eturning to Testabourne went faster than Zelgadis was expecting, through this weird thing Lina had found called the Sub Ways.  She tried to explain it to him, but clearly the girl was tired, and Zel wasn't interested enough; so he bluntly told her to explain later.
    Truth was, he was a bit ashamed of himself.  Of course, it was all some tiresome Mazoku plot; but he always thought of himself as a reasonable person, not a ball of unhinged emotion.  He didn't like losing control of his anger, even when coaxed there by outside forces.
    It happened once before, when the other Lina told him horror stories to whip him up into enough of a frenzy to ignore an obvious trap.  Now it had happened twice.  He'd have to work very hard to avoid a third accident.
    Night approaching, the Gabriev household was quiet, save Mrs. Gabriev cooking up some yummy brownies in the kitchen.
    "Oh, hello!" she greeted them.  "I see you found a new friend.  And he's blue!  That's nice."
    "Aunt Koirry went into a little jelly jar with her brother for now," Gourry explained.  "And Zelgadis is going to be staying with us.  He's a chimera, but I think he likes brownies.  Right?"
    "Er, right," Zelgadis said.  "Brownies are good."
    "Tomorrow, we can drop you off wherever you want, Zel," Lina said, stretching some kinks out in her back.  For some reason, Gourry avoided watching that.  "Sorry to get you mixed up in all this."
    "Drop off?" Zelgadis asked, amused.  "I'm coming with you."
    "I'd like another crack at that bastard who did this to me," Zelgadis said.  "You can explain the specifics tomorrow.  I'm sure it's no stranger than whatever other jaunt you've been on."
    "You sure, Zel?" Lina asked.  "I'll warn, this one's pretty weird... and dangerous."
    "It's always weird and dangerous," Zel said, calmly.  "But from the looks of today, you could use the help."
    "Tomorrow, tomorrow," Zelgadis insisted.  "You need rest.  Right, Gourry?"
    "Huh?  Oh, right.  Rest is good," Gourry said.  He gave Lina a warm smile.  "Pleasant dreams!"
    That night...
    That night, Gourry dreams.
    His dreams are very unimaginative.  He never really understood why people described dreams with funny words like 'mystical' and 'surreal' and 'hazy'.  All Gourry usually dreamed about were memories.  It wasn't a bad way to spend the evening, remembering a good family picnic, or an outing with your friends.  Lately, Gourry had been dreaming about the times he spent with Lina, slaying bad guys and recovering treasure and sometimes tangling with Mazoku lords.  They might have been dangerous, but he knew that everything turned out okay, and could always look back on them fondly.
    And very recently, he had been dreaming about the time spent in a castle in Ky, when he felt all funny.  That someone he knew and cared about was in danger and he was in a prison cell, and would do anything in his power and then some to protect her.  Protect her and... well, it was really a mess.  His dreams played like a weird mix of Myth's candid explanations of what happened and the half-remembered visions from the strange place.  Hastily edited footage from life's reel.
    He saw himself trying to bend the bars.  Why would he do that?  He wasn't stupid enough to think that he could make solid iron collapse...
    "You were saying you'd heard a cry for help," Myth said, because she was busy trying to get it through Gourry's head.  Was busy.  "You were acting like a knight who had lost his lady love.  It was pretty touching, in a weird, Talent-induced kind of way, actually..."
    He saw himself running up stairs, attacking guards and minions with lightning speed, any obstacle in his path falling to his feet.  Who was he?  He was Gourry, right?  He felt like a knight, and Gourry wasn't a knight; technically he was a mercenary, although he didn't like that title sometimes, because it implied an eyepatch and a knife and a bad attitude.  What was he thinking, barging through like that, anyway?...
    "You kept saying you had to get to her," Myth said.  "But you stopped saying it was to protect her.  You just had to get to her.  You needed to or something."
    Finally reaching Lina, who was in some scary looking machine and defenseless... seeing that sent him into a sort of rage.  He attacked Naga, which he later apologized for although she claimed not to remember it, and finally defeated that Drama guy.  And then...
    Well, Gourry wasn't one to delude himself.  He told Lina he loved her and kissed her.  Facts were facts, after all.
    "You've been traveling with Lina for several years now," his Auntie reminded him.  Good old Auntie.  She always knew what to do.  In a way he knew that she never really told him what to do, she just let him talk about it until he figured it out on his own, but that was okay too.
    She asked another question.  "Did you ever go anywhere WITHOUT Lina?"
    Actually, he did, didn't he?  He didn't remember much about that, either.  Another weird powerful person had kidnapped him, or something... he remembered being pulled away, and Lina was running after him... was she crying?  It was such a long time ago...
    Clip after clip played for Gourry, tiny snippets and moments.  Like a documentary set out to prove a point which Gourry wasn't exactly sure about.  His dream-mind, which was simple in a good way just like his waking-mind, figured this was probably just because he had a late snack before bed and started to think about Lina, Lina who had been on his mind a lot lately, Lina who he could see in all these clips that he loved--
    That must be it, then.
    Purpose achieved, his dreams unrolled into a perfectly ordinary dreamlike remembrance of his friends playing Bonkers one day, until Bobby had to be taken to the hospital for head injury.  The group generally agreed that meant Bobby had lost, and a fun time was had by all, and thoughts about Lina were pushed aside until much later.
    Zelgadis went to bed more tired than he wanted the others to realize.  It had been a draining day; dumped into a state of perpetual rage, then burned by white fire until he was calm again.  If you bend a reed as far as it can go one way, then bend it back, it will snap.
    Fortunately, being a chimera and being a reasonable person, he wasn't the sort that would snap easily.  But he did realize he needed some serious downtime, and encouraged everybody to get some as well.  The soft blankets and pillows of the Gabriev lenin closet made little difference to stone skin, but he was asleep quickly.
    Then he dreamed.
    Zelgadis never liked dreaming.  He thought it was a pointless waste of time, little more than a meaningless dribble of pseudosymbolic garbage.  He heard about people who assumed dreams were stories trying to tell you about yourself, and figured there might be some truth to it, but he'd rather trust conclusions made about himself AWAKE than ones made ASLEEP.  A sleepy mind probably couldn't make good decisions, after all.
    That's why he was too busy figuring on the various jutting rock formations as being phallic imagery and scoffing at the absurdity of it all to realize where he was -- but it hit him quickly after that.
    This was the cave he was trapped in.
    He didn't get a very good look at the place before he was sealed in, and wasn't in a frame of mind to appreciate the geology anyway.  But he must have gotten some kind of brief look, in that dim light, because he recognized what he was seeing in this dream.
    Zelgadis started to will the dream to go away, a trick he had learned over the years, but something gave him pause.  Primitive drawings were on the walls.
    Now, Zelgadis realized whatever he was seeing couldn't possibly have REALLY been in that cave.  No way he could remember it in such detail after so quick a look.  It made no reasonable sense.
    But out of curiosity, he studied the paintings anyway.
    It depicted a group of worshippers, kneeling before the a chained goddess; a woman who, despite being bound to her altar, was blessing them.  Then they'd walk off beyond the altar.  Simple enough, but that wasn't the curious part.
    The group waiting to be blessed had bluish greyish skin and purple hair.  After being blessed, they had ordinary pink skin and black hair, like a human would have.
    Obvious projected subconscious desires of a cure for my condition, Zelgadis thought.  He glanced past the mural, to a sunken well hidden in the cave's depths, and a ladder leading down...
    Okay.  MAYBE it was worth checking out.  Despite it being a clear fantasy of an irrational sort.  It wouldn't take long.  And Lina was managing just fine.  And he could get revenge on the Mazoku dog after confirming that this wasn't really anything important.  Right.
    Zelgadis woke himself up, got his equipment and left to knock quietly on Myth's door.
    "I need to use the Sub Ways," he said softly.  "Just for a minute."
    Lina flew over a dark landscape.  Unseen hands reached for her, pulling at her arms, her legs, her wings; she tore away each time, flying faster and faster to get away--
    She burst through some kind of bubble, and landed in a pleasant, happy meadow, full of cheerful flowers and bright green grass.  Confusion set in immediately.
    "Kind of blunt, I realize," a voice said.  "But I needed to get your attention.  You've been ignoring me lately in your dreams..."
    "Wh-who's there?!" Lina said, drawing her dream's sword.
    Xelloss popped into existence with a pleasant little musical melody.
    "Hello!" he said.  "I see you're finally cognizant of this dream.  It hasn't been easy trying to get in touch with you, you know.  How are things?"
    "Oh great, I'm dreaming of Xelloss again," Lina groaned.  "I guess it's better than a--"
    "Shh.  Don't say his name," Xelloss warned, putting a finger to Lina's lips.  "I'm laying low.  Mmm.  So you think this is just a dream enigmatic priest, then?  Haven't I appeared in dreams before and been the real thing?  Think back now."
    Lina's memory rolled back.  "At... hey.  You DID talk to me this way before."
    "Give the girl a prize!" Xelloss cheered, handing Lina an adorable plush Xelloss Dolly.
    Curious, she pulled the string in back.  'That is a secret!' the dolly teased, in a mechanical voice.
    "Now that I have your undivided attention, we have matters to discuss," Xelloss said, his eyes opening; it was time to be serious.  "You've done well gathering the wingless.  Too well.  They're starting to move.  Not just some lackluster Dragon and Mazoku, this time you have the worst of the lot keen on your destruction."
    Lina sighed.  "Look, if you're just going to tease me with secrets--"
    "No secrets," Xelloss said.  "I said already.  This is too important.  You have wings now, I see; that's good.  You're going to actually complete the prophecy, the first one to get this far.  Ever."
    Lina got thoughtful.  "So no secrets, eh?  I can ask any question and you'll answer it?"
    "Any question," Xelloss said.  "And I do not lie about things like that."
    She decided to test that.  "Where are you?"
    "I'm currently Paradox's prisoner," Xelloss said.  "I've been using my little trick to try and maneuver things despite this handicap.  It's hard to evade the upstart, but I'm managing."
    "Prisoner?!  You?"
    "Things have changed since we last spoke," Xelloss said.  "I'm human again, for starters."
    "WHAT?!  Why did you--"
    "Unfinished business," Xelloss said.  "I shrugged off the wings once and fled to darker ground.  But I left in an escape clause with my employer -- when the time came that another should rise, I would be allowed to leave and give aid.  To do penance for my.. mistake.  I'm so relieved it was you, Lina."
    "What the hell are you talking about?!" Lina demanded.  "Shrugged off what wings?  What--"
    "I'm sorry, we're all out of time for question and answer, so let's move right to the bonus round," Xelloss said.  "Listen.  There's a fourth Giga spell that you need to know.  It's the gateway to the world of dreams, the new home of Nightmare.  He's not supposed to be here, but somehow he found a way back, and despite limited power, he's got some very nasty aspirations.  I'll teach you the spell, so you can come and get him, and--"
    A dark rift shredded through the sweet dream Xelloss had wrought, tearing it in half; Lina was knocked off her feet, her half drifting away from Xelloss's.  An amorphous cloud of horror floated between them.
    Through the haze, Lina could see Xelloss.  He looked genuinely surprised.
    "What a silly mistake I made..." he said, quietly.  "I named him."
    "And I have come," Nightmare replied, voice low with malice.  The darkness swirled around Xelloss, and started to tear at him--
    "STOP!" Lina demanded, leaping across the chasm, striking at the cloud with her blade.  The blade glowed briefly, just a hint of gold--
    Nightmare struck at Lina, casting her aside, and sliding away from Xelloss.  The priest looked much worse for wear, very injured in a metaphoric sense, broken.
    "You've come far, but this ends, Lina Inverse," Nightmare said.
    "Let Xelloss go," Lina demanded.
    "It is done," Nightmare said, casting Xelloss away.  "He has woken in his cell, and will not sneak out again.  But you and I are not finished.  One opportunity I will allow.  Will you yield in this useless quest?"
    Lina didn't even bother to consider the question seriously.  The answer was clear.  "No."
    "Then I will stop using underlings," Nightmare said, advancing.  "No more games, no more subversions.  Every night I will visit you, and I will break you, piece by piece.  And soon, you will be gone.  You who are Chaos will not achieve your true place, as my bitch mother desires.  This is my world again, and I am destined to be the TRUE Lord of Nightmares."
    Somewhere in the waking world, Lina groaned, and twisted in her sheets...
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.