hiteness.  Pure whiteness, flowing light as the self shifted, melted into the other, a bubble in a pot of soup that was boiling over with anger, sadness, insanity, rage--
    And Lina was in, the now familiar feel of one who was in the state the Ultra Restoration induced.  But this was different.  She was inside a mind, not just floating free or in the physical meat of the body.
    Unprepared, and shocked at the sensation, the mind of the other threatened to swallow her whole -- a torrid rush of agony and slow pain, of misery and depression, memories piling on top of each other to have a shot at being the first to corrupt this neat new thing that had approached them -- Lina shoved hard, pushing them away.  She was here to work, not to allow the work to overcome her.
    Lina Inverse was Lina Inverse was Lina Inverse was in the mind of Lina Inverse was not Lina Inverse.  Was different.  How different?  Need to know, to find out, see what she could do.  Start at the beginning, at the top of the stack, bit by bit, heal, purify, modify...
    The first.  The Giga Slave, which consumed the world, which burned Gourry and Zelgadis -- and she could see their deaths, horrifying looks on their faces, the one thing Lina remembered most which would haunt her for days.
    Easy, the floating Lina thought, throwing the white energy at the image to destroy it.
    It wouldn't be destroyed.
    She tried again, stronger; but no effect, not even a dent.
    Somehow, she knew why.  No amount of banging and burning and purifying would cut the memory, because the memory is what was real, what existed in time.  You can't heal a damaged mind simply by wiping it clean.  That wasn't healing; Ultra Restoration would not do that for her with those intentions.
    For a moment, Lina nearly lost herself in a panic.  What could she do?  She didn't anticipate this to be a problem.  It was just insanity, after all, just damage to the psyche... it should burn away, blown up and blasted with high energy magic like all other... no.  That wasn't actually how the mind worked.  It wouldn't 'go away', not like all other problems.  What could she do?  She wasn't a psychologist.  She had never helped heal someone with trauma before.  What could she do?  She wouldn't be able to do it right.  She was useless.  Misery flotsam attached to her, dragging her down, into the spiral of the other's mind, agony opening with welcoming arms for her...
    She shook off the chains that yanked at her, floating free again.  She'd find a way to help Lina Inverse or die trying.  Preferably the first, but she would not give up, ever.  Find an angle.  Help.  Help.  Comfort.  Lina Inverse is alone in her own mind, with the memory of memories, of torments-- alone.
    You're not alone here, you know, Gourry had said.  I'll protect you.  And she slept easily that night.
    It was going to be hard, but she knew what to do, at least.
    Lina let herself be sucked into the whirlpool of memory, keeping her SELF, her identity.  A paranoid notion of a being was not going to be very good company to a soul in need, after al--
    --ter which, lying on the floor of a cold cell, shivering, wet, curled in a ball, unbelieving of what had happened to her--
    Of what had happened to the other Lina, Lina reminded herself, Lina, Lina, Lina... and she stepped over to the shivering girl, her clothes in tatters, and pulled her up into an embrace.  Two separate beings, one afraid, the other warm and sympathetic.
    "I'm here," she said, hugging Lina tight.  "I'll be with you from here out.  I'll watch over you.  I can't change anything, but I'll be here, for how much it helps.  It'll help.  I'm sure it will."
    As far away as a shadow's thickness, away from one battle for the soul and into a battle for existence...
    The fight was a wildly chaotic affair.
    Minion was strong, Xelloss was strong.  But Dayvid was a wildcard.  Sometimes taking many blows from Minion in a row, which wasn't pleased to see a third person in the fray -- then sometimes coming back with a wild barrage of rough, unpredictable attacks of power.  Dayvid had no control, no style, no form; and thus, was nearly impossible to defend against, since you had no idea where he could strike from next, or what style his attack would come from.  It was like watching a baseball game where the occasional curveball would change direction, double back, do a figure eight, then slam the catcher through the back of the stadium wall at two hundred miles per hour.
    Whenever Dayvid hit a lull, Xelloss picked up the slack, with cold, precise blows.  This was a fight of pure energy, magic without spells, undiluted and nasty.  Also completely uncoordinated.
    Eager to get it over with, Xelloss signaled his son.  "Attack in five, with everything you have," he said, careful to channel the thought in a narrow beam, to avoid Minion intercepting.  His son was a scientist; he'd have the timing down.  Hopefully, he could be strong at the exact moment needed.
    Counting, now.  One.  Two.  Three--
    --deflect an attack--
    Four.  FIVE.
    Dayvid cut loose with a shower of black lightning, everything he knew he could manage and some things he wasn't sure he could, trying not to restrain himself.  Xelloss directed a solid bar of black horror, screaming through the void to strike Minion dead center.
    The wisp of blacklight squirmed under the flows, pushed backwards; both Mazoku and Half-Mazoku kept on him, relentlessly.
    Minion did not explode dramatically.  He gave a whimpering non-sound, and simply boiled away into nothing.
    Quickly, Xelloss got a hold on Dayvid's form, and jerked both of them out of the astral plane, landing roughly on the streets of the resort on the Island of Ultimate Despair.  Dayvid wasn't breathing.  Xelloss took a shockrod of energy and ran it through Dayvid once, twice-- the boy sat up, sputtering, coughing, wheezing.
    "I... we won?" he asked, blinking a few times, getting used to having eyes again.
    "Oh, we won indeed," Xelloss smiled.  "I suppose my message from Lily about 'possibly not surviving this' brought you running, as I planned?"
    "....planned?!" Dayvid asked.  "You set me up for--"
    Xelloss put a finger to his son's lips.  "But I'm still happy you did come help," Xelloss said.  "I'm proud of you, son.  You've done well.  You took 'evil' energy and put it to some damn good use, so to speak, from your heart.  I don't think I'll have to worry about your development now.  Tell me, what of Lina and the others?"
    "They're.. getting Zelgadis back," Dayvid said.
    "Then it has begun," Xelloss sighed in relief.  "Excellent.  Now, either all will be well for them or the world will be destroyed."
    That's when he noticed the lava flow, a greasy black oil of malformed shapes and inbred nightmares sliding gently downhill, starting to engulf the resort...
    "Away would be advisable," Xelloss said, taking Dayvid's hand and beaming the hell out of there.
    Months in minutes, days in hours.  How long had Lina been in these memories?  It felt like so little amount of time, but also felt like real time, standing by her own side through thick and thick.
    She felt the first times Lina was captured by the Mazoku, toyed with in 'thanks' for bringing about the apocalypse.  The candle was held by her side, the new part of the memory, the one who would accompany her through all the dark journeys she took -- had taken -- she?  Lina.  Someone was always there, with a hug, with good words, with a shoulder to lean on, soothing and talking.  Someone other than the tormentors.  That was important.
    And slowly, Lina, the one who was holding the candle of holy white fire, began to see the pattern.
    The Mazoku were breaking her.  Her.  Selectively, slowly, precisely.  Some hands she was passed to did it sloppy, some did it light, some weak, but there was a pattern.  And at each turn, a little more darkness would creep in, but it wasn't normal emotional darkness.  It was magical darkness.  Outside power, seeping into Lina's soul, skewing her perceptions, bending her emotions to suit the Mazoku.  Beatings, tortures, psychological horrors, rapes, dark magics, condescending verbal assaults, everything -- in addition to a dark element, like slow poison, drip-fed into her body.
    At first, Lina simply watched, comforted, helped, tried to be there to keep Lina safe at heart if not at body, but she saw Lina's visual dance go haywire.  Drugs.  It was like the drugs of Evilanian stew, exaggerating the terrible, playing down the hopeful.  A thin trickle, very hard to see, but if you traced it from the string of insanity that grew more and more tangled...
    Curiously, Lina touched a burning ember to the slow feed of noxious slime, and saw it burn.
    "They deliberately did this..." she said, to herself.  "They caused the insanity.  You have a strong mind, Lina!  You have strong will, they knew that and used a little something extra to help you over that edge..."
    But to do something about this, she'd have to leave her side -- leave Lina's side.  Her crying, her need to reach out to someone who wouldn't hurt her.
    A gamble.  Leave and fight the supplemental poison to try and bring her back, or stay and be safe.  Be safe.
    Not taking the gamble wasn't safe, either.
    "I'm sorry," she said, and tore herself away from the memory world, just for the briefest moment, accelerating.  Work fast, burn hard.  Her body became the fire of the candle.
    Touch here.  Touch here.  Burn.  Touch here.  The Mazoku shrieked as their drips were plugged and melted, the waterworks of insanity boiling away to nothing.  Faster.  Burn.  Faster, move faster, get it all, leave nothing unchecked or it'll all go back to pot again.  FASTER.  FASTER--
    The final spigot locked down, bent in half, destroyed in the fires.
    Lina whisked herself back to the bedside of herself, her changed self.  It worked.  It still hurt.  She could still feel the terror and the pain, the hurting, but now, it wasn't the horrifying nightmare-reality.  It was just reality.  Hard, cold, but undeniably real and not fantastically evil.
    And while that wasn't sunshine and roses, it was a good start to come back from.
    Only brief moments had passed outside, in reality.
    "You can help me?" Gourry asked, looking at Lily.  Plaintively, desperately.
    Lily nodded once, and turned to face the river of sludge.  She began a low chant, and-- time froze.  For her.  She worked.
    In a split second for Gourry, where there was an impenetrable wall of darkness, there was an opening just big enough to dash through before it would close again--
    Taking her hand, Gourry and Lily jumped through the gap, rolling to a halt on the other side.  The river surged to choke up the empty space, and continued.
    Lina and Lina lay in a crumpled heap on the ground, still, not breathing.
    "LINA!" Gourry called, immediately going to her side.  Lily did as well, inspecting, realizing what was going on.
    "She's using Ultra Restoration," Lily said.  "It doesn't take long to do.  Time stops for you when you cast it.  She'll be out of it any second now."
    More than a few seconds passed.
    "Can you bring her back?" Gourry asked.
    "I.. it shouldn't go on this long," Lily said.  "It's never--"
    And one of the Linas inhaled, a raspy, harsh inhaling.  Her eyes flew open.  Looked at Gourry, looked at Lily.
    "I...." Lina said, then decided not to continue the sentence.  Quickly, she rolled, shaking the other Lina by the shoulders.  "Sorry.. I need to know.  How do we stop the mirror?  How?"
    The other Lina didn't open her eyes, but mumbled a few words.  "Sword.. powering it... take out the sword, break.."
    "That'll do," Lina nodded.  "You can sleep now."
    She gently lowered the other Lina to the ground, and turned to Gourry.  "Gourry, your Sword of Light is probably in there fueling the spell.  I'll go in and... wait.  You're going to want to do this instead of me, aren't you?"
    "Of course," Gourry nodded.
    "Then here's what you do," Lina said, opting not to argue the point.  "Avoid touching the darkness.  Find the frame of the mirror, the sword should be embedded in it, or something.  Get the sword away from the mirror, and when it looks right, destroy the mirror.  Got it?"
    Nodding once, Gourry got to his feet, and stepped around the flow, through a narrow gap and into the cave.
    Lily looked at Lina.  "Did you..."
    Lina nodded.  "I did.  She's not magically cured or anything.. but she's better than she was, I hope.  Thanks for the spell, Lily."
    Lily smiled.  "I think my family would have been proud to share it with you, Lina."
    Both women looked at the cave, concerned, and waited.
    Gourry's spine felt like ice, but something like that was not going to stop him.
    The cave had no light, none whatsoever.  If he relied on touch, he'd probably trip and fall into the stream; that would be bad.  He relied, instead, on instinct.  His uncle.. one of them, at least.. said that instinct would see you through when eyes couldn't.  He did walk off a pier to his death one night, but that was besides the point.
    In his mind...
    He thought he saw the mirror, and the handle of a sword, worked into the frame.  He reached forward, grasping once -- missed.  Twice.  Got it.
    He pulled, noting it was stuck fast, then braced his feet and put every muscle he had into the job, HAULING on the handle.  After a minute of this, past when his arms had waved the white flag of surrender, the sword came out; but the blade wasn't shining, it was radiating darkness.  The mirror had tainted the Sword of Light.
    That's okay, Gourry thought.  I can do something about that.  He summoned every positive feeling he had, and being Gourry, he had a LOT of them.  In no time, the light peeked through, and pushed the darkness off the blade slowly, until it shone like the sun.  It WAS a Sword of Light, after all.
    He used the light to size up the roughly made mirror, drew his arm back, and SLASHED--
    The world broke in half.
    The mirror imploded, shattering into a thousand pieces which sucked themselves into a tiny earthbound black hole.  Gourry grabbed the nearest rock, hanging on for dear life, as the brief wind slurped some of the darkness up, ceasing the river, then ceasing to exist.  The wind gave a sad protest, and also quieted down.
    "I did it!" Gourry smiled, strolling out of the cave, sword of light sheathed and over one shoulder.  "I saved the world!  I... oh... um.  Damn."
    Because when he looked down the mountainside, the black death that had flowed so freely out of the cave wasn't gone; it simply coated the island like an oil slick, trying to take shapes, and starting to flow out to the ocean.
    The others were now all on the same plateau, also looking at this sight.
    "It's liquefied now, but once that becomes actual Mazoku and stuff, we're going to be in serious trouble," Zelgadis said.  "Us and the entire world, probably.  We were a little too late in stopping the flow."
    "We're doomed?!" Amelia asked.  "No way!  But.. but we beat the bad guy and... come on!  This can't be happening!"
    In a blur, Dayvid and Xelloss appeared, Dayvid looking a bit worse for wear, Xelloss smiling as always.
    "Oh dear," he said.  "Isn't this a predicament?"
    "XELLOSS!" Zelgadis growled.  "This is all YOUR doing, isn't it?!  I'm gonna--"
    "Cool it," Lina ordered, holding up a hand to Zelgadis without even looking at him.  "New situation.  Lily.  Can Ultra Restoration cut through that stuff?  It was designed to eradicate darkness, and that's as close as we're going to get to a nice puddle of evil."
    "...no," Lily said.  "Some of it.  Maybe half of it if we work for awhile and everybody here was casting it, but..."
    "And we can't teach it to everybody, and we don't have long..." Lina said.  "We need something stronger.  White magic that's stronger than oh SHIT..."
    "Huh?" Gourry asked, now back to being confused.
    Lina looked up at the sky.  "You've GOT to be kidding me!  After all this, you're expecting me to... OOOOH!  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.. I HATE PROPHECY!"
    Gourry looked at the sky too.  "Who're you talking to?"
    "Nobody," Lina replied.  "Okay.  Guys, I know a spell that will do the job, but... I've blown a lot of power today.  I'll need help.  Here's the play; Amelia, Lily, both of you are skilled at white magic, I want you at my side to link up our power and feed the spell.  Naga?"
    "I'm only going to ask once, so no claims that you're a mighty and beautiful black sorcerer who's above that stuff," Lina said, flat out.  "Are you good at white magic or not?"
    "..I am," Naga admitted.  "I mean, I was once... when I was very little, Lina, I barely remember--"
    "You take position behind me and supply backup power," Lina said.  "Zelgadis, you next to her in case we need more, and..."
    "Hold on," Zelgadis said.  "WHAT are you going to cast, exactly?  I can't think of anything that could possibly require--"
    "Giga Restoration," Lina said.
    Zelgadis shut up.
    "I... think I'll just stand on the sidelines and cheer you guys on," Dayvid suggested.  "Um.  Yay."
    "Good enough for me, Dayvid," Lina nodded.  "But we need one more, just to be safe... Xelloss?"
    "Who, me?" Xelloss asked, surprised.  "Lina, I may be a bad ass in some circles, but white magic is not one of them for reasons which should be obvious.  If--"
    Someone cleared her throat.  All eyes turned.
    "If y-you don't... mind," Lina Inversed asked, looking a bit brittle and frail, but her eyes weren't nearly as wild as they were before.  "I want to help, if I can."
    "You sure you're up to this..?" Lina asked, concerned.
    "No," Lina said.  Her voice was weak, like a small child pulled back from the brink of death, quiet and scared, but determined not to be afraid anymore.  "I'm not up to this.  But you helped me.  I.. I think I can remember that you were there.  I couldn't remember before for some reason, but I want to help.  ...I'm sorry for all this.  I felt so..."
    Lina smiled, gently.  "You don't have to explain.  It's okay.  Come on over."
    The players took their places, as the blackness climbed back up the mountain, sensing a building of energy.  A wave of it slowly built, ready to engulf them-- Gourry slashed it down fast with the Sword, and kept it at bay long enough for Lina to chant.
    Lina had one last thought before she began.  'Lord of Nightmares, you had better be paying attention and looking out for me this time... because if you aren't, you're gonna have ME on your hands.'
    She started the spell.
        "As tall as the tallest pillar...
        As bright as the darkest day...
        King of Darkness, Queen of Light,
        Shining like gold upon the Sea of Chaos,
        I call upon thee, swear myself to thee,
        Let the balance against the dark be restored...
     Rumors would speak about it for days afterwards, but nobody really found out what happened.  From the shores of nearby Evilania, where they ran in fear from it, even to the far off lands of Sailoon where a few lucky people with telescopes got to witness it, everybody at least saw the same thing.
    Off in the distance, over an island where stormclouds had gathered in an extremely localized manner, there was a silent explosion.  A dome of white energy sprang into existence over the island, covering it like a blanketing dome that swirled and burned with light energies and fires... the stormclouds vaporized in the shockwave, spreading out from the island to annihilate the storms that surrounded it.
    That wasn't the surprising bit.  People were used to the idea of islands vanishing in the wake of some terrible act of magic, but when the dome finally flashed out of existence, mere moments after it arrived, the island appeared whole and untroubled.  Like nothing had happened.  Nothing they could see, at least, at that distance.  Nobody on that island remembered anything other than winning fantastically later that day at the games of chance.  In fact, weeks later the island had taken such an upswing in positive feelings and luck that they had to close down or go bankrupt.
    That's the sort of thing that goes down in mythology.  You can't explain it, you can't deny it, you can only try to figure out what it was and make up stories about it.
    The sun shines, unconcerned.
    Lina sank to her knees from the effort, plainly exhausted.  Her friends showed a little wear as well, but not nearly as much.  They kept a moment of silence, unanimously agreed on without a gesture, without a word, recovering.
    It was broken, eventually, by light applause.
    Xelloss, who had again managed to find somewhere to have a seat and slack, clapped.  "Bravo.  Bravo, bravo, bra-VO, Lina and Lina!  An excellent finish.  I'd give it a 4.9."
    Lina got her wits back, and scanned the island.  Not a shred of darkness anywhere.  "So.. it all worked?"
    "Reasonably well, reasonably well," Xelloss smiled.  "The poor soul saved from the trap of insanity, the world saved from an unrelenting night, ancient powers unlocked, and friends made by all.  But there's one small detail left to take care of, which I personally will attend to right now..."
    "If you try ANYTHING..." Zelgadis warned, although without conviction or strength.
    Xelloss held up a waterskin.  "I believe this is yours.  Lina-chan left it in the cave.  One of her, anyway.  Now, observe."
    Getting to his feet, Xelloss found a rocky indentation, and poured a small pool of water.  Because he wasn't one to chant spells, he let the Mirror Magic spell he had read out of the the reversed lorebook -- which he had borrowed for a day, just a simple day to memorize -- drift onto the water silently.
    The others, curiously suspicious, peeked into the pool...
    ...and saw a world of ruin, where the Giga Slave had ruined this place, unleashed the Mazoku horde, where humans struggled to stay alive...
    ...where the sun was shining against all expectation.
    Lina, the one who originally came from that world, looked frightened for a moment.  "That's.... that's!--"
    "Your home, yes," Xelloss said.  "But watch.  I've arranged a surprise."
    Two figures walked into view, slowly, as if they weren't sure of what they were doing, or why.  And in the reflection :     "That," Xelloss explained, "Is your world, Lina.  But you see?  While you were gone, humans have started to fight back, and fight back hard.  It's almost unbelievable, yet true.  They're making good headway to recovering their world.  Although.. they could probably use another pair of hands in the task... and now that you're also making good headway to recovering yourself, perhaps if you dare to return..."
    "It's a trick," Zelgadis said flatly.
    Xelloss opened both eyes, face serious.  "I Am Not Lying."
    The other Lina backed away slowly from the image.  "I don't want to go back, I.. I don't want to be captured again or to..."  She swallowed, hard.  Remembrance.  She looked at Xelloss.  "You helped me, didn't you?  That was you.  You helped me when I was plotting my revenge against.. you told me where the book was, and how to get the water from Zelgadis, and..."
    Lina Inverse, the one from this world, was in shock.  "I.... think I'll let her decide what to do.  This ranks in at a nine on my Weirdness Meter."
    "It is her decision," Xelloss agreed.  "But think of it.  Atonement.  Fighting back against the forces you accidentally unleashed.  And a chance to begin again, as yourself.  It would be such a loss to come this far, against hell's minions and the high water of sickness, just to stay here, not even as yourself, but as another Lina..."
    "So?!" Lina Inversed said.  "I don't... I mean, I... what if it all happens again?  What if it goes to pot and I'm back in it all?  I feel.. awake!  Exhausted but awake.  For the first time in years."
    "Life is a gamble of chaos and unknowns," Xelloss smiled, stepping away from the mirror, and bowing out.  "Freedom of choice is what humans have to rally against it.  The decision is always yours.  For now.. I bid you all farewell, until our paths cross again.  I'd hazard my task is done, and I should exit stage left before being lynched.."
    "Uh, Dad?" Dayvid asked..
    Xelloss the trickster priest gave the one and only Lina Inverse, still lightly stunned, a knowing wink and blurred away.
    The other girl continued to look in the pool, as mirror-Amelia and mirror-Gracia pondered why they were there, and discussed strategies in the continuing struggle against the Mazoku quietly, like a television with the sound turned down.
    The others looked at her expectantly.
    So.. she smiled.
    "This is crazy," Lina Inversed said.  "But I've done crazier things."
    She stepped into the puddle, and the water vanished along with her.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.