elgadis literally was nowhere.  He felt nothing, saw nothing.  He had no body.  His mind did not float detached; it simply existed, somehow, in a limbo.  He wasn't enjoying it.
    Then, with a rushing sense of speed, but no wind, no wind whatsoever--
    He landed on a grassy knoll, at the pausing moment of midnight.  The stars did not rotate in the sky; he couldn't see them move under normal circumstances regardless, but somehow, he knew they were held at this time.
    Getting to his feet quickly, he looked around for Xelloss.  "I should've known it was you," he said, to the night air.  "You turn up like a bad penny."
    A bad penny dropped from the sky, bouncing a few times before coming up heads.  A copper Xelloss formed out of the disc, smiling.  "Indeed I do.  But as usual, I'm here to help you."
    "Help?" Zelgadis said, ignoring the tricks.  "Every time you show up, things get worse.  Either you're selectively leading us down the road to danger, or deliberately fouling things up... and once, if I have to remind you, you practically sold Lina out to the Mazoku."
    Xelloss popped up right in Zelgadis's face, eyes all huge and cute.  "Awww, Zel-kun!  That's so mean!  Don't things always get so interesting when I'm around, too?"
    Zelgadis crossed his arms, frowning.  "Define 'interesting'."
    "Amusing to me, of course.  Entertaining."
    "Then yes, they do."
    "And keep in mind all those times I helped you folks out," Xelloss reminded, floating over to one side.  "I gave Lina those nice talismans she needed to control stronger magics.  I helped you find your way to the Hellmaster once.  And why, just tonight, I managed to save both Lina and Gourry from being killed in their sleep.  Isn't that nice of me?  Huh?  Isn't it?"
    "You what?"
    "Poor things.  They were too snoozy-woozy to notice people attempting to assassinate or kidnap them," Xelloss said, shaking his head in dismay.  "Fortunately for them, I've got this nice new spell."
    "Which is?" Zelgadis asked, sick of supplying straight lines.
    "Ah.  That is a secret, afraid."
    "It wasn't a request."
    Xelloss went tisk-tisk.  Smiled.  "Quite violent, aren't we?  You couldn't handle Giga's lores, regardless, so I see no need to tell you.  Let's just say that if the Mirror Lores are as powerful as this, they'd be quite a prize indeed."
    "In it for personal gain, I see."
    "Yes, but that's besides the point," Xelloss said.  "No reason we can't spread the wealth.  I gave you nice people the location of Silverquick's home, a place you had no chance of finding alone -- I help you, you help me, see?  Silverquick locked the spell to keep Mazoku out, for some reason.  You know what?  I think he didn't like us very much."
    "Gee, I can't think of a reason why..."
    "So, I gave you all those absurd little 'maps' with the spell on them, then sent Melvin home and took his place so I could come with you the moment you got back," Xelloss explained.  "And that was the grand plan.  Finis, sum total, the whole shebang.  Except, of course, I'm no actor.  I admit that, I'm really quite humble.  Does it matter, in the end?  Of course not!  Because regardless of WHO I am to you, I'm still one thing..."
    "Which is?" Zelgadis said, REALLY getting sick of supplying straight lines.
    Xelloss appeared at Zel's other side, wearing identical robes to him and identical skin pigments.  He wrapped a friendly arm over Zel's shoulders, a friendly smile on his face.  "Your partner in this affair, of course!  I'm your helper, your minion, your pilot, your contracted expert system.  I'll be your tour guide slave to the stars.  We're a team!  You, me, Lina, and the whole fat lot of them.  Just think what fun it will be!"
    Zel impolitely nudged Xelloss aside.  "No dice."
    "Awwww," Xelloss said.  He shifted back to his normal priestly robes, and paced, thinking.  "Here I go telling you more than you really need to know, out of the goodness of my heart--"
    "--and you're so disagreeable.  I know!  Let's ask Lina-chan for her opinion.  How about it?"
    "Lina's leagues away."
    "Actually, we're standing in the middle of her dream," Xelloss said.  "Or what will be it.  She's just bedding down about now after a rather exhausting little brawl in the middle of Noh Wheir, which happened to start off on this very spot.  You see the hill over there?"
    Zelgadis turned to look, and spotted the unimpressive mound of dirt and grass.  "What about it?"
    "Keep your eye on the hill," Xelloss smiled, positioning himself behind Zelgadis to watch over his shoulder.  He munched from a bag of popcorn as well.  "The fun's about to begin."
    Lina hadn't been asleep for five minutes when she had her first nightmare.
    This time around, she came prepared.  She had always been taught as a little girl, by her sister, that dreams will go away once you realize what's going on.  Being a smart girl, she remembered that, and decided it was high time to apply it here.
    "You can go away now, I know it's all just a bunch of symbolic images drudged up by my cerebral whatsimajigger," Lina said proudly.  "Thank you for playing."
    But the midnight drenched hillside did not go away.
    "No, really, I mean it," she continued.  "It's okay.  I know, I met 'the worst within' tonight, just like my other dreams said.  It's okay, I recognize it now, everything's fine."
    The night refused to respond.
    "HELLO?  Are you deaf?!" Lina yelled, hopping up and down, waving her arms.  "Bring on the orange penguins and other normal dream stuff!"
    A snigger followed.
    "Quit that," Lina mumbled.
    The snigger flowed into a chuckle.  A particularly nasty little laugh, not a laugh of amusement; a laugh that lets you know that you are the one being laughed at.
    "Oi!  Can it!" Lina demanded, stamping her foot.  There was a crunching sound -- she looked down out of instinct, and caught the hand mirror she had just stepped on, her own face reflected in the dozens of shards, broken up in jagged edges, the dead white hair staring back at her, a laughing face --
    Grunting, Lina forced herself to look away, only to see a full length mirror with circular corner notches, like the Oracle Mirror.  In it, the other Lina, from that blasted world was laughing at her, a full body guffaw that rocked the mirror's surface.
    Lina ran down the hill, hoping to escape it; she slipped between trees, using most stealth and evasion she knew.  After a minute or two, emerging from the forest, she looked around and spotted no mirrors.  "Well, at least the worst is over with," she mused out loud, right when the mirror rose from the ground in front of her to show her just how bad the worst could possibly be.
    Because this time, it wasn't just a reflection of the other her laughing.  It was the reason why the other her existed as she did.  Disconnected, random images flew past the silver surface, of the other Lina running, hiding... being hunted down by laughing monsters, caught, tormented and broken a thousand ways by beings who delighted to feed on negative emotions--
    A fist smashed into the glass of the mirror, shattering it, only to have another appear by her side.  Lina kicked that one, and the one that followed, running away as more joined, unceasing, and--
    All the mirrors shattered in an instant, as the man at the bottom of the hill raised his ruby-tipped staff, a flare of power streaking through each mirror in turn.  The glass shards faded away, and the hill was relatively normal again.  Lina's pulse kept racing, her breathing hard, as she tried to calm it down.
    She turned to face her benefactor, and whatever calm she had went bye-bye.
    "Hel-loooo, Lina!" Xelloss greeted, waving enthusiastically.
    "Again?" Lina asked.  "Why do my dreams keep having you as m... Zelgadis?!"
    Zel sulked next to Xelloss.  "You could have stopped that nonsense at any time," he told the priest, voice angered.  "You didn't have to sit by while she was facing that."
    "Now now, if I made ALL your problems go away, how would you ever learn?" Xelloss asked, bopping Zel playfully with his staff.  Zel fumed as Xelloss turned to face Lina.  "It's me.  In the flesh, so to speak.  I found a rather nice little spell that lets me walk dreams.  Good to see you again, Lina-chan."
    "...huh?" Lina asked.  "What on earth are you talking about?"
    Xelloss was nice enough to use his newfound powers to turn the hilltop meeting into a pleasant day in the sun.  Lina seemed to be more comfortable with her surroundings after that, as she explained about their trip... the sidetracking to Noh Wheir, the attack by the former Sinister Icy Black Hand of Death Gang, and who the white-haired girl was.  This in particular raised some eyebrows.
    "I can understand why she hates you," Zelgadis said.  "But what is she planning to do about it?"
    "All she said was that she was going to 'put things right'.  HER version of right, of course," Lina reminded.  "But she didn't say how.  Probably just going to try and kill us.  We can handle that."
    "Can you?" Xelloss smiled.  "You didn't seem to be able to face up to those dream images.  What about the real thing, Lina?  Will you have the strength to fully overcome yourself next time?"
    "That's for me to worry about, not you," Lina said.  "New topic.  Xelloss, what are you DOING around here?"
    "Zel-kun here seems to believe I'm Shaburanigdo himself," Xelloss yawned.  "Really, I'm just in it for the mirror lores, as you are.  I'm simply more resourceful than the others from the convention, who are still poking around Sailoon looking for you.  Pardon my flashy theatrics in sneaking aboard your cast as Melvin, but as has been proven, some of your comrades are less than happy to see ME around."
    "The minute we get back to reality, I'm tossing him off the boat," Zelgadis casually said.  "I don't like uninvited guests."
    "But I only know how to dog-paddle," Xelloss complained.  "You're so mean."
    "Hold up, Zel," Lina said.  "Xelloss... well, frankly, I don't trust you much either, but you've never COMPLETELY messed us up.  You did get us those maps, as well.  But if you're going to come along, I want you to make a promise to me."
    "A promise?" Xelloss asked, highly curious.  "Me?  I suppose that depends on the promise."
    "You can come along with us," Lina said, shooting a stopping glance at the about to protest Zelgadis.  "IF you promise to leave if I ask you to."
    For a change, this tossed Xelloss's normally nonchalant mockery out the window.  He asked, in all seriousness, "How do you expect to enforce that sort of a promise on me, Lina?"
    "I don't," Lina said.  "I just figured I'd take your word on it."
    "I'd sooner take the word of Rezo," Zelgadis mumbled.
    "My WORD?  My word!  What an interesting request!" Xelloss laughed out loud.  "Lina, Lina, Lina... you never fail to amaze me.  You deliberately phrased that to trap me into a situation I'd enjoy, didn't you?  Very well.  I'll say yes to that promise, although you'll likely never know if I'll hold to it or not."
    "Good enough for me," Lina nodded.  "And Zel-kun, if he tries anything overtly funny on your end of things, toss him into the sea.  Fair's fair, right, Xelloss?"
    "Fair's fair," the priest nodded.
    "Maybe I'll teach him the backstroke.  Just as a preventative measure," Zelgadis smiled unkindly.
    Lina stood up, dusting off her costume.  "Okay.  Xelloss, do me a favor and send Zelgadis back to your boat.  Then stick around, I need to talk to you."
    "No way," Zelgadis said.  "Me leave you alone with him?  I'd sooner--"
    "I've got his word," Lina reminded.  "I'll be fine."
    Zelgadis's skin turned a redder shade of blue-green.  "Fine.  I suppose I'll go back to being Amelia's 'Advisor,' then."
    The blue portal opened itself again, Xelloss having started to cast the spell under his breath once Lina asked.  Zel, seeing that nobody wanted him around, walked off.  The portal vanished.  Lina winced, not intending for all this to sound that harsh, but quickly turned back to the events at hand.
    "You know..." Xelloss mused, eyes studying Lina's expression.  "You're being unusually reasonable.  And quite serious.  I take it your little tete a tete with the demon you could become has twisted your outlook on life somewhat?  Tossed you into that state where you realize it's up against the wall and you need to start acting your age?"
    "No," Lina denied.  "I'm fine.  The only reason you're staying with our quest is because I can use you, make no mistake."
    "Allow me to be your humble tool," Xelloss said, throwing in an extra-extravagant sweeping bow for gesture.  "How may I be of service, Lina-san?"
    "Two things.  Show me the spell you used to enter this world without falling asleep.  Second, I need to know--"
    "Those spells are secret, afraid."
    "I understand sea salt tastes quite lovely."
    "I don't mean to brag or to deflate Zelgadis's little ego, but I don't think he could give me the heave-ho if he tried," Xelloss noted.
    Lina sighed.  "Look... Xelloss.. please.  This is important, okay?"
    "Hmm.  Definitely quite serious, aren't we?  Intriguing.  I'll teach you the spell, but not right now.  I hate to disappoint you and Zelgadis but I really do need to take leave for a short period of time... I have things to take care of," Xelloss said, rising to leave.  "I'll contact you later, perhaps?"
    "Hey.. hey!  We're not done here!" Lina said to the rapidly vanishing Xelloss.  But by then it was too late, and the orange penguins had already come out to play, Lina slipping into the deeper sleep of the dream.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.