ne question remained unsolved.
    Why did the shield fall?
    The immediate response was to blame Dayvid.  I'm happy the population never learned he made the machine... otherwise, he could have been lynched.  But as the refugee camp picked up its losses and lamented the loss, the winged were accusatory.
    "I TOLD you guys it wouldn't work," Paradox said, hands in the air, giving up.  "Too many weak links.  Maybe you didn't get enough volunteers that day."
    "We had more than enough," Dayvid said.  He was pretty testy, not appreciating the attack on his work.
    "Then Lily.  Lily screwed up.  You shouldn't have trusted her that much!"
    "Lily doesn't make mistakes like that when white magic is concerned," I added, leaping to my son's benefit.
    "She could have been killed," Reason stated.
    A long pause held.  That had to be it.
    "We should have put more defense on the building," Amelia said.  No joy or sugar was dripped into her voice.  She seemed very... quiet.  Naga's vanishing and the terrible disaster had taken its toll.
    "Who would kill her, though?" I asked, rubbing my chin.  "And note that the Mazoku were there and waiting.  They had to have a hand in this, to be that prepared.  Someone on the inside is responsible."
    "Oh?  And who might THAT be?" Paradox asked.
    "A winged," I concluded.
    Nobody was happy with that answer.
    "Absurd!" Drama shouted.  "Why would we sabotage our own efforts?  We fought to defend that city!  Loathing gave his life to do so!  At any rate, we would have all died if not for Luck being on our side!"
    "Was she?" I asked.  Time to sow some suspicion.
    "Of course!" Luck wailed.  "Waaah!  It's such a horrible horrible time!  I wouldn't want anybody to get hurt!"
    "I don't get why it has to be a winged," Myth said.
    I waggled an eyebrow at Reason.  The looks of comprehension I was getting were clear.
    So, she spoke up.  "The attack happened on the night all of us were out doing as we pleased inside Sailoon," Reason stated.  "This means one of two things.  One, that whoever murdered Lily did so at that time to catch us all unprepared and in one location.  Two, that it did not happen before now because the instigator was not at Sailoon until now... this was our first visit since initial departure.  Therefore, we are equally suspect."
    I wish Myth hadn't jumped into the fray the way she did.
    "Wait!" she said.  "Xelloss knows who did it!  He's been tracking a traitor among us for awhile now.  I think it's time we settled this!"
    Of course, everybody looked expectantly at me.
    "Who, me?" I asked innocently.
    "What proof you got?" Paradox asked.  "You don't have anything on me!"
    The boy will never learn, will he?
    "YOU did it!!" Drama shouted, drawing his hard long sword.  "Craven dog!  How dare you betray us?!"
    "Whoa, wait!!" Paradox shouted, backing up, fast.  "I just... I just assumed you idiots would accuse me, because I betrayed you before!  Not that I did it this time!  I've been busting my balls trying to help out!  If anybody screwed us over, it was YOU, pal!"
    "I am honorable!" Drama defended.
    "Oh yah?" Paradox asked.  "I wasn't going to bring this up, but... YOU have been cutting deals with the Dragons!  Don't think I can't see you just because you're thousands of miles away, brother.  You've fought and feasted side by side with them.  Didn't Lina specifically say not to trust the Dragons OR Mazoku?  Did those lizards set you up as King of Justivalero, huh?  Maybe an emperor one day?"
    "...fine!!  It's true!  But it makes sense to consort with the Dragons.  They mean no harm towards us!  When the Mazoku are all dead and buried, we'll have peace for aeons!  I simply wanted to play my part in saving humanity!"
    "Sure, with yourself as the leader of the species," Paradox accused.  "Lord of all he surveys!  Except for his Dragon overlords, of course."
    "I did NOT cause this incident, regardless," Drama said.  "I would never ally with the Mazoku.  Unlike... Reason, for example!"
    (Okay, by this point, things were totally out of control.  I decided that instead of worrying, I'd just sit back and watch the fray.  Entertainment can be found anywhere, and is a positive force in dark times.  I'd interject when they were finished.)
    Reason didn't even flinch at the accusation.  "What proof do you have?"
    "I saw you sneaking out of the city before the attack," Drama said.  "In full Mazoku disguise!"
    "I studied Amelia's transformation pen, yes," Reason said, totally unemotional.  "I developed a Mazoku disguise.  What better way to learn of our enemies movements than to move with them?  I was unable to return fast enough to avoid the disaster, however."
    "You consorted with those things?" Paradox asked.  "Why didn't you tell us??  We could have used that information to do something--"
    "I was not trying to defeat them," Reason said.  "I was trying to learn from them."
    Nobody said anything for a moment.  Insert pause.
    Myth broke the silence.  "What are you talking about?"
    "I was learning their ways and intents, to decide which force we should ally with," Reason said.  "I had a Dragon disguise as well.  Sitting out the war was unreasonable.  The only way for humanity to survive would be to pick a side.  So, I researched both forces to decide which we should support, with intent to present my findings when complete.  I did not encourage or aid either side.  Unlike Myth."
    "What?!" Myth gagged.
    "You have been using your Talents to write the Dragons as heroes of the conflict over Sailoon," Reason said.  "I could detect the patterns as far away as Darata."
    You know, I suspected Myth had something up her sleeve she didn't want to admit.  There were the nervous pauses during her reports and my queries... especially about who the traitor's gender was..
    "Uhh... uh.." she paused, again nervous.  She gathered her spine before continuing.  "So what?!  The Dragons told me that they needed my help.  And I don't see any reason not to help them, if we can!  Even if we're using them just to save ourselves.  If--"
    Unbidden, Luck burst into bipolar tears.  "I confess!  I betrayed you all!  WAAAAAAAHHH!!!"
    Nobody was quite sure how to deal with that statement.
    "Ah.... how?" Myth asked, genuinely confused.
    "I found a race of undersea people out in the ocean who were going to take over the world and usher in an age of peace and tranquility, and I randomly chose to help them!" Luck admitted.  "They were all set to launch warships and strike!  Except that a virus I was carrying which humans are immune to got into their civilization and wiped them all out in a few days.  I'm sorry."
    Again with the awkward pause.
    "No harm done?" Paradox guessed.  "I mean... ah.  Okay.  You're forgiven and stuff."
    "YAAAAAAYY!!!!" Luck cheered.  "That's great!  Besides, Xelloss is the one that really betrayed us all."
    "Me?" I asked.  "Golly.  That's a surprise to myself, even."
    "I can tell," Luck said.  "I guessed and I always guess right.  You're gonna betray us."
    Maybe it was time to steer this topic elsewhere?
    "Look, this is very amusing," I said, "But I'm afraid you're all wrong.  Nobody here is directly responsible for the disaster at Sailoon."
    "Then who did it?!" Paradox asked.  "I don't like being accused of this crap.  I want to know who we can properly accuse!"
    "I don't think we should go into it," I replied.  "Sometimes, guys... sometimes it's best to let sleeping dogs lie in peace.  But if you're all determined..."
    Everybody nodded, except for one of them.  They wanted to know.  Very well, then.
    I turned, to face her.
    "Why didn't you tell us earlier, Love?" I asked.
    I could tell from her expression even minutes ago that she was ready to talk.  Despair had her, a despite being winged of eternal hope and joy.  Very little could resist that pull.
    "I thought you'd hurt him," Love replied, voice quiet, like that of a child.  "If you knew he was working with the Mazoku, you'd have to hurt him somehow.  I loved him.  I didn't want him to be hurt..."
    "Whoa... hold up," Paradox said, stunned.  "You mean--"
    "Loathing wanted to make amends... he did!" Love protested.  "He told me, right before he went off to fight them, that he was sorry.  He wanted his twin sister to forgive him, and.. I did.  He finally said that he l-loved me... and he ran off to try and save you all, but he only made things worse.  He never knew how to make things better, for himself or anybody, but I loved him anyway, no matter what mistakes he made.  Even the mistake of killing Lily and letting the Mazoku in.  I swear, I didn't know exactly what he was going to do... I don't think I wanted to know.  Because if I did, I'd have to stop him, forcibly... or you others would.  So I betrayed you.  I didn't tell you he was a danger.  This is my fault.  All my fault."
    I can't describe how hard this was on her.  Not because there are no words, but because I can't grasp the concept myself.  It clearly wasn't the time to do a whole pitchforks and torches, bring us the betrayer type scene.  Diffusing words were needed.
    "What's done is done," I started.  "Loathing's gone, and he tried to redeem his action before he left us.  All of you have gone behind our backs, made your own deals, and betrayed us in one sense or another.  At least now all cards are on the table, and we can be totally honest with each other.  I'm not a member of your family, not in your eyes, but I think I can comfortably trust every one of you now that we've got this dirty laundry nicely washed.  We've got a lot of refugees to deal with, and all of you need to go continue to defend your lands.  Can we agree to put this mess behind us?  There is not much time left in the world, and I think we've had our fill of damage.  I know I have."
    I knew I did a good speech.  Myth was writing it down for her book.
    "I'm sorry," Love added again, almost at a whisper.
    "It's... it's fine, Love," Drama said, unused to this subtle emotional stuff.  "Nightmare is right.  It's been enough of a mess.  I think a full round of forgiveness is in order for every one of us."
    "Hey... hey, now you hold on there.  I didn't DO ANYTHING!" Paradox yelled.  "Here I am the first person pegged as a traitor and I'm the only one of you people who was totally on the level.  I think I deserve a medal for that kind of--"
    "Oh, do shut up, Paradox," I yawned, injecting some levity.  "We forgive you for being a loudmouth.  Is that satisfactory?"
    "Hmphh," he grunted, but seemed to accept this.
    "We're not going to survive all of this, are we?" Love asked.  "You used the right word.  It's a mess.  The world IS ending."
    "...I have to agree," Myth said.  "I've projected this story arc.  This is just the beginning of the end.  No matter how successful we are, or whatever failures happen, the last page is coming.  What are we going to do?"
    "Whatever we can do, I suppose," I suggested.
    And then Luck came up with the one thing I most feared.  The one thing that so directly involved me, and yet... none of them knew how.
    "We could evacuate as many people as we can into the World of Dreams!" she suggested.  "Even if this world goes boom, they'll be safe there!  It was our first home and it's separate from here."
    "Right!" Paradox said, taking the optimist approach.  This wasn't good, this wasn't good at all... "Hard reality separation.  It's always the most powerful defense!  If we relocate as many people as we can, and dream up a stable environment... it'd be trivial with my Talents combined with those of everybody here."
    "...we could save people," Love repeated.  "We could make things better..."  A light of hope rekindled.
    "Working together, anything is reasonable," Reason reasoned.
    Oh, this does my heart ill.
    I wish they hadn't realized this simple plan.  This simple, wonderful plan... because now, I was going to have to let them down.  I was going to have to obey my mistress.
    I was going to have to betray them.
    May this volume serve as some redemption for me in aftermath.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.