"You got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run." -Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

Mina wandered along with a silently brooding Red through the seemingly endless rabbit warren of natural granite walls that made up the Katatoe mountain range's base, and finally conceded to herself that she was hopelessly lost. This observation (which had been remarked upon with regular consistency by an accusing Red) had been arrived upon by the fact that they'd passed the mark that Red (who even then had been highly doubtful of her vaunted sense of direction) had scratched into the granite face for what was the third time now. This was exacerbated by the fact that flying upward to scout out a better path was almost completely ineffective due to the darkness of the night, and the perennial clouds that seemed to hover over the Katatoes like a gauzy shroud. In addition her compass, a hand-crafted gift from (ironically enough) Zelgadis could not seem to decide which direction north was. The needle spun in a lazy circle some of the time and jerked violently to the left or right for the remainder... the end result being that the compass appeared to be unable to make up it's mind.

Much to its owner's embarrassment.

"Well that settles it." Red sighed, spotting the mark and crossing his arms. "We are definitely lost."

"Well you certainly haven't been much help." Mina grumbled, snapping her befuddled compass shut with a snap. "You've been whining like a kid for the past hour."

He glared at her. "I told you we should have stopped in town to ask for directions, but no.. someone might recognize you, you said. I can scout out if we get lost, you said. My sense of direction has never failed me, you said. My ass!"

"Ok, so maybe I made a mistake.. like you've never been wrong before." she snapped, rubbing the bridge of her nose tiredly, trying to rethink their steps.

She had quite a task before her. The Katatoe Mountains harbor one of the most extensive natural labyrinths on the face of the earth. Created by the dormant volcano system that slumbered deep within the highly ferrous Katatoe mountains, the place was littered with deadends and honeycombed with layer upon layer of old lava tubes. These passages followed no rhyme or reason, and were so extensive that one could literally wander through them hopelessly for months. This proved the age old adage believed to be coined by the ancient philosopher Pratchetti, who once said:

"Chaos will always win against Order, because Chaos is better organized."

Not that the discouraged pair were particularly interested in ancient philosophy at their current juncture.

Finally Mina snapped her fingers.

"I've got it!" she exclaimed.

"Got what?" Red remarked irritably.

"If Zel lives here, presumably to avoid dealing with people, where would be the best place to do so?"

"Past all this, maybe up high... why?"

"Exactly. The higher you climb up a mountain, the colder it gets right?"

"So I've been told." Red grumbled sarcastically, scowling. "So what?"

"So if we just keep wandering in the direction of where it's getting colder, then we are probably traveling in the right direction... right?" she looked at Red with a frown.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. But...." he sighed. "It's better than anything I can come up with."

"Gee. Thanks... I think." Mina snorted.

Three hours later they were finally making progress. The cliff walls on either side of them were beginning to take on a light covering of snow, and their breath fogged like misty wraiths about them. More than once Mina wished her costume were a bit better suited to this sort of weather, but she'd never occasioned to travel towards more arctic climes before, and though she'd known they were headed for a mountain range she hadn't had much time to pick up any essentials beyond the bare necessities.

Traveling with arguably the most wanted man in all of Sailoon did not give one many shopping opportunities.

Red for his part, weathered the gradually chilling climate stoically, but then, one can afford to when one's normal apparel consisted mainly of a large overcoat.

Still, while not uncomfortable physically, he was not at ease by any sense of the word. Something about the looming nature of the rock faces on either side of them made his combat honed senses tingling in alarm. For one, with the way the cliffs tended to jut outward, one would be unable to see an ambush before it was far too late in this place.

For another, with the steadily rising amount of snow capping them, they were increasingly in danger of an avalanche.

Red's hand clenched unconsciously on his sword hilt.


Sir Langdelin of Xoana whistled quietly to himself as he carried a heavy wooden barrel toward the location he'd marked with a bit of rock. Setting it down into the snowbank carefully, so as not to step towards the slippery edge lest he find himself a zealous grease spot on the crevasse floor below, he forced it into its appointed place and eased it back and forth until it was snugly entrenched. Removing his hat, he wiped his brow and glanced behind him.

His companion, rival and headache had man- (or woman) handled a similar barrel to a location exactly twenty feet down-range, and was busily screwing it into the snow in silent concentration. She was (blessedly) silent due to the fact that Mr. Xellos had cautioned her that any loud noise might cause the entire snowbank they stood upon to collapse into the gorge, probably with them in it.

It would also spoil their surprise.

Sir Langdelin (or Langy to his companion and arguably only friend, though he became highly embarrassed if she called him that in public) was not a stupid or spiteful individual. On the contrary, he was a highly intelligent, resourceful and studious young man. He was also extremely loyal and devout, which can sometimes be misconstrued as stupidity by the unenlightened. Being devout meant that he took things on faith, which is the sworn enemy of logic, and believed with all of his great heart and soul in the shrewdness and love of the Terrible Zomelgustar. He wasn't sure what he had done to anger Zomelgustar that He should visit Hydra upon him (who stuck to him like crazy glue... emphasis on the crazy) but he'd taken it at first as a test of his faith, and later in the resigned way that one deals with the fact that one is rapidly going bald... namely by ignoring the problem. To be honest, she wasn't hard to look at, and though he couldn't be sure (he was after all, a chaste and devout Knight of Xoana) he sometimes got the impression that she was flirting with him, but then, she flirted with everything... even inanimate objects.

Putting his beloved hat (a gift from his father, at his mother's insistence, since the crown didn't fit over it in any manner that could be described as regal) back onto it's customary position, he began attaching the long magnesium impregnated fuse into the hole at the top of the barrel. A nobleman, he was well educated in the alchemical arts, particularly Outer World ones that involved things going "boom"... knowledge of which his sainted Mother was particularly fond. As stated before, Sir Langdelin was a devout individual with an overdeveloped sense of faith, so when he mentioned quietly in passing (more to himself than anyone else) that he had thought of a way in which the vile blackheart they were pursuing could be foiled, if only he had a passably large amount of Outer World Explosives, he had not been overly surprised when the great Zomelgustar had made some available through the earthly agent of Mr. Xellos. He wasn't entirely sure where Mr. Xellos had been hiding twenty barrels of grade A black powder and four hundred twenty seven feet of fuse, but then it occurred to him that Xellos, being a priest had probably consulted with his God (of whom Langdelin had never bothered to get the name of, he realized shamefully) who undoubtedly had conferred with the All-Knowing Zomelgustar who then miracled the entire mass into the cloak from which Xellos had calmly drawn barrel after barrel out into the pristine white snow. One would think that this shameful lack of acknowledgement for physical law would make the Knight suspicious.

On the contrary, Langdelin now considered Xellos to be one of the most holy men he knew. This goes in line with the whole faith versus logic argument.

Hydra had gone along with it on the principle that if her rival had come up with a plan, only she could supervise it well enough to make it succeed. That and the fact that she too enjoyed a good bang now and again.

They'd left quickly, since as Xellos had explained, the rest of the group was undoubtably exhausted and shouldn't be bothered with the little details. Langdelin felt somewhat guilty about this fact, but went along with it; secretly he was relieved that they had left Filia behind.

She scared him.


A long, long distance away.. Pallo, now a adult beastman of 22, looked from his spreadsheet to Uncle Jillas in baffled consternation. With the twangy accent that all of his people affected, he vented his puzzlement to his equally confused uncle.

"I don' understand it Uncle... shorely twenty barrels a' powda an' four 'undred twenty seven feet a' fuse con't jus' get op an' walk away. I did the inventory meself."

Jillas frowned and stared hard at the storeroom again. Walking towards the large, bare section where the missing stock had been resting the previous night, he was suprised when something he stepped on crackled. Looking down, he found what appeared to be a small purple piece of paper, somewhat the worse for wear having been stepped upon repeatedly. He picked it up and examined it.

Hello All, I borrowed a little powder... hope you don't mind.

Sincerely, It's A Secret

P.S. It's for a good cause

Jillas frowned at the note. Who the hell could just walk off with a ton of powder and one hundred twenty pounds of fuse without raising any sort of alarm or leaving any tracks?

It would remain a mystery for the rest of his days.


Visibility was next to nil as Lina and her flying companions (with Gourry in his customary position clinging for dear life to Lina's leg) made their way out over the Katatoe Mountains. The howling wind of their passage made it necessary for them to shout in order to make themselves heard, and the air was frigid and heavy with moisture, adding more misery to the tired adventurer's plight.

"WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THEY HEADED OUT THIS WAY MISS LINA?" Amelia shouted, pulling her cloak closer around her shoulders and trying to make do in the chilling fog.

"XELLOS HAS TO BE WITH THEM... AND THIS IS WHERE HE CAN CAUSE THE MOST PROBLEMS." Lina shouted, her teeth chattering. Gourry's grip tightened.... he'd never gotten used to this mode of travel.

"HOW ARE WE EVER GOING TO FIND THEM IN ALL THIS FOG?" Filia shouted irritably, seemingly unaffected by the cold. Her sharp dragon eyesight peered through the thick haze with intense concentration... then widened suddenly.


"WHAT?" shouted the other two.... Gourry was incapable of speech or vision... he had his eyes squeezed shut and was in his happy place.

"I SAID, THERE'S SOMETHING GLOWING OUT THERE..." She pointed into the distance. The other two looked in the direction she indicated, Amelia being the second one to spot it.


Lina frowned, unable to sight it, then she too was able to make out what appeared to be two tiny flickering spots of light.


The other two shouted their agreement, and the small flock of travelers began their descent.

Gourry babbled quietly to himself and tightened his grip again.

Lina almost kicked him off.


Langdelin waited patiently in the snow, lit torch in hand, shielding his eyes from the glare off the huge expanse of virgin snow. At his feet was the end of an extremely long fuse that split off into a multitude of directions. Across the gap between the two high granite cliffs was the tiny figure of an extremely large breasted woman in a similar stance, looking in his direction. He was currently watching the passage up which he had managed to determine the Dark Lord would have to travel, his eyes fixed upon the gap between two large boulders that would afford him a glimpse of his quarry just before the Dark Lord entered his clever little trap. He looked the absolute picture of the vigilant hero, with his cloak snapping in the breeze.

The image was somewhat ruined when he sneezed loudly. It was cold up there, and when one's cloak is snapping in the breeze it is not performing its appointed task, which is to keep one warm.

"Bless you." a wry voice sounded just behind him.

"Thank you, Father Xellos." he said solemnly without taking his eyes off of the target area.

"You're quite welcome, my son." Xellos remarked amiably.

A whistling noise drew Xellos' attention upward, and he calmly stepped to one side as Gourry slammed face first into the snow, his long legs kicking feebly as he attempted to free himself (or perhaps convulsed from another helping of massive head trauma, it was sometimes hard to tell with Gourry). He waved cheerfully as the other members of the group made a decidedly better landing.

"What are you up to, Xellos?!" Filia and Lina hissed at approximately the same time. They looked at each other for a moment, then returned to staring down the hapless Mazoku.

Xellos raised his hands up to forstall any violence. "It wasn't MY idea... I just thought this little undergoing could use some adult supervision. Ask Sir Langdelin if you want to know what's going on."

Lina stalked over to the motionless knight. He apparently hadn't noticed their descent.

"What are you doing? Whats all this rope... what's in those barrels?!" her head swivelled rapidly, following the mass of fuse connecting 10 barrels in series.

"Oh... Miss Lina, I am glad thou art present. I have constructed a clever trap to bring Zomelgustar's judgement down upon yon foul kidnapper."

"What. Kind. Of. Trap?" Lina asked through gritted teeth.

Langdelin smiled grimly. "When the brute passeth through yon clearing, Verily shall I light the sacred fuse of Zomelgustar's puissiant might. In but a few moments, the weight of his fury shall be felt keenly by the ne'erdowell. He shall inevitably perish."

"I see." Lina mused. "Langdelin, can I get your attention for a moment?" she asked sweetly.

Langdelin frowned. "I dare not milady. Should the target pass by whilst my attention is lacking, he might escape Zomelgustar's judgement. Evil be tricky that way."

"This is REALLY important." Her voice was like icing on a cake.

He sighed. I suppose we have a little time. "What would thou have us dis-" he stopped short as he looked at Lina. To say that she did not look happy would have been an understatement. Hardened bandits have fainted away from the sight of a highly irritated Lina Inverse. Langdelin gulped.

"First of all, what ever possessed you to go FLITTING OFF TO START AN AMBUSH WITHOUT THE REST OF THE GROUP?! Gimme That." she snapped the torch out of his nerveless fingers with one hand and gripped the knight by his cloak clasp with the other, dragging him nose to nose. He blinked.


Langdelin paled. Perhaps he'd underestimated the situation slightly.


"SO! What do you have to say for yourself?" she asked, panting heavily.

"Thou doth not wish that we carry out this plan?" he inquired dazedly.

She blinked. Then calmly held the torch out behind her. "Hold this." she asked distractedly.

"Of course Miss Lina." Xellos replied helpfully.

"Thank you."

She then took Langdelin's throat in both hands and proceeded to violently shake him as she attempted to throttle the life out of him. His eyes bugged out so far it looked as though they were about to explode from his face, and he began to turn purple.


Something was very wrong, and she just couldn't quite place what it was that was. She tried to mentally reverse gears. A hissing sound suddenly broke it's way through the haze of rage that clouded her mental faculties and she looked at the faces of each of her companions confusedly.

Each of them stared at each other in frozen horror (With the exception of Gourry, who had only just pulled himself out of the snow and just looked frozen) as it slowly dawned on them what the sound was.

The fuse had been lit.

They all looked aghast at Xellos, who tossed the torch over one shoulder and then grinned. He uttered a single word as explanation.

"Oops." He replied in a tone one usually reserved for dropping one's ice cream. Then he disappeared with a hiss of displaced air.

Langdelin recovered enough to pick up Lina (who yelped and started whacking him on the head, to very little effect) and run for his life. Holding his hat on his head with one hand, he carted the irate sorceress over the frozen landscape, calling over his shoulder.

"I suggest that if thou... screw it. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!"

The group froze for a split second, then Amelia and Filia each grabbed Gourry by a leg and proceeded to make tracks at full across the snowy ground, yelling at the top of their lungs and leaving a huge ditch in the snow as Gourry bounced along face first in the ground.

"Wha-" thud! "is..." crack! "Happeninginging" he muttered as various bits of landscape bounced off his skull.

Hydra frowned, then shrugged and lit her side as well, rocketing up into the sky to avoid the ensuing blast.

Unseen by the fleeing group, Mina and Gaav rounded the bend at exactly the moment that all twenty barrels went off with a noise that even the Lord of Nightmares might have noticed, were she so inclined.


The sudden detonation of a literal ton of gun powder blasted into the night, devastating the rockface on either side of the gorge in a series of explosions so close together it might as well have been one long blast. Langdelin had set up his charges well... first the left side, then immediately following it the right went off from the outside inward, blowing massive amounts of rock and ice into the passage like thousands of razor-sharp flechettes. A cloud of steam and debris filled the already fog saturated air, making visibility impossible.

If Red and Mina had been in the center of that initial hellstorm, not even Red would have survived with his physical body intact. However, since the charges had been set off too early, they were not in the center of the actual blast, so they had a bit of advance warning when several million tons of displaced rock and ice came crashing down the passage they had been traversing.

All of three seconds to be exact.


A sound like the cracking of the world crashed into Mina's travel-numbed mind like the ball-peen hammer of God, at the same time, a concussive blast wave drove her violently onto her rump. At her side, Red grunted under the impact and staggered a few steps backward, his sword clearing it's sheath like magic.

The whip crack detonation rattled about the cliffs, followed by an immense roaring noise, as though the mountains themselves were telling whoever was lighting firecrackers to "CUT OUT THAT RACKET!"

Mina had enough time to begin asking what the hell just happened when the two of them caught sight of the thundering wave of ice and stone rushing up to meet them like a landbirthed tsunami. Mina's jaw dropped open and she froze in mute horror at the sight of her death barrelling towards her... there was just no time...

Red had been on a razor's edge since they'd entered this place. Something about it set his combat instincts into overdrive. Even so, there was no way he could have prepared for the disaster raining down upon them. His mind became a tumbling miasma of random thoughts-

-Good gods... thats the first time I've ever seen anything bigger than ME...-

-I don't know if I can survive this-

-I can't die here! I must know who I am-

-Mina won't live through this...-

-No. Unacceptable.-

Snarling ferociously, his eyes blazing like two coals in the pale frame of his face, he gritted his teeth and swept a thoroughly suprised Mina up against his massive chest, (which broke the far too late Valis Wall she was attempting to cast) then turned his back on the wave of destruction barrelling towards them and slammed his great sword deep into the ground. After the first foot and a half, the blade slide down easier, surprising him slightly, then it held, and he braced himself against it, shielding Mina with his own great bulk just as the avalanche swept into him.

No mortal man can stand against such a terrible force of nature.

Red was no mere mortal.

The initial impact lifted him from his braced position and tried to tear him away from his sword. Holding on with a death grip, he forced himself back into his brace seemingly by sheer force of will. The ice and jagged rock covered them both almost instantly-

For Mina, everything became dark and confusing. Squeezed painfully against Red's chest by his iron grip, she was forced to look upward. Strange and disjoined images flashed to her in the darkness of the avalanche passing by them. Red seemed to be roaring at the storm, his eyes glowing in the darkness, then this disappeared as he closed them. She mouthed a denial as she heard and felt the terrible impact of boulders striking his back, fist sized... melon sized...

Horse sized.

A small bit of jagged rock tore a line of fire across her forehead, and she glimpsed a stone the size of two cupped fists soundly striking the side of Red's leonine head. She could feel them slowly being pushed backward, the flat of the weapon at her back ice cold and groaning as it dug a great furrow in the solid rock. Red slumped forward, at the end of his endurance, and then there seemed to be another cracking noise (what now?) and she felt him shift backwards, and then they were falling.. falling....

Into the darkness... both mind and body.


Deep within the lava tubes that riddled the mountains beneath the surface... in the darkness where no light had ever touched, a pair of terrible red eyes glanced upward as a shifting of earth caused a few small pebbles and clouds of dust to rain down. Growling in anticipation, the Bloody Eyed Reaper continued down the natural stone corridor he had been traveling in his methodical, unstoppable manner.



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