apers sat on papers on top of papers next to papers beside stacks of papers which were organized into clumps of papers that were starting to spill onto the floor.
    But Dayvid insisted that this new method of office communication was going to be more efficient than messengers... once he got the system working.  He'd been laying 'Noo-Matic' tubes all over the castle, and soon the THUNK! sound of a message shooting through the tube was becoming as common a sound as the BLAM! sound of one of those tubes exploding.  Sailoon was moving into the modern age, whether it wanted to or not.
    Right now, Dayvid and Amelia were plowing through the daily load of messages, trying to approach them in a sensible, organized manner.
    "Okay, from the Old Business pile..." Dayvid said, pulling a random paper from the peat-moss compressed layers of back work.  "The roofing on the royal guardhouse is starting to leak."
    "Really?" Amelia asked.  "I heard the other day from Ms. Madigan that the roof had collapsed a week ago."
    Dayvid scanned the header again.  "Oh.  This was dated from... two weeks ago.  Don't worry, I'll put a request for a request to gather appraisals from new builders onto the New Business stack.  Now, as for--"
    The doors burst open, and the Royal Trumpeter blasted three shrill almost melodic notes.  Amelia covered her ears in pain.
    "Announcinge visitores fore your royal majesty!!" the trumpeter screamed, since he was almost deaf.  "Lina Inverse ande Gourry Gabriev!"
    "Can we go in now?" Lina asked.
    "Now you can," the trumpeter confirmed, taking leave to go announce other comings and goings in the palace.
    "Hieee!!!" Amelia cheered, running over to them and knocking over six piles of carefully organized work in the process.  She glomped Lina into a big 'ol hug!
    Lina's spine bent.
    "It's good to see you!" Amelia smiled.  "I hear you've been defeating bandits in Sailoon.  That's the spirit, Lina!  Through the power of justice, we will make this world safe from danger!"
    "Ano, I think she's not supposed to be blue," Gourry said, pointing to Lina.
    "Hmm?  Oh, sorry!" Amelia apologized, letting Lina go.  She bounced back to her desk, and had a seat; her princessly tiara being the only thing visible over the In Box.  "So!  What brings you back?"
    "war," Lina choked, pounding on her chest a few times.  "The Third Mazoku war is on and this whole region's going to turn into melted slag in a day or three."
    "Oh, that's New Business," Amelia said.  "First we have to do Old Business.  You need to go through the proper channels.  Don't worry, we'll be done with the current requests in a day or three!"
    Dayvid, who had a better grasp on the situation, went white.  "Uh.  Um.  War?  As in, like, the historically bad big war?"
    "The same," Lina said.
    "Now now, it's very important that we follow our new system of organization," Amelia interrupted.  "Dayvid's very proud of it and I'm sure it'll be beneficial for everybody, as it was crafted with love of the people and therefore can never go--"
    A fireball incinerated all the paper on the desk.
    Lina lowered a smoking hand.  "HELL-OOoo!!  Amelia!  Wake up and smell the apocalypse!  We're talking about a global event here!"
    Realizing the princess could possibly explode any second now, the way she was staring at the melted remains of her desk, Dayvid jumped to the rescue.  "If she's right, Amelia, this is bad stuff.  Um .  The rest can wait and I don't think it'll lower efficiency by that much.  Okay?"
    "Oh, okay," Amelia said, going right back to cheerful.  "If it's okay with you.  So, what kind of a war is this?"
    Lina explained.
    "AAAAA!!!" was Amelia's response.  "THAT war?!  The Mazoku and Dragons are gonna fight and try to destroy the world?? When did this happen?  Why wasn't I notified?"
    "I.. think I saw something like that in the New Business pile," Dayvid admitted.  "Erm.  I think I'll redraft the standard operating procedures.  Later.  Much later."
    "We're doomed!  We're doomed!" Amelia ranted, waving her arms in a blur.  "The end is nigh!  It's all--"
    "AMELIA!" Lina shouted.
    "I've got a plan," she said, quietly, calmly.  "At least, an inkling of a plan.  Can we borrow the Great Hall for a war council?  You can help out... ah!  Perhaps... (ugh) the spirit of love and justice can overcome this horrible situation!  Yes, Amelia, you indeed can help lead the charge against evil, and together, we will WIN!"
    "RIGHT!" Amelia cheered, standing on the ruins of her desk so she'd have a better position to make a speech from.  "Together we'll defeat the dark menace that rises before us, and bring love and joy to all of humanity!  Evil dare not stand before us, for the vengeance of heaven is--"
    "Anyway," Lina said, coming back to planet reality, "We'll just nip off to the hall and get things organized--"
    The proceedings were interrupted by another series of noises like a cat stuffed into a trombone.
     "Announcinge visitores fore your royal majesty!!" the royal announcer repeated, having returned to the scene of the crime.  "Zelgadis Greyweirs, andde friende!"
    "Hi," Zel greeted truncatedly, wandering in with a girl draped over his shoulder.  He shoved stacks of papers off a nearby table and onto the floor, then finally got to relieve his burden by lying his friende down.
    "Uh.. hi," Lina said, watching.  "Long time no see... who's that?  What are you doing here?  How are you?  And, um, how's it been?"
    "I don't know, I need Amelia's magic, fine considering I had to run from a few Mazoku, and it's been rotten," Zelgadis counted off.  "Any more dumb questions or can we begin?  I just had to carry this person across several thousand miles and deal with snotty gate guards, so I'd like to get to business."
    "Boy, Zel hasn't changed a bit," Gourry commented to Lina.
    Amelia got up, and examined Zel's new find.  "Ano!  She's a chimera like you!  Wow!  That's really neat!"
    "She's also pretty near death, from what I can tell," Zelgadis noted calmly.  He'd had a while to get used to the idea.  "Can you do anything?"
    Amelia spread some white power over her hand, and swept it above the woman, concentrating... "I think I can.  It's just a fever disease.  It'll take a little while..."
    "I'm in no rush," Zelgadis shrugged.
    "The third Mazoku war's on," Lina decided to interject.
    "I'm in a rush," Zelgadis stated.  "I'll wait here and then split when you're done."
    "Meanwhile, I've got a war room to make in the next five minutes and some troops to summon," Lina said.  "I'll be in the Great Hall if anybody needs me.  C'mon, Gourry.  Zel, remind me to fill you in on our recent madness.  Interesting stuff."
    "I'll be too busy seeking cover, but thanks for the offer," Zelgadis said nonchalantly.
    "With her?" Lina asked, gesturing to the chimera...
    "'course," Zelgadis said.  "Unless she slows me down, or something.. you know."
    Lina found Xelloss tying small spiders onto a string.
    She wasn't used to the topography of the world of dreams yet.  Fortunately, Giga's Dream could be tuned to land you right near the person you wanted to find... a trick Xelloss had found.  Or rather, instantly come up with, as if he had designed the spell himself.  Lina had some sneaking suspicions, but whenever she tried to ask him... well, the answer was to be as expected.
    "Ah, Lina," Xelloss smiled, tying off the string onto a stick.  "Hang around, I'm just crafting a small nightmare here.  Only take a second."
    Below them, in a stone room with no windows and no doors, sat some poor dreamer... terrified and alone.  Xelloss didn't seem to mind, whistling cheerfully as he puppeted the spiders, dangling them into the room-dream and plopping them right on the man's head.  There was plenty of frantic screaming and slamming against the walls, trying to get the spiders off.... then the man awoke, and the dream-room vanished.
    "Foo," Xelloss almost frowned.  "He always does that.  Here I am trying to explain the symbolism of his parental fears through the eight legged creatures they kept around the house and he refuses to face that.  Oh well, perhaps tomorrow night.  Now, how can I help you?"
    "...interesting work," Lina said, unsettled.  She tore her attention away from the puppets, which Xelloss was now putting away, and back to matters at hand.  "We've got trouble.  The--"
    "Third Mazoku War, yes, I know," Xelloss smiled.  "It's going to be quite an interesting time in the world for the next few years.  I'll have my work cut out for me, being the New Nightmare, and all."
    "Wha.. how'd you--"
    "That is a secret."
    "No, nevermind," Lina said.  "I don't NEED to know how you know.  So now you know.  You know?"
    "Oh, I know."
    "We've got to do something about this," Lina said.  "It's only a few hours old and already there's probably a bloodbath out there.  Summon the winged, bring them to the Great Hall at Sailoon... um.  You're not going to have a problem with us turning on your.. former employers, are you?"
    "Why would I?" Xelloss asked, dusting off his hands.  "I'm human now.  I signed off on my last job.  I want to help you, Lina.  I'd like to prove to be of great assistance to you, an invaluable resource, working together on such things..."
    "And why is that?" Lina asked, looking suspiciously at him.
    "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," he grinned.
    Lina swallowed that.
    "I think you should stick to 'That is a secret,'" Lina suggested.  "That one's a bit too... morbid."
    "As you like it," Xelloss bowed.
    Zelgadis paced impatiently, pretending to examine the decor of the state room.
    "How much longer?" he asked for the second time.
    "Almost done..." Amelia mumbled, through a magical haze.  Light flowed gently from the table, as Amelia worked a complex healing spell.
    "Lina was serious, wasn't she?" Zelgadis asked.  "About another war.  I saw some Mazoku beat down a Dragon on my way over."
    "Mmhmm," Amelia agreed, working.
    "I'd rather they have waited another few hundred years," Zelgadis grumbled.  "Or better yet, just not had another war.  It seems so... stupid that it'd be starting now.  And why is Lina organizing an army?"
    "There!" Amelia smiled, stepping away from her spell.  "She'll recover in awhile.  Oh... didn't you know?  Lina's apparently got some kind of Knighthood from the Lord of Nightmares.  She--"
    "What?" Zelgadis interrupted -- a pang of familiarity in those words..
    "She's the Knight of the Lord of Nightmares now after that last quest she did to gather the wingless," Amelia summarized.  "I guess she figures this is part of the job."
    ...three things, the keys, the spokes, the pillars of white, black and grey in the middle, beings on top of each...
    "When did this happen??" Zelgadis asked.
    "Not too long ago," Amelia noted.  "Maybe a week or--"
    The woman on the table sat bolt upright, coming out of a deep sleep in a big way.  "AAH!.. I have.. I have to... where am I?  What's going on?"
    "Take it easy, mou," Amelia soothed.  "You caught a fever.  We just healed you.  You still need rest, though--"
    "I'm Above, aren't I?" she asked, looking at Amelia.  "You're a human!  What am I doing Above?"
    "I found you... Below, and you were sick," Zelgadis said.  "So I brought you to a friend.  Who are you, anyway?"
    The chimera ignored Zelgadis's question, looking around.  "Is the Knight here?  Have the winds of chaos blown in fortunate ways and brought me to her, despite all hardships?"
    "Who, Lina?  She's downstairs in the Great Hall," Amelia said without thinking.
    The woman didn't bother with saying goodbye; she was up and out the door in the blink of an eye.
    Myth was busy trying to practice her storytelling skills in front of a crowd of daemons when Xelloss notified her.  She took the news of the new war just as Xelloss suspected she might; she fainted.
    Luck had a good craps game going back at her casino, and the house stakes were at sixty million gold.  All breaths were held as she made the next roll... and Xelloss appeared from nowhere to let Luck know what was going on.  She missed the throw and put the entire casino into the poorhouse, except for those large bags of gold that happened to fall off an oxcart a few minutes later.
    Drama was busy getting fitted for a new suit of armor, since he felt his previous one lacked an important, highly masculine feature that no dramatic warrior should be without; nipples.  The codpiece was also too small.  He vowed to pick up the armor when finished with whatever nonsense Xelloss was dragging him into.
    Love and Loathing were busy doing some spring cleaning around Aunt Koirry's house.  Love had been trying to improve Loathing's self esteem and outlook on the world by immersing him in a good, healthy family situation... the Gabrievs took to him easily, but he still had some distance to go.  Burning down the town hall wasn't a good sign.  Love was relieved to see Xelloss, as perhaps a little sibling bonding could be done during the adventure.
    Paradox was in the bathroom with his robes around his ankles when Xelloss came knocking.  Actually, Xel planned that.
    Reason was busy giving a lecture to a group of students at Sailoon's only university about the theory of numeric magical matrix transformation.  They were soaking it up too slow for her tastes.  In quiet frustration, she whipped out the chalk, solved the three blackboard wide equation and left them to sort it out when she left with Xelloss.
    Chaos, or at least Lina Inverse, was busy trying to arrange eight chairs around the great table in a way that would suit a war planning council.
    "I thought these sorts of tables were supposed to be octagonal, like those knights met at in the stories," Lina said.  "This one's just... rectangular.  And too damn long.  We'll strain our necks trying to look at each other."
    "War causes a lot of inconveniences," Gourry said, proud that he was able to use that big word.
    "How do you know so much about war?" Lina asked.
    "Well, every generation--"
    "I mean YOU, personally."
    "My uncles talk about it a lot.  Dad, too," Gourry said.  "He was a brilliant tactic guy in the last war Testabourne had.  But when he came back, he talked a lot louder and longer than usual and made less sense.  Mom told me what went wrong, but I don't understand how seashells can shock you."
    "You do know that in war people get killed in really painful ways, right?" Lina asked.
    "Sure.  That's war," Gourry smiled.
    "Then how can you SMILE about it?!"
    "Gabrievs always survive wars," Gourry said.  "We're really good at fighting them.  It's in the jeans."
    "You mean genes," Lina said, remembering the word from one of the many boring papers she had browsed through in Dayvid's lab.
    "No, jeans.  See, it's an old saying, that the ability of a man's fighting is related to the size of his--"
    A glowing portal opened from the world of dreams, and the procession entered, right on cue.
    "Hello!  We're here to kick ass!" Xelloss cheered, waving a little white flag he had taken from the dreaming that read GO TEAM GO.  He also had a giant foam hand with one finger raised and a #1 printed.  Lina had absolutely no idea what logical purpose it served.
    The other winged filed out; already the usual sibling arguments had started, as they started to fetch chairs from Lina's hastily arranged war council.  But clearly, Lina's presence had some effect; when she cleared her throat to begin, everybody got quiet.  Eerie, she thought.
    "As Xelloss probably told you, the unthinkably bad happened.  The Mazoku declared war today," Lina said.  "We're not going to be involved in the fighting, but we should defend as many humans as we can.  You guys have Talents you can use that are probably pretty useful against Dragons and Mazoku, so... use 'em however you think would work best to keep the most people from harm.  That's all.  Good luck."
    The group sat in silence.
    "Shoo!  Shoo!  Go defend," Lina said.
    "Umm.. that's not how war councils work," Gourry whispered to Lina.  "You need to direct them."
    "What do I know about directing an army?" Lina asked aloud.
    "Weeeellll..." Gourry said, thinking with visible effort.  "Anybody got a map?"
    Paradox snapped his fingers and stole one from a mapmaker in Darata.
    "Thanks," Gourry smiled, and started pointing to spots on the map.  "Now, our best bet is to cover the largest cities.  That way we can cover the most ground, since urban centers have the highest concentration of population.  Plus, if we shoot for capitals or important trade cities, the people in the rural areas and villages can flock there for evacuation and shelter.  Then, we can maximize the number of people under protection while minimizing the area we need to cover.  Sailoon City can hold a lot more refugees and in a state of emergency, more room can be made; we should have Amelia and Dayvid work the details, but given the large task, Reason probably should help.  That okay?"
    "I'm on it," Reason said, starting to process the theoretical numbers involved while Lina was unable to lift her jaw from the table.
    "Luck, hmm... you should probably just pick a city at random.  Knowing you that'll take you right where you need to go."
    "I'll goooo........ here!" Luck said, stabbing randomly at the map.
    "That's over the ocean," Gourry said.
    "It feels lucky," the blonde bubbled.  "I'll take it anyway!"
    "I guess you'd know best, then... Aunt Koirry, you should probably handle Testabourne, since you're well known there and with my family's support can easily gather the people together in New Piper's Cove," Gourry continued.  "You probably should take Loathing with you, since it's like you guys work in a team.  Now, I don't know much of the geography aside from that, but I've got a few ideas... Justivalero could probably benefit from Drama, from what I know... Paradox, you've got a lot of power, so if you could take on several of the smaller cities, things would be less overloaded.  How's that with you guys?"
    "I will defend Justivalero with all the valor and courage of the most glorious nights!" Drama announced.  "With noble steed and sword by my side, as well as a healthy knowledge of the arts, white, black or otherwise, we shall drive back all invaders!"
    "Who needs all that?" Paradox said, swiping Drama's thunder.  "Encase a city in a bubble of hard reality, boom, nothing gets in.  I could manage three... heck, FOUR.  And probably protect more folks than Drama could manage with his stupid pointy metal thing..."
    "Is that so?" Drama said icily.  "I'll have you know--"
    "Moving on," Gourry continued, "The war likely will move around a lot, so if you feel you should shift focus to a new city that's coming under attack, check in first.  If it's an emergency situation, you can skip the chain of command.  Myth... I'm not sure what you can do for defending, but if you think of anything, go for it.  Otherwise, I'd say we should attach you to our recon division.  Xelloss, you have access to the world of dreams and can see a lot of stuff through it, so you and Myth should probably handle all lines of communication between the others as well as keeping us appraised of new events.  Maybe if you checked in every night when we're asleep and did an update session, it would work well."
    Xelloss was terribly amused by Gourry's antics.  "Certainly, sir," he said, snapping off a sharp salute.  "Forward the war effort!  Seig Lina!  Long live Big Sister!"
    "Uhh... work with..?" Myth asked.
    "Unless you have a better idea," Gourry said.  "And if you do get one later, feel free to implement it after checking with Lina, since she's the commanding officer in the war.  Right, Lina?"
    "Geh?" Lina asked, after a long pause.  She felt... bewildered.  "Wha?  Who?  Commanding what?"
    "Your troops, of course," Gourry said.  "They'll need your leadership in the field."
    "Nobody said anything about being in the field," Lina reminded.  "I'm only mortal here, you know?"
    "So are we," Love noted.
    "Yeah, but... I mean, what can I do?"
    "You've got the Giga Slave," Reason reminded her, entering the conversation.
    Lina pulled at her hair.  "Are you nuts?!  I can't control it!"
    "Maybe you can now, with your new powers."
    "I don't HAVE any new powers!"
    "Maybe you just haven't recognized them yet," Reason reasoned.
    "Fine, fine!  I'll.. find something I can do and do it.  But I think Gourry's plans for the rest of you are fine... um.  Good work, Gourry.  So, are we ready to do this?"
    "No time like the present," Xelloss stated.
    "At least this time, we've got a pretty clear mission to accomplish," Lina smiled.  "Trust me guys, that's better than I usually manage.  We have to save the world, of course, but we've got a plan to save it.  Now, barring any wild, unforeseen problems popping up at the last--"
    As if the crazed pace of the discussion wasn't crazed enough, the doors flew open and in walked a chimera.  Except it wasn't the one Lina was used to seeing.
    "Which one of you is the Knight?" she asked, scanning the group.
    Xelloss helpfully held up a large blinking arrow-shaped sign over Lina's head reading "KNIGHT".
    Lina looked up.  "Don't make me regret giving you your job, Xel."
    "Sorry, sorry, I just get a bit carried away," Xelloss smirked, compressing the sign back into raw dreamstuff and shoving it deep into his pockets.
    Amelia and Zelgadis came skidding around the corner, looking through the doors for their prey.  Spotting her, they ran in, trying to talk some sense into the woman.
    "Ne, you need to rest!" Amelia said, tugging on her arm.
    "She's busy," Zelgadis pointed out.  "Whatever it is can wait."
    The woman ignored them, and continued to approach Lina anyway, dragging Amelia along.  "The Hi'Chi'Orld require your talents in locating the Most Important Things In The World, Knight.  Will you accompany me?"
    The room fell into an awkward silence.
    "Umm..." Lina said, breaking the tension.  "Ten minute recess, guys.  Maybe I'd better attend to this."
    A small group gathered outside of the Impromptu War Room.
    "No, not happening, forget it," Lina said.  "I don't have time for a quest.  I've already got a rather clear agenda that could occupy the next few years of my life!  I don't know who you are or where you came from, but I'm busy trying to run a war here.  So if you don't mind--"
    "The clasps have been stolen from my tribe," the woman said.  "Our elder, Chi'Leas, has sent me to find the one human who could possibly help us find them, the Knight of Chaos.  Without you, all is lost!"
    "That's very poetic, but it doesn't change the fact that this country is going to be assaulted tomorrow," Lina said.  "Maybe after we take care of this, assuming we're all still alive, I'll look into whatever it is that you're going on about.  Fair?"
    Having taken it onto himself to participate in the discussion without actually being asked to join them, Xelloss cleared his throat.
    "Now now, Lina, you're making a snap judgment," he warned.
    "Xelloss, we--"
    "What exactly is this a quest for again, miss?  And your name, please?" he continued, ignoring Lina.
    "We must locate one of the Most Important Things In The World, embodied in a pair of golden wrist clasps that my tribe once held.  They are part of the ultimate power over all powers.  My name is Chi'Nai, Priestess of the Lord of Chaos," the woman stated.
    "See, Lina?  Very Important, it seems," Xelloss said.  "It's even in the name of the thing.  At least they didn't try to drape whatever it was in The Mystic or The Legendary or so on.  Very direct, very honest, mm?"
    "We don't have TIME for this!" Lina protested.
    "Stolen, you say?" Xelloss asked, opting to ignore the sorceress again.  "Does the perpetrator have a name?  What does he look like?"
    "They were taken by a human with the name of Luna," Chi'Nai said.
    Lina's eyes went wide.  "Big sister?!!"
    The chimera studied Lina for a moment.  "I can see the resemblance...  a woman claiming to be named Luna Inverse came as a stranger to our caves, weeks ago.  She was malnourished and suffering the effects of a long journey Below, and being good hosts we helped her back to health.  However, despite weeks of friendship, she must have tricked one of ours into helping her steal the clasps from my father... I fear I do not have enough time for explanations.  We have to hurry.  The elder priest can explain more than me, but if we don't make the journey, all will be lost!"
    "What did this Luna look like...?" Xelloss asked.
    Lina sighed.  "Purple hair, huge bust, waitress uniform, smiles a lot."
    "What?" Chi'Nai asked.  "No, she had black hair."
    "Did she happen to have a small, diagonally angled scar on her left cheek?" Xelloss asked specifically, tracing the mark with his finger, at an exact length.
    The chimera nodded in confirmation.
    "Hmm.  Very well!  I see no other alternative.  Better pack your bags, Miss Inverse, you're going on a little quest," Xelloss nodded.
    Lina bonked him over the head with a conveniently handy marble bust of Prince Phil.
    "I am NOT going on a quest!!" she shouted.  "I don't know this person from... from someone I don't know at all!  This is way too sudden, too stupid and I--"
    "I neglected to mention," Xelloss said, rising and continuing along as if he didn't have a huge bump on his head, "But there's something very, very important about this war that you have overlooked, Lina Inverse."  His eyes were even open.
    Lina recognized one of the few times the trickster Got Serious.  "And what's that?"
    "The Mazoku are crippled," Xelloss stated.  "Two of the lords are dead and they do not have the demon king to lead them.  To start a war now would be absurdly suicidal, and yet, they have.  The Mazoku are not absurdly suicidal -- suicidal, perhaps, but with more intelligence than you might suspect."
    "Yes yes, strange.  Now, what does that have to do with Lun--"
    "Which means, logically, that they MUST know of a hidden power that will tip the balance in their favor despite the handicap," Xelloss concluded.  "Something making them so assured of victory as to start a hopeless war.  Something calling itself the Most Important Thing In The World, say.... which seems to have recently been stolen by the Knight of Shaburanigdo, according to our new friend here?"
    Lina paused.
    "Xel, I don't know where you're getting your information, but my sister's the Knight of Ceipheed, not the Knight of Shaburanigdo," Lina told him.
    "I've met the left hand of darkness once before," Xelloss said.  "Black hair, scarred, as described.  Also, I know that she tends to enjoy using your sister's name as an alias just to besmirch her opponent's record.  She rarely does anything that we know about, since she works outside the main Mazoku hierarchy... but if she's interested in Chi'Nai's family heirloom, odds are the Mazoku are too.  And likely that's why they've started this war.  If we just sit on the side ignoring this report and put cute little umbrellas over the humans, we'll keep them alive for a few months or years, likely.  But then it would all end."
    "Everything changes," Chi'Nai said, a plain tone of doom in her voice.  "The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.  That's the prophecy of the Most Important Things In The World."
    "Ah... I see!" Lina smiled.  "In that case..."
    She clobbered Xelloss again with the statue.
    "Why didn't you tell me this IN THE FIRST PLACE?!!"
    "...because it wouldn't be dramatic enough?" Xelloss grinned weakly, a second bump appearing next to his first.
    "It's all conjecture, anyway," Lina said, tossing the bust aside.  "Some crazy comes out of left field shouting about some Important Thing and you immediately assume--"
    "Know, Lina.  Give me some credit for knowing my former inferior superiors."
    "KNOW, then, that the Mazoku already have it and are holding a WAR with it?" Lina asked, through clenched teeth.
    "Already have it?... oh, of course not!" Xelloss said, aghast.
    "That's better.  If--"
    "If they already had it, we would not be breathing right now," Xelloss said.  "You misunderstand.  Correct me if I'm wrong, miss, but this is only one of those 'Important Things'.  Yes?"
    Chi'Nai nodded.  "A single part to the whole."
    "That means the Knight of Shaburanigdo will be looking for the rest.  It would have to be war-winning in order to be worth this mania, something that inspires such confidence in the Mazoku as to let them start early.  And likely, they're calling the war early as a distraction to keep the Dragons occupied; keeping them from noticing a single human via extreme measures.  It sounds like the kind of overblown gesture they're famous for... I suppose you play along with this ridiculous deception, but really, Lina, you have to learn how to depend on your advisors if you're going to be winning a war -- especially ex-Mazoku advisors."
    Lina's head was figuratively spinning from the implications.  "But--"
    "I realize the timing is bad, but that's exactly why it's happening, so that nobody will look away from the war... including you.  But if you DO hang around and help the winged fight the war," Xelloss noted, "You could be killed.  And with no leader, regardless of how clever or resourceful these nice people are, they will be demoralized.  Given that I can keep communication and direction open from any location in the world, wouldn't it be better for you and Gourry to head off and investigate this while the others go into battle...?"
    Lina stared at him.
    "Just tell me in very, very simple words, Xelloss.  What makes you so sure that all of this hokum is true?" Lina asked, quietly.
    "Ah..." Xelloss said, waving a finger in front of Lina.  "That is a secret."
    Lina punted him down the hall, then turned to Chi'Nai.  "Assuming that my communications officer isn't on drugs and that this wouldn't be a glorious waste of time, how fast do you think we could take care of this and get back?"
    "As fast as chaos itself wills it," Chi'Nai promised.
    Sighing, she felt defeated.  "Fine.  We'll just waltz away and go on some ridiculous quest at the worst possible time.  I guess it's my life's calling..."
    "Yes," Chi'Nai said truthfully.  "It is."
    The War Room was dripping with sibling rivalry when Lina entered again.  Someone had started up a betting pool on who would be more successful in the war campaign, Drama or Paradox, and the pot was up to sixty five million gold when Lina broke it up.
    "Change of plans," Lina said, laying on the ultra mega compressed summary of the day's events.  "You guys fight the war, I'll direct through Xelloss, Gourry and I are going on a quest which could possibly involve wild geese.  Any objections?  Not that it'll change anything, but I would like to make sure we're all cool with this."
    Nobody reacted as badly as Lina was expecting.
    "We'll be fine," Love said, smiling softly as she played the reassuring role.  "I'm sure whatever it is is quite important to merit the decision.  There'll be a world for you to come back to when you're done, we guarantee.  Right, guys?"
    Nodding went all around the table.
    "I don't care where you're going, I'm coming with you two," Zelgadis said.  "I've got unfinished research to do."
    "I wish we had more time for explanations, but I don't actually know how to explain it myself," Lina explained.  "I'd advise you guys to take the Sub Ways to your respective assignments as Gourry laid out.  Leave right now; the war's going to spread fast.  Myth can ferry you if you don't have a Token.  Check in with Xelloss each night when you're dreaming and don't leave any details out.  Good luck, people."
    "Good luck to you too, Lina-sama!" Luck cheered.  "Good luck to everybody!  Except Paradox."
    Paradox's chair picked that moment to come apart, the ancient glue drying up completely.
    "HEY!" he shouted from the floor.
    The winged filed out quickly and orderly, chatting and arguing as usual, heading off to the stone circle of the Sub Ways just outside of the city.  Gourry went back to their rooms to pack, Zelgadis immediately started interrogating the underintroduced Chi'Nai about some kind of cave painting... but two people stayed behind.
    "Umm... Lina?"
    Lina looked away from the battle planning map.  "Yeah?"
    Myth seemed nervous, approaching her.  "I didn't want to tell you this, because... well, it's not good to tamper with stories, but I thought you might want to know..."
    The bardess showed Lina the book she was carrying.  It was titled 'Lina Inverse and the End of Everything.'
    "...a work in progress," Myth added.
    "That's.. the story I'm in right now, isn't it?" Lina asked, getting that sinking feeling.
    "Yeah, but.. keep in mind titles aren't... I mean, they're..." Myth tried to cover.  "Look, I'm.. I'm a bit scared by all this.  Maybe I shouldn't have shown this to you, I don't want you to be scared too, but... I had to show SOMEBODY."
    Lina paused, trying to think of the best way to help Myth.
    "I'm not scared," Lina decided.
    "You aren't?"
    "No," Lina said.  "Because I don't have time to be scared.  This is how my life works, Myth; one insanely weird experience after another, with little breathing room and almost no time to pause and panic about what might come next."
    "So.. how do you deal with it?" Myth asked.
    "Oh, that's simple.  You enjoy any food and fun you can get along the way, make sure you're around friends, and if you survive it all you can relax in an inn and reflect on how well it turned out."
    "But.. what if you don't survive it all?"
    "Then you don't need to worry about it anymore, do you?" Lina asked, grinning.  "There.  Little home spun heroine philosophy for your book.  You should also talk to Xelloss.  He's probably got his own ways of staying happy, considering how much the bastard smiles.  Even when he's being beaten severely."
    "I don't.. I'm not all that comfortable with him yet."
    "You don't have to worry about him.  Sure, he's backstabbed us in the past, but I've got a hook on him now," Lina said.
    "A hook?"
    "A long time ago, I made him promise to leave if I asked him to.  Haven't cashed that in yet, but I'm sure he'll adhere to it if I use it.  And besides, he's mellowed out a bit," Lina said.  "Helps that he's not working for the opposition anymore."
    "Unless he is," Myth said.
    Lina paused.
    "Whad'ya mean?"
    "Uh.. nothing, just... I mean, it's an old plot device," Myth said, hesitant to explain.  "Double agents.  A staple of a mystery story.  I've written a few of them.  Umm... but he's not following any of those gags, right?  Not doing anything strange like suggesting you take unexpected risks or be sidetracked, right?  Or withholding information, or telling you big long explanations to make you do things you wouldn't...  Right?"
    "...right," Lina said.  "I think I'd better go check on Gourry.  Excuse."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.