ightmares are not just tools of evil and nastiness.  Granted, they can be, as they were in my predecessor's hands... oh, fair warning, I'm digressing again.  Feel free to skip past my ramblings, if you wish to get to the good bit where I seduce Myth into playing doctor.
    Now, upon initially taking up the job as the New Nightmare, many were reluctantly accepting.  "Of COURSE that Mazoku would want the job," many said, namely, Paradox.  "He's got sadism in his blood."  But naturally, the fellow doesn't quite get the point... what are dreams?  I personally see them as inner reflections, as the subconscious and unconscious mind are the most powerful influences on the 'dreamstuff', as I have dubbed it.  When a sleeper arrives her, his or her mind shapes the world around them.  If they need visions of hope and love, they get them... if they need a chiller of a nightmare, why, that's what they get.
    The key word is NEED.  Reflections on self are what dreams cause, and a dark reflection serves just as many purposes as an ordinary one.  Why do you think Lina has matured... well, questionably, given her recent flippant attitude to cover her nervousness and fear... ahem.  Why do you think Lina has matured to the point she has?  I believe it to largely be due to my manipulations way back during that Mirror Lores affair.  When my significant twin contacted me from that strange world, letting me know about his poor stray Lina double, I saw a fine opportunity to heal and progress both of them!  It took a lot of manipulation and a lot of chance, but the end results were delightful.  I wonder, if I was not there to ensure proper guidance of Lina's waking nightmare, would she have simply succumbed and been crushed?  The staying power of dark image is to burn, but burn with purpose, and in this case the purpose of strength.  By the way, I didn't actually woo Myth, but wasn't that a fun trick to play on you?
    What was my point again... mmm... one moment.
    Hm hm hmmm..
    Ah.  Nightmares as learning devices.  Take, for example, the nightmare I had carefully constructed tonight to capture one who required it.  It was a simple sidewalk cafe, but done up in such fascinating acrylic paints and brushstrokes... an artwork in three dimensions.  The moonlight was just the right shade of blue, the city night life atmosphere so perfect... an ideal place for Myth's date with me!
    No, I still didn't woo her.  Trust me on this, it will make sense in the long run.
    As she slept somewhere in Sailoon Palace that night, I was in the world of dreams, seeking her dreamer-form.  Finding someone in this world is easy, when you know how, and I had acquired such skills by practical need... pulling her into her personalized, carefully constructed nightmare was also easy.
    "More wine?" I asked, seating across from her at a table, pouring a glass.
    "Wh... what?" Myth asked.  "What am I doing here?"
    "You're dreaming, silly," I said, putting on my most charming smile.  I'm told by the ladies that it can be quite devastating.  "I'm so glad we have this chance to meet and talk, Myth-chan..."
    As I saw fear in her eyes, I knew it was working.  You see, Myth has never quite shaken off her fear of Nightmare.  That decidedly unoriginal bad guy had done a number of perfectly horrid things to her, and she was now projecting that onto me.  Tonight, I would try to scare some sense into her.  Perhaps you see it as cruel; but even cruelty has a purpose.
    "I'm waking up now," Myth said.  And tried; but I blocked her.  A simple task, really.
    "What, before we've even had our entrees?" I asked.  "That's very impolite.  You can't run out on me just yet, I have such wondrous things to share!"
    "You can't hurt me here!" Myth started.  The line was nicely blurred now, between myself and my former namesake.  "I beat you once here!  I'm strong now!"
    "Whyfor ever would I want to fight you?" I asked.  "You'll give me what I need, yes?"
    "And I have a gift for you.." I said, reaching into my jacket.
    Myth immediately formed some kind of weapon, the most instinctive one her mind could think of; a large sword that looked vaguely like a pen.  Symbolism can be such a delight!
    But now it was time to shatter the pretense.  I took out my book.
    "It's only a first draft, and very truncated, I'm afraid," I said, immediately losing any implied malice in my tone.  "It's in dire, dire need of an editor.  Someone to make sure I'm on the right track, and since you're such a wonderful writer, I would be honored if you could...?"
    Myth paused.  "Wh-what?"
    I withdrew the book.  (If you're curious, basically it's what I have written here so far... save, of course, one crucial bit at the start of this chapter.  She wasn't to know that.  Not yet.)  Continuing.  "But I suppose it's your decision.  If you're not interested in this personal biography, that's fine.  I know you don't quite like me, but I thought... well, I thought that perhaps it would make a remarkable peace offering.  To show that I really don't intend you any harm."
    I chose the words very carefully for intended effect to shame her.  After all, humility is best taught through social mistake, and Myth now was realizing she had committed a large one; she had assumed my intent was foul, simply because of what (or rather, who, in some ways) I represented.  It was a first step towards acceptance.  Besides, she was an avid reader, not just a writer, and I knew that the lure would work.
    The pen-sword went away; I couldn't tell when or how, her mind simply lost the attention needed to keep it.  She rested a little easier in her seat, still jumpy, but a kind of jumpiness that I was expecting.  "This isn't just a dream, is it?"
    "It's my world," I said.  "So it is a dream.  But I am me and not you in disguise, as other dream visions are.  You know, this is your world as much as it is mine; stories are simply dreams given form.  Dark or light stories.  So, are you interested?"
    "In what?"
    "In reading my autobiographical notes, of course," I said, offering the book again.  "I really would appreciate any comments.  Don't worry, it doesn't bite.  In fact, the prose is rather limp, in my opinion."
    Myth accepted the book.  Slight hesitation... not all blocks were broken.  Still, remarkable progress.
    "I.. guess I can take a look," she said.  Brow furrowing.  "Wait.  How can I take an object out of the world of dreams?"
    "Oh, don't worry.  I've arranged so you can read it in your sleep," I said.  "Wouldn't want this falling into the wrong hands before it's done, yes?  I trust you to be discreet.  I trust you."  Repetition always emphasizes key points.
    Next step, I allowed her to open the cover, and read a few paragraphs.  Just enough to hook her curiosity, before I moved on.
    "I really need to be going.  I'm supposed to be meeting with Lina, after all," I said.  "But there's one other task I'd like to ask of you.  If you don't mind traveling..."
    "Traveling where?" she asked.  Quick, to the point.  She wanted to go read.  Excellent.
    "I need someone who can make rounds to the other winged and get status reports," I said.  "One every day or two.  I could just ask them in the world of dreams... but then I'd have no eyes to what's REALLY going on out there, and would have to take their word.  But with an independent reporter, especially one as gifted in description as you, Myth... well, I'd have the finest eyes and ears imaginable.  It's an important task, and one of great responsibility, one I unhesitatingly trust you with... if you're interested."
    Ah, there's that note of suspicion.  "What's the catch?" she asked.
    "No catch," I said.  Now to play on her sensibilities.  "Yes, I know... anybody who says 'no catch' has a catch up his sleeve.  That's how it works in stories.  And I suppose it wouldn't help to assure you that honestly, there isn't any catch... but honestly, there isn't any catch.  It's okay if you don't believe me, the truth is truth regardless.  Does this sound reasonable?"
    "Are you a double agent?" she asked.
    Oh my.
    Of all the questions I had prepared for and predicted, this was.. it never was one of them.
    "What makes you say that?" I asked, curious.
    "All the signs are there," she said.  But now some politeness crept in.  "I don't mean to offend you, it just... it just occurred to me.  When you were talking about how stories work, and I was thinking recently about how stories put in a betrayer, usually, and..."
    Oh, how I wished to tell her!  Tell her of the glorious backstabbing I had planned, the beautiful irony in it!  She was smart as a whip and clever as Jean.  I could weep at the perfection.  But that would tip my hand too early... would I lie?  I prefer not to lie directly, as that's a cheater's method...
    Very well, then.  I would rely on an ancient tactic.  Tell a secret to hide another secret.
    "Your instincts are right.  There is a traitor among us," I said.  "I know her name.  I actually am keeping this very quiet, until I can gather enough proof... that's one thing you need to watch out for in your reports.  Keep track of anything unusual in the winged behaviors.  I can say, with the full honesty of all, I am dedicated to Lina's cause, and will do nothing to harm her.  Is that satisfactory?"
    "Y... yes," Myth said, thinking it through slightly.  It seemed to work.
    "Now, off to rest and reading, and... thank you," I said, smiling once more with my most charming.  "I really appreciate this.  I apologize for being a bit confusing at first."  A good way to erase my tracks.
    I'll decline to print the rest of the conversation, as it was very short, largely smalltalk oriented, and concluded with Myth heading off to ponder the many puzzles I had set before her.  After that, Lina met me for her first update, restless because I had naturally removed Gourry's sleeping bag and she was resting in his arms... just my little joke.  I told about the attack and such... but not too many details.  No need to disturb her from the greater task.
    Because, as much as the winged were dedicated to this war, none of it would really matter.  Lina would hold the key that unlocked the rebirth of time, and all we did was fill in the margins.
    Ah, but what margins they are!
    Dull ones, mostly.
    I'm going to have to be frank; aside from that opening day of chaos and destruction, very little happened for awhile.  I'm going to have to skim a great deal and just hit the highlights, unless you truly want to be bored by my longwinded prose.  Don't worry, we'll get to the good part where everybody dies later.
    For now... the absurdist comedy!
    The very next day, Dayvid's device was complete.  It looked vaguely like a water pump connected to a large amount of comfortable chairs, and filled an entire room.  Paradox left before breakfast, frustrated and angry that they were able to defeat his 'mpossibility claims so easily.  He was a bitter one.  If Myth was looking for a traitor, he'd be the prime candidate, considering his general dislike of us all.
    But I digress.  Back to the machine.
    "Of course, we'll have to move it to the center of the city," Dayvid said.  "I checked with the owner of the building there; it's just a warehouse.  We can annex it or something under government order, he doesn't mind.  But... dad, we still have that logistics problem.  We need a powerful white sorcerer at the focal chair, and thirty volunteers each morning to charge up the power storage unit.  Where will we get them?"
    "The first is provided," I said.
    "You said that.  Who's coming?"
    "Not coming, here.  It took some effort to track her down, but she agreed to help after I explained the situation," I said.  "I believe she's freshening up right now after the trip, which took all night.  You remember Lily, right?"
    Dayvid thought back.  "The white sorceress who was going around with Lina months ago..." he remembered.  "Jeez.  It feels like it's been years..."
    "You've grown a lot, m'boy," I said.  "And we've all sat through some unusual storms.  Still, it was not too long ago, and Lily recalls who were are, and is more than willing to aid."
    "You didn't... coerce her, did you?"
    "Perish the thought!" I gasped.  "I'm a good little citizen of humanity now, Dayvid-kun!  It would be wrong."
    Actually, my initial plan was to threaten or cajole, given her lack of a spine last time I used her as my pawn... she surprised me by agreeing right away.  Almost as if she had prepared in advance for this.  Mmm.  Unusual.  Definitely not something to dismiss, but for now, it would do.
    As for the thirty volunteers...
    I chuckle every time I remember this.  Dayvid was out of ideas, and frankly, so was I... I'm hu-man enough to admit when I'm tapped.  So, I suggested Dayvid tell Amelia about the problem, as she was closer to the people of Sailoon and might have a good idea.
    I've got a clipping here which explains Amelia's idea in a nutshell.  I really hope your blood sugar level is low, because you will start hearing cavities form very shortly :
    Doesn't it just make your SPINE hurt?
    I have to admit... it was a brilliant idea.  Scary, but brilliant.  Allow me to back up a little and explain the chain of events.
    The next day after the battle had come, and the Sailoon Sisters were clearly exhausted from the effort.  Naga in particular was not doing well emotionally; she hadn't laughed once today.  You know, I don't think anybody noticed this except me.  Perhaps the reminder about her mother and the use of white magic opened interesting and frightening doors in her mind.... but I digress.  The subject is Amelia.
    No, no.  Before we get to Amelia, I simply must introduce Lily.  She's changed a bit.
    I believe when you last saw her, she was a submissive white sorceress who allowed her 'boyfriend' to use her like a cheap tool.  Of course, I was using her as a cheap tool as well... I mean, I had to have SOMEONE that could teach Lina the spell required to heal the other, victimized Lina.  She also came in very handy when playing Zelas-Metallum's little game... such people do not grow on trees, you know.
    Nowadays, however, she's a proud member in standing of the Sisters of White, a cult (they don't call it a cult) of sorceresses devoted to white magic.  That's it, just white magic.  No wine, no w.. no men, no song.  No women either, not in that sense.  They don't side with the Dragons and clearly not with the Mazoku, choosing to follow a life dedicated to magic itself and the betterment of anybody they meet through that magic.  In other words, Lily hasn't progressed at all, exchanging domination by some schmuck to domination by doctrine.
    I guess that means Lily hasn't changed at all.  Mind you, she does smile more and doesn't stutter.
    So anyway, here we were in the warehouse Dayvid had selected, examining his mystery machine.  Lily was getting oriented to the controls at the focal point and running mental exercises to keep herself ready.  She had agreed right away to this, which could be due to her training to be a force of help, but I was suspicious... still, she would do for now.  The real question was where we would get thirty people a day?
    "I guess we could offer some kind of compensation..." Dayvid suggested.  "You know, to cover lost wages from a missing day.  The kingdom's coffers are big enough to fit that in.  But how do we get them to agree?"
    Amelia was pacing.  She was energetic, or at least appearing to be despite her exhaustion, ready and willing to help save Sailoon.
    "They'll need to want to do it," she said.  "Maybe if we asked nicely?"
    "Begging your pardon, princess, but politeness alone doth not a convincing argument make," I said.  "I know people.  They won't want to hook their souls up to some wacky machine without a very good reason.  Reason?"
    I think it was Reason's argument that got Amelia thinking.
    "Actually, it doesn't have to be a good reason," Reason stated.  "Just one that works."
    "Huh?" Amelia asked.
    "How do armies get people to agree to kill and be killed?" Reason asked.  "They offer compensation as Dayvid suggests, but in order to recruit people who normally would not be interested... they convince them by other arguments.  Logos is useful to an extent, but some people will be illogical.  Instead, they combine ethos and pathos into one punch and use propaganda."
    "Ewww," Amelia said, making a face.  "That's what bad guys use."
    "In Sailoon's history, this country has often used propaganda," Reason continued.  "It can be as simple as saying 'Fight for your country.'  Ethos, the voice of authority, implying that it's your obligation to obey.  Pathos, the emotional appeal, trying to encourage enlistment by patriotism.  These combined act as encouragement."
    "Oh, patriotism.  I thought you meant something bad," Amelia said.  "Hmmm.  So.. we need a slogan?  Something to encourage people to volunteer?"
    "Slogans, posters, flyers, mass communication, icons, tokens, easily digestible and referential symbols," Reason listed.  "Anything will do if crafted well enough.  I recommend one focal point with binding concept reinforced by extreme repetition in slight variance."
    Amelia's little brain was probably overheating.  "Uh.  One what?"
    "I think I'm following this," Dayvid said.  Always the sharp one!  "Reason's saying if we come up with one idea like that and just... shove it in people's faces over and over, it'll work.  Like advertising."
    "Ohhhh!" Amelia smiled.  "I get it!"
    Naga made her first and I believe only comment of the day.  "What'll work?  'Come sacrifice yourself for a few cubic miles of land?'"
    Oddly, nobody picked up on her disgruntled tone, too excited by the idea of propaganda.  Which also goes to show the power of it.
    "I know!  I know!" Amelia shouted with glee.  "It needs to be something... cute!  Something everybody can like, and feel good about!  A really positive thing.  And a real person, too, someone who can talk to them and show up in public and... oh, I've got it, I've got it!"
    "Er.. what?" Dayvid asked.
    "THIS!" Amelia said, posing dramatically and pulling out... a pen.
    Yes... I think that is when the sinking feeling started.
    Sparklies (they're obligatory) started showering off the magical pen, and bubbles and flowers and stars came out of nowhere, enveloping her.  "SAILOON POWAH!  MAKE-UP!" she chanted, and a few seconds later (where DID the music come from?) she turned on one toe, posed, and introduced herself.
    "I am Sailor Justice, warrior of love and peace!" Amelia declared.  "And I'll happily help out my country!"
    "I guess it could work," Reason said, the final nail in the coffin.
    Spooky.  But it worked.  I couldn't have planned something better myself, without possibly mind control magic.
    I think Dayvid was a little unsettled by this turn of events... I myself harbor the suspicion that Amelia was using her cute little costume in other aspects with him.  Still, he had a printing press going (his latest invention) and was making up flyers by the dozen to post around the city.  Reason took time out before leaving for Darata to study Sailor Justice's magical transformation pen, locking herself in the lab to do so... curious.  More importantly, we got a trickle of volunteers that second day, nothing special, just people who were curious.  The real flood started when Sailor Justice did her pep rally in front of Sailoon Palace the day after that.
    I am NOT going to quote her speech here.  I will say it was nicely done, if a bit saccharine, and when a few people immediately signed up to volunteer, it set off a chain reaction.  People LIKED Sailor Justice.  Sailoon wasn't so jaded as to laugh at her... and the ones that did, well, who cares?  All we needed was thirty warm bodies a day, and there were plenty to go around.
    The machine went on to full power for the first time that day, the milky white bubble enveloping the town glowing strong.  Lily did her job remarkably well.  I decided to test the bubble a bit, throwing every black spell I could manage at it from outside, and nothing got through.  Even my counterpart in that other world could easily bust through a shield like this, one constructed by the very same people!  But you see, we had an edge... we had Dayvid.  I knew I was right!  Dayvid's science provided the required element of chaos that kept humanity's adaptation running like clockwork.
    The Mazoku made another attack on the city that night.  People walked out of their houses after the first five minutes of explosions, curious... and watched, as the black spells made no progress through the protective bubble.  A rousing cheer went up in the streets, as they watched the monsters beat on the shield in futility.  We had beaten them!  Sailor Justice was right!
    Needless to say, signups for the shielding machine tripled.
    Things were good.
    Too good.
    I started to realize this when Myth returned from her first trip through the Sub Ways, with an update on the winged's efforts across the world.  I debriefed her in the world of dreams, again picking a cozy, romantic locale.  The Palace of Chaos, or whatever it's called, was more than suitable with the dreams of several waking-world rooms to pick from.  I selected one with a fireplace and a nice wine rack, but she didn't drink any.
    Here's a quick rundown on what she reported :
    "Love and Loathing are settled into New Piper's Cove, in Testabourne," she said.  "They're staying with the Gabrievs.  Things are fine there, and they managed to relocate a Dragon/Mazoku battle that was raging nearby to a safer place by instilling a love in them of the city... they wouldn't touch it after that."
    "I suppose Loathing is a bit superfluous," I sighed.  "Can't think of a good way to apply his Talent to PREVENTING conflicts."
    "He's actually the only negative thing in my report," Myth replied.  "He's not getting along well in Testabourne.  The Gabrievs are too... nice.  He's been hanging out with some of the local teenagers who are more traditional, conservative Testabournians, encouraging them to throw rocks at girls and stuff... the community isn't happy."
    "I'm sure Love can keep him under control," I said, sipping some fine wine.  Dream-wine can be quite tasty.. why would I dream bitter wine, after all?
    "Reason's going to Darata tomorrow, so no news there... Drama has already come out of the closet in Justivalero," Myth said, a bit of annoyance in her voice.  "He rode into town in a gleaming cobalt blue set of armor with a giant sword, and declared himself the Holy Knight of Justice, there to save their country from the terrible Mazoku.  They ate it up like... like..."
    "Pudding?  Bread?  Sugar cubes?"
    "They ate it up, at any rate," Myth said.  "A battle or two wandered into the country, and Drama gave the people the ability to actually slay Mazoku using ordinary swords which were blessed with his Talent.  The surviving ones fled, and the Dragons stayed to feast in the capital city, apparently."
    "Hmmmmmmm.  I see."
    "Paradox has already put hard reality bubbles over a number of towns in Ky, but they're apparently upset at being 'imprisoned'.  He didn't bother talking to any of them about it beforehand.  A few Mazoku tried to strike, but gave up fast and left."
    "That's a public relations nightmare waiting to happen," I noted.  "See if Love can swing by there and sort things out.  And Luck?"
    "...I don't know," Myth admitted.  "She took off for some random spot over the ocean, remember?  I went to the location with my wings, but she wasn't there."
    "I'm sure she got lucky and maybe found some undersea kingdom or some rubbish like that," I yawned.  "It'll be fine.  Sounds like a lovely report, Myth.  Thanks.  What's your opinion on things so far?"
    "My opinion?" she asked, not prepared for the question.
    "Well... I mean, we're doing what we can, right?" she asked.  "There's still a lot of places left we haven't protected, but that's because we're only eight people... already folks are migrating to the areas that are protected."
    "Oh?  And how did they find out?"
    Myth almost blushed.  "I.. sort of spread the story with my Talent that there were safe havens that the Lord of Nightmares had blessed.  It's almost the truth, right?  I hope I didn't do the wrong thing, I didn't confirm doing it with anybody..."
    "Oh, no no no!  It's an excellent idea!" I said, giving her a nice, encouraging smile.  "Brilliant work.  Feel free to do what you feel needs to be done.  Just as long as you don't sell us out to the Dragons or Mazoku like the traitor is doing."
    "The tr-traitor?" she asked.  Telltale stammer.  I knew why.  "Have you, ah, heard anything more?"
    "I'm still gathering evidence," I said.  "But soon, he'll be unmasked."
    "Or she," I said, mocking a yawn.  "It's quite late.  I believe I'll retire.  Thank you, Myth."
    She left quickly.  Very quickly.
    Yes... things were too good.
    I figured it out shortly after Myth left.  What was the one thing common in all her stories?  The Mazoku arrived, started attacking Dragons AND humans, just as they did over Sailoon.  But when the winged defenses protected the humans, did they stay and continue fighting Dragons?  No... they fled.
    The Mazoku weren't trying to fight a war against the Dragons.  They were trying to cause damage.  If they actually sat down and fought a nitty-gritty, down and dirty war, they would lose -- Shaburanigdo was not resurrected, and Lina had exterminated (directly or indirectly) two of the great lords.  There was no way they could win.  Instead, they were delaying, stalling, dragging it out by simply hitting the 'soft targets'... humans.
    And the Dragons... what stupid beasts!  They didn't realize this.  Blind anger brought on by hurting humans ("Preserve all life", you know) masked the true purpose, and kept the war rolling.
    I laughed for hours when I figured it out.  You can't BUY this kind of entertainment.
    Still, there was a disturbing note.  If the Mazoku weren't dull beasts, they had learned on the first round of attacks that certain locations were defended too heavily to bother with.  Would they continue punching at these defenses, or simply relocate?
    The next day, Myth returned to report.  No fights.
    No fights the day after that, either.
    Sailor Justice kept the shield going, but the population of volunteers started to slag off when the war seemed to be 'over'.  We compensated in two ways.  One, I would sneak out of the city and attack it myself, to spook people into running to the Palace and signing up... is that mean?  Perhaps.  Yet, so amusing, to watch them scurry, without realizing I was doing it for their own good!
    Secondly, Sailor Justice decided to take up a career signing.  It would be the world's first idol singer, may history forgive us.  This time, I wished Dayvid hadn't been so ingenious... he managed to make amplifiers, special instruments that operated by magic, and so on.  A weekly concert was held, and copies of the musical inventions were donated to any bands that wanted to play at these 'Sailoon Benefits Sponsored By Sailor Justice'.  The turnout was scarily large, musicians and listeners alike...
    You know, I could probably write a whole book on how this revolutionized the music industry, but I'm not going to, because I can FEEL cavities forming in my teeth when I think back to those awful, awful, cute and awful songs Amelia made.  Therefore, this is the first and last time I will approach the topic, and believe me, you will thank me for it in the long run.
    But to hear me describe things this way makes it look like everything was sunshine and roses.  Not so.
    I like to believe that every major event has a 'hint'.  If there were no hints, what fun would secrets be?  I've made it a life's calling to craft these hints and secrets, and had mastered embedding the hints so well that I could recognize them with ease.  History had dropped a hint in my lab several days later.
    It was nighttime, and I was wandering around the Palace, looking for something... anything... interesting to do.  I found Naga in the kitchen fixing herself a sandwich, and decided she would be entertaining enough.
    She hadn't worn her 'battle bikini' in awhile.  Instead, she was wearing more plain garb, nothing princessly, but in mandatory black.  And she still hadn't laughed more than some token gesture on occasion.
    I decided to be direct.
    "So, what's upsetting you?" I asked, without any hello or how do you do.
    "What?" she asked, because I hadn't used any hello or how do you do.
    "You're acting funny," I said.  "Why?"
    "I'm not acting funny," Naga said, continuing to prepare her sandwich delicacy.
    Why not push her buttons and find out?
    "War's hell, isn't it?" I asked, grinning as was my wont.  "The Killers are out in force."  That was her little word for those who would murder, specifically derived from the one that killed her mother.  It's good to know these things, isn't it?
    "Hah!" Naga scowled.  "What would you know about the Killers?  I suppose you're enough of one to count, but..."
    "That hurts," I said, taken mock-aback.
    "You're Mazoku, aren't you?" Naga asked.  "Like those ones who attacked.  Of course, they're gone now, probably off attacking other villages and towns.  And here we are, sitting behind the pretty white bubble, safe!  When will Amel.. when will any of you see how worthless white magic is?!  It's not doing any good!"
    "On the contrary," I stated.  "Most of the local villages have evacuated here to the main city.  They're safe and sound.  Farms can be rebuilt, after all, and volunteers can be had by the plenty this way."
    "It won't work.  They always find a way through," Naga said, in a low voice.  "Amelia's always too blind to see that, with... UGH.  Her SINGING.  She was always too upbeat to recognize this sort of thing.  You aren't, right?  You know it's not going to work.  The weird machine will throw a cog or something."
    "I've got faith in Dayvid's ability," I said.  "Besides, what other plan of action do we have?"
    "STRIKE!" Naga shouted, banging a fist on the counter.  The mustard jumped.  "We should be on the offense, not the defense!  Hitting the Mazoku with every ounce of black magic we have!!"
    "Black magic?  On Mazoku?"
    "It CAN work," Naga said.  "Mix it with Shamanism, and... a touch of White.  Just a little.  I've done... I bet I could do it."
    And she could.  I remember a report from my counterpart in that other world, so long ago, of Naga, the Mazoku Hunter.  To her, a 'little bit' of white magic was probably like a razor sharp sword.  Sure, she dresses and acts the evil sorceress, clumsy and predictable, but when things are really, really awful... well, it can bring out a lot in someone.
    Of course, that Naga was trapped out in the open, in the apocalypse.  This one was trapped in a little bunker in the apocalypse.  I wonder, which would have the most effect?  Which would drive her to new resolves and envelopes in pure frustration?
    Still, we didn't need a loose cannon.
    "Not everybody can fight a Mazoku, even if you think you can," I said.  "So we'll stay hidden away until it blows over.  It's the only way, given our resources--"
    "It's not going to be enough," Naga said, straightening her slouch.  She turned, and walked right out of the kitchen.  No closure or anything.  She even left her sandwich behind.  (I ate it, of course.  No sense wasting good food.)
    She had valid points, though.  If being cooped up with no real 'progress' drove her to odd behaviors, what would happen to the other winged?
    Perhaps it was time to check.  In hindsight, I rather regret it, but no sense crying over spilled milk.
    That night, Myth gave her report to me in a rustic mountain dream-cabin, cozy and comfy.  I think she was beginning to be a bit irritated by my playful attitude in locales, but didn't let it show... much.
    She had interesting news, however.
    "Nobody's come within fifty miles of Darata," Myth said.  "All the countries have had small towns raided outside the protected zones, but not Darata."
    "Reason must have an unusual tactic," I concluded.
    "The Mazoku also have stopped attacking Testabourne," she said.  "Not a tiny sliver of it has seen Mazoku or Dragon activity.  But Love reports that she isn't doing anything unusual, and neither is Loathing.  No Talents and no plans."
    "And the others?"
    "Not the same.  Paradox is going nuts trying to cover as much area as he can; the Mazoku have caught on that taunting him by blowing up everything just outside his zone annoys him," Myth said.  "And Drama is waging one heck of a war against these guys... as king."
    Even I had to pause and try to understand that one.
    "King?" I asked.
    "He's had himself crowned King of Justivalero," Myth said.  She didn't like the news either.  "The whole country's fanatical about their new savior.  I think he may be going a bit overboard... and the Dragons have been very, very good at hunting down Mazoku over Justivalero.  Abnormally good."
    "None of this sounds good," I said.  "We're not losing.  We're winning.  We're not SUPPOSED to be winning, we're supposed to be staying out of it.  Even over Sailoon, where you and I are, the Dragons have been doing unusually well with no.. apparent influence.  Oh, and what about Luck?"
    "Ah.. no word."
    "I don't like that, either," I said.  "And tonight, I heard another note of discord... no.  This isn't right.  Beastmaster Zelas-Metallum, who's likely in charge of the rabble, would not be doing this badly when we're not supposed to be doing anything.  I want all the winged to come to Sailoon for a war planning council and checkup.  I think they've been on their own too long... I'll deliver the messages personally."
    "Will Lina be coming?"
    Ah, the question.  First time my leadership has really been questioned.
    "I don't see any need to bother her," I said, dismissing it immediately.  "She's busy doing her own little thing.  I'm sure we can piece together the mysteries ourselves, yes?  What could possibly go..."
    I stopped myself fast.  That was a close one.  Did he hear it?  Unlikely.  And he was too busy being hunted down to bother dealing with it.  I was safe, had to be.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.