vernight, clouds had formed over the island.  Big, nasty rolling grey clouds; the kind that always seemed on the edge of threatening to maybe kick some thunderstorm ass all over the place, but choosing to merely loom at the moment.
    Although the sun wasn't shining, inside Amelia's head it was a nice bright sunny morning, and she arose with a yawn, a stretch and a smile.  She did some warmup exercises to keep her body fit and ready for the cause of justice, brushed her teeth with the nearby basin, got dressed, had a piece of fresh fruit from the complementary bowl the innkeeper had sent up, then picked up the ransom note someone had left by her bedside and read it.
    Two moments passed.
    "AAAAaaaaa!!!" Amelia shrieked, clutching the paper.  She zoomed out of her room and down the stairs, where everybody was busy having breakfast -- since to them, so far, it was just like any other morning -- and waved her arms rapidly to get their attention.
    "Are you trying to fly, Amelia-chan?" Xelloss asked, amused.
    "He's gone!  He's gone!!" Amelia said.  "Oh, tragedy!  Zelgadis-san has been KIDNAPPED!"
    "Don't panic," Lina said, munching on a stack of pancakes that reached her eye level.  "Prob'bly went off to get food or somethin'.  He's free to come and go."
    "I got a ransom note!" Amelia said.
    "...oh," Lina replied, getting that sinking feeling despite the light fluffy hotcakes.  "Okay.. that's different."
    The group gathered around the small note, which had been written by a hand unstable enough to not require little cut-out letters.
        i TooK tHat zELgadIs tHING.
        comE to tHe CAVE OF GLOOM at
        tHe PEAK OF DESPAIR asap rsvp L.I.,
                ..i dUnnO, baD stuph.
          love, lIna inverse
    Lina swallowed.  "Her again..."
    "Lina!  YOU kidnapped Zelgadis?!" Amelia asked, amazed.
    "No, no!" Lina said.  "I didn't tell you guys, but... look.  Some version of ME popped out of the Oracle Mirror in Sailoon.  She's been dogging me ever since.  She's the one who's apparently got Zelgadis..."
    "Oh dear, oh dear," Xelloss said.  "This is a pickle.  What shall we do?"
    Lina crunched the note in her hands.  "I'm not going to run scared anymore.  I had a feeling this would happen, and I know how to take care of it.  I'll go up to the Peak and finish this."
    "We're coming," Gourry said.
    "She's not you, Gourry, she's me.  I should do--"
    "We're coming," Gourry repeated.  "You don't have to go into whatever this is alone.  It might be a big fight, you know!   You should have some support.  And besides, we're all friends of Zelgadis, right?"
    "You bet!" Amelia said.
    "He's a nice guy.." Dayvid said.
    Lily, who had been staying in the background for some reason this morning, didn't offer anything.
    "I don't say I care for him, but the battle could be fun," Naga grinned.
    "He's such a gloomy two shoes, but I'm in," Xelloss said.  "But Dayvid, you're staying here."
    "Come come, boy, you're no warrior," Xelloss replied.  "I don't mean that in an insulting way, but you don't have any portable weapons from the Guppy, and your magic isn't controllable enough yet to help us.  You should probably stay here in case we need to make a quick getaway, yes?"
    "Uh.. yeah, if you put it that way," Dayvid said.
    "Now, let us make plans," Xelloss said, assuming lead.  "Ne, Lina, come with me a moment.  I've got something to show you.  Amelia, you and Gourry and Naga find a way to get up to the mountain and meet us back at the docks."
    Amelia looked confused.  "But we can just fly--"
    "Onward, onward!" Xelloss said, putting an arm around Lina's shoulder to lead her out.  "Zelgadis is counting on is!  To arms, to arms!"
    Blinking in puzzlement, Lina looked at Xelloss strangely, stepping away from him and out of the inn.
    "So... what do we do again?" Gourry asked.  The inn seemed quiet in the wake of the brief whirlwind of planning Xelloss had dumped on them.
    "I'll be a moment," Amelia said, heading for the door.  "I'm going to see what those two are up to."
    Lina glanced around the midmorning streets, still relatively empty, following Xelloss.  Something smelled wrong.  It was probably some trash in a nearby dumpster, probably.
    "Xelloss, what're you up to?" Lina asked, directly.
    "Up to?" Xelloss smiled.  "Whatever could I be up to?"
    "You're always up to SOMETHING.  I haven't been able to keep an eye on you this time around, but I'm sure you've still been up to something.  What's it this time?"
    Xelloss paused.  "Well, here's as good a place as any.  Are you sure you want to know, Lina Inverse?"
    "Why not?" Lina asked.
    "I've got a small problem," Xelloss said.  "Sort of a chain of command problem.  Orders on high.  I hope you'll understand when all is said and done."
    "Understand what?" Lina asked, before the dark lance of energy bored a hole through her chest.
    It happened in a split second.  A flick of the Mazoku priests' wrist, a small, controlled burst of black magic, and a painful burning.. Lina, in total disbelief, sank to her knees and sank to the ground... and lie still.
    "AAAAAAAAAaaaa!!!" Amelia shrieked.  "You... YOU..."
    "Ooooh, that isn't good," Xelloss said, his smile nervous now.  "I didn't plan on witnesses--"
    "GOURRY!  GRACIA!!" the princess yelled, running back towards the inn.  "Come quick!  Hurry!!!"
    Xelloss mused over Lina's dead body.  "This does complicate things.  But acceptably so."
    A presence flooded over Xelloss, the familiar pang of one who he really was disliking the company of -- but someone he was expecting, if not planning on seeing.  The glowing wisp of light faded into view, studying Lina, satisfied if it was possible for it to be satisfied.
    "i see you've finally carried out your orders," Minion said.  "you have killed Lina Inverse.  your Mistress will be pleased."  It turned, and started to fade away.
    "Ah, one thing, before you go reporting back..."
    Minion reformed itself.  "yes?"
    Smile wider than previously thought possible, Xelloss snapped his fingers.
    Stepping from the nearby alley, a nervous and trembling Lily quickly knelt by Lina's side, and her hands started to glow, the spell having been prepared in advance.  "*Ressurection!*" she cast, the light spreading over Lina's form--
    Sputtering, coughing, Lina sat straight up, shaking the light off her body, color returning quickly to her cheeks.  She was too stunned to see what was going on, but could hear...
    " see," Xelloss explained.  "My mistress never said that my dear Lina had to STAY dead.  And that's the punchline.  Even a wholly boring thing such as you must appreciate the fine logic of it."
    Light flickered, wobbled across the surface of the wisp.  Minion was confused, a state it never knew was possible for it.  "Lina Inverse must die... Lina Inverse died... Lina Inverse is alive... Lina Inverse must die... the orders... Her orders..."
    "And I believe your next tack, in such a bewildered state, will be to finish the job yourself, yes?" Xelloss asked, tapping his fingers on his staff, a light exercise of readiness.
    Minion's light snapped back into sharp focus.  "i will kill Lina Inverse," it stated plainly, the white light turning black with dark magics, spearing towards Lina--
    Xelloss was there in an instant, blocking them with a shield of power.
    "And also," he added, "Nobody ever ordered me to spare YOUR miserable existence.  My plans for her have come too far to see you squish them.  Let's get it on, silly plaything."
    Enveloped, briefly, in black energy, Xelloss and Minion vanished.
    The wind breezed along the empty street.  Lina felt a draft in the small hole in her shirt.  Lily looked relieved that the two Mazoku had left.  Nobody said a word.
    Ameila burst into the inn, panting, white in the face.
    Her words were simple, once she could get them out : Lina's dead.  Xelloss killed her.  The stampede, lead this time by Gourry, thundered out of the inn and over to the alley, where Lina was alive.
    The look of relief on Gourry's face was strong.  "Lina!  We thought you were..."
    "I.. thought I was too," Lina said, still poking at the hole in her shirt.
    "Xelloss murdered you!" Amelia said, still reeling from it.  "He.. he killed--"
    "--and there was blood, and... it was--"
    Lily gathered her courage, cleared her throat, and spoke up.  "EXCUSE ME! ...but that's not really what happened."
    All eyes turned to her.  Normally she'd have buckled under that kind of pressure, but she found some inner strength, knowing how important this was, and kept going.
    "He came to me last night," she explained.  "He.. he said that he had been ordered to kill Lina.  But he didn't want her to die, not for real.  So he'd have to kill her, then have me cast Resurrect right away.  It was the only way he could keep her safe from some assassin..."
    "But... but he... huh?!" Amelia asked.
    "He wanted everybody to know why he did it.  He said that didn't have to be a secret," Lily said, from memory.  "He asked me to tell everybody that.  Because.. he might not survive to say it himself.  And... that's it."
    Silence hung over the group, an ominous still.
    "Where is he now?" Lina asked.
    "I d-don't know," Lily said honestly.
    The boy in the back of the crowd stepped forward, looking up slightly.  "He's.. near," Dayvid said.  "I can feel him out there.  Don't ask me how, but I can.  Dad's fighting something strong."
    "So.. so what do we do now?" Amelia asked.
    Dayvid flexed his fingers.  "You guys go to the mountain, and rescue Zelgadis.  I'm going after my father."
    "How?" Amelia asked.  "Dayvid, it's dangerous!  You're not a fighter, Xelloss said so.  You could get hurt!"
    Dayvid simply smiled at her.  "C'mon, me, get hurt?  Before I've finished building that funpark for you?  Not happening.  Hurry, Zelgadis needs you.  I'll be back before lunchtime."
    Before Amelia could protest again, Dayvid concentrated, and wobbled away from view; not the practiced fade Xelloss had mastered, but very, very similar.
    "Dayvid..." Amelia said, trailing his name off since she felt it was the appropriate thing to say.
    "He has a point.." Lina said, rising to her feet.  "We've got to hightail it up that mountain."
    Nobody moved.
    "Do I NEED to say 'Who's with me?'" Lina asked.  "Because you all obviously are.  I wasn't dead yesterday, you know.  But I'll say it just for the show of things.  Now.  Who's with me?"
    "I'm going with you," Gourry agreed.
    "We've got to save Zelgadis!" Amelia said, focusing back on their original task.  "In the name of justice!!"
    "I already said I was going," Naga noted.
    "I'll.. go too," Lily said.  "Maybe I can be of some help."
    Lina nodded in satisfaction.  "Much better.  Let's go."
    ...somewhere a shadow's width away, somewhere between the air...
    The fight was raging.  Xelloss rarely used his full Mazoku self, since it really wasn't required for most things in life, but Zellas-Metallum made the Minion of strong stuff.  Likely figuring it would come to this, too.  She could be a decidedly and quite amusingly sadistic ruler over her subjects.
    But Xelloss was quite ready.  Granted, they were almost equally matched and this would not be easy, but he was tight; black power surging through the nonsky, as the two grappled for each other on a psychic war level.  No words needed to be said, no taunts; Minion because he couldn't think of a taunt and didn't need them, Xelloss because he knew folks who taunted tended to die in the middle of taunting--
    A blow to his mind.  Fast little bugger, that Minion was.  Xelloss retaliated, a multipronged attack to cleave the thing into pieces, which it shifted and evaded...
    A third presence made itself known.
    "Oh, hello," Xelloss said (or rather, thought in this plane), not pausing in his attacks.  "It's a pleasant day, isn't it?  Try to focus you will better, son.  That's how TRUE magic works."
    "You save Dad I to came" Dayvid said through the wild maelstrom of power.
    "Yes yes, less talk, more kicking of butt," Xelloss smiled.  "And thanks for showing, son.  I really appreciate it.  More than you probably realize."
    The battle continued to rage.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.