ome was only a short spell-jump away.  The five of them, Mazoku, Dragon, wingless, human and ex-Mazoku human (who slept through the whole thing, thankfully) walked through Giga's Dream, back to the waking world.  After a near-death onslaught such as that, Lina was expecting nothing less than a confetti-strewn parade in her honor on returning, or something else that would fit her mood of triumph.
    But instead of a thundering cheer, they met with an argument.
    "Waaaaah!  You're all being so mean!" Luck whined.  "Quit picking on poor Drama-kun!"
    "Just because you happen to enjoy a good speech doesn't mean YOU claim dominion over speechmaking," Drama told Paradox.  "I'm not going to sit here and put up with you aping my modus!"
    "I do your modus better than you do," Paradox said.  "And I have better clothes and I'm cooler in every other regard.  You're superfluous."
    "You're all morons," Loathing injected.  "If I had a dime for--"
    "HEY!!" Lina shouted.  "Kids!  I'm turning this palace right around if you don't settle down!"
    Shocked, the group immediately clustered around Lina.
    "Now before anybody asks, yes, Nightmare is history," Lina said.  "We got Xelloss back and won the day and I've got my wings.  Everything is hunky dory.  Where's Gourry?"
    "Here!  Here!" Gourry said, nudging his way politely through the mob, to greet Lina-- to hug her, at least.  "It's good to see you!  I knew you'd come back!"
    "gkhgk," Lina wheezed, all the air compressed out of her lungs.  "Grry!!!"
    "Huh?" Gourry asked, letting go.
    Lina straightened her outfit, and uncrumpled her wings.  "Before we go any further in this lovey stuff, rule one -- no spontaneous ribcrushing hugs.  Deal?"
    "Lovey stuff...?  Really?" Gourry asked.
    "We'll talk later," Lina said, and turned to address the others.  "Anybody seen the Lord of Nightmares?  I have a few concerns, now that we're done doing her dirty work--"
    'I Am Present,' the voice spoke, from somewhere inside their heads.
    "Good timing," Lina said.  "I got rid of your prodigal son, and got these wings back.  Now.  May I PLEASE ask you some straight questions?  No prophecy, no--"
    'Your Wings Are Those Of The Angel Of Chaos,' the Lord said, intercepting Lina's query.  'You Have Proven Worthy To Carry The Torch For Humanity, Those Who Are Children Of The Wingless.  As For The Wingless Themselves, Who Have Pleased Me Greatly In Growing And Maturing, They May Return To Their Home If They Wish...'
    A ruffling sound was heard, as wing simultaneously unfolded on the backs of each of the wingless, much to their surprise.  Some were delicate, some were shiny, some bore complex designs... all pale in comparison to Lina's, in the way a bar of solid gold is pale compared to a golden idol.
    The voice seemed to shift, to address Lina.  'I Name Thee Chaos, Knight Of The Lord Of Nightmares, Equal To The Knight Of Ceipheed And The Knight Of Shaburanigdo.  The Three Races Are At Last In Balance.  May You Quest For Your Days To Save Your People, And Seek To Become The Figure I Have Bargained With Merlin Giga For.  Now He May Rest In Peace, Knowing That The Fruit Of His Labor Has Finally Seen The Golden Light Of Day.  The Winged Are Yours To Direct, Lina Inverse.  You Have Done Well.  Goodbye.'
    Task complete, the Lord sank back into her lake of chaos, and silence was all that remained.
    ".......oh," Lina said.  "Ah.  I.. guess that answers my question."
    "Chaos of the Winged," Reason said, folding her wings under her lab coat.  "I suppose it stands to reason that the Knight would take on the domain closest to the Lord's nature.  The nature of humans, as well."
    Myth, however, was furiously jotting down notes.  "What a story!!  This is so amazing!... I don't think anybody will believe it, but that's fine..."
    "Err.. you're not still angry at me, right?" Paradox asked.  "I know we had a bit of a misunderstanding, ma'am, but--"
    "Can it, Paradox," Lina said.  "You're all in my Okay Book from here out.  Clean slate."
    "What do you want us to do now?" Loathing asked, quietly.
    Lina thought, and..... had no idea.  "Whatever you want," Lina said.  "I'm not much of a leader, guys.  Just go do what you usually do.  But if I need you, I'll call on you.  And believe me, knowing my lifestyle, something's BOUND to pop up."
    Plenty of nodding, all around.  The group loitered.
    "Shoo, shoo," Lina said.  "Go have lives."
    "Actually, there was something..." Love said, approaching.  "We were talking about it while you were out, and..."
    "We're seven now," Love said.  "Unbalanced and incomplete.  We need Nightmare, in one form or another.  I know it's not exactly the same as having one of our family in the role, but could you...?"
    "What, you want me to whip up some wingle... winged on the fly?" Lina asked.  "I don't have Talents.  All I have is magic and apparently a cool pair of wings and a mysterious destiny.  I don't do bona fide miracles--"
    "I'll take the job."
    Xelloss limped over, still considerably battered from the day's events.
    "I'm sorry," he said, talking directly to Lina.  "I've made rather a mess of things as of late, haven't I?"
    Lina was colored confused.  "Huh?"
    "Got caught by Paradox, unwittingly gave Nightmare access to the world of dreams..." Xelloss counted off.  "Named Nightmare and brought his curse on you.  And finally, captured AGAIN by Nightmare... so much for controlling, plotting Xelloss the enigmatic priest.  Perhaps I should have stayed with the Mazoku, I did more harm than good this time around.  You know what they say about the road that's paved with good intentions."
    "Doesn't it go to the bakery around the corner?" Gourry asked, not following the conversations at all.
    "Come on, Xel," Lina reasoned.  "People make mistakes--"
    "I don't," Xelloss said.  "I wanted to help you.  You don't quite understand, do you, Lina Inverse?  Why I wanted to help you, to do these things that I had evaded when I ran to the security of the Mazoku, not wanting the pressure of Giga's prophecy on myself?  It wasn't simply to finish old business, it was for... I did it all for..."
    Lina leaned closer.  "For what?"
    Xelloss smiled wide.
    "...that is a secret," he said.
    "AAARGH!" Lina yelled.
    "But I would like to make amends," he added.  "I know the world of dreams well.  Perhaps I lack wings, but maybe I can do something about that one day.  I'll play a substitute Nightmare and round out the nice little group of fans you've gathered.  Perhaps you can't trust me to such a dangerous position, considering what the last one did, but you'll never quite know, will you?  Wouldn't that be fun?"
    Lina sighed, feeling a headache coming on.  "Vote.  All those in favor?"
    Four hands went up.  Myth reluctantly raised hers.  Luck elbowed Paradox, and he reluctantly put his up as well.
    "Those against?"
    Loathing raised his hand.  "Just on general principles of hating everybody," he explained.  "Nothing personal."
    "The ayes have it, and I am going to go get a snack, and get some SLEEP," Lina said.  "So beat it, all of you.  I'll have Xelloss contact you when you're needed.  And... thanks.  You folks did a great job."
    "Three cheers for Lina-sama!!" Luck started.  "HIP HIP--"
    "Why three?" Paradox said.  "I think two would be fine."
    "Three is standard operating procedure," Drama said.  "You bastard," he added for emphasis.
    "Well, I don't think she deserves three.  Three is excessive," Paradox argued, crossing his arms in defiance.
    "Two would be reasonable, considering it's just a symbolic gesture..."
    And the whole group broke down into argument again.
    "Wacky bunch," Xelloss commented to Lina.  "So these are the fabled gods and goddesses of man, then?  From the beginning of time through the currents of history?  The shining examples of humanity?"
    "Nobody ever said humans were perfect," Lina noted.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.