Morning rose over Darata, as it would any other city. It wasn't a particularly memorable sunrise, no extra gusto, no ominous darkness before the dawn. Business as usual was the modus of the day.

     Zelgadis stood at the window, watching the warehouse with his binoculars. He twisted a dial for the focus, and added a filter to cut out the glare of the dawning sun. In a few minutes, he'd lead a hundred-odd poorly trained bandits to their grisly demise so he could eliminate one man. Which was also business as usual, and not particularly worrying for him.


     "Looks straightforward to me," Roy Balderdash said, with little to no enthusiasm for the job. "Just send the boys in, wait for the slaughter to die down and we can peg the target while pinned. It's a dead end in there, after all."

     "He's escaped from the last four dead ends," Zelgadis reminded. "But I'm not worried about Drake right now. I don't like that some demiurge posing as Lina Inverse is involved in this. If she is anything like the true Lina Inverse.. was, then we have a variable factor I don't care for."

     "I don't care if she's the real Lina or not," Roy grumbled. "I OWE her for the humiliation she's dumped on me. It's a geas of honor, can't be helped. You go after our boy, I claim Lina. Besides.. you're going to want my limited magic if you're not going to lift a mystic finger to help us--"

     "I don't do that any more," Zelgadis snapped, voice like iced over frozen crystallized water with jagged pointy bits on it. "If you insist on using the powers of those would-be tyrants Shaburanigdo and Ceipheed, go right ahead. I doubt you'll survive this encounter anyway."

     Roy twirled his sword once or twice, before sheathing it. "You don't know Balderdashes very well, then. We're persistent little bastards. Considering you're shacking up with one, I'm surprised you haven't realized that by--"

     "I'm going in," Zelgadis decided, setting the binoculars down.

     "About time. You want me to lead the boys down there for the first wave of cannon fodder?"

     "No," Zelgadis said. "I'm going alone."

     "It'll be a glorious funeral," Roy mused, pleased by the thought.

     The 'young' chimera slung his gunblade around to his back, and looked around the room, while explaining himself. "Lina Inverse changes this whole situation. This is not a war of two poorly trained, unsophisticated and expendable forces anymore. It's a war of methodologies. They are in a dead end, but that dead end has only one visible door, and that is the one they will expect us to use -- since to burrow underground or create any other entrance would be immediately spotted, blowing the element of surprise, and giving them time to prepare..."

     "Get to the point," Roy spat, leaning on the wall. "I'm not getting any younger."

     "Lina is expecting the stupid bandits to run right through the front door," Zelgadis concluded. "Right where there she's set plenty of traps, while she uses some magical trick to get out of an inescapable dead end. Therefore, I'll have to deliver an action she is not expecting, something that few people have tried to do -- because it is not... 'dramatically appropriate.'"

     "Aaaand that would be, boss?"

     Zelgadis found what we has looking for; a compact black box, with various warning signs painted all over it. He lifted the hundred pound object with effortless ease.

     "I'm simply going to kill them all," he stated.

     The next morning, the scene was one of a one-sided gunfight. The bandits were huddled around behind overturned furniture, weapons loaded, cocked and ready. Everybody was aimed in one direction, since it was the only direction they COULD enter from. Assuming anyone survived the journey between the door and the central compound.

     There was one problem. Hours had gone by, and nobody had entered.

     "We should've put some kinda visual link to the antechamber," Drake muttered. "If I'd just brought some mirrors and wire we could have rigged up a sweet--"

     "We have no scrying spells or spying equipment, and wanting them now will not change that," Zoamel whispered, crouched right next to him behind a sofa. "Therefore, to worry about them is a waste of energy. We will hear them just fine when the traps go off, and you know our hearing is fine enough to detect if they try to approach through the ground. We will have the jump on them, one way or the other."

     "My traps won't fail," Penny said proudly, crouched right next to Zoamel. "This war will be over without so much as a shot fired!"

     Lina, however, took a more casual approach to war. She sat back, totally open to any crossfire that wasn't coming, and sipped a mug of really nasty coffee.

     "That's really boring," she said. "I still say I fly out there, put up a shield to stop their stupid little bullets and just trash everything. Then we'd see a little action!"

     Drake glared back at her. "You stayin' HERE, Inverse. We need your 'magic' in case things get tight. Besides, I may not be the most civic minded guy, but I don't like the idea of you blastin' the bleep out of my city like some trigger happy little--"

     "Wait!" Penny said, waving her arms to shush them. "...did you hear that? It was really really faint, but I think someone's out there..."

     "A twang," Zoamel confirmed, cocking one ear to the entrance of the chamber. "One of our tripwires. It's started. We should be hearing the explosions any second now."

     Nothing blew up. Lina couldn't hear anything at all, but from the reactions on Drake and Zoamel's face, things weren't good. Whenever a Demiurge shows concerned confusion, it's time to get nervous.

     "The hell is going on out there?" Lina asked, getting up from her seat, dumping the black muck out of her mug. "Something's going down and we're all sitting on our duffs. I don't like it. I'm gonna take a look."

     "Lina, wait!!" Penny protested, but it didn't do much to stop Inverse, who was already weaving nonchalantly around the rows of furniture, past the incredulous looks of gangsters accustomed to face to face duck and shooting fights...

     She ignored Drake's hushed shouts, and stepped up the stairs, to poke her head out into the antechamber. The huge, deceptively empty antichamber, where nobody stood.

     Zelgadis was in fact standing just in the doorway, on his way out. A string of expertly disabled traps connected his steps from the entrance to the middle of the room, where he had left a large black box, with a single flashing sign that read 'ARMED'.

     Lina stared at it in confusion, then looked up to Zelgadis, her look asking a question that he never answered. There was no rant, no nyahaha, no explanation -- the chimera simply nodded once, in confirmation, and stepped into a waiting Ornithopter, which flew off quickly.

     Her pulse raced. She knew on some innate level that this was very, very bad...

     She turned around, to shout down the stairs at the nervous bandit gang. "Guys!! There's something--"

     Hell erupted.

     So this is it, part of Lina thought, as a white-hot chemical fire enveloped her completely, moving in slow motion like liquid agony. Clothing and skin boiling away into vapor. I'm going to die. Not only am I dying, but I'm dying in a rather stupid way. Some legend she'd turned out to be.

     No, wait, that's not right, another part of her said, as the flames rushed past her, down the stairs, flooding the room... I'm a legend, aren't I? A Demiurge. Drake explained it to me. I don't sleep, I don't really need to eat, and I can't die like this. There is no spoon, or fork, or goblet or whatever. So I simply won't die.

     It was a strange sensation. For moments, there she was, standing in the wake of the fire, where ordinary people would be long dead. She didn't feel anything in particular. Not numbness, not heat, not pain, just as if the fire wasn't really there. Her clothes, which had started to flare and boil away, reformed themselves at the speed of thought.

     Every single trap in the room went off at once. She watched in queer fascination, as the balls of potent energy dropped from the ceiling, as the 'escape' trick screwed itself up, knocked askew by the initial blast, and carved up through the roof instead. The whole scenario took less than five seconds from burn up to flare out and silence, when all the oxygen in the antechamber was gone, but it felt like five minutes to her expanded senses.

     On the sixth minute/second, she had a thought: Penny was down there. That snapped her back to the here and now faster than a broken rubber band.

     She dove through the dying flames, literally flying down the steps instead of jumping, and skidded -- slipped -- to a halt in the blackened, melted room.

     Everything was gone. All the bandits were little more than a charred red paste, the furniture ashes. The fire had swept through perfectly, just as intended, to flush out the room of all life.

     White flash-shadows hung on the far wall, outlining the forms of Drake and Zoamel, who were completely unharmed, but definitely not happy campers.

     "MOTHERBLEEPER!!" Drake screamed, snapping a fresh pair of pistols into his hands using his innate powers over war. "Cowardly little bleeping godbleep bleeping mother--"

     "Lina, quickly!" Zoamel shouted, waving her over.. having to release his arm to do it, which was wrapped around Penny, as he had shielded her as much as he could with his body.

     Lina just.. appeared right next to Zoamel, not stopping to think about how, and studied Penny.

     It was awful. Burns covered her skin, her clothing shredded, as her breathing was slowing. The Wandering Monster Table, being made of stone and thus fireproof, was bouncing up and down in a fury of worry. (In some queer twist of logic, her poorly made staff had escaped with only slight smoke damage.)

     Lina rubbed her hands together. "White magic isn't my forte..."

     "Then find someone who believes that it is," Zoamel replied, with speed.

     ...arcing outward, to a distant country she had passed through once with Naga, where a little boy had skinned his knee and she applied a little healing magic (in return for directions to the Sacred Dungeon of Golden Idols) and how that little boy grew to believe in the strange savior with powerful healing ability who saved his life, blown completely out of proportion in the way only a small child can...

     A rush hit Lina, as she started to work, pouring the white magic-like feeling into Penny's body. Not flowing fast enough, but not drying up, at least. All she needed was a few minutes--

     "Whaddya know, a few people survived! Go figure."

     Lina turned quickly.. to see Roy Balderdash, bouncing his sword lightly against his shoulder as he framed the door, with a thundering horde of armed bandits behind him. Zelgadis stood to the side, content to watch for now.

     Drake turned.. and stood as he turned, an uncoiling, like a snake poised to strike. "Stick with Penny," he commanded, without looking at Lina, his gaze locked dead onto Roy.

     "So you're the infamous Drake that Zelgadis keeps going on about?" Roy asked, drawing his sword, waving for the army to hang back. "Not much. But bandits outside Zeifelia rarely impress me. You're too soft."

     "And you got that sword off a merchant who had nothing left on his back but food for his family and toys for the holidays," Drake spoke, each word like venom. "All when you had food in your belly. Who's soft, Roy Cornelius Balderdash? The thief who takes or the bandit who prospers?"

     Roy's face went a dead pale. His sword hand shook, as his eyes trailed off the edge of the blade, and back to Drake. "How.. how did you--"

     "This is pointless," Zelgadis warned, fingering an object palmed to his hand...

     "I want to know how you knew that!!" Roy asked, shaking his sword at Drake. "You from his family? You want revenge? I was young! I thought I was being a hardass--"

     "Everything you steal, every enemy you conquer, every prize you take, you take in my name," Drake spoke, not going for his guns, but laying on a voice like lead from the heavens. Cold, factual menace, like a dark god would. "Don't you recognize me, Roy? I'm your maker. I'm the bandit of bandits. You feel it in your bones, that call, the quest for power and money and survival. You can't kill what you are. You can't attack me. You know I'm the only one who truly gives a damn about you, with all his heart. Not yo mamma, definitely not your sister. Me."

     Roy's knees weakened in an instant, falling to them, the sword dropping. He had no idea who this strange man was. But he KNEW who this strange man was, like a memory in the back of his mind every day of his career as a bandit...

     He wasn't able to raise his hand to his ideal.

     Zelgadis was.

     "Kill them," he commanded quietly. And the army streamed into the room, waving their guns, ready to swamp en-masse.

     Lina didn't fight. How could she? She was too busy closing Penny's wounds, regenerating her burns, healing her. It was like the explosion... things happened around her, and she watched, in some strange detached fashion as the new state of being flowed through her, and into Penny.

     It was a gun battle, for starters. Drake was fast, though; he was the very definition of the two gun mojo, and mowed down his former believers faster than a scythe over wheat. Bullets ricocheted and bounced, but for some reason, never hit Lina or Penny. (Was Lina doing that? No, she wasn't doing that, not even as a Demiurge. Neither were Zoamel or Drake. But she tried really hard not to think about HOW it was happening...)

     Seconds later, Zoamel was into it. The normally peaceful and reserved gentleman let out a war cry that only a god of wrath could, and the monster was there; the mask of Zoamel Gustav sliding into place, like rubber over skin, arms and tendrils growing. It was time to take that vengeance his believers had sent him for.

     THAT sent half the army trying to get back through the jammed door, while the other half got cut down, tossed around, pounded against the walls in a variety of awkward ways.

     It was just as much a slaughter to their forces as the first attack had been to Drake's forces. But somehow, through the chaos and confusion, Zelgadis stood with absolute calm.. his eyes fixed on Lina. Waiting for the right moment.

     It came, when Drake blasted a few clear of the line of sight connecting the Demiurge of Bandit Killers with the Chimera of Demiurge Killers. Zelgadis snapped his wrist immediately, flinging out... a strange white disc, with a dull purple cross embossed on either side. It cracked with purple energy as it shot through the air, having nothing to stop it from getting to Lina, Lina too busy to react fast enough to it...

     Drake was fast enough.

     "LINA!" he shouted, to try and get her attention, as he dove sideways, firing at Zelgadis with one hand, while he tried to slap the disc out of its flight path with his other gun... trying VERY carefully not to touch it with his actual body...

     It didn't work.

     Drake went down hard, skidding across the floor and into a wall, as the white disc clamped down hard onto his hand, making him drop the gun. Purple lightning sparked all over his body, as he screamed in pain. A god in pain.

     Zoamel reverted immediately to his human form, and ran to his friend's aid -- the bandits just ran for it. The room was near empty in short time.

     "STAY BACK!" Drake shouted, in warning. "You touch this thing you'll-- GH! Go too!"

     Lina glanced at Penny.. who was healed ENOUGH for now, in her opinion. She set her down as softly as she could, and also gathered to see what was going on. "What the hell is going on?", in fact, was her specific request.

     Drake's body was.. vanishing. Almost all of his true followers were gone now, and weakened, he couldn't do anything to stop it. The disc continued to erase his being, a danger Lina couldn't bring herself to face to knock the disc away -- something deep down spoke of impossible danger, and restrained her.

     ".. he's.. he's in Atlas City," Drake grimaced, through teeth grinding to powder. "Ask for him there. Zo.. sorry, my man. I bleeped up..."

     With a final groan, he gave out, and vanished. The purple sparks hovered in a Drake-like shape for a moment, before the disc snapped back across the room, into Zelgadis's waiting hand.

     The two sides faced off, in silent loathing of each other, just for a moment. Zelgadis did hold the key to killing Zoamel and Lina, and nobody was about to trigger that off.

     "My mission is complete," Zelgadis stated, breaking the silence. "This is all that I require. Roy?"

     "...?" the catatonic bandit asked, as he had been shoved off against a wall in the fray.

     Zelgadis tapped a small metal box at his waist. It gave a steam hiss, and a circular black portal opened in space, against all known laws of physics. "We're leaving," he said, without bothering to address Lina or Zoamel. He grasped Roy's tunic, and yanked him in after. The portal closed immediately.

     The room was then silent.

     The ancient spirit of vengeance clenched one hand. But that was all the emotion he showed, as he watched the space Zelgadis occupied with cold dispassion.

     "What's going on?"

     Both turned back, to see Penny, who had woken up right when the show ended.

     "Did I miss something?" she asked. "Jeez, everything hurts... where did everybody go? Did they escape? Did we win?"

     " didn't miss anything," Lina decided, getting to her feet. A look of determination on her face. "And we were just leaving, anyway. You know of a fast way to get to Atlas city, Penny?"

     Penny rubbed her forehead, looking at the empty, blackened room with a bit of befuddlement. "Uh, yeah..."

     "Then we're leaving," Lina said. She stepped her way to the soot-covered stairs, and exited.

     The young Gabriev turned to Zoamel, hoping for some sort of an explanation.

     "I warned you this may not have a happy ending," he reminded.

     Two blocks away, a figure stepped out of shadows, figuring this was a safe enough distance. Then he coughed up a quart of blood. A raven fluttered out of shadow behind him, and perched on his staff.

     "...I have to say," Xelloss commented, through the choking. "I rather dislike the taste of lead."


     "You know I couldn't have stopped that Eradicator," Xelloss snapped, while trying to plug various wounds in his body with his fingers. "I'm simply delighted I managed to redirect all those bullets so Lina wouldn't be holey rather than holy. I'm not sure if she could have survived them, after blowing so much of her self. She really has to learn to conserve."

     The bird fluttered angrily, pecking -- until Xelloss simply grabbed the avian in his fist, bird in hand, looking quite peeved.

     "YOU are no longer in charge of anything, Beastmaster Zelas," he reminded. "I run this mission. I dictate the flow of it, when we act, what we do. Your squeaky little voice annoys me. Your throne at Wolf Pack Island is shattered, and I don't feel like taking your orders. Be silent, unless you WANT me to leave you behind next time, to live on dead flesh and never again to have four proper limbs."

     The bird made absolutely no noise, and rustled no feathers.

     The Mazoku smiled.

     "Much better," he decided. "Now, be a good little bird and go find me someone who I can scare to death. I need some energy. Oy vey, what a day."

     The end of another long day. Business as usual.

     Zelgadis hung his gunblade up by the bedpost, and took off his boots. Roy Balderdash had, as predicted, been useless. The army was also useless, aside from a distraction. His plan, however, was a success.

     He knew how to deal with Lina Inverse, or some cheap copy thereof. If he met with her again... and he would, eventually, as all the Demiurges needed to be purged to allow for the modern age... he had no concerns about containing her.

     The door chimed. Elizabeth entered. He gave his report, she wrote it down, and that was the end, except for one small thing.

     "I'll need to recharge your Eradicator," she stated. "It's probably quite drained at this point."

     Zelgadis nodded and handed it over. Nothing strange about that.

     "Get some sleep," Elizabeth suggested. "We have a few days until our next campaign. Perhaps we can spend them with each other, instead of with paperwork. Would you like that?"

     "Yes, I would," Zelgadis responded, quite plainly. "Until then."

     A long, long road winds between Darata and Zeifelia.

     To travel it by horse takes an absurd amount of time, but on a captain's salary, it was all he could manage. Besides, Penny had lifted her trust fund before running away from home.

     But one way or another, he'd catch up with her, and bring her back home. Besides, if he didn't, Lina would KILL him.

     The fortress in Sairaag is basically a large machine. It has mechanical doors, mechanical heat regulation, mechanical view screens and mathematical tools and all sorts of other widgets and scientific feats.

     Powering all this is a core. It's kept in the basement, since it's really of no interest in the face of all the automatic doors and air conditioners and so on. A sleepy guy monitors it, but it doesn't need monitoring.

     Elizabeth walked right by the guard, who slept right through the click of her heels on the pitted metal floor. She fingered the Eradicator, turned it the appropriate direction, and slipped it into a slot on the very front of Sairaag's power core.

     Purple sparks flew from the slot; energy was transferred. Satisfied, the machine spat the disc back into her hand, the cross no longer glowing as brightly as it had before.

     The scientist smiled, a rare gesture on her behalf, and stroked the cold metal of the core.

     "Soon," she whispered. "Very soon. It will be your era."

Author's Note: I don't like this one very much, and it took too long to write. But I had to get through it, to get to the good stuff lying up ahead. Pardon any perceived mess.


Story copyright 1999 Stefan Gagne, Slayers characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
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