ome say that the mark of an intelligent man is that he knows his limitations.  Others say that the best men have no limitations, or push beyond the ones they have.   Still others claim that the finest men in history are ones whose limitations are unknown, remaining... ah, forget it.  Zelgadis knew when he was licked and had no problems admitting it; he was at a loss as to how to heal this girl he had found in the caves.
    His specialty was Shamanism.  While it was terrific for gathering and controlling the elements, it was lousy for healing.  The best he managed was to hydrate the woman, improving her health somewhat, but she was in this weird restless sleep and wouldn't come out of it.  Sweat actually oozed through the cracks in her stone skin...
    That was the other thing that was stumping him.  She was a chimera.  Probably a mix of a golem and a blue demon like he was, in fact, right down to the hard candy shell and purple hair.  As far as Zelgadis knew, he was the only humanoid chimera in existence; there were some wild chimeras, strange beasts with three heads or six arms that smelled bad as a result of having no underarm deodorant, but they didn't count.
    When Zelgadis snuck the girl back to his inn, he had to use his cloak as a blanket, to prevent anybody from seeing her skin.  Pleasantville, the dinkwad suburban community he was hiding out in, had been a bit twitchy as of late; only recently, someone had discovered a plot inside the post office to blow up the town following a strange wave of fighting and hatred.  Things were getting back to normal, but everybody stayed on their toes.  The last thing they wanted to see was some monstrous chimera in their midst, even if he paid his inn bill and bought food and generally contributed to the community, which just goes to show.
    He spent the night trying to work up some magic that could heal her, but didn't have what it took.  That's okay.  He knew someone who did, and figured she'd still be where he left her, in Sailoon.  Amelia was well trained in white magic and would know what to do.  Zelgadis kept the chimera girl in his room to make sure she would be okay, and slept on the floor, clocking himself to snooze exactly six hours.
    He woke up four hours later.
    An explosion rocked the inn, knocking things off shelves and onto him.  Zelgadis woke and got alert fast, no time to dally around yawning.  Stuff was happening.
    He went to the window, looked out, and saw that most of Pleasantville was on fire or blown to smithereens or both, and the three dueling monsters causing the mess were coming this way.  Screw walk, do not run to the nearest exit; he made his own exit with a controlled fireball, scooped up the girl, snapped a bubble around himself and flew out to safety.
    If there could be safety.  He could see through the smoke and haze now, as a gold Dragon battled it out with two Mazoku, from the looks of it.  That was weird.  (An understatement, but Zelgadis would panic later, when it was more convenient.)  What on earth were they doing here?
    Quickly, he flew back to the cave ruins outside town where he had originally found the girl, using them for shelter.  Briefly he considered doing something against the attackers, but what could he manage?  Ra-Tilt tended not to work on strong Mazoku, and you don't want to attack a Dragon.  They were almost the good guys... except for the time he went into the future and they were totalitarian dictators, of course.
    Besides, he didn't have time.  The two Mazoku teamed up, creating a ball of darkness the size of a small mountain, and pasted the Dragon with it, smashing it -- and all of Pleasantville -- flat.  An explosive haze lit up the area, and when the dust settled, a huge crater was all that remained to mark the spot.  The two then raced off, moving on for some other purpose, leaving the flaming wreckage of what was once the world's nicest and most polite friendly town behind.
    A few survivors were crawling out of the wreckage at the edges of the blast.  Others who had fled the city only now could gape in horror at what happened.  Zelgadis, eerily, didn't feel one way or the other.  He'd had some bad experiences in this town, for starters.  And besides, what could he do?  What could any of them do after a couple big nasties came and happened to crush your town?  The surviving humans seemed to mirror his thoughts, standing around, unsure of what they should be doing...
    Right now, Zelgadis had a task he COULD do, he could take care of.  Of course, it'd be a long, long ride back to Sailoon...
    A clinking sound drew his attention.
    Maybe it would have been a good idea to search the girl's pockets and pouches earlier; then he'd have spotted the rather dented and rusty Sub Way Token she carried.  What on earth was the girl doing with this thing? he wondered, picking it up.  From what he understood, it was a key to an ancient transportation system, that he'd only used twice to date.  But with this... with this he could be in Sailoon and up to the palace in under an hour.
    And for the best.  The way these people were, chances were they'd take some potshots at him.  He was a monster, after all, and didn't a couple of monsters just pass through here?
    All over the world, the word was the same : War.
    Some hadn't seen any actual action yet.  Some had been a little too close and it was the last thing they saw.  Nobody remembered what the last war was like, since it happened hundreds of years ago, and nobody was alive now who had been in it... at least, nobody human.  Some towns armed themselves with any weapons they could find, figuring maybe they could defend their homes; usually these people had only heard of Dragons or Mazoku in children's stories.  Others hired sorcerers to keep the town safe in the weeks to come, only to find these magicians had taken the money in advance and then headed for the hills, which was starting to look like the only sensible thing to do.
    In actuality, although the war was becoming common knowledge at incredible speed, not very many battles were being fought.  After all, this climactic struggle between good and evil had only started about eight hours ago.  Mostly all you had was widespread rumors, fanatic disbelievers, panic and paranoia, no real focus, nothing to shoot at.  But in remote places, away from the major cities or communication routes, you'd hear the same thing.  War?  What war?  And sometimes : What's a Mazoku?
    In the the world of dreams, the occupants had heard of Mazoku, but they hadn't heard of a war yet.  Some explanation is needed as to why this is.
    Everybody passes through the world of dreams while they sleep, but until recently, nobody lived there.  There were originally eight occupants, but they were evicted by their landlord for not following the contract -- the Palace of Chaos, home to the original wingless (now winged again) had gone into horrible disrepair since then.
    When the latest tenant arrived -- a priest by the name of Xelloss -- he was quite dismayed at the state of the palace.  Most of it had fallen into shapeless matter, leaving entire wings of randomly appearing and disappearing rooms, as sleepers wandered here and there, lost and confused.  But since then, he's had a week or two to tidy up, and has made a support crew of his own out of the raw dreamstuff; adorably nasty little daemons, running tasks here and there, re-wallpapering the place and generally getting the world of dreams up to code.
    Despite all this efficiency, news in this place only gets updated every night, when humanity sleeps.  It's gathered by the tiny daemons, who crawl inside their brains and kill them -- WAIT!  That's not entirely true.  Xelloss had rather harshly punished the last daemon to do that, and since then, they had stuck to the task he created them for, which was information gathering.  And sneaking smoke breaks when New Nightmare, Xelloss's professional name, wasn't looking.
    Right now, New Nightmare had a houseguest.  The two were in Xelloss's parlor, his favorite room of the palace -- quaint, tasteful, quiet.  Both were sipping tea, and engaging in the game of kings and nobility.
    Xelloss slid a piece off to the left.
    "Check," he announced, smiling.  He always smiled.  Even when he was losing.
    "Uhhhh..." his guest said, not smiling.  "How does the horsey thing move again?"
    "Honestly, Myth-chan, you'd think you've never played chess before," Xelloss sighed.
    "I haven't."
    "You haven't?  You've been alive since before time was time and you've never played chess?"
    Myth looked sheepish.  "I don't usually play games.  Paradox and Drama like them, though."
    "Yes, but Paradox is still angry at me over that whole nasty incident at his former home," Xelloss reminded.  "And Drama takes entirely too long to plan his moves.  He covers it up with speechmaking and heavy-think posing, but I think he has trouble remembering how the horsey moves as well..."
    "Is this all you do up here?" Myth asked, looking around.  The parlor was poorly lit, but had enough light to make out the bookshelves, pool table, tea set, and so on... "Play games and relax?"
    "Oh, this is just my day job," Xelloss said.  "At night I'm quite active terrorizing people and so on.  I do love not requiring sleep, it makes life so much more productive... why are you looking at me like that, Myth-chan?"
    Myth got slight shivers.  "Could.. you not call me Myth-chan?  It's just this thing, I mean..."
    "Ahhh," Xelloss said, recognizing.  "Still not quite over your fears of my predecessor.  Don't worry, Myth.  I assure you that our work together will be pleasant and beneficial to all."
    "Work?  But... we don't work together," Myth said.
    "Ah, but don't you recognize the parallels?" Xelloss asked, sipping from his teacup.  "You are the positive of stories, I am the negative.  Well, I'm currently hired to be the negative, although I'm working on making it official by some means... just because Nightmare has been something of a bastard lately doesn't mean I'll be, you know."
    Myth sighed.  "Can I be frank?... I really don't want to work with you on anything.  I know, you're not him, but.. I'm just not comfortable with this yet.  I'm sorry..."
    The priest-turned-rent-a-wingless thought it over, and nodded.  "Quite alright, quite alright.  Perhaps another time... hello, what's this?"
    A tiny red daemon clawed its way up Xelloss's chair, hissing in his ear in a language Myth couldn't understand.  Xelloss nodded, and flicked it away with his finger -- the daemon hit the floor and scampered away.
    "Seems there's trouble brewing outside," he said, rising.  "Big trouble.  Three reports in of dreamers imagining the same city being burned to the ground, and two more with identical dreams of different village.  I'd better go attend to these nightmares, see what I can see... perhaps a few nudges in terror here and there will yield more secrets, mmm?"
    "Umm... good luck," Myth said.
    "Stick around, ne," Xelloss suggested.  "You might be needed.  I trust my hunches, and you know what they're saying right now?..."
    Myth swallowed.  "What are they saying?"
    "Can't say, it's a secret," Xelloss smiled, waggling a finger.  He melted into darkness, one of his many new tricks, and flowed through the cracks in the palace brick, on his way to someone's dream.
    Myth couldn't resist another shiver.  He was so polite, and never seemed to menace, but.. she wasn't happy with this.  Wasn't happy at all.
    Zelgadis decided to start an exercise regimen the minute he had some free time.  Assuming he'd have some free time in the foreseeable future.
    The girl weighed a ton.  Stone skin would do that, but the effort required to keep that much dead weight going without magic was intolerable!  And he didn't have a choice, since he didn't want to approach Sailoon City by air; the last thing he wanted was a few arrows shot at him for being a flying menace, especially not after today's events.  He pulled up the mask on his cloak, did his best to wrap the girl in a spare cloak, and get her through the city streets.
    Bad idea, in one way; good idea in another
    The guard came right away, wondering why a mysterious masked man was dragging a limp body through the streets.  Zelgadis was about ready for a fight, when he realized he could use this to his advantage.
    "I've got a foreign dignitary here," he lied.  "She's badly hurt, but I'm her escort to the palace.  We need an audience with Princess Amelia immediately."
    "Sure, pal, and I'm the Egg Hiding Day Kangaroo," the guard joked.
    Zel was going to push the issue or try a few more fast-talking scams, when he realized it was more effort than it was worth.  "Okay, we'll play it safe.  Send a message up to the castle saying that Zelgadis needs to see the princess, and it's an emergency.  Let HER decide."
    The guard was about to turn Zel away again, but looked up at the lovely weather, and gave a shrug.  "What the hell, it's a slow day.  NORD!"
    The runner was off.  Zelgadis waited, and assembled the day's events while he had the chance.
    First of all, he got to see some Dragons and Mazoku tangling in public, in a really violently obvious way.  That wasn't the way they worked, to his knowledge; more often they were attacking.. well, him and Lina's groupies, but that didn't count.  Second, here he had this chimera woman who had a Sub Way Token that hadn't seen use in a long time and had told him... what were the words again?  Something about needing to find some wings.  And there was that strange cave painting he dreamed of seeing, where a chained goddess turned chimeras into humans... waaait, there's a connection he didn't think of before.  If there was an entrance to a series of caves below that painting, and he found this chimera in the caves...
    The runner returned, sweaty and exhausted, and Zelgadis was escorted quickly into the castle.  He'd have to finish that line of thought later.
    Lina wasn't the least bit worried about being shot down on her approach to the palace.  By now, the tower guards were used to seeing her fly around.  She got over the embarrassment of showing off those wings a long time ago; they felt natural to her now, and if anybody stared, she could stare right back -- harder.
    Gourry kept his eyes closed the whole way to the castle, trying to ignore the impossibly thin bubble of magic that was the sole thing between himself and a short, sharp demise hundreds of feet down...
    "Are we there yet?" Gourry asked.
    "We're safe, scaredycat," Lina said, letting the spell go, and dropping Gourry gently on to the bed in her room.  Gourry opened his eyes, saw a floor, and felt much relief.
    "Head to your room and pack up all your stuff," Lina said, grabbing her own travel bag.  "Once we tell Amelia what's up and get word to Xelloss with orders for the winged, we're OUT of here."
    "Why?  Aren't we going to help them with the war?" Gourry asked.
    Lina groaned.  "How many times must I explain this?  We can't DO anything.  Maybe you could smack down a few Mazoku with your sword, and if I really drain myself each day I could also do some fighting, but chances are pretty high we'd just end up a thin paste across the landscape if we tried.  The winged have enough power, let them handle it."
    Gourry frowned.  "It's not right to run away when people are in danger, Lina.  And since when are you afraid of danger?"
    "Danger?  Never.  Spectacularly gory demise?  Quite often," Lina said.  "And if that makes me a yellow bellied coward, then just call me Lemon Inverse."
    "Auntie always said lemons weren't proper for good girls," Gourry said.
    Lina paused.
    "I don't get it.  Did she say why?"
    "Uh... no.  I never understood it either."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.