oomed flowed with verdant green life.  An elk trotted along the stream of the purest waters, sipping delicately.  Birds chirped.  Trees exploded.
    "That's not quite right, afraid," Xelloss said, shaking his head sadly.  "You need to have better control."
    "I'm doing the best I can here," Dayvid grumbled, trying to remain casual about being able to summon black energy.  "And I'm only a few hours old at this."
    They had been practicing on simple black magic, to build up to the big spell.  Dayvid didn't like magic.  He had only been associating with it for a short time now and already could tell he didn't like it.  There was no form to it, no structure.  You just... called the powers, and they ran through you with the sickening feeling of being a human dam's gate, and stuff blew apart.
    "You see," his father had explained, "Most people use these long, poetic chants written by some sorcerer or whatnot.  But they're just focal points.  If you look between the lines, it's all about focusing on what you want to happen, what you want the power to do; then you adjust and temper the flow as it runs through so it takes the shape you want.  I don't usually bother with the chanting.  Why train yourself with a crutch, as most human mages do?  Certainly it's harder to control raw power with raw will, but then you have no real limits."
    But Dayvid LIKED the idea of spells.  Chanting and forming words that directed the actions, much like .. like... sort of like.. like putting mathematics into the arm that controlled his turtle, in short coded bursts... he knew he should have come up with a name for the action, but since he never had anybody to talk to about it, he never bothered.  But spells should work like that, not just like wrangling a river's flow chaotically.
    And besides...
    "We don't have a lot of time here, right?" he said.  "I think I can deal with having a crutch or training wheels or whatever, if it means we can get the others back faster."
    "I suppose, but you need to control your will better than you are, spell or not," Xelloss warned.  "Otherwise, the Reality Bubble spell will go boom and it would be bad."
    "I'm fuzzy on this whole good / bad thing, dad."
    "Try to imagine every tiny part of your body simultaneously exploding at the speed of light," Xelloss smiled.
    "...okay, that's bad," Dayvid agreed.  "You know, I tried to clock the speed of light once, but I couldn't invent a precise enough stopwatch.  Let's start with the spells, though, okay?  Just to get going.  Then I'll worry about basic will.  No more shortcuts, deal?"
    "Oh, fine.  Do it the boring way," Xelloss grumped.
    Ryu showed up at the sidewalk cafe after entirely too long.
    "I'm sorry to keep you waiting," he said, bowing slightly in apology.  "But truth be told, you've caused quite a stir with the Council.  We're not used to time travelers..."
    Zelgadis, sitting in a small pile of discarded paper umbrellas and empty glasses, looked up at Ryu with eyes that expressed total relief from boredom.
    "Don't worry, we're not planning to stay," he said.  "Assuming magic technology has advanced as much as it has, is there a way to zip us back?"
    "Go back?  Uh... look, you'd better just come with me," Ryu said.  "The council wants to talk to you about what they've decided on.  I'm just a soldier, really."
    "What'd they decide?" Zel asked.
    "They'll explain it.  So, if you please...?" Ryu suggested, motioning for the two to follow him.
    Zelgadis nodded, and nudged Amelia awake.
    The trip was fairly short, thanks to a 'Taxi' that Ryu hailed.  He offered to fly them there on his back, since the roads were deliberately made wide enough to accommodate any Dragons that felt like going au naturale, so to speak, but Zelgadis declined.  He preferred non-sentient forms of transportation.
    They passed by city scene after city scene, identical all, until Zel lost interest in looking out the window.  People.  People everywhere, walking, riding, talking, business, shopping, talking, walking, riding.  Sprawling apartment complexes with people.  No arguments, no problems.  Idyllic.
    Zelgadis liked to think that being a natural pessimist was actually an advantage for him.  He wasn't always right about the worst case scenario happening nine times out of ten, but when he was, at least he was prepared for it.  And he could say 'I told you so' to the people who weren't, not to mock them, but to suggest they think ahead next time like he did.  It was the only logical way to approach a situation if you wanted to succeed in life.
    So, the less attached he became to this strange world the better.  Keep it as a fever dream image, not as a reality to accept.  Then when he left everything would be cool, and while here he could stay critical.
    "You know..." Amelia said, since she hadn't lost interest in looking out the window, "This is pretty close to what Dad wants."
    "Huh?" Zel asked, surprised at Amelia's talking, since she had been so quiet recently.
    "A world like this," Amelia said.  "Where people can be free.  Free from crime, from wars, or even from hatred from others.  That's really what justice is about, you know, making sure people are free to do what they want and not come to harm.  Of course, some want to cause harm, but justice keeps those wants from interfering with the wants of others... there's a lot of theory behind it."
    "Theory?  Behind your whacked out heroism?" Zelgadis asked.  "All I usually see is mindless stomping of bad guys.."
    And oddly, Amelia glared at him.  "Don't put it that way.  That's not what it's SUPPOSED to be.  Justice means you keep order, but you do it with the right mind.  Compassion is half of it.  I've already met someone who just stomps the bad guys, and I'm very much not like he was, thank you very much.  Maybe I'm young and still have a lot to learn but at least I'm not going to fall into that trap..."
    This threw the chimera.  "Ah... um.  Sorry.  I didn't mean to accuse you..."
    And oddly, Amelia smiled.  "I know.  You're just being you the way you act.  It's okay, really, Zelgadis-san!  I'd like to think my optimism balances our team out, and keeps us successful in our quest!"
    "That's.. a strange way to look at it."
    "Really?" Amelia asked, surprised.  "Funny, I figured it was the only logical way to see it."
    The Council of Dragons is ancient.  The Council is wise.
    When the wars tore the land to shreds, the Council formed of the wisest and noblest of the Dragons to help humanity restore itself to former glory and beyond.  Where the Mazoku destroyed, the Dragons rebuilt.  When the Mazoku corrupted, the Dragons purified.  They weren't the leaders of their race, but simply civil servants selected to deal with the humans; the true capital of the Dragons existed somewhere else, probably somewhere very highly and with lots of perches.
    Six dragons sat on the Council with a seventh floating in from time to time, because six and seven were popular numbers to humanity.  They sat along a long table, because humans prefer a panel discussion.  They've adapted nicely to what the humans want, as they see them wanting, to make sure they're comfortable.
    But the two who entered did not seem comfortable.  The young female, on the right; she was quite at ease, but burned with intensity of ease.  The other sulked in gloom.  They were expecting that, of course, from Ryu's descriptions.
    "Welcome," one of the Dragons said, and it didn't really matter which one.  "We have been expecting you.  Please, have a seat.  Do you wish anything?  Food or drink?"
    "We'd like to leave," Zelgadis said, up front.  He seated himself, and looked the Dragon addressing them squarely in the eye.
    "We have discussed and rejected that option," another Dragon who Zel wasn't looking at stated.  "While a reality bubble could be popped to make a similar gate, and possibly shaped to lead back to your time, it would cause damage, and Paradox would likely occur.  We are not creatures of destruction and will not perform such an irresponsible black act.  The last of those are scattered to the winds."
    "Okay, fine," Zelgadis negotiated.  "Tell us the spell we need and we'll do it ourselves."
    "Allowing another to cause the destruction involved is also unacceptable," the first Dragon stated.  "This is a world of peace, Chimera.  Nothing must jeopardize that.  Surely your companion agrees?"
    "Well...." Amelia said, prompted to speak.  "It's not a good thing to put other people at risk.  That's a given.  But at the same time, we'd be doing a dishonorable thing by abandoning our quest which I don't think Lina-san--"
    "Lina Inverse?!" the first Dragon asked.  The others piped in randomly.
    "The black witch of chaos?"
    "The enemy of all who live?"
    "She who brought the Mazoku lord not once, but twice?"
    "The most dangerous human to walk?"
    "A risk to her own race, if not all three races?"
    The first Dragon held a hand up to silence the others, not because he was the leader, but because they were all peers and respected each other's wishes.  They grew quiet.
    "Any service done against Lina Inverse likely is of benefit to your people," the Dragon said.  "Her continuing irresponsible actions with dark magics she should not have tampered with caused much death and despair.  You would be far better off staying here, which is what you must do, regardless."
    "Lina Inverse did aid Filia in her quests before the Second Mazoku War," another Dragon stated.  "We must not discount that."
    "Irrelevant," a previously quiet one said, flatly.  "Her later actions were too horrible to keep a balance of neutrality.  Her mirror affairs are one of the major projected causes of the second war.  She is to be considered an enemy of the Dragons and Humans both and thus discounted appropriately.  Reportedly, the Knight of Ceipheed agrees."
    The Dragons nodded in full consent.
    "...she's not all that bad..." Amelia meekly said.
    Zelgadis tried to re-rail the conversation.  "Can we get off of Lina for a moment?  What exactly have you people decided should become of us?"
    "You should live here, with your kind," a Dragon said.  "We can cure you, Zelgadis, so that you have no problems meshing with humans once more.  Amelia, already you have grown to agree about the ideals of this world.  We believe you will have a happy existence here.  Whatever quests you were on are written into our history already, outcome regardless.  To change that is to anger a Paradox."
    "I guess it would be... but, well.." Amelia said, trying to come up with a defense.
    Zelgadis's mouth was hanging open.  "Wait.  ...cure me?  You can cure my curse?"
    "We will," the Dragons said.  "Come.  Third will perform the ritual in a private room, and correct your problem.  Amelia, Fourth wishes to talk with you as well in private.  Then we may reconveniene, and find a good place for you two to live, and things to do when there."
    A cure.  Fancy that... Zelgadis was always interested in a cure.  But at the cost of not going back?...
    Actually, why would it have to be a cost at all?  So the Dragons remove his Chimeric parts, make him human.  Then he and Amelia can quest for the 'reality bubble' spell, cast it in secret and go home.  A good plan.
    "I'm game," Zelgadis said, allowing himself a sly smile.
    The Dragons also smiled, but for other reasons.
    Outside the shining walls, figures creep.
    Creeping is not done in Central Lair, because it implies you have a reason to sneak around, and that reason likely is not a social one.  But these figures skulked with definite purpose and defiance.
    The ringleader of the merry band motioned for them to hold, and he detonated a sewer grating with a homemade explosive, the formula for which was cooked up nearly four hundred and fifty years ago.  The Dragons never had gotten the hang of science.  Almost a humans-only magical club, it was, the figure smirked.  They'd have felt black magic or fireballs, but a smudge of C4 would never be noticed.
    "Okay, move in," he said to the others, in a sign language.  "Move quietly.  We don't have long before the spell goes off, and everything matters."
    Zelgadis was already pleased with himself and his situation, and thus didn't notice the magical sealing of the door behind him as he entered the small chamber with the Dragon.
    "I'm curious," he said.  "How is it that you've managed to find a magic that reverses my problem?"
    "Research and development, mostly," the Dragon said, preparing a book of runes that was ready and waiting on a nearby table of instruments.  "It was of the utmost necessity, we found, in the evolution of humankind out of the moldy roots that led to the second great war.  How is it you say it?  History repeats its mistakes you learn from?"
    "Actually, it's 'History repeats itself' and 'You learn from your mistakes,'" Zelgadis corrected.  "But I don't see how that relates."
    A magic circle was drawn around Zelgadis's feet, a glowing powder that settled into a perfect form with the slightest of commands.  He briefly considered stepping out of the circle, a paranoid impulse, but by the time it passed through his mind, the circle was complete.
    "It's simple," the Dragon stated.  "It's the darkness within humans that causes the occasional Lina Inverse.  The wild card.  The one that could bring the whole works toppling down out of vanity or power-mad hunger.  We simply have learned to purge the Mazoku's brand of blackness from men's souls, and make them pure..."
    This wasn't sounding good.
    "What does that have to do with curing my Chimera curse?" Zelgadis asked.
    "You thought...?" the Dragon asked.  Then, it shook its head.  "I should have realized.  We knew you would need the most adjustment towards the side of goodness, Zelgadis, of the two of you.  Corrupt as usual.  We must cure you of your evil thoughts, so that you will not harm others, and will live in happiness and peace..."
    And every suspicious, pessimistic impulse slammed back into Zelgadis with a ball-peen hammer.
    "Oh, of COURSE," he groaned.  "Now, this I should have seen coming.  You brainwashed those people in the city, didn't you?  You've made them... nice.  But nice by your choosing, not theirs."
    "That is correct, albeit with disappointing labels," the Dragon said.  "You shouldn't look at this so negatively.  It is for the best for everybody involved.  You don't need the darkness anymore, not now--"
    "Typical," Zel said.  "So totally typical.  So much so that I wish I had expected it.  What happens now?  You're going to scrub my head too?  And Amelia?"
    "Just a little for her," the Dragon said.  "She has too much ambition.  She could cause a great deal of harm while she has very good intentions.  It can be fixed.  Five hundred years we have tried to figure out what to do with your people, Zelgadis -- you embraced us at first, then tolerated us, then defied us and almost brought about a third coming.  No more.  We will save you, for your own sake.  We--"
    The thing that the Dragon wasn't expecting to happen, that he would be caught in a timed explosion in the middle of explaining his plans, happened.  The bomb under the floor slammed the Dragon through the ceiling above; Zelgadis, tougher than the average sort of guy, was merely singed.
    Xelloss licked one finger, and held it to the sky, testing the winds.
    "What is it now?" Dayvid asked.  "We're ready.  It's taken a day or two, but I think we're ready.  We are ready, right?"
    "Mmmm... it's time," Xelloss nodded.  "Things feel aligned appropriately.  You do remember the chant, yes?"
    Dayvid nodded.  "Of course.  I've got a good memory."
    "You shouldn't HAVE to chant it, you know--"
    "Let's not start on that again."
    "Just suggesting," Xelloss shrugged.  "Say the words if it makes you comfortable, but hold Amelia in your mind as hard as you can regardless.  Otherwise this simply isn't going to work.  Now, join hands, so we can funnel the same powers.  I'll act as a conduit and guide, you control the spell's flow."
    Dayvid glanced around Doomed, at the lush wildlife for a moment of beauty-inspiration, then took his father's hand.  "We can just do it again if we screw up, right?"
    "Actually, no, we'll likely be blasted to subatomic particles if we screw up, but don't let that worry you," Xelloss smiled.  "I'm funneling the power now.  I'd suggest you start."
    Excitement tugged at Amelia, like she was about to open a present.  She was all smiles, despite the bad lighting and slightly unusual nature of the spell-room.  She could identify some items used in a number of powerful white magic spells, including ones that dealt with the mind.
    "What do you use this room for?" she asked the Dragon, who was busy inscribing her in a circle.
    "Healing," the Dragon said.  "This will only take a s--"
    The explosion from the room across the hall shook the building.  An alarm sounded.  The Dragon also looked alarmed until the door behind him exploded with black energy, which flowed out and consumed him in what sounded a lot like a GULP.
    A man in military fatigues stepped through, brushing some dragon-dust away with the toe of his boot.  "No point in not whipping out the heavy artillery, now that we've tripped the alarm.." he shrugged.  Looked to up to Amelia.  "Come with me if you want to live."
    Amelia took a defensive stance, a fireball ready to cast.  "Who the heck are you?!"
    Into the room walked Zelgadis, dusty and scorched, but otherwise fine.
    "Time to go," Zelgadis said.  "We've been sprung before the Dragons could mind-alter us by these nice rebel type people.  You are rebels, right?"
    "How'd you guess?" the leader asked.
    "The outfits and bombs were a good tipoff."
    Winds picked up in Doomed.
    "Powers outside the lores, forbidden spells of world shaping..." Dayvid chanted, despite inwardly being worried about the ominous words.  No; concentrate on Amelia and Zelgadis.  He wanted them back.  The spell WOULD bring them back, powers he commanded, even if he didn't like those powers he could at least use them here and now.  To bring her back to him.
    "Secret magics of risk and reward, grant me your blessing..."  And somehow he could FEEL them.  They were together, somewhere, along with others, but he focused on them.  It was a modified bubble.  It was designed to steal some of reality away from the future he sought, and move it around, and pop the bubble to merge it with this world.  It made.. some kind of scientific sense to him, really.  Magic seemed to be a lot like science, but with more hand waving and explosions.  At least, more hand waving.
    "Push the bubble, the pocket, in the fabric of reality..."
    Ah, there were the explosions.
    "You don't have long," the leader said, pocketing a walkie talkie.  "The Dragons are sending soldiers now like Ryu to clean up this mess.  We're the mess.  But we know the spell will be cast here and now, and we'll keep them off your back long enough."
    "Spell? Mess? What?  Who?!" Amelia asked, still a bit dazed.
    "Who's bringing us back?" Zelgadis asked.  "And who are you?"
    "That is classified, Zel-kun," the commando smirked.
    Dragons poured around the corner, and white lights flew past Zelgadis--
    --the rebels threw black lights back, and red fires, and blue ices, anything they could to stem the flow of the powerful whiteness of the Dragons.  Even some whiteness was thrown.  Amelia was reminded of Sailoon Founding Day, in midsummer, and he fireworks displays...
    "How long until we go?!" Zelgadis asked, over the roar of the fighting.
    The bubble formed, pushing through the ground, through the air, twisting and warping reality around it...
    The spell was done, and now Dayvid was just funneling power to keep the bubble going, until he was sure the others were inside.  This was harder than it seemed.  Focus, focus, keep a grip on Amelia, keep things going... shimmering forms appearing inside the tiny pocket of existence...
    "I forgot to mention," Xelloss said, casually, over the roar of the magical maelstrom.  "We're probably going to really, really, really piss of Paradox doing this, and only have a gambler's chance at surviving."
    "Focus!" Xelloss demanded.
    And the figures formed...
    And Amelia and Zelgadis felt themselves pulled from the world where the Dragons held sway over Man, and into a place of nothing, and into a world familiar...
    The bubble burst.
    Time had a heart attack.
    Four people stood in a Doomed valley which was being torn to shreds in the rage of history.
    And Paradox finally noticed the commotion, and as all good (and surviving) time travelers remember, he asked Just what in the hell do you think you're DOING?!
    Strands of time snapped tight and knotted themselves until
    the refreshing beverage in Zelgadis's hand dropped in surprise.
    The Guppy drifted out of the mists of the Bahumut Trapezoid, puttering along without a care, reentering the sunlit world out of the rolling clouds of gray.
    Xelloss was perched in his usual place, fiddle at his side.  Dayvid and Amelia were similarly lounging around.
    All of them took a deep breath to confirm that Yes, they are still breathing.
    "It... it was all a dream?" Amelia asked.  "It was just a big, scary dream!  Heh!"
    "Now's usually when we find the bloody hook or the discarded sock or whatever bit of evidence that makes us go 'Or WAS IT?'," Zelgadis pointed out.
    The other sock did not fall.
    "History doesn't actually like to leave obvious clues like that," Xelloss said.  "It's supposed to look seamless.  But don't worry, it did happen.  Actually, it's better things happened this way, since we did abandon your ship in the future originally, Dayvid."
    "The shi... aaaah!" Dayvid said.  "I was so busy trying to pull Amelia back that I forgot about the Guppy completely!!  Aww, man, that would have been a disaster..."
    "So who was pulling me back?" Zelgadis asked.
    "Uh.." Dayvid mumbled, trying to remember.  "I.. think I sort of wasn't focusing much on you.. err, no offense.  So that means..."
    Three heads slowly looked at Xelloss, who was busy tuning his violin.
    "Hmmm?" he asked, innocently.
    "YOU specifically worked to get me back??" Zelgadis asked.  "Why?  You think I'm predictable and annoying."
    "Ah..." Xelloss said, sounding a sharp, dramatic orchestral note on his instrument.  "THAT, my friend, is a secret."
    And so, the party -- or rather, the parties -- wound to a close, the people wandering off to rest before the big meeting at the Island of Ultimate Despair.
    Far away, Lina was tucking herself in for the night, having finally been able to relax enough to have a drink and generally unwind when she realized the book was refusing to show itself to Naga.  It wasn't blank -- it still wrote the same words for Lina to reread if she felt like it.
    Giga Slave.  Giga Restoration.  And when those two are done, eventually Giga's Gate.
    Lina knew a good slab of prophecy when she saw one.  The stories aren't hard to understand.  Anybody who casts both the Giga Slave and the Giga Restoration is doomed to go through whatever Giga was talking vaguely about in poetic form.  And fortunately, Lina wasn't stupid enough to do exactly that.
    As far as she was concerned, Giga's spells could stay hidden.  She'd just bury the book somewhere, or destroy it, or just keep it safe somewhere for the future -- she'd never cast Giga Restoration herself.  Only a fool would deliberately walk into a trap of destiny.  Her primary quest, rebuild and transport the Oracle Mirror to Sailoon, was right around the corner from finishing, no fusses, no problems, no world-shattering hidden magics to rock the world.
    Satisfied in her conclusions, she went to bed, and dreamed she had wings.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.