"Don't go out tonight, 'cause it's bound to take your life. There's a bad moon, on the rise." -Bad Moon, Credence Clearwater Revival

The rattling and gnashing of teeth against cutlery filled the smoke-filled (see previous note about taverns) taproom like the crashing of waves against the shore. Lina's erstwhile group of adventurers had stopped to figure out their next move, which by matter of course meant that the group also had to have a meal or five.

Thus far, a large amount of eating and very little actual planning was being done.

Amelia, used to the natural state of chaos involved in eating with the Gabriev family, merely guarded what was on her plate cautiously and ate in a relatively normal fashion, though she was occasionally forced to duck a poorly aimed fork or bit of escaping nutritional shrapnel.

Filia didn't bother to dodge or even react to the ruckus around her. Amazingly, the dragon girl simply ignored the situation completely and daintily consumed her repast, and by sheer force of will was able to avoid the culinary storm, though if one were to look underneath the table, one might occasion to notice that her tail lashed back and forth in an irritated fashion.

Xellos nursed a cup of an unidentifiable substance that MIGHT have been coffee a discreet distance away, and occasionally made innocently knowing (Xellos is a master of facial expression... so its not all that hard for him to layer several contradictory impressions on his visage) glances in Filia's direction. "Innocently knowing" was essentially a facial expression he used to give the impression that he was hard at work scheming something positively diabolical, and was therefore trying hard not to draw attention to himself. This had the intended effect of driving everyone around him (especially Filia) crazy trying to figure out what it was that he had up his sleeve this time, when in actuality he was simply enjoying the frustration everyone was feeling trying to figure out a plot that simply didn't exist.

Not to say that he wasn't currently INVOLVED in a plot... its just that most of Xellos' plots were the sort that simply involved setting up a seemingly unrelated series of events that would then cascade outward, like multiple rocks dropped into a pond. This would cause several series of rings bouncing off one another, kept in perpetual motion by the sheer force of the personalities involved, until the desired set of circumstances arrived. Thus relieving him of any more than the most minor of occasional upkeep scheming to keep the ball rolling as it were, so he could spend the rest of the time coming up with the next major plot.

When it comes to manipulation, Xellos isn't just a couple of lines ahead of everyone else, he's in a completely different script.

Hydra had collapsed somewhere in the middle of her fifth bottle of wine, and was currently face down in her clam chowder. The occasional series of bubbles popping on the surface evinced that the bounty hunter had not drowned... much to the disappointment of the rest of her table.

Langdelin see-sawed between holding a clothful of ice (conjured by Hydra) to the swollen ache in his jaw (conjured by Filia) and staring in shock at the whirlwind of destruction that swept over the table like a plague of locusts.

Very hungry locusts.

Finally, at the predecided stopping point (namely, Lina took a bite from her hastily stabbed fork and ended up with a few splinters in her mouthful) the group looked uneasily across the table (or in some cases, into the large chunk of potato that had lodged under their left eye) at one another, considering the task at hand.

"Well... the first order of business is finding out what Gaav wants..." Lina frowned, cupping her chin.

"There is that... I mean, he's probably pretty mad about the whole being dead thing... even if Miss Lina didn't kill him." Amelia looked across the table at Langdelin, who frowned.

"I know not the demon in question, but certes he hath some naughty design in mind." The knight seemed to ponder this for a few moments, then his face lit up and Langdelin snapped his fingers.

"Surely the puissiant Zomelgustar hath the answer!" pulling the hideous (and yet amazingly tacky) amulet out of his breastplate (thus far the group had yet to see him remove his armor, even while sleeping, and yet the man had no identifable odor... it was almost creepy) he proceeded to draw a pentagram on the table with a bit of maroon chalk he had been carrying about in a satchel.

The rest of the group stared at him for a few seconds before returning to their conversation.

"Well... I think it's pretty obvious that what ever it is, it involves Lina..." Filia's gaze became distant as she gave the matter more thought. "It would have been alot easier to simply... ah... dispose of Mina instead of dragging her along after him. He must have something specific in mind."

Lina's concern showed through her bravado for a moment, and Gourry put a protective arm around her shoulders. Her face hardened almost immediately, but Filia gave her an apologetic glance anyway.

"Perhaps he's trying to force Lina to come after him, instead of vice versa... that would let him choose the battleground..." Amelia traced a meaningless design onto the tabletop, and avoided looking at the strange symbol Langdelin was fiddling with... she wasn't entirely sure she should be letting the young knight talk with a monster, though it was probably alright, since the monster in question was made up.

"Blurp..." remarked Hydra.

"I think you're all missing the point here..." Xellos sipped his tea casually. The group turned to look at him, with the exception of Langdelin (who was communing soulfully with his god, or the tabletop, depending on your perception of reality) and Hydra (who was communing soulfully with her clam chowder) seeing as he was the groups' expert on Mazoku.

"It doesn't really matter at this point WHY he has Mina, simply that he has her, with the obvious intention of getting Miss Lina involved in all of this. He's going to force her to face him in a place of his choosing... which would be very bad for all of you."

"So what you mean is, we need to find him BEFORE he gets to where he's taking Mina..." Lina mused.

"Precisely correct. Now it just so happens that-"

"THE KATATOE MOUNTAINS!" Langdelin roared in what was essentially his voice only pitched much higher and distorted as though he were gargling a mouthful of spit.

Every one stared at him in shock... including Xellos, who had lost his train of thought entirely.

Langdelin smiled, his visage cruel and inhuman. "The fallen lord seeks to regain that which he has lost... already the storm gathers about him... he seeks that which has been hidden from him since his rebirth... He searches for the stony face at Katatoe! Zomelgustar has spoken!"

Langdelin's face became composed and he blinked rapidly before assuming his usual pious expression. The rest of the group exchanged dubious looks. Xellos for his part, stared intently at the paladin.

"Uh... Miss Lina, I thought that Zomelgustar was-" Amelia looked confused.

"He is... apparently the detachment from reality trait is a dominant one." Lina groaned as she slapped her forehead.

"Huh? Huh? Wha?" Gourry looked back and forth between Langdelin and Lina with a kicked puppy expression.

"My thoughts exactly.." sighed Filia.

"Nevertheless... "Zomelgustar" is correct..." Xellos shrugged.

Lina blinked. "Huh?"

"Thats what I said." Gourry blinked.

"Gaav is headed for the Katatoe Mountains." Xellos looked into his coffee cup. He seemed vaguely disappointed that Langdelin had stolen his thunder.

"Thats what he said." Gourry blinked again.

"Shut up, Gourry!" Lina growled.

"How do YOU know that, Xellos?" Filia eyed him suspiciously.

Xellos grinned. "That's a secret."

"Isn't it always..." Lina growled.

"Well... it looks like we're headed for the Katatoe Mountains..." she sighed resignedly.

Filia exploded, her tail sticking out at a ramrod 45 degree angle from her body, standing up and slamming her hands on the table. "You're just going to let him get away with an explanation like, "he's going to the Katatoe mountains" without any explanation other than "it's a secret?!"

Lina shrugged. "Why not? It's where we were headed next anyway... It'll kill two birds with one stone. If you'll pardon the pun. We just have to make sure we get there first."

"Huh?" this deflated the dragon girl somewhat. Her tail wilted.

"Who do you see missing at the moment?"

Amelia perked up, her eyes shining. "Oh Miss Lina! Do you mean-"

"Yup... I think it's time we paid Mr. Stone Cold Grumpy a visit." she sighed. "If Gaav is even half as powerful as he was the last time we fought him, we're going to need all the help we can get." she didn't mention the fact that with her powers gone, Zelgadis was one of the most powerful people they knew that would help them... but some things went without saying.

At least if you knew what was good for you.

Amelia got a look on her face that was vaguely reminiscent of a person being injected with 10 cc's of Prozac. Lina managed a smile.

"I kinda figured you'd take that news well."

Amelia blushed. "Well... he is a good friend, and it has been a long time since the last time we saw each other."

"Uh huh."

She turned to more important topics. "Now, with that out of the way, onto important business."

She had the group's full attention. Therefore, most of them ended up on the floor when she bellowed "WAITER! BRING EVERYTHING ON YOUR DESERT MENU! TWICE!"

Hydra sat up suddenly and snorted. "What mom? More wax?"

Everyone stared at her (some of them from the floor).

The meal defying potato detached itself from her eyelid and landed in the chowder with a disgruntled "plop"!


The next day the group gathered itself together and made an early start to their journey. The mood was strangely cheerful for the most part, with the exception of Hydra, who due to a severe hangover marched along sullenly, (and mercifully silently) glaring death at anyone who wandered too close.

Langdelin pulled alongside Filia, who gave him an irritated look. She still hadn't forgiven him his little escapade into naughtiness. She was therefore somewhat surprised when he removed his hat and offered it to her.

"Forgive me, Milady for mine actions yesterday. Had I but known thou wast changing behind yon shrubbery, I wouldst never have intruded."

Filia blinked, the unexpected politeness (which was rare indeed in this group, without Zelgadis) and mangled "Olde English" (which she suspected he half made up) forcing her to hesitate before replying.

"Oh... that's... alright. I suppose I was a bit hasty as well, though you DID surprise me."

Xellos, who had been wandering along nearby, grinned but remained silent.

"If ever there is a service thou requirest of me, I will attempt to the utmost to fulfill it, gentle Filia." he smiled gently, obviously sincere in his attempts at compensation.

"Oh... that's alright, Langdelin..." Filia blushed smiling back at him, somewhat embarrassed. "I-I'll keep that in mind."

"Indeed milady." he sighed. "I but wish I couldst have destroyed the foul beast who led me into the bush... alas... it got away from me."

Xellos' smirk got wider. This was going to be fun.

Filia blinked in confusion. "Foul beast... I didn't see anything come in after me... are you sure?"

"Oh indeed milady. A ferocious dragon, glittering golden in the sun's light as it dived down to harry us. The beast passed us overhead, and only quick action enabled us to evade it's attack. It entered into the bushes into which thou wast... er... changing and I have seen hide nor hair of it since."

Filia's eyebrow twitched. "Evil dragon? Foul beast? THAT WAS ME!"

Langdelin blinked momentarily, then his face became somewhat condescending. "Surely not. I ken a dragon ere I have sighted one. Thou art NOT a dragon."

Filia growled, her tail twitching back and forth furiously. "Then what do you call THIS?" she gestured toward her backside.

He closed his eyes. "Forgive me milady. Had I any knowledge of your presence in the bush yesterday, I wouldst never hath entered it. It is unseemly for a Knight of Zomelgustar to stare lecherously at good ladies' hindquarters."

"What?! I am a DRAGON I tell you!" she was seriously beginning to become annoyed at this young fool.

He chuckled. "I know not the nature of thine jest milady but I will have none of it. Pullest the other one, it hath bells on." He chuckled again. "Next thou whilst tell me that HE..." he gestured at Xellos, who blinked surprisedly. "Is a monster."

Filia turned red. Xellos' smile quirked and twitched a bit. One got the impression that Filia was trying hard not to pummel the deluded young Knight...

While Xellos was trying very hard not to laugh.


Things were progressing with Mina and Red as well...

"You have to stroke harder... this just isn't cutting it." Mina sighed.

"Look, I'm putting all I have into it... what do you want from me?" he gasped irritably.

"Well obviously you're doing something wrong, 'cause we're not getting anywhere. Try dipping it in a bit deeper."

"Hey... cut me some slack! This is my first time." He groused.

"You mean to tell me all the time you were raiding and pillaging the countryside, you never did this before?"

"Obviously... I think I'd remember something like THIS! What makes you the expert anyway?"

"I've seen mom and dad do it a few times. That's it." she replied defensively.

"Well since you know so much, why don't you try something?" he grunted and snapped at her.

"Don't be silly. You're the one with the equipment for it." she growled.

Silence, save for the occasional grunt of effort, finally.

"YEAH! That's it! Just like THAT!" Mina crowed excitedly.

"Sheesh. Calm down.... I told you we'd get across this damn river eventually." Red muttered as he continued paddling their rickety rowboat towards the far shore.

The Katatoe Mountains cleared their layer of clouds for a moment... they were nearing their destination...


Later that night at the water's edge, the bushes and bullrushes growing at the edge of the river parted to reveal a monsterous metal-clad form. Dnarc paused at the shoreline, leaving great footprints in the muddy bank. His monstrous ax was slung over his shoulder, and his burning red eyes scanned the far shore, lighting on an abandoned rowboat and narrowing into hard, vicious little ember-like slits.

His quarry was close by... he could smell them.

No one could avoid Dnarc for long. The Bloody Eyed Reaper was a consummate hunter, and his senses (as well as his ax) were razor sharp. With a growl he strode forward, his first massive metalshod boot entering the water with a prodigious splash...

Water hissed and bubbled around his treetrunk legs as he waded into the river, which seemed to protest as though it were angry at the intrusion of the abomination that invaded into its depths. Deeper and deeper he waded, until the horntips of his great helm disappeared beneath the surface completely in a hiss of steam and a swirl of displaced water. Eventually not even the vaguest hint of the monster moving along the riverbed could be discerned in the murky water.

Silence reigned on the scene for a few minutes, broken by the occasional bubble and the emergence of a few dead fish.

With a crash of moving water he broke the surface on the other side, and continued up the opposite bank, the water streaming from his black iron armor. Never pausing, never hesitating, he disappeared into the forest beyond, leaving only a few mortally frightened alligators and fish, and a huge set of muddy tracks that would puzzle fishermen on the morrow.

He steamed gently as he walked, and within a few minutes not a single clue as to his previous submergance could be determined.

Nothing could stop him.

Nothing in this world.


Lina and her travelling companions entered the city of Katatoe late into the evening. The overall mood was one of exhaustion; the irritable sorceress had pushed them far harder than she ever had before. It had become painfully obvious to them that she was worried sick about her daughter, and they wisely avoided conversation.

All they wanted to do now was find an inn and rest.

Two things were preventing them from reaching their goal.

First, Lina insisted on asking (although the proper term would be better described as interrogated) everyone she could find about any strangers passing through Katatoe...

Second, Lina was completely unable to understand the accents of the people who lived there.

"I don' ge ta tayin'." a local man with scraggly grey hair and a piece of straw bouncing up and down out of a mouth better suited to a jack 0' lantern mused, scratching his trousers vigorously.

The trousers appeared to be feebly protesting such treatment.

"What did he say?" Lina looked over at Amelia, who shook her head uncomprehendingly.

"I DOn' GE TA TAyin'." the man accentuated each syllable clearly, which had the effect of making what he was saying as clear as your average puddle in a sandbox.

"Look, all we want to know is, did a large man in a yellow overcoat and a woman who looks like me except... er... better endowed come through here?"

The man appeared to be thinking. It was more accurate to say that he was just attempting to pass gas.

"Dey bin co to. Oun' bo our go. Sriggin' oun' dem 'az 'ike a par a shp!" he cackled and slapped a knee.

The group looked at each other irritably, then Gourry, who'd been busy trying to ward off a goat who had apparently decided the blonde mass on his head was hay, or at least edible (which is not hard for a goat), looked up suddenly and grinned.

"That's GREAT! Didja hear Lina?"

Lina blinked, then looked in his direction. "What?"

"He just said this Gabby guy and Mina passed through here a couple of hours ago, and that they're wandering around in the maze. Thats horrible!" He cupped his chin and closed his eyes, frowning in concentration.

"They must be lost." he concluded after serious deliberation.

The group looked at one another, then Lina shook her head. Xellos smirked. "It would appear stupidity is transmitted through ALL language barriers."

No one bothered to refute him.

"Thats great! We've been through here before... we can head straight through, avoid them at first, grab Zel, then POW! Get 'em in an ambush! Er... with a righteous heart and lots of justice of course." Amelia blushed, grinning at Lina feebly.

"Yeah... that sounds like a plan..." Lina mused.

"One problem with that." Filia asked tiredly.

"What's that?" Lina asked.

"Where are Sir Langdelin and Miss Hydra?"

Lina frowned and looked around. "They're right..." she looked where the two had been standing... a goat gave her a lecherous wink. "Huh?"

Gourry frowned. "We have bigger problems, Lina."

Lina spun around and put her hands on her hips. "What is it NOW Gourry?"

"Where's Xellos?"

Lina looked about the group. Xellos was conspicuous in his absence. She, Filia, Amelia and Gourry shared a worried look.

"This is bad." They said at the same time.

"Ba." The goat agreed.


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