vening chirps like a cricket.  The buzz of neon spells is the only sound on the streets; tiny pools of sound, cheers and groans coming from gambling casinos form around the doors of popular night life venues.  People put their stakes up, and come up smiling or busted.  The rest of the population sleeps.
    Lina wasn't sleeping.  She tried to, convincing herself it was basically over and she could rest up without worry.  She even had a full argument with herself that this was the case, but apparently lost, sitting up in bed, quite awake.
    It was one of those nights when she really wished she could get this stuff off her chest, but had no way to.  Too many secrets, personal or otherwise, to bottle up...
    Turning in surprise, Lina realized someone was actually knocking on her door.  She reached for her sword, propped against the wall, and called : "Come in."
    A blonde head poked through the door, eyes closed.  "Uh, are you... decent?  I don't mean to wake you up or anything--"
    Sighing, Lina set the sword aside.  "C'min, Gourry.  I'm decent."
    Gourry peeked with one eye to confirm that, and walked in, closing the door quietly behind himself.  "I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
    "No, of course not.  So, what brings you here?"
    "Uhhh..." Gourry said, rubbing the back of his head.  "Nothing.  I mean, not nothing, something.  But nothing, really.  Just... um."
    "You couldn't sleep either, huh?" Lina asked.
    "No, I was sleeping just-- either?  You mean you're having trouble sleeping?" Gourry asked.  He took a nearby chair, facing Lina.  "Why?  What's up?"
    "It's nothing," Lina said automatically.
    "Ohhh," Gourry nodded.  "One of THOSE nothings, like my nothing.  Aren't those really a pain?  I mean, it's like, nothing, but you KNOW it's something but you can't say the something because it's not the kind of thing you can stick words to.  I just figured it was nothing words fit on because I didn't know the right words on account of being dense."
    "Eh, everybody feels like that sometimes, and-- hey!  You're not dense."
    "But you say I'm dense a lot," Gourry said.
    "I don't... okay, you can be clueless and dense, but.. not all the time, okay?" Lina admitted.  "Look, I'll show you.  I'll explain my nothing then you can explain yours.  Got it?"
    "Okay, I'll try," Gourry smiled, figuring it was a game of some sort.
    "And if you tell anybody, I'll roast your eyeballs on a spit and tap-dance on your grave!!" Lina warned.
    "Really??" Gourry asked, horrified.
    "No, Gourry, not really.  ...but don't tell anybody, okay?"
    "Oh, sure!  No problem."
    "Look... you know that second book I got?" Lina asked.
    "Uh-huh.  You said I shouldn't tell anybody about that, either."
    "It's got a prophecy in it," Lina said.  "And it's one only I can read, it seems, which means it has to be about ME, somehow.  I think.  That's worrying.  I learned a long time ago that you don't want to get tangled in prophecy because even if it's good for other people at times, it's really, really bad for the person who's at the center of it.  Understand?"
    "But that's not the specific thing that's got me up tonight," Lina continued anyway.  "It's... I don't think this is going to be as easy as I've been saying it is.  Quests don't just go 'Well, we found the sacred ring of holy magic fire water so and so, guess that's it' and everybody goes home.  Stuff has to happen.  Usually bad stuff."
    "I... think I see what you're saying," Gourry said.  "See, in the stories, there's always a bad guy and a good guy and something they both want or something, and the good guy has to beat the bad guy before it's really over.  You mean like that, right?"
    "You ever seen the bad guy win?"
    "Heck no!  Stories don't end that way!"
    "Yeah, well, life isn't a story, Gourry," Lina reminded.  "And I think.. I'm worried.  I can't see my future, Gourry.  Those spells should show me, good or bad, what happens, and I can't see anything.  And what I DID manage see.. it's all very worrying.  And you know why?  It's because even if I have a vague idea of what's going to happen, I don't know how or when!  I don't like bad surprises.  Zelgadis kept telling me that one day, my luck would run out, and things would go wrong and I never bothered to think about what COULD go wrong before because I preferred to look on the bright side and really I still do, I do hope things'll turn out okay but that's a hope, you see?  Not a I KNOW things'll turn out okay like I usually have, and... and I'm making no sense at all, am I?"
    Gourry processed that.
    "No..." he said.  "I get it.  You're afraid."
    "WHAT?!" Lina said.  "I am NOT afraid!  Of all the--"
    "That's what you're saying, isn't it?" Gourry said.  "A worry because you hope things will be okay and don't know if they will means you're afraid of what's around the corner.  But ne, Lina, that's okay!  It's not like you were able to read the future before, either, and you did just fine.  Plus, everybody gets scared sometimes."
    "I don't," Lina said, looking off.
    "Aww, sure you do.  You just don't admit it," Gourry smiled.  "But Lina, don't worry so much!  You're not alone here, you know.  I'll protect you, and you've got all these friends and heck -- you've collected two more ones!  Dayvid seems like a nice guy.  If anything bad happens we'll all be here, right?"
    "True, but--"
    "Just true," Gourry said.  "How about if I sleep here tonight?"
    "In this chair," Gourry added quickly.  "I can sleep sitting up.  That way I can watch over you and stuff."
    "Gourry, I don't NEED anybody watching over me!"
    "Wouldn't it help you sleep better?" Gourry asked.  "I know when I was a kid and I got scared, my mom would keep me company.  And I knew that I wasn't alone and I could sleep."
    Lina crossed her arms, grumpy.  "I shouldn't need that."
    Scooting his chair, facing the opposite wall instead of looking right at Lina, Gourry got himself situated.  "Just try it, okay?  I won't make any noise or anything."
    Frustrated, Lina scrunched herself under the covers more, looking away from Gourry.  He really could be dense sometimes, she thought.
    A few minutes later, she was fast asleep.
    In another room, Xelloss was putting his game face on.
    He had to look a bit serious.  He didn't really like looking serious because despite the rather nicely intimidating effect it had on people, he felt that inside, he always was smiling.  If anybody asked why, he'd say it was because he'd seen the universe and finally understood the joke, but that was just something he said to be creepily enigmatic.  The real reason was because he was a very happy person.
    Things were working out perfectly.  In his Melvin guise, he had suggested the Island of Ultimate Despair, and here they all were -- even after he was unmasked!  They had brought the water, they had brought the book.  There were a few parts of the puzzle left, one of which he'd take care of right now, but other than that, things were en route towards a satisfying conclusion for his own desires.
    And would they ever really know what those desires were?  Well, no, probably not.  He had survived this long simply because unlike other Mazoku, he felt no burning need to tell his pawns the entire plan before leaving them alone in an easily escapable death trap.  Such silly business, that was.  If you were going to succeed, he figured, learn from the many horrible mistakes of others.  No, he wouldn't inform the others of his true intent.
    Besides, they probably wouldn't believe him if he told them.  Something very ironic in that.
    But first things first.
    Checking a mirror to ensure he was suitably menacing, he weaved a bubble of dark silence around the hotel room just to the right of his, and teleported in.
    The room's occupant awoke, shivering.
    "Greetings," Xelloss said, adding in a sweeping bow.  "I'd like to discuss a deal with you."
    The white sorceress pushed herself back against her headboard, scooting away.  "Wh-what?"
    "You have no idea how ideal you are," Xelloss said, advancing.  "I had originally planned to take care of this end myself, but since you're still with them, you'll suit the task perfectly..."
    "wh.. wh..." Lily stammered.
    "I'll do the talking," Xelloss said.  "One spell you need to cast for me, then I'll bother you no further.  I think you'll agree that it's a good thing to be doing, and you like to do good things, don't you, Lily the White Dove?  Allow me to explain.  Allow yourself to listen."
    Zelgadis slept like a rock.  He was a rock, in some respects, so it was only appropriate.
    Despite that, he wasn't a deep sleeper.  He knew that you needed to be ready to spring to action even in the middle of the night, and had his equipment and possessions at the ready near his bed.  When he heard a scratching at his window, he woke up, fetched his sword and cloak, and investigated...
    When he stepped over to see what it was about, he saw Lina, clinging desperately to his windowsill.  Quickly he opened the window and pulled her inside; she looked awful.  Weakened, scarred, with a few fresh bruises..
    "Lina!" he asked.  "What happened?!"
    "It's... it's Xelloss..." Lina said.  "Took Gourry.. could barely fly back here..."
    Zel collected his cool with all speed.  "Where are Xelloss and Gourry now?"
    "Peak.." Lina said, pointing out the window.  "Highest mountain.  Out there."
    "Right," Zelgadis said.  "I'll get the others."
    Lina shook her head.  "He.. he wants to see you.  He told me.  He only wants to see you because he says it's time to settle what's.. between you."
    Frown.  Anger flared inside the chimera, boosted by all the taunting Xelloss had given him over the trip.  It was just as Zelgadis had expected; the priest finally showed his true backstabbing colors.  Well well, HE'D settle this nonsense, once and for all.  "Okay.  You stay here, and--"
    "N-no!  Take me with you, I.. I..."
    "Lina, you need to rest.  If--"
    "Gourry is in trouble!!" Lina said.  "I have to.. I HAVE to go with you.  Just carry me, I can't fly... please, Zelgadis..."
    Emotion battled with reason for a moment, before Zelgadis nodded, hiking Lina up onto his back.  "Okay.  No noises.  We're just taking a look quietly, then plan what to do.  Got it?"
    "Got it," Lina agreed.
    The two quietly floated out of the inn window, Raywing bubbling over both of them, as Zelgadis flew straight and true for the Peak of Despair.
    While en route, Lina described some of the things Xelloss did to her.  In detail.
    Zelgadis had to fight to keep his flight spell under control.  Rage pulsed through his head at these horror stories, whispered into his ear by the girl who had to experience things like that first hand..  HOW could he have been asleep when this was going on?!  How could Xelloss grab Lina and Gourry right from under his nose?  Oh, the Mazoku bastard would pay, he would pay...
    When the two landed at the mouth of the Cave of Gloom, where Lina indicated they were, Zelgadis was ready to charge right in and cut loose with every power he had.  Lina, who had somehow gotten the strength to walk again, went in with him.
    "I can't see anything," Zelgadis whispered.  "I'm going to risk a light spell.  If we see him, I'll deal with him.  He has it coming!"
    Light filled the cave, revealing a very, very large empty mirror frame, and an open pit.  No Xelloss or Gourry.
    "...huh?" Zelgadis asked, before his whole world turned topsy turvy, falling and falling and WHACK-- everything went black.
    Stepping up to the pit, Lina smiled down.  "Stupid dead guy.  Falls for some hair dye and a story designed to rile him up.  No wonder he got killed in the real world," she said aloud, to herself, so she could hear herself say the words.  "You'll do SO nicely as bait, dream-Zelgadis.  Thanks for playing right into my hands."
    Using a rope she had set up just for this purpose, Lina climbed down, retrieved the waterskin Zelgadis had with him, and took out a long length of chain.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.