nderstanding what it is you're doing is secondary to doing it when you're an adventurer.
    This was one of the many guidelines Lina had read in her first career field manual, 'Soe, Youe Wante to Be a Heroe!'.  Granted, the book didn't mean quests beyond simple slaying of monsters and raiding of ruins, but it was still a valid rule in the here and now.  In the last few outings, after all, Lina had little to no idea why she was supposed to run out and do what she was doing -- or she would be doing things without knowing that they were important to some quest.  The reason why you could go so unconcerned is because things tended to work out as you go along, and by the end, you'd probably have figured out exactly what that Fabulous Golden Idol of Magic and Power is used for, or exactly who was the bad guy oppressing civilization and so on.
    Although leaving in the middle of a war irritated Lina, when she woke up the next day, she decided to put on a happy face and take stock.  She had a strange chimeric priestess demanding that they visit her tribe and retrieve one of The Most Important Things In The World, which Xelloss had his usual enigmatic concerns over.  She also had a large war around the corner to be directing, but had an easy way to do that through the world of dreams... leaving her disconnected from the action, but if her luck was running in the same vein as it always was, this little jaunt would become very crucial.
    So, in the morning, she set out with full supplies on a quick ride through the Sub Ways to what was left of Pleasantville.  There wasn't much emotional impact from seeing the disaster zone... simply because there wasn't enough left to make any recognizable shapes from, other than that obvious crater shape.  Zelgadis, who had apparently been here before, led them up to some ruins and into an underground network of caves and BAM, that was that.  On their way.
    That's when Chi'Nai decided to inform them that the journey would take at least four days of finding their way through the caves.  Six if the monsters were especially thick.
    "Do we have six days?" Gourry asked.  He had been making an effort to understand what was going on more lately, and oddly, had limited success.  "Dungeon and cave travel, especially with random monsters, can really take awhile.  We still need to find the thief, after all... and that's going to take time too."
    "Father gave me specific instructions," Chi'Nai reminded.  "I have to find the Knight of Chaos, and take her to meet him.  He must have an important reason; I have faith in the winds of chaos to guide us."
    "This is a waste of time," Zelgadis gloomily said.
    "What makes you say -- MONSTER!!"  (BLAM)  "--that?" Lina asked, blowing smoke off her hand as she walked by the barbecued five legged whatever it was.
    "Because what I was hoping was down here isn't going to be down here," Zelgadis said.  "I've been talking with Chi'Nai.  She's never heard of the one clue I found about reversing my chimeric curse... nevermind, it's a long story and I don't want to get into it right now."
    "You don't have to come if you don't want," Lina shrugged.  "But I have a feeling this is going to be very worthwhile."
    And Lina explained her thoughts from earlier, about why she had chosen not to grumble about this mission.  Why she could predict it would be important.
    Chi'Nai was surprised by this.
    "I didn't know you were a woman of faith," she said.
    "Eh?  No, I'm not religious," Lina said.
    "But you just described the way to trust the winds of chaos.  How you freely abandon yourself to them..."
    "Ah... I didn't mean... well, I didn't mean I'd just go 'duh' and follow every little hint," Lina said.  "Gotta temper that stuff with wisdom, yadda yadda.  For instance... now that we apparently have a lot of time to talk, what exactly are we looking for and why?  I'm not going into this totally blind -- LOOK OUT!"
    Gourry stepped up and sliced the gigantic spider in half.
    "Thanks, Gourry," Lina smiled.
    "The elder could explain it better..." Chi'Nai said, not very unsettled by the random acts of violence.
    "Try us," Lina suggested.
    The group walked along the caves, a light spell hovering to light the way, as Chi'Nai explained.
    "One thing you need to realize," she said upfront, "Is that my people are very religious.  We consist of sentient, moral chimeric beings, who can't live Above because of humans mistaking us for non-thinking beasts... but we still have faith.  Our goddess is the Lord of Chaos, and she guides our lives towards salvation, trusting us with responsibilities.  We give homage and prayer randomly during the day in--"
    "What's this got to do with the quest?" Zelgadis asked impatiently.
    "The item we're looking for is part of an ancient bargain," Chi'Nai said, trying not to be thrown off balance from her storytelling.  "From the earliest recorded days.  Our people were expanding their tribal lands into new caverns and tunnels, and found a pair of glowing silver bracelets simply sitting in an unexplored cave.  But when they went to pick them up, they were horribly burned.  Early priests studied the objects where they lie, and came to a conclusion that inside the bracelets, there was no chaos whatsoever.  They had thought that to be impossible, and prayed for guidance."
    "And got no reply, I'd suspect," Zelgadis said.  He casually lobbed a ball of ice ahead of the group, freezing a small pack of goblins.
    "Nice shot.  Anyway, you'd be surprised, Zel," Lina grinned.  "We REALLY need to update you on what's been going on.  The Lord of Nightmares seems to enjoy a good rap session or two."
    "It was the only time our prayers were responded to," Chi'Nai said, nodding with Lina.  "The Lord of Chaos took Chi'Leas... all of our elders are named Chi'Leas when they take the office, see... and explained to him the prophecy surrounding--"
    "Prophecy?" Lina said.  "Oooh.  I HATE that word... sorry, sorry.  Go on."
    "Umm... the prophecy stated... I can't remember the exact words, I haven't gotten that far in my studies.  But from my understanding, the Lord said that the clasps were one of the Most Important Things In The World, and it was up to the chimeras -- who hid underground to escape human persecution -- to guard them from humanity.  If we ever failed in that duty, it would herald the beginning of the end, when everything changes."
    "Harsh," Lina said.  "Hey, is that a beholder up ahead?"
    The group stopped, peering into the darkness.  One giant eye looked back at them.
    "Who should get it this time?" Gourry asked.
    "One easy way to decide... Jun!  Ken!  POW!"
    Zelgadis cut it in half and they continued on.
    "I somehow doubt that the Mazoku War started because someone pinched these things," he also said.
    "I don't think the war is the real problem," Lina said.  "If it was, why would we be here?  The war's just a side effect.  One gigantically horribly bad side effect that's going to have bad results I don't even want to think about right now... Chi'Nai, do you know why the thing is so important?  More important than what we left behind?"
    The priestess shook her head.  "The Lord of Chaos didn't think we should know."
    "Sounds about like her," Lina sighed.
    "None of this explains what I saw," Zelgadis said offhand.
    "Aaaand what did you see, exactly?" Lina asked.
    "A cave painting, up where we entered the caves.  Before I blew the cave up, of course.  It was just a dream vision, so I'm probably running a wild goose chase, but... it was a picture of some sorceress or something, chained to an altar, turning chimeras into humans."
    "I told him I had never seen that image before," Chi'Nai said.  "The entrances to Below are not decorated, either."
    "Meaning this whole trip is a waste of my time," Zelgadis repeated from earlier.  "There is likely no cure down here, or else her entire tribe would be relaxing in the sun right now with pink skin."
    "Ehhh, don't be such a defeatist!" Lina chided.  "Sure, we'll probably be dropped unsuspectingly into the gaping maw of death a few times, but beyond that, what could possibly go wrong?"
    "Ano, has anybody seen my sleeping bag?"
    The group had decided to sleep for the 'night', night being determined by a clock spell Lina had running rather than by actual moonlight.  The monsters had been thick, so in addition to the small lantern and cooking fire, Lina had put up a series of wards around the cave they selected that would keep any unwelcome visitors from approaching.  On the whole, every preparation and plan was running smoothly, save one small problem.
    Gourry rooted through his pack, confused.  "I could swear I packed it... I mean, it's a big round roll, right?  I couldn't have overlooked it..."
    "What's a 'sleeping bag'?" Chi'Nai asked.  She had already found a good rock to use as head support, and was comfortably stretched out.
    "It's comfy for folks who've got softer, more bruisable flesh," Lina said.  "No offense, I mean."
    "Oh, okay," Chi'Nai said.  "I guess that makes sense.  Does that mean Gourry will be injured if he doesn't sleep in one?"
    "No, but he'll be cranky in the morning," Lina explained.  Having her bedroll already prepped, she was simply discarding her clunky bits of armor, and getting ready for bed.  "Gourry, why don't you double up with Zelgadis?"
    "Not happening," a muffled voice said from inside Zel's sleeping bag.  "Mine."
    "Why does Zelgadis need one?" Chi'Nai asked, confusion mounting.
    "Zelgadis likes having one.  Zelgadis wasn't always a chimera, you know," Zel mumbled.
    "But chances are he'll wake up cranky regardless of where he's sleeping," Lina added.
    None of this helped Gourry's situation, however.
    "Awww, man," he groaned.  "And it's so cold down here!  Lina, can you spare a pillow?  I'll just take the floor."
    Lina looked at her single, dinky pillow.  "How about if you take the bag, and I'll take the floor?"
    "But girls are softer and need more--"
    "I recall having this conversation some other time," Lina said.  "And if I recall, you switched places with me when I was sleeping.  This time, I take the floor, and I KEEP the floor.  Got it?"
    Gourry let some family advice slip.  "Actually, my cousin Mel told me once that if a boyfriend and a girlfriend only had one bed, they were supposed to share it--"
    "WHA?!  Hey!  We are NOT..."
    "But... I thought...?  Am I wrong?" Gourry asked.  "Uh.  I mean..."
    Lina paused.  She was having trouble finding the right words too.  Despite.. what they had talked about very briefly after the last quest, she had deliberately been putting off any further developments in that area... for simplicity's sake, of course.  Just in case.  And so on.
    "Look... Gourry.  We have an.. understanding?" Lina suggested.  "And that means one of us takes the floor.  I mean... see, the problem is that under strict definitions, we're not... look, I haven't had TIME to really put a lot of thought to.. and... okay.  Here's how it is.  There's--"
    "Decide, shut up, and go to sleep," Zelgadis grumbled.
    "I'll take the floor," Gourry said quickly, attempting to cuddle a stalagmite.
    Lina winced.  She chewed her lip, immediately stated to herself up front that she was going to regret this, and opened her mouth.
    "We'll work on definitions later," Lina said, opening her bag.  "Get in before you freeze to death.  But no funny business!  I have very pointy elbows and I'm not afraid to use them!"
    "Oh, I know!  And bony knees, and a hard head, and--"
    "Get in here and go to sleep before I knock you unconscious myself!!" Lina helpfully offered.
    Penguins.  Bottles rolled onto lengths of string.  Sardine tins, pressed in tight.  A wild, yellow-haired gerbil on a wheel.  Five pieces of a pie, but someone had stolen one and left a note in its place.  Eight butterflies flying directly into a roaring fire.  Along--
    "Rather disoriented tonight, are we?"
    Lina's mind zipped from random thoughts to sharp focus, stumbling mentally as she oriented herself.  She was in a rather pleasant sidewalk cafe at exactly midnight, seemingly made out of oil-based paints, like a 3-D street life portrait...
    "Weird," she said to herself.
    Her companion sipped from a glass of fine wine.  "Really?  It's a little dream I've been designing.  A very personal nightmare.  Although it's outlived tonight's usefulness, I figured it would make a good meeting place... hello, Lina?  Focus.  I know it's harder to see the world of dreams while dreaming, but..."
    Lina turned to face her date, and...
    "Xelloss?" she asked.
    "Of course," he smiled.  He was wearing nice formal dinnerwear, but still had his irrepressible smile.
    "Ahh... interesting place," Lina commented.  "Interesting getup."
    "You were a little late.  No, let me guess; someone forgot a sleeping bag, and you had trouble getting to sleep with someone else in yours?" Xelloss asked.
    Lina turned a lovely shade of red.  "Wha--?  How'd you--"
    "That's classified," Xelloss smiled.  "Say, do you like that?  'That's classified?'  If I was ever in the military, which I seem to be now, that's probably what I'd say.  It has a certain official ring to it.  But enough fun smalltalk.  How goes the quest?"
    "It's slow," Lina sighed.  "Like a snail compared to our brisk sendoff.  It'll take us a few days to get where we're going.  I still need to fill Zelgadis in on some details, and I've GOT to find Gourry something to sleep in before tomorrow night--"
    Xelloss's smile grew wider.
    "--ANYWAY," Lina said, "Apparently this thing we're after is wrapped up in a whole end of the world prophecy.  And considering the war, that plus that equals uh-oh.  Beyond that, nothing new.  How's the fighting?"
    "Dissimilar," Xelloss said, sipping his beverage.  "We had a very exciting day when you left.  As predicted, a few Dragon/Mazoku fighting pairs showed up over Sailoon.  The Mazoku are targeting humans, you know.  Really trying to irk the Dragons into action.  Fortunately, Amelia and Naga--"
    "Didn't you know?  She followed you to Sailoon," Xelloss smiled.  "Or rather, she followed a very bad pun.  Would have come right to you if she didn't hit the palace wall.  Some guards scraped her off the stonework, which is good, because I have to admit, she's EXCELLENT at white magic..."
    "Pun?  Wall?  What?"
    "I don't want to detain you too long, it's not restful," Xelloss warned.  "So allow me to compress and allow yourself some confusion.  Ahem.  Naga and Amelia combined powers and shielded Sailoon City.  Reason and Dayvid are working on making some sort of strange machine, but it won't be ready for awhile.  As for the others, I just got back from checking with them; not much new.  Drama has announced his presence in Justivalero as a 'holy crusading knight against the darkness' and largely was laughed at, Paradox is busy cooking up some strange magic, and the others have nothing of interest to report.  And that's the state of the war.  Maybe tomorrow I'll have a real death toll for you."
    "...let's hope you don't," Lina said quietly.  "Sounds good so far.  You think we'll be able to pull this off, Xelloss?  I mean, really do it, fight against the war itself and save the world...?"
    "No," Xelloss said.  "But it's a tremendous way to relax.  Now, back to sleep with you.  And tell Gourry-kun I said hello and good work."
    Penguins.  Sixty people in a broom closet.  A string of beaded pearls.  A waitress with a mace.  A small lizard.  Lard.  Square knots...
Click to continue...
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.