Lina Inverse's being snapped into sharp relief, jerked back from the fuzzy brink of nothingness by an unseen hand.
    She rolled to a halt, on the ground that was provided for her, and got back to her feet in a flash.  "Who--?"
    "Hello," Xelloss said, smiling sadly to her.  "Glad I could bring you back before everything went kaput.  I trust you aren't harmed?  No broken bones, no mental injury?"
    "Xelloss?!  What's going on?" Lina asked.  "Where's Gourry?  Where are the others?"
    "You're in the World of Dreams," he said.  "And I'm sad to say, we are the only two living things left from our world.  More or less.  I realize this may come as a shock to you, but there isn't a better way to present it to you..."
    "More or..." Lina started, horrified.  She grabbed Xel by his robes, shaking him with strength she wouldn't have if she wasn't using the dream of her own anger.  "EXPLAIN.  Now.  Small words, no enigmas, no 'secrets'."
    "Ahh... I think... she'd best explain," Xel said, weakly pointing off to the side.
    Lina turned to look, and faced the Lord of Nightmares... the small girl, still wearing the chains she was bound to the altar with.  She seemed profoundly sad, profoundly old... her eyes looking at nothing.
    "I Was Hoping This Would Not Happen," the Lord said.  "But It Has.  Order Has Won.  My World Has Ended."
    And all along, Lina was thinking : This can't be right.  That's not how it works.  I save the world, it's my job, that's just what happens.  Some miracle is pulled off in the eleventh hour, evil is defeated and we all go home happy and unchanged.  The end of the world was supposed to just be a threat...
    No.  This wasn't helping.  She went into problem solving mode, her brain clicking overtime to understand.
    "How?  How did he win?" Lina asked.
    "Look, And Understand..." the Lord said, turning to gaze into the distance.  Lina looked as directed, focusing... on a hole in reality, showing something far away, farther than the concept of distance really allowed...
    And in that distance, a glowing mesh of silver lines had formed... hanging in the void, the oblivion of the world she were previously sinking into.  The mesh allowed one cubelike structure for each dot of red light, each wavering form... one cube for every man, woman and child on earth, alive, but sleeping, and sleeping forever.  Lina FELT what it was, rather than having it explained to her...
    It was hard to tear her eyes away from the vision, because she knew what it was.
    "The world... that's what the world turned into?" Lina asked.  "Because Lara of the Mazoku busted it to shreds, and Luna of the Dragons saved all the life, and... and Order ORGANIZED it?"
    "It's a nasty little bit of work, isn't it?" Xelloss said, pouting in distaste.  "Forever alive and preserved, just like the Dragons wanted, but totally inert.  Static.  Absolutely no chaos to it at all, simply the essence of life, self repeating, self perpetuating.  If this is Order's idea of heavenly paradise, I want my money back."
    "It Is The End Of My World," the Lord of Nightmares explained, with a disappointed tone.  "And The Beginning Of His Perversion Of My World.  Twisting My Own Chaos To Organize Itself, Just As He Swore To Do, To Prove That Order Dominates Chaos In The End.  And Now.. It Will Be Like This Forever."
    "...Gourry... Amelia, Zelgadis... all my friends are in there?" Lina asked.
    "And we can't retrieve them, because the Order is too strong for you and me to even dig a single person out," Xelloss said.  "I'm afraid he's played us all, Mazoku, Dragons and humans alike.  All that's left are you, me.. and the World of Dreams."
    Lina stood, staring at the vision of the new world order... unbelieving, unwanting.
    "We Can Start Again," the Lord of Nightmares said.  "I Prepared.  I Ensured That Xelloss And Yourself, Two Beings Of Strong Chaos, Would Survive.  I Prepared The World Simply With The Winged, And I Can Do It Again Even With Two.  You Will Be The Adam And Eve Of The Next World--"
    "No," Lina said.
    "Actually, I object to being called Adam as well," Xelloss said, smiling.  "Seems like an unusual name.  If I can, I'll take on my old moniker of Xelan Reshtag.  Now, Lina--"
    "No," she repeated.
    "No to what?"
    "No to it ALL!" Lina said, lashing out, banishing the vision of the new waking world from her sight, turning on the two others.  "Are you nuts?  Are you INSANE?  What could have possibly... look, Miss-Lord-Of-Nightmares, what made you think I'd want to be the breeding pig to patch up your blatant errors?"
    "It's not like that, it's not like that..." Xelloss said, backing away from the raging Lina.  "She explained it to me a long time ago.  We can make it better this way!  Rebuild the world without the flaws it once had, start fresh.  With your wit and my intelligence, anything is possible--"
    "No, no, NO!" Lina said, grabbing piles of raw dreamstuff -- because that was all the World of Dreams was, reverted to the cradle of life it once was -- and hurling them at the pair.  "Not interested!"
    "You Have Little Choice," the Lord of Nightmares said.
    "I do too have a choice!" Lina said.  "I can just sit here for eternity and do nothing.  And that's perfectly fine with me!  Give me ONE good reason why I should play along with this ridiculous plan!!"
    The two opposing figures fell silent.  Lina tapped her foot, impatiently waiting...
    Finally, Xelloss cleared his throat.
    "Please... Lina, look, let me explain something," Xelloss said, floating to her side.  "The big secret, I suppose.  I haven't really thought it wise to tell you until now, but given the circumstances..."
    Lina sighed, exasperated.  "Yeah, what?"
    "Lina..... I adore you," Xelloss said, taking her hand.  (Lina's eyes widened immediately.)  "I truly do.  That's the final secret.  I've followed your life for so many years, and everything you do is so wonderfully delightful... your personality, your behaviors, your likes and loves, it's all so good.  Even when we argue and fight, I feel so alive!  I didn't want to come between you and Gourry before, but now that we have this chance, I would be HONORED to--"
    Lina jerked her hand away, as if it was bitten by a snake.
    "This... this all doesn't matter!" she said, blushing visibly.  "There has to be a better solution than this.  If you think for a minute that...."
    Her eyes trailed away from glaring at the Lord of Nightmares, down.. to the chains still on her wrists.
    "Wait," Lina said.
    "I Have Eternity To Wait For You To Realize This Is The Way," the Lord responded.
    "You're still bound to the altar, aren't you?" Lina asked, pointing to the silver manacles.  "In truth, you are, even if I can't see anything other than those chains.  You can still be controlled.  Look!"
    Lina grasped her necklace, and pulled hard -- the thin string snapping like her temper, fist clenched around the loop that still held the Key of Order.  The silver sheen of it seemed almost unreal here, like mercury that happened to want to float around in the air in a keylike shape.
    "Until someone sets you free, you have to obey us humans," she said.  "Lara didn't need this key to end the world, but it's needed to REALLY find the end of the world.  Which is exactly what I'm going to do!"
    Xelloss started to look concerned.  "Lina... don't do anything rash, please..."
    "I can do anything I want through you," Lina said, approaching the Lord.  "Remake that world.  Sure, it'll be a tough climb against Order, but me combined with you while perverting his own power... fair's fair, isn't it?  He uses us, we'll use him."
    "That.. Is Inadvisable," the Lord said.  Despite the echoing voice, she had the vague appearance of a frightened little girl.. a dichotomy that Lina tried not to concentrate on.
    "L-sama has a very valid point.  That world is dead and tired," Xelloss said.  "It was doomed to collapse.  Too many flaws built right into it, and I don't just mean the Altar of Order.  There are things there that Order exploited, helping him steal it away.  If you go and restore everything the way it was -- assuming that's even possible, you understand -- what's to stop him from snatching it from under our noses once more, through some other means?"
    "Then I won't make it exactly the same," Lina said, glancing over her shoulder at Xelloss.  "She's god, and I'm her avatar, and I can do as I please through her.  I can make it right, WITHOUT just shucking off everybody I love in the process!"
    "And what way will you do it?" Xelloss asked.  "Lina, listen to reason.  It will take time to figure out the way to rebuild the world.  We should do it the natural way.  If you blow off half-cocked right now, and make ONE mistake, everything's gone, even this chance.... Lina... please.."
    Lina turned, and started to walk off.  "This is the Dream World, so I'll dream," she said.  "And I'll find a good solution."
    Floating to her side again, Xelloss started to follow.  "Okay.  I'll accompany, and help you.  Two heads are better than one, right?  Together, we can--"
    "No, Xelloss."
    "I really must insist..."
    "I said NO!"
    "You can't stop me," Xelloss reminded weakly.  "I don't want to go against your wishes, but I can't leave you be on this.  Lina.. I mean it.  I do care about you.  And finally, I can admit to that.  It's RIGHT, now."
    Lina paused, in her tracks.  Something inside her tugged, pulling her back from her long march.  She closed her eyes... not sure how to say it, but needing to say it.
    "Xel... I appreciate this," she said.  "And ... if things weren't how they were, maybe I'd... but I can't.  No.  I'm invoking my promise on you, Xelloss.  You swore to me, so long ago when we sought the Mirror Lores, that you'd leave me alone.  You'd go away, if I asked you to.  I have to ask you to do that now.  I'm sorry."
    "I.. I did make that promise, yes," Xelloss said, retreating a pace.  "I did.  I'll honor it, Lina."
    And in a move that surprised him, Lina reached out, and gave him a tender hug.
    "Thanks for understanding," she said.  She let him go, and walked off.. into the dreamstuff, shaping itself around her as she focused her will, leaving the god and her minion standing.
    Xelloss inhaled deeply, and looked at his god, a look of hurt and misunderstanding.  "Why did you set things up this way?  She would never have agreed.  I told you that.  You got my hopes up, regardless.  Are you that intent on destroying everything good you've got left?"
    "No..." the Lord of Nightmares said, watching Lina leave.  "On The Contrary.  Everything I Had Hoped Is Taking Place.  Finally, There Will Be Rebirth."
    A world of unformed ideas, half baked notions and incomplete concepts taunted Lina.  She stood on the threshold of dreaming, now very raw and wild, compared to the tamed and highly developed landscape it once was.
    This wasn't going to be an easy task.
    This might not even be a possible task.  But Lina was determined, and as many bandits, chefs, and several evil villains can attest to, nothing stops that force once it starts rolling.  The trick was to get it rolling, get that momentum going.
    "Alright.. whatever you are, listen up," she said, focusing her energy through her words, as she often did when facing an insurmountable task.  "I know you dreams don't think I'm hot stuff.  I'm not that good at imagining stuff.  But I'm all you things have to work with, so let's get cracking.  Got it?"
    The dreams didn't respond.  But even if nothing was actually there to hear, Lina felt more confident after having said it.  She took a step forward.
    Zelgadis had visions before, things to explain what was going on.  How did he start that?  Oh, right; he drank the Water of Reflection.  Lina dreamed up a bucket of the stuff -- hey, nobody ever said she was cautious -- and drank it all.  It was as good a place to begin as any.
    Now, she just needed direction...
    "The goal here," she mused aloud, "Is to figure out where the world went wrong.  Because I think something was foul even before my sisters started messing up the place on Order's order.  I gotta go back and find the roots of this, and work from there."
    She took a step backwards.  Time flowed with her.
    There was the disaster at Chaos Island, yes.  She could see it from outside now, the running, the screaming, the fighting... it really was a total mess, now that she could see it clearly.  Chaotic and frantic, with people doing things without knowing why, people not sure what to do, people doing things despite knowing that they shouldn't.  And through it all, Order, threading the events like a needle, to set off two triggers; one to break the world, one to organize it.  Both together to dominate it.  But that wasn't the big problem.  Something farther back smelled more.  She walked backwards again.
    And now, she was fighting here in the dreamworld, annihilating Nightmare and claiming the helm of the Knight of the Lord of Nightmares.  Her comrades cheered her on, and.. she finally admitted something to Gourry in confidence, that she wouldn't admit to before.  No, this isn't the problem.  Back.
    Here she was, with the Lord of Nightmares sending a wild chain of events starting with a butterfly and ending with a book falling into her bag... or did it start before that?  Back, back.  To where Silverquick was planning the book room, to where the ultimate wizard, Merlin Giga, was making his pact... neither of them really understanding why.  Neither of them could see how trivial and important their efforts would be.  No, this wasn't the problem; this wasn't even the right direction to look.  This felt more like the solution.
    Lina paused a moment.  How was she seeing all this?  Was it some fantasy her imagination was playing out?
    Oh, wait; she didn't have much of an imagination.  That meant something else was at play.  Grinning, confident in that, she moved back, and to the left...
    And now something she DEFINITELY had never seen before, never had explained; the birth of the world.  She could see the wingless, the cast out, shivering in the cold, real earth, as the Mazoku and Dragons tore the countryside to shreds, the first step in their eternally bloody saga of war.
    "Why did She forsake us?!" the one who would be Drama asked.  His words were childlike, frightened, unformed.  "What did we do wrong?"
    "Nightmare betrayed us," the one who would be Reason said.  "Nightmare and Myth."
    "I didn't want to do it," Myth said.  "He made me.  He scared me and made me, and then he tried to undo me.  She said we shouldn't do that."
    "What do we do now?" Loathing asked.  "This world scares me.  I don't like it.  We're going to be harmed now.  Those beasts aren't us, but they move and think and half of them want to destroy this world and the other half want to calm this world."
    "We are not safe here," Love stated.  "We need to go, we need to hide.  But we can prosper.  We can multiply, as Myth almost did, and in numbers we can find safety, and perhaps in our chaos, we can win Her favor once more."
    Lina's mind floated, not in a ghostlike sense, but of memory playing out from another's memory.  She focused, feeling this feed...
    You're showing me this, aren't you? she asked the Lord of Nightmares.
    Because You Want To Know.
    Lina turned back to her task.  She was on the right track now.  She went backwards, back to the cradle of the World of Dreams, with the winged ones before the fall.  They were very playful, designing new ideas like Reason and Loathing, with the most beautiful of them all experimenting with something he termed Nightmare...
    Something was missing from here.
    The Dragons and the Mazoku only started showing up when they were moved to the waking world, having matured enough to defy their creator.  Unlike the wingless, both breeds had a tinge of order to them, the order of infinity and the order of nothingness.
    They're the fault, aren't they? Lina asked.
    I Did Not Intend Them To Be.  I Wanted Them To Serve As Light And Dark Reflections Of Humanity, Saviors And Temptations.  As Fleeting As The Air And As Real As The Mountain.  But They Became Forces Onto Themselves, Guided Subtly By Order's Eventual Plan.  He Subverted My Children, Even My Children Of Extremes.  Watch.  Learn.
    This time, Lina wasn't the one doing the moving; she twisted around, looping through the needle of time, to.. somewhere ELSE.
    It looked a lot like a school but wasn't really a school, not really, this was just a way for her to see.  Small children ran around, playing and laughing, ignoring the many boxes placed in the back of the room, boxes storing their work.  But one child, a small boy, was opening a battered yellow box.
    "She plans to make two races of reflection," he said, studying the contents.  "Her butterflies will be the master race.  I will change that.  They will run scared while her reflections dominate, led in the end by two of her own creatures.  Two knights to guide their reflection's dark and light intentions into my hands.  It will be trivial to design and organize such an outcome."
    The boy spun a web of silver, coalescing into things Lina couldn't focus on, sinking into the sensitive, newborn flesh of this world like lead into quicksand.
    "Stop!  What are you doing?!"
    A small girl ran from her playmates, to confront the boy.  (Lina automatically recognized her as the Lord of Nightmares -- was this why she presented herself as a small child earlier?)
    "You challenged me," Order said.  "I have responded.  Make your move, and then allow it to play out."
    The girl chewed her lip nervously, looking worriedly at her world.  "You're going to use my butterflies against me!"
    "Order controls Chaos, and thus your own creations will control you," Order said.  "You cannot stop that from happening."
    She froze in fear, but... then, started to smile.  From a pocket, she withdrew a tiny wisp of light, almost like a butterfly.  "I will place my own knight at the end of the world.  And then we shall see who truly will influence the second rebirth."
    (Lina tried to focus on the wisp.. to give it some sort of form, a face.  When the face turned up, to look back at her, she understood; because she was looking into her own eyes.)
    Lina pulled herself out of torpor, out of the hazy dream of things long past.  All around her, now, raw dreamstuff, nothing out of the ordinary, no visions to withhold save the Lord of Nightmares herself, no different than she had been in the dream.
    "That... that fink," Lina offered.  "I swear, kids can be so mean."
    "We Were Not Truly Children.  Not In Your Sense.  But Yes, We Were... Immature."
    "So why didn't you just destroy all of them and save the world a lot of trouble?  The Mazoku and Dragons.  Then they wouldn't have prompted Lara and Luna to want to break and save the world."
    The Lord, still bound in the chains, shook her head.  "That Would Not Solve The Problem.  Humans Triggered These Events.  Guided By Mazoku And Dragons, Yes, But Ultimately Guided By Order.  He Prophesized This.  The Combination Could Have Been Shattered, But The Humans Still Would Not Have Been Chaotic Enough To Resist That, In The Long Run.  Besides... The Time Is Past To Fix Errors.  All We Can Do Is Make Adjustments, Not Restart History.  How Will You Change The World, Lina Inverse?  How Will You Remove The Weaknesses?"
    Ideas formed around Lina, sparks of color and light.  She was forming a plan.
    "I think I know what can be done," she said.  "But there's still one thing missing.  I can't say how I know, but I know..... what could it be?"
    "Rely On Your Talent, And Find Out."
    "My what?"
    "Your Human Instincts.  Your Natural Chaos."
    Understanding approached her.  Lina reached past the Lord of Nightmares, relying on her luck to randomly grab some idea that was floating around.  It was a potluck at best, a million in once chance that she'd grab anything useful... but that randomness was just what she needed.
    A fleeting vision passed, of Zelgadis, right before the collapse, and of his promise.
    "I've got it," Lina said, forming a fist, trapping her ideas.  "Now.  What do I do?"
    "You Hold The Key Of Order Still," the Lord of Nightmares said.  "With That, I Can Be Freed And The Altar Smashed.  Give Me Your Command, And We Will Finish This."
    The Knight of the Lord of Nightmares drew the key from her shirt, and unfolded her wings.  "Divine machinery of the gods, huh... but this isn't going to be easy, you know.  Easy for everybody else, but for you and me..."
    "With You, Anything Is Possible," the Lord said.  "That Is Why I Chose You."
    In the waking world, in the organized world, Order was total.  He was his matrix, encasing and containing every living thing that the Lord of Chaos held dear.  Order felt no emotion over the victory; it simply was, as he always knew it would be, and this state would persist until the end of time, which was endless...
    He felt a tiny sting of abberation in his perfection.
    Attention focused, to the small figure, the butterfly hovering in front of the infinite plain of his new toy world.  The chained Chaos was on her shoulders, and her hair had gone yellow, from the influence of Chaos on her person.
    YOU STILL RESIST? Order asked.
    "I'm on the home turf," Lina said, addressing the being.  "You may have been naughty and swiped the players, but the court's still here.  It just needs rebuilding."
    "There Will Be Rebirth," the Lord of Nightmares stated.  "Ours, Not Yours."
    Lina peered over her shoulder, at her companion.  "Check with me on this.  Can we actually kill this guy?  It would really make our lives a hell of a lot easier..."
    But the Lord shook her head.  "No, Not Kill.  We Are Equal.  But You Can Contend With Him."
    "Right.  Time to do some redecorating," Lina said.  She reached inside herself, to the core of the power she was able to draw from the Lord of Chaos.  And silently prayed that this would work without anybody exploding, herself in particular.
    It worked.
    Her wings started spreading to full width... and growing, and growing.  The illuminated brilliance of them going beyond compare, beyond the simple little concept of an insect's flight apparatus.  They expanded to twenty times size, then to the point where size wasn't an imaginable concern...
    Strands of the matrix extended, an infinite number of them, threatening to overwhelm Lina with the sheer reality of everything.  Any instincts to snap off a spell had to be suppressed; this was definitely not that sort of fight.  She simply grasped whatever she was manipulating, and held it out in front of her, as a shield...
    The two powers finally collided.  Lina blacked out, or at least imagined that she had blacked out, before pulling herself back and trying to stave off Order's influence, the desire to join the collective mind of humanity, of the Mazoku, of the Dragons and winged alike... asleep forever and alive forever--
    Gourry was in there.  She could be there as well.  Order whispered the promise of it in her ear, tempting her.
    A part of her wondered, Would I be with him?  Together, forever?  Everybody else was separate, in different cells of the matrix...
    Order couldn't give a satisfactory answer, and Lina snapped completely out of it.
    "Whoaaa," she gasped, getting her wits back together.  "Close one."
    "Strike," the Lord said.  "He Has No More Weapons He Can Use."
    Lina twisted her wings ninety degrees, making a razor's edge with them, and quickly slashed at the structure that supported Order's new reality...
    In a silent scream of disapproval, Order was purged from this world, his being pushed out.  Without him, the new world order went down as well; the lives of the people drifted in the void more randomly, their organizing force gone.
    The wings stopped being larger than the mind could safely grasp without needing a quiet lie down somewhere, in a mere instant.
    "...that was the easy part, wasn't it?" Lina said, looking back at her companion.
    The little girl nodded.
    "Okay, then..." Lina said, cracking her knuckles.  "Let's get to work."
    The way Lina figured the world could be rebuilt was pretty straightforward.  She couldn't even claim full credit for it.
    Dayvid had it figured out, when he made Dream-Sailoon.  Everybody remembers just a little bit of the world.  If you get enough heads together, anything is possible.  Possible, but difficult...
    Thankfully, time was not a law to be noticed, as the work continued... memory after memory taken by Lina from the floating minds, careful reassembly proceeding like a six billion piece puzzle, interlocking parts, conflicting parts, decisions to be made, changes implemented.  Slowly, the world repairs to a state... almost like it was before.  Fractal and strange but similar.  Close enough.
    The people, returned to where they wanted to be.. some, to who they wanted to be.  Which was also close enough, if not wholly accurate.  Every bit in a place, if not its true place.  Odd and misaligned, curiously new and beautiful...
    Lina had to pause, to take a break, after her mind told her she had been at it for several weeks.  Expending so much effort outside of any reality that you're comfortable with was like living underwater on the moon in a thousand gravities.
    "I'm getting tired," she said.  "I've got to stop.  I can't do this."
    Keep Going, the Lord urged.  You're Almost There.
    The process can't be calculated in terms of how much work was involved or how long it took.  It could be said to be infinite and infinitesimal.  Lina labored on and on, past when her confused mind said she shouldn't be able to move a muscle or think a thought.
    Still, the job was eventually completed--
    And in one, great rush of relief, time restarts.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.