lthough the quest itself had been more than scary, Myth was feeling good when she went to bed that night.
    She still had her karaoke trophy, in a place of honor by her bedside.  She had never won a trophy for storytelling before... she had declined to enter and bard's contests, because she didn't think it would be fair.  After all, Myth had Talents, and the others had real skills.  Never before had she felt the esteem boost that comes from... well, winning.  Winning something.
    The group had really accepted her as a companion now.  Not just an informational resource, but someone to bring along when they were taking five from the adventuring.  True, Lina and Company left her behind to visit Paradox's realm, which Myth shyed away from visiting -- she wasn't a coward, right?  She hoped she wasn't, at least.  But in these last few days, Gourry and Reason would try to pass the time by visiting the town, or playing cards, and Myth got a lot of time to really bond with these people.  Even Reason, who always stayed cold and aloof from the other wingless enjoyed these outings, having no work to do in the meantime.
    Gourry did his best to keep spirits up, but Myth could see growing worry about Lina in him.  He didn't say it in words, but the keeper of stories knew the forms, and recognized pining for a love gone away.  For his sake, Myth hoped Lina would return soon.
    Lina did come back, but rather than a joyful homecoming, she brought more bad news about Nightmare... and Myth got scared again.  She had never lost the fear of her old partner.  Thankfully, instead of dwelling on it, they had a large social dinner and she was able to distract herself... returning to her room afterwards, she felt good about things.  Lina could handle Nightmare.  And then maybe she wouldn't have to be afraid anymore, either.  Lina's strength and courage would pull through.
    That night, Myth decided to do something she rarely did; she read one of her stories.  True, she read them ALOUD from time to time, but that was just reciting.  Here, she was reading only for herself, not for others.  She was reading 'The Adventures of Jean the Clever.'
    It was Lina's favorite book, and apparently the source of her strength when she was little.  How could a story inspire that?  True, stories had power and resonated the cultures that spawned them, but how much did Myth really understand about the impact they had on people who read them?  Myth was a channel for these stories, a shaper... not a receiver.
    But reading 'Jean the Clever', Myth began to understand.
    As a reader, she felt.. good.  You could identify with the plucky and sneaky Jean, who faced trouble after trouble.  A real person, with unreal problems, that she had to strive to overcome, and all the while she managed to do it with a smile.  Myth found herself looking up to this fictional character, based loosely on a girl she journeyed with so long ago.  It was only an imaginary person, but that person felt so real... perhaps if Myth was to use her talents to truly shape a story, to bring a Jean into reality itself--
    She closed the book quickly.  That was dangerous.  Dangerous, and foolish; Jean lived in the mind of the reader and the page of the story.  Perhaps in the world that the wingless once lived in, it would work.  You couldn't bring that into the waking world and have the same impact, however; it would be a pale shadow, a projection, a fake.  No, better to leave Jean in the world of dreams, where she could be whatever the reader wanted her to be.
    Still, Myth was satisfied.  Her trophy shone, as she kept it nicely polished, and she knew what it was for now.  It wasn't just for telling a good story with the right vocal inflection and accuracy, it was for the feeling it stirred in the ones who gave it to her.  Definitely earned.
    Bedding down for the night, Myth had very good dreams...
    Disconnected images.  A house on a hill.  An apple orchard.  A smile, a cloud.  The sun.  Gophers, an apron.
    And in the world of dreams, Myth shaped the story--
    Husband and wife, paradigm.  She smiled.  Myth liked a good romance, a sweet and pleasant story fraught with challenges to love, and so on... very light, and very inspiring.
    Perhaps because she was busy thinking about them, the stars of her dream were Lina and Gourry.  Myth sat on a hill, watching the two share good moments... Taking care of gophers that were plaguing the orchard via some careful magic and a hose.  Lina proving that she wasn't very good in the kitchen when she brought out a very nasty tray of cookies, but Gourry eating them anyway because Lina made them.  And because these two were who they were, there was also a thundering horde of bandits ready to steal the apples, and a gleeful fight to beat them back into the forest, sword and magic flying.  Perhaps not a standard domestic scene, but it wasn't a standard domestic couple.
    Myth sat on the hill, giggling and watching events unfold, when she noticed a tree disappear.
    The next tree in line vanished after that, and in the blink of an eye, the rest were gone as well.  The orchard was empty, but dream-Lina and dream-Gourry didn't seem to notice.  Myth stood up, and her mind tried to bring these things back, but wasn't able to.  They had been stolen.
    The house was next, followed by those terrible cookies, and Myth walked down to the field to find out what was wrong... before the field vanished as well.  All that existed was a void.
    The voice spoke like dry ice.
    "Thank you," he said.  "This is exactly what I needed."
    "Nightmare?!" Myth said, terror grabbing her spine.
    "Don't worry, little girl, I will complete my work soon," Nightmare chuckled.  "You won't have the burden of life any longer, as you did not want it to begin with.  But I think I will give you death slowly, perhaps over many years... to ensure you realize your mistake in spurning me..."
    He's trying to scare me, Myth realized on a calmer level.  But fright controlled her.  He could take her here, if she submitted to the fear -- perhaps like he did with Xelloss, who even now could be... so many horrible things she could imagine.  Everything she had feared to date, if he ever found her again...
    So, this is it.  She was going to die.  Quite badly, too, because she couldn't make a stand, couldn't be the thing she felt herself looking up to in her own writing.
    A small spark ignited.
    "..n.." Myth spoke softly.
    "What was that, simple bardess?" Nightmare asked.  "I could swear the mouse had a roar, for a moment--"
    "No," Myth said.  Firm as rock.  "Get out of my dream.  Leave me alone!"
    "You can't do anything to stop me," Nightmare said, his darkness caressing around Myth, sending fresh panic into her.  "The weakest runt of the litter.  I don't know why I ever wanted to show you the beauty of life, why I felt an attachment.  You've proven to be such a sad little thing--"
    Myth flared with golden power, shattering the part of Nightmare that coiled around her.  She could feel his presence reel back in surprise.  He struck back at her, testing; Myth felt the blow, and walked straight through it.
    "Sad little thing?" Myth asked, actually advancing on the other wingless.  This is crazy, she told herself, but continued.  "How many centuries have I lived in fear of you?  You know how hard it is to get by day to day knowing that I meet echoes of your nightmares in my dreams?  Survival like that isn't easy.  It takes... it takes a clever person.  And I'm telling you one last time, GET OUT OF MY DREAMS!!"
    She struck out, shaping the story of dreams towards a positive slant, designed to chase nightmares away--
    And the presence was gone.
    Myth paused, stunned at the victory.
    "I did it," she said.  "I actually chased him away!  I...!"
    Just now she was registering the single hit Nightmare got on her, which burned through her mind.  She stumbled, and forced herself awake, where she had the mother of all migraine headaches.  Falling out of bed, she tried to get control, get a hold of herself.
    Nightmare stole part of her romantic dream.  Why?
    "Oh no..." Myth moaned.  She picked herself up, and lurched to her door, wrenching it open and running down the halls.
    The first few half-hours Lina slept, she felt the pangs of nightmares.  Hints at darkness, at torment... and each time, Gourry would pull her back before it got any farther.
    Much to Lina's relief.
    She didn't know what to think of Gourry's sudden proclamation.  She didn't want to think about it.  She just wanted to rest...
    Lina carried the tray of cookies out, to Gourry.  He was probably quite tired from that gopher hunt, and could use the snack... but Lina had to admit, the cookies were disgusting.  Little lumps of dough, half-baked, pinkish.  She was almost ashamed to bring them to him, but it took her awhile to make them, and he'd want to at least know what she was up to in the kitchen.
    Gourry wiped some sweat from his brow, leaning on the hoe he was using to overturn a bunch of weeds.
    "Here," Lina said, handing over the tray unceremoniously.  "Food."
    "Whoa, you baked?" Gourry said.  "Umm... they're meatballs, right?"
    "Cookies!" Lina said, pointing to them.  "Yummy cookies!  Not MEATBALLS!... it's okay.  You don't have to eat them.  I'm not actually sure they're edible, to tell the truth-- Gourry!!"
    He continued to chew.  "S'not bad," he said.  "Needs salt, but not bad... thanks, Lina.  It was sweet of you."
    The two shared a smile, and a little laugh over the whole thing.
    Lina felt something tugging at her, like someone trying to wake her up... but the dream was just too nice.  She wanted to dream more of it.  She stubbornly refused to wake up, experiencing more of the dream, sinking into it...
    "Ah, the days are just packed," Lina said, relaxing, letting her butterfly wings out to feel the cool breeze.  She gave Gourry a hug, comforting and warm.  "I know I don't say it much, Gourry... but really, I lo--"
    A rift of darkness tore through the dream, behind Lina; two chains whipped through the air, razor sharp hooks snaring each of her butterfly wings, and pulling.
    Lina screamed in pain, clinging to Gourry, but it was over in a minute.  The wings were pulled from her back, and sucked into the rift of Nightmare.
    "Thank you," Nightmare said, through the haze of pain over Lina's mind.  "You have made my job so much easier.  Now, the Forenight of Chaos TRULY begins..."
    Lina woke, screaming, clinging to Gourry in the waking world...
    "Lina!!" Gourry said.  "It's okay, you're awake now... it's okay.  What happened?"
    She concentrated, trying to summon them... with no results.
    "The wings..." Lina said.  "Nightmare took my wings..."
    "...huh?  Why would he do that?" Gourry asked.  "If--"
    There are some days when everything just goes completely off the deep end, and you don't even get a chance to take a breath.  Some days life goes from weird to surreal to absurdly unbelievable.  This was turning into one of those days.
    Contrary to all expectations, that was the exact moment that the golden voice chose to speak.
    'Bring The Wingless Through Giga's Gate,' the words said, washing over Lina and Gourry like a wave lapping at the shores of chaos.  'Something Has Gone Wrong.'
    "Who, wh-- AAA!  Gourry, that was the Lord of Nightmares!!" Lina said, freaking out.  "We've got to hurry!"
    "It's funny, I thought that voice sounded familiar," Gourry said, not quite grasping the importance of the situation.  "So what do we--"
    The door opened, and Myth fell into the room.
    "Li... Lina," she gasped.  "Nightmare is--"
    "We know," Lina said.  "Gourry, get Reason.  I'll help Myth.  We gotta hurry..."
    She glanced out the room's only window, at the night sky.  The moon burned golden, turned the yellow of the Forenight of Chaos.
    "Just once," Lina said, musing to herself.  "Just once I'd like to not have everything boil down to a climactic battle at the eleventh hour.  But hey, play the hand you're dealt, right?"
    "We're going to be playing poker with the Lord of Nightmares?" Gourry asked, really not quite grasping anything.
    "Just go fetch Reason, Gourry."
    Here lies a rolling lake of golden energy.  Liquid light, fluid chaos, yadda yadda.
    Lina didn't bother going all gosh-wow over the surroundings.  Visiting the home of God was a rare thing, but she had done it once before, and frankly was far too rushed to bother being impressed this time around.  With her came Gourry, followed by Myth and Reason; weirdly, Myth didn't seem as crazed as Lina was expecting.  She stayed calm.  A nervous calm, true, one tinged with the impulse to flee, but it was a lot more stable than the shy wingless had managed lately.
    "Okay, we're here," Lina announced, rather than anything along the lines of 'O Lord of Nightmares, we hath completed thine quest as thy in thy holy grace allotted'.  "Now what?"
    The voice flowed from the waters freely.  'Free The Wingless From Your Traps,' the Lord said.  'All Of Them.'
    "You sure?  Some of these folks are downright antisocial..."
    'Free Them.'
    "Fine, fine," Lina said, getting her jars out, unscrewing them one by one...
    Luck appeared in a flash.  "--jar," she completed from a conversation held a long time ago.  It took her a moment to realize what was going on.  "Heyyyy!!!  You tricked me.  That was a really mean thing to do!  WAAAAHHH!"
    Drama was next, appearing just as annoyed as he was after their interrogation of him.  "Gee, thanks a lot, Lina," he said.  "What have you WHOA!!!"
    'I Greet Thee, Master Of Patterns, Shaper Of Behaviors,' the Lord of Nightmares greeted.  'I Greet Thee, Child Of Extremes, Daughter Of Chance.  Welcome.'
    "hi," Drama managed weakly.
    "Mommy!!!" Luck cheered.  "Waaaaai!"
    The next two out were Love and Loathing, from the same jar.  They were still in an embrace, Love comforting her distraught brother.
    Loathing got a glimpse of the lake, and panicked.  "The Lord of Nightmares!  The Lord of Nightmares!  She's going to destroy us all!"
    "No she won't, brother," Love said, keeping a good grip on him.  "She loves us.  She's going to help us."
    'I Greet Thee, Love And Loathing,' the Lord said.  'Sides Of The Coin, One As The Other In Reverse.  Welcome.'
    Paradox was just as confused as he was when Lina bottled him.  Moreso upon seeing his creator.
    "Ohshit," Paradox said, quiet as a mouse.
    'I Greet Thee, Hypocrite Of Time And Space,' the Lord said.  'You Have Made Many Bad Choices, But You Are Also Welcome.'
    Reason cleared her throat.
    'And Yes, I Greet Thee, Pathfinder of Logic,' the Lord added.  'As Well As My Cherished Daughter Of Stories, Of Dreams And Aspirations Of Man.  Welcome All.'
    "The gang's all here," Lina confirmed.  "Except Nightmare, of course.  The bastard took my wings!"
    "He did?" Paradox asked, deciding to act proud at just the wrong moment.  "HA!  Your days are numbered, Lina Inverse!  Nightmare will use your powers of Chaos in the wings to be the true successor to Giga's plans.  And then all of you won't be laughing at me, and--"
    'That Is Enough.'
    "sorry," Paradox blurted, trying to hide in his robe.
    'Nightmare Has Displeased Me,' the Lord of Nightmares said.  'He Has Taken My Name In Vain.  He Has Reclaimed His Home, The True World Of The Winged, The World of Dreams.  And He Will Use The Powers Of Chaos I Granted Lina Inverse, In Bargain With Merlin Giga.  This Is A Thing Of Extreme Danger.  But In Full Acceptance Of Human Chaos, It Is A Thing Which Might Be, And Thus I Cannot Stop It.  Humans, However, Can Shape The Destiny Of Their Choosing.  This Is Your Task, Lina, If You Wish To Prevent Disaster.  Destroy Nightmare Of The Wingless.  Will You Accept?'
    Lina cracked her knuckles.  "Your honor, I was already planning on ripping that guy a new one.  I will more than happily accept."
    But Myth was astounded.  "The... the world of dreams?  The world of dreams was the world we Fell from?" she asked.  "How can that be?  We visit it every night--"
    'You Feel Echoes Of Your Home, Daughter, As Do All Humans,' the Lord explained.  'But Nightmare Has Entered It In The Flesh With Giga's Dream, Granting Him Additional Powers Over It.  He Intends Great Evil.  If You Wish To Stop The Evil, The Four Must Go.'
    "I'm a bit fuzzy on this Great Evil thing, but I catch your drift," Lina responded.  "So me, Gourry, Dayvid and Amelia--"
    "" Lina asked.
    'As This Affects All Life In This World, One Of Each Race Must Go,' the Lord said.  'Lina.  You Will Go.'
    "I figured as much," Lina said.
    'Myth, You Must Go As Well.'
    "Me?!" Myth asked.  "But... I'm not a warrior, my Lord--"
    'And Two Others Will Accompany As Well...'
    A flash of light appeared to Lina's side.  She turned, and saw the newcomers.  "YOU?!"
    'Of The Dragons, Angela.  Of The Mazoku, Bugger,' the Lord said.  'Wingless, Human, Dragon, Mazoku.  The Four Must Go.'
    (The unlikely partners were just as surprised as Lina was.  Moments ago, they were waiting around for Luna to tell them exactly what they were supposed to be doing; naturally, she didn't tell them anything.  Except of course for 'Seeya later' mere seconds ago...)
    "What?  Go where?  What's going on??" Angela asked, in a small voice.
    The Lord told her.
    "Oh," Angela said.  "Now I wish I hadn't asked..."
    "This is a right insult, it is," Bugger growled.  "Ahm supposed to be a destructive bastard, ain't I?  Why should I help you dorks go and fight a great evil?  I LIKE great evil!"
    'Because The Lord Of Nightmares Orders It,' the Lord reminded him.
    "Oh," he said.  "Well, that's different, then."
    All eyes turned to Gourry, who spoke up for the first time.
    "I'd like to go," he said.
    'You Cannot Help Them There.'
    "I love Lina," Gourry said openly.  "I want to protect her."
    A long pause settled over the crowd.  Lina turned beet red for obvious reasons.
    'There Are Ways To Protect Beyond Your Simple Bodyguarding, Holder Of The Sword Of Light,' the Lord said.  'This You Will Learn Through Time And Cherish.  For Now, Have Faith In Lina.'
    "Wait a minute," Lina interrupted, eager to get off this topic.  "We still can't go slaughter Nightmare.  Xelloss has the spell we need, and he's hostage!"
    'You Lack The Fourth Of Giga?' the Lord asked.
    "It's certainly not in the Giga Lores," Lina said, holding up the book she had used to bring them here.  "At last check, all the pages after Giga Slave, Giga Restoration and Giga's Gate are blank.  And anybody other than me sees only blank pages."
    'Perhaps They See Nothing They Need,' the Lord said.  'Now You Need This Spell.'
    Curious, Lina scanned the Giga's Gate page... then on impulse, with a tingle at the back of her mind, turned it--
    "AAAA!" Lina yelped.  "Giga's Dream!?  It was in the book all this time??  But that's--"
    'Such Is The Way Of Chaos,' the Lord said.  'Now, I Have Explained Enough For Your Task.  Far Too Much Of This Speech Discussion.  I Will Return To You Once The Quest Is Complete, If You Are Able To Retrieve Your Power From The Darkness.  Goodbye.'
    The lake of chaos faded, the real world coming into view... with the entire party of wingless, humans, Dragon and Mazoku sitting in the Great Hall of Sailoon Palace.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.