Part One

"Where would you rather be... The doubt and the fear I know would all disappear, anywhere but here... anywhere but here. On the edge of sleep I heard voices beyond the door, the known and the nameless, familiar and faceless... My angels and my demons at war... At war! Which side will lose depends on what I choose. Or maybe, which voice I ignore... Wilderness of mirrors, streak s of cold desire. My precious sense of honor, just a shield of rusty wire. I hold against the chaos, and the cross of holy fire..." -Rush, Double Agent

There is a terrible crime committed on a regular basis. This crime is a small one, perhaps, in scale, but one cannot measure the evil of a deed by the intent behind it. Rather, one must look to the emotional and spiritual (ok, and sometimes physical) effect that it has upon its victim, or victims as the case may be.

Indeed, perhaps the greatest evils are not those which are perpetrated against any single individual, no matter how vile the intent; rather it is those which reach into and gleefully nipple-tweak the lives of many people.

Like disco, for example.

This however, is not the evil which is being referred to, (in a rather round about way...) no matter how terrible the example just used was. No, what is being referred to is quite simply put: the cliffhanger.

No, not the movie with that guy (what's 'is name?) in it. That's right, the correct definition of cliffhanger in this sense is the interruption of a story at the least appreciated time for the purpose of shamelessly propogating one's fanbase.

There is however, an evil more insidious, vile, and downright sneaky lurking in the wings to follow the dreaded cliffhanger.

Not immediately continuing where the aforementioned cliffhanger left off.

Neener. Neener. Neener.


Filia was loath to admit it, but for the first time in her (admittedly non-lengthy) career, she was without a doubt completely and utterly without a clue as to how to proceed.

She sat at her desk (which occupied a corner office not far from Dr. Talon's own) and looked drearily over the case files which littered her desk, along with the styrofoam cup of black vending-machine rendered coffee (which, if she wasn't quick, was going to eat through the cup which contained it, non-biodegradable or no) rapidly congealing in the early morning hours. Her eyes tracked over each mystery (including the coffee) in turn with tired resignation, and she felt the details turning sluggishly in her lack-of-sleep fogged mind.

Case 1: Severe megalomania coupled with paranoid schizophrenia and an imagined persecution issue with Case 2 who may or may not have caused the subject hardships in the past. When placed in a situation of intense stress, the subject reverts to a "god-like" monster personality capable of nearly anything. Possible nymphomania included, though of course, highly selective.

Case 2: Subject exhibits intense instances of narcissistic rage coupled with a low self-esteem. During instances of rage, exhibits highly volatile behavior (subdue as necessary, sedate when possible). Indulges in grossly gluttonous behavior whenever the opportunity presents itself (possibly a result of aforementioned low self-esteem) and seems to orient a majority of aforementioned volatile behavior at Case 3. Subject is also extremely sensitive (bringing up subject sometimes induces volatile behavior) concerning certain types of criminals, namely robbers, muggers, etc. Possible post traumatic stress disorder triggered by an event perpetrated by these "bandits"?

Case 3: Subject exhibits complete detachment (borderline catatonia) from reality, though severe stress and physical violence (see Case 2) can regain subjects attention for short periods of time. Subject also exhibits gluttonous behavior whenever possible, however no underlying reason (Fear of reprisal from Case 2?) for this can be determined at this time. Subject exhibits phenomenal physical prowess but has little to no long term memory (suggesting a possible post-traumatic stress disorder related to Case 2). Subject is often victimized without provokation by Case 2 (emotional displacement disorder?).

She pushed the case files aside and rubbed her eyes, then glanced at the case file for John Doe.

It was nearly empty. It included a detailed physical analysis, but no personal details, past behavior, treatment history... in fact, it contained no history at all. John Doe not only didn't exist, no amount of drug or pain induced stimuli could evoke even the slightest reaction from him, with the notable exception of removing him from Xellos' company for extended periods of time. She sighed.

"How am I supposed to treat someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a dead man?" She asked pointedly of her coffee cup.

The coffee cup remained thoughtfully silent.

She screwed her fists into her aching eyes and tried to rub the exhaustion from them. Leaning back in her chair, she stared at the slightly off-white ceiling.

"The answer is I can't. I've got nothing on this guy, no way to reach him, whereever he is. I've got no way to look into his past, so I have no idea of what made him the way he is but..." She stopped.

Standing up suddenly enough to bark her shin on leg of her desk, she winced, then grinned through the pain. "I'm such an idiot. Of course! The only way to reach him is through the only one who knows him. Xellos!" Her hands curled into fists at the thought. "I don't know why but he makes me so angry..." she shook for a moment, then returned to her usual, placid self. "Now comes the hard part. Somehow, I have to convince Dr. Talon to allow me to talk with him." She sat back down, deep in thought.

Then looked up and smiled. "What the doctor doesn't know can't hurt him, can it?"

Again, the coffee cup wisely forwarded no advice.


For the first time in his admittedly eventful life, Zelgadis was grateful for the interruption of his personal life by an unforseen life-or-death situation. Armies of flying beastmen he could deal with. Figuring out how to apologize to Amelia required a bit more work.

Seeing that Gaav was currently busy elsewhere (not precisely lala land but close) he took the reins of command, returning Lina's pointed stare apologetically, but silently confrontational. Most of the groups tactics in the past had been centered around providing support for their small chested "big gun". Since that particular tactic was no longer feasible, it stood to reason that the most powerful of the remainder should give the orders...

Wait a minute... who SAID their former tactics were infeasable?

"Pix, I want you to help Lina muster up an offense." He snapped a quick glance in her direction.

"Ok, master." She nodded.

"No offense Zel, but what good is the fairy gonna do me?" Lina raised a dubious eyebrow at the fluttery little thing that had been following Zel around.

Zelgadis snapped her a slightly bemused glance. "The "fairy" is an extremely powerful magical battery... if you're in physical contact, you should be able to cast-"

He was interrupted by a startled gasp as Lina grabbed Pix in a deathgrip with a joyous look on her face. It became an evil grin that evolved into a scary giggle in the direction of their approaching foes.

"Organs... imploding..." Pix wheezed, waving her arms feebly.

"Hehehehe he... oh... sorry." Lina released Pix who fluttered warily to rest on her shoulder. Lina rubbed her hands together.

Zelgadis gave her a warning look. "Her energy's not limitless... no Dragon Slaves ok?"


Zelgadis shook his head and turned to Gourry. With Gourry, it was always best to remain simple. "Point defense." He stated, pointing at Lina.

Gourry grinned. "Already on it." He smiled beautifically, watching the approaching formation intently. He dropped into a sword stance, not yet drawing his sword but with his hand on the hilt.

"Shouldn't we at least try to mount some kind of attack? I feel sorta useless just sitting around here..." Mina droned, somewhat mesmerized by so many flapping wings.

Zelgadis shook his head slowly. "No... Like I said earlier, this is the most defensible position for miles... since they look like they know what they're doing as far as airborne warfare is concerned, separating the group at this point would be suicide. We'd best try to stick it out here... pick off as many of them as we can with distance magic."

She cast one last longing look at Gaav, then nodded silently, intent on the still somewhat distant but rapidly approaching airborne army.

"Amelia?" he turned to her.

Amelia crossed her arms and looked pointedly away.

Zelgadis winced. "This isn't really the time or place for this, Princess."

"I'm not speaking to you, and that's Queen, thank you very much."

Zelgadis massaged the bridge of his nose.

-Calm.- He thought to himself, breathing slowly. -Remain calm, after all, this IS your fault... somehow.-

"Look, I'm sorry about earlier, but we really don't have time for this right now, your majesty."

"We never really have time for it." She muttered darkly, shaking her head resignedly. Zelgadis stared at her a little dismayed. This wasn't like her at all. He sighed.

"Just... put up a shield around the noncombatants ok?"


"What hath transpired here, varlet?" Langdelin loomed over Zelgadis darkly. Hydra stood concernedly at his shoulder. Zelgadis rolled his eyes.

"Do you even know what a varlet is?"

Langdelin seemed to think about this for a moment before glaring at the swordsman again. "In point of fact, nay, though I'm passing sure 'tis... not good."

Zelgadis shook his head. "Well "Sir Knight", take a look up there." He pointed up.

Langdelin followed his finger up, then swelled with palpable joy. Zelgadis pointedly stepped back from him, lest he be splattered upon when the young knight exploded with righteous fervor.

"God's Blood! Yon enemy has taken to the skies!" He fingered his chin in an instantaneous change of pose. "A most devious and dastardly trick." he nodded to himself twice quickly, then returned to pointing at the sky, his other hand clenched into a fist. fire erupted around him, and one got the impression that if this fic had camera angles, the camera would be circling dramatically around the expressive knight. "But to NO AVAIL!!! The heroes shall stand righteously with the might of Zomelgustar to gird their loins-"

Mina, Lina and Zelgadis blinked. "Gird our what?"

"-and the fires of righteousness will preheat the oven of Zomelgustar to 360 degrees for thirty minutes, baking our foemen until they are a delicious golden-brown, serves 10!!!" He stood taller as Hydra waved a "Go Team" flag behind him and threw confetti around randomly.

Amelia blinked. "Was I ever THAT bad?"

The rest of the group looked at her and simultaneously deadpanned. "Yes."


Arashi stared down intently upon his assembled foes. The Striking Talons were a crack team of soldiers, quite unlike the majority of Talon's army. He'd drilled them incessantly in air to ground tactics, since it was relatively rare to encounter enemies in the air, aside from the occasional sorceror. It was perhaps a testament to Valgaav's skill that he'd dealt them such a grievous blow in their initial combat, but Valgaav was no longer a threat, at least for the moment, and the losses the unit had incurred had been recouped by the Striking Talons Arashi had wisely held in reserve during that titanic battle, though they were still slightly understrength. He surveyed the 120 soldiers in tight formation around him, then nodded to himself.

"Clutches four, five, and six, fletchettes to the ready!" He barked smartly, watching as his orders were repeated across the formation, tarps were snapped tight between pairs of soldiers and loaded down with the wickedly sharp projectiles the cannon crews of Sentinel had learned to fear.

"Clutches ready, Lord!"

Clutches one, two and three... assault dive formation on my point..." He unlimbered one of his wicked short spears and took the foremost position at the head of what was essentially a sixty man, spear-shaped formation. Locking his short spear a few feet in front of his face (Essentially turning himself into a horizontal projectile that was as small a target as possible to ground forces, while simultaneously putting all of his weight behind the spear.) he took a deep breath and the rest of the formation followed suit.


The forward formation pulled into a breakneck dive aimed directly at a certain small justice loving monarch...

As overhead the Fletchette formation positioned itself with deadly accuracy, preparing to rain down death upon the hapless party...

Death from above...


She wasn't sure, but she could swear that Xellos hadn't moved an inch from the position she'd seen him in last, though he was obviously conscious now. He watched her slit-eyed with a pleasant grin on his face, apparently innocent as a child, though the fact that he was securely constrained in a straight-jacket made the image somewhat hard to swallow.

"Ah, Dr. Copt... to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? Time for my medication again? Perhaps a sponge bath?" He leered at her, amazingly still innocent looking despite his perverse expression.

She shook her head. "Hardly... I've just come to.... talk is all. Isn't that terribly uncomfortable?" she eyed him uncomfortably... at that angle he must have been straining his neck muscles something fierce.

He shrugged (or tried to) unconcernedly. "I find it's much easier to stomach this place lying on my face. After all... I can hardly find a lower place to sink to if I'm on the floor, can I?" He chuckled slightly at his little joke.

She stared at him for a moment before a look of resolved strength crossed her face. Taking care to avoid his face, she lifted him to a sitting position upon the bed (in much the same position she'd seen him when she FIRST encountered him). She stepped back and watched him quietly.

He seemed amused somehow (well, more amused then he appeared normally). "I knew there was a bit more to you then there appears on the surface. My thanks, Filia."

She frowned. "How do you know my name?"

He grinned. "That is a secret."

For some reason that phrase sent a sudden flash of irritation like a spike of physical pain right behind her eyes. She gritted her teeth reflexively. "Well be that as it may, I'm going to need to learn a few of your secrets, Xellos."

He continued to watch her, but he no longer appeared overly amused. "Enlighten me as to why should I tell a puppet anything at all."

She growled. "I'm not a puppet... I accepted this assignment of my own free will!"

He grinned. "Well it's nice to see he put some effort into his deception, at least. He's pulling your strings masterfully, I can tell you."

"Who?" She inquired, annoyed.

He shrugged. "I think you know."

She shook her head, putting his puzzling attitude aside for now. There were more important matters to be discussed. "Please... I need information about him..." she gestured towards the catatonic young man on the bed. "You're the only one who can help me."

He shrugged. "Perhaps it's still possible to cut your strings. Very well... ask."

She breathed a sigh of relief that tightened into a hiss when he continued. "However..."

"However?" she asked, guardedly.

He turned his face to regard her fully, his face becoming still and calculating again. "A question for a question. It's only fair I should think. Quid pro quo, Filia. Quid pro quo."

"What could you possibly want to know about me?" She asked, astounded.

"Humour me." He said flatly, watching her intently.

"O-Okay..." she said with only a slight tremor in her voice.

He lightened his attitude once again, and Filia got the rather disturbing impression that he'd just manipulated her into something. "Very well Doctor... ask away."

"What is his name?" She asked warily, producing a notepad and pencil.

"His name is Valgaav, though I don't think you'd quite know how to take his last name. Ask me again in a little while." He grinned mischeviously.

"I thought you were going to be cooperative!" She snapped, frowning.

"I AM a mental patient Filia dear, one can hardly expect me to comply at all." He said sweetly.

She sighed. "I suppose so."

"My turn." He grinned. "How did you get to work today?"

She blinked. "What kind of question is THAT?"

He smirked silently at her, awaiting her answer.

"Very well I-" she stopped, drawing a blank.

"I-" she frowned. She remembered walking up to the building this morning... WAS it this morning? How long ago WAS it? Try as she might, she could not recall how she'd gotten to work this morning... which was strange, because the Asylum was in the middle of nowhere. She couldn't have walked...

Could she?

"I don't remember..." she said in a small voice, her forehead creasing in confusion.

He smiled deviously. "Oh nevermind... ask your next question, my dear Doctor."

"Um... what's your relation to Valgaav, exactly?"

He looked up, giving it a bit of thought. "Well, to answer your question exactly, I suppose I'd have to say that I am the last defense mechanism he has left."

"I don't understand..."

"Oh come now. A doctor of the mind such as yourself doesn't understand about defense mechanisms? I represent someone in his past that he identified with as being safe. A protector, if you will. I'm the last bit of conscious will he's got left fighting his enemies. I find that vaguely amusing, that he would find me safer than his own mother."

"That doesn't make any sense... people can't just create living, breathing defense mechanisms! This is the real world!" She rubbed the bridge of her nose, tired. This was getting nowhere.

"Who says?" he stared at her intently.

"Who says what?"

"Who says this is the real world? My next question Filia... How long have you been here?"

"That's easy. I've been here for one day ..." She frowned. She distinctly remembered arriving, talking to Dr. Talon, encountering Xellos for the first time... watching him be sedated... except that from the amount of sedative he'd been given, he'd have been out for at least eight hours... and he'd probably have slept even longer than that. At a minimum that meant that she'd been here for ten hours... not strange in and of itself except...

It was still sunny outside.

"What the heck is going on?" she asked herself out loud.

"I'll take that as your next question." He cocked his head slightly to the side. "You've been tricked. This place here, this illusion, was created to do one thing - buy time." He sighed. "Unfortunately it's beginning to look as though it might work. Pity. He's such a nice boy." He got that devious look again. "His mother will be quite devastated by his loss."

"That doesn't make any sense! Who'd do such a thing? You're crazy!" She backed up a bit, clutching the notepad defensively. Normally she wouldn't have given his ravings a second thought, but all the strange gaps in her own memory... the physical descrepancies in her world, and a nagging feeling of wrongness confused her, turned her around. She didn't know what was right anymore.

"This is an insane asylum, Doctor." He said dryly. "You can hardly blame me if I was. Since you seem so hung up on the logic of your situation, I put this to you. There are 57 patients being treated here. They all believe that this is an illusion, that they are, in fact, from a fantastic world of magic and monsters." He grinned. "You and the Doctor are the only ones who believe in this Asylum. I was under the impression that when a small sample of a population believe reality to be one thing, and the majority believe in another, that the smaller sample are the ones considered to be crazy. What do you say to that?"

"The rest of the world doesn't believe in your fantasy!" she exclaimed.

"Prove the rest of the world exists!" he grinned. "Give me one bit of information about the outside world. Your address... your neighbors... the very teachers who gave you your diploma... you should remember their names, right? Name one, and I'll admit that I'm the one who's crazy and you can dope me up again. If you can't, admit that I am correct and release me. I have work to do."

She backpedaled, thinking furiously, opening the door with shaking hands, the notepad forgotten. Just before the door slammed shut... just before his voice was silenced, he shouted after her.

"At the very least Filia, ask yourself who the villian is in this asylum of yours... ask well... and then tell me... who is in the portrait in the lobby?"

She ran down the hallway recklessly, stopping only when a pair of cool gloved hands stopped her. "Dr. Copt! Where ever are you running in such haste?" Dr. Talon looked down at her concernedly, his dark glasses flashing in the flourescent lighting.

"I... I... Xellos..." she sobbed, fighting his arms. They tightened almost painfully.

"What did he tell you?" He demanded, his face turning cold... almost cruel.

"He..." she looked up, suddenly confused and dizzy. A palpable coldness radiated from his hands and she tried to shake him off, but he held fast, his grasp tightening.

"I told you not to talk to him." he sighed concernedly, then smiled.

"You... naughty... naughty little girl."

She blinked, looking up. All the concern, the emotion washed away from his face like the mist clearing before the burning sun, his veneer of civilization disappearing and becoming cruel enjoyment of her pain in his grasp. He shook his head.

"I'm surprised you were able to fight my spell so effectively, but I suppose it doesn't matter anymore. I've consumed too much of him to be defeated by any white magic spell." He pushed her against the wall brutally, watching her try to clear the cobwebs from her mind with a smirk of enjoyment on his face. "Dear little Filia... did you honestly think you could beat me at my own game?" He sighed, removing his gloves slowly. "I may only be a part of Talon, but I am still greater than any dragon or half-dragon who ever lived! It's not too late for you though. This body is devilishly powerful... relinquish your protection of it, give me his true name... and I will allow you to turn tail and run... Refuse, and I will remove it forcefully from the mauled, bleeding, pitifully mewling thing that was once your sad excuse for a mind."

She stood up, memories cascading inside her but too confused by the sudden shock of it all to do anything but turn blindly down the hallway and run... run from the monster in front of her.

He followed her flight with his eyes, or lack thereof, behind dark glasses and shook his head. He called pleasantly behind her. "You're only delaying the inevitable!"

She continued to run, hopelessly lost in the maze of passageways.

He sighed. "Very well... 1, 2, 3, 4... ready or not, here I come!"


On to Part Two

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