Zelgadis's skin was pretty much swordproof.
    Lina's skin wasn't, though.  No way she could keep this trick up for long.  She did her best to defend against every blow, and try to talk him down from his state.
    "What makes you think I have your cure?!" she asked, parrying blow after blow...
    "The man, him, he told him, he told me, I told me you have my CURE!" Zelgadis said, punctuating the word that drove him on with a strike so hard Lina almost lost her balance.  A follow through strike snipped at her leg -- Lina winced, held it in.
    "How does that make sense?" Lina asked.  "I'd have given it to you if you had it.  You're being tricked!"
    "You're lying, you always lie to me, you've always LIED!"
    A flash of steel, and Lina felt a sharp pain in her arm -- ignore it, ignore it.  Your old friend and my new friend, he said-- "The Mazoku enchanted you.  He bent you to think this way -- you're acting like the other Lina!" she realized.  "From months ago, you remember?"
    Zelgadis's swordfight slowed slightly.  Sure, he was still attacking, but not relentlessly... just doggedly.  He was trying to think, and couldn't fight and think at the same time.  "Other Lina... she lied she lied, didn't she?  You're lying--"
    "The Mazoku dripped some kind of magic poison in her that distorted her mind," Lina said.  "Think.  They could have done that to you.   Can't you tell?"
    The attack staggered to a halt.  Zel's sword twitched, wanting to keep fighting, but he strained.  "Tell... think..."
    "Are you a logical, reasonable sort of person or not?" Lina said.
    "I'm REASONABLE!" Zelgadis growled, angry at the doubting.
    Lina Inverse stepped way the hell away, in case the fight started again.  "Think.  Logic.  Reason.  You always told me to think about things before I do them.  Does this make sense?  Could you be distorted?  Would that explain why you feel this way?"
    Struggle showed on Zelgadis's face.  He wanted to attack, to strike out-- but he wanted to think.  He always thought about things before, didn't he?  He did he didn't did he... he stopped and thought but stopping would mean not attacking and he wanted death, he wanted to...
    One thought hit him with crystal realization : If he was being used as a cheap tool in some totally standard Mazoku plot, he'd be very upset about it.  He wouldn't put up with that sort of garbage.  He'd fight it..
    ..fight who?  Wh???
    "I.. I don't understand," Zel said.  "I have to... death, I have to..."
    "I didn't want to try this after such an active day, but..." Lina said, approaching quickly, before Zelgadis got a chance to react.  She summoned the power through familiarity, bypassing the chant and hoping it would be enough.  "*Ultra Restoration!*"
    Zelgadis blinked, and--
    --he FELT fire course through every part of his body, burning out a slick layer of filth that had gathered under his skin, leaving it very tender and pure as it flowed through...
    His mind snapped into sharp focus, realizing where he was and what was going on.  His emotions ran to hide, his reason coming out to take charge of the situation.  Zelgadis was back.
    Lina fell into his arms, exhausted from the effort, and Zel caught her instinctively.
    Also a bit tired, Zelgadis let out a sigh of relief, and eased Lina to the ground to rest.  He quickly poured a small healing spell into her cuts, closing them for now to stop the bleeding.
    "If it helps, I apologize," he said.  He got a plan of action together, and covered Lina with as much scrub brush as he could find, quickly; so she wouldn't be visible.  Then he put on his best flight spell, and went off to join the party.  And maybe get some revenge.  This time, he'd have it served cold, instead of raging hot.
    A short distance away, Bugger was running out of ideas.
    Nobody told him someone would have the Sword of Light on this trip.  Sure, he could probably survive a blow from it; if he didn't mind losing a limb for good or something like that.  Didn't it just FIGURE?  Blast his rotten luck.
    "My chimera's probably ripping your little girlfriend apart by now," he taunted, evading Gourry's swings.  He found it was easier to avoid Gourry's swordwork than those huge-ass blasts from the hilt, so the fight had turned into a nasty game of melee squabble.
    "Lina can handle him," Gourry said.  "And she's not my girlfriend."
    Bugger thought he saw a handle.  "We could arrange for her to be your lover, yannow.  Mazoku 're capable of that.  How about it?"
    Gourry slashed hard enough to nearly take off Bugger's hand, despite the dark shield the Mazoku kept up.  "Shut UP!"
    Okay, bad handle, Bugger thought.  Maybe it was time to retreat--
    A strike from behind knocked him into a spin, crashing down on the ground in an awkward heap.
    When he looked up, not only did he have some madman with the Sword of Light to deal with, but his own chimera.  Who looked pretty good for a paranoid.
    "Wha...?" he managed.
    "Rezo already tried the controlling gag on me once, you know," Zelgadis said, raising his sword.  "It didn't work for real long then, either.  Lina's fine and dandy by the way, thanks for asking -- but I can't say the same about you..."
    Bugger was not a stupid man.  He didn't bother taunting, or fighting; he was OUT of there, like a bolt from the blue, soaring as fast as he magically could.  He didn't even look back until he was several miles away.
    And the stink of it was... now Angela was going to tease him.  He really wasn't looking forward to that.
    Always prepared, Zelgadis had some smelling salts ready from his belt, after they cleared the tree branches and bushes off Lina.
    Lina was pulled from bad dreams right away, sitting upright.  She noticed Zel, moved for her sword, then saw the smile.
    "Good to see you," Zelgadis said.  "Although I'm a bit embarrassed about the circumstances..."
    "Zel?  Gourry?" Lina asked, just making sure she was awake.  "How long was I out?"
    "Just a few minutes," Zelgadis said.
    "We chased the Mazoku off," Gourry said.  "I fired a shot after him, but it must've missed."
    She got to her feet, still a bit weak, but determined to push on.  "Loathing... we've gotta go get him.  If he didn't run off.  Damn!  This quest isn't going real well, is it?"
    But Lina's grumblings were negated when they jogged back to town, and to the smoking remains that used to be a post office.
    There they saw Love, hugging her brother, who was sobbing openly.
    "I hate myself," Loathing whispered.  "I'm so sorry, sister..."
    "There there..." she soothed, patting his back.  "There there.  It's going to be alright.  Sister promises."
    Lina kept out of Loathing's sight, getting a jar out.  She motioned to it, and shot a questioning look to Love.  The woman nodded.
    The young sorceress pressed the jar up to Loathing's back softly, and waited...
    Aunt Koirry flashed a wink to Gourry, and a parting smile, before the two vanished into the jar.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.