My eyes shifted out of focus and there was a rushing sound. I felt as though I were being sucked through a straw as colors and lights whirled past me. The sense of movement suddenly stopped and I pinwheeled my arms certain I was going to crash into the floor. Contact never came, but instead I drifted along.
My eyes shifted back into focus. I found myself floating in hazy void. Around me I could see floating forms, but they were obscured.
"Oh, you're awake." Came the voice of my sister, clear as a bell. I whirled around, my hair floating around my head like a cloud. I pushed it aside.
Luna was lounging, still in her part-time uniform, legs crossed and hands behind her head looking perfectly at ease. Curiosity overrode terror.
"Where are we?" I looked around. Below me the fog glowed the same garish pink as the lab.
"Sub space. The flotsam that has attached itself to this dimension over the years has formed it's own sort of reality. Kind of like a tacked on storage shed."
One of the obscured forms floated closer. It was Zangulus curled up like a sleeping baby, still wearing his stupid hat.
"Ha, I knew that wasn't him." I spit under my breath. Another fuzzy form floated by, his body gaining definition the closer he got.
"Lina?" Zel mummered, before closing his eyes.
"Hey, Zel!" I reached towards him, but I couldn't figure out how to move and instead flailed ridiculously on the spot.
"Hmm, seems like they've got a good hold on him." Luna chirped. I had forgotten how others' misfortune often affected her mood.
An angry voice echoed from below.
"My gods! I can't stand this any more! First you spurn me for Zangulus, and then you toss him aside like last years fashion for Gourry! You chew people up then spit them out! I loved you! You hear me? And what did that get me?" Martina was in a full blown wail, her voice echoing round the void. I could get a clear mental image of her poised, tugging at her pajamas, her face screwed up in dramatic meltdown. In fact, the harder I concentrated, the clearer the picture got of the lab and it's last inhabitants became.
"You're like a sponge!" She continued. "You take and take and take, and drain others of their love and emotion. Yeah, well, I've had enough. You're gonna choose between me and that rock-head over there."
Xellos pouted his lips. He nodded at Amelia, his expression grave. Amelia smirked, looking positively evil as she dropped the lever once again. The ripping sound of lightning tore through the fog and deposited Martina into our midst. Her eyes were closed. We waited but she never awoke, floating off into the fog. Zel mumbled in his sleep.
"What's..." I started, but Luna shushed me and indicated the drama unfolding below.
Xellos let loose a heavy sigh. "It's not easy having a good time... even smiling makes my face ache. Then my children turn on me..."
Naga reentered the fray. "I'm bored with this. When are we going back to town. I need a bath and a strong scotch."
Xellos's smile was strained. "I am indeed grateful to you Naga, and your sister Amelia. Loyalty such as yours shall not go unrewarded."
"Eh, I already got what I wanted. There's really nothing-"
"Then you shall receive it in abundance!" Xellos snapped. Naga paused confused. Xellos looked pleased with himself.
"Come, we must prepare for the floor show!"
Naga and Amelia exchanged a meaningful look then loped after Xellos.
The scene below dissolved in a kaleidoscope of colors. My head spun.
I concentrated harder. "Where'd they go?"
Luna shrugged. "Hell if I know. This is likely where they remaining spectators lost consciousness. Looks like we'll just have to wait for the floor show."
I wanted to scream at her, but I wasn't feeling that desperate or stupid. Instead I said: "What do you mean 'remaining spectators'?"
"Well, baby sis, let's put it like this- you stumbled into the recorded sex dream of a deranged perv."
"... Go on."
"Hmm... where to start. A long time ago a dude with some serious power and few morals landed himself a powerful artifact. He wanted immortality and all that. He researched creating life and was known for his lavish parties and wild orgies. His research started to drive him insane until one night he locked himself and all of his guests into this dimensional pocket. His intention was to drain their life force to create himself a lover of, uh, unique beauty and skill, but instead he created a dimensional pocket full of lusty, vengeful spirits who lure in lost travelers and suck them of them of their youth and innocence as they replay their last moments over and over."
It took a few seconds for my mind to digest that. "You couldn't have mentioned that earlier?"
"Oh, yeah, sure, but then we would have had a whole host of angry wraiths coming for our unprotected souls."
So we were dealing with something powerful enough to enslave the souls of an entire castle of people. I had an inkling of an idea of what we were dealing with if both Xellos and my sister were involved. The runes under the dinner table were hardly there for show. All the magic I had tried to use earlier was tied to the physical realm, but if this were the amplified mind of a madman that certainly wouldn't have worked. Astral magic wasn't exactly my specialty and Amelia and Zegadis didn't seem like there were going to pop up and preform a Ra Tilt any time soon. I had, in the past, managed to break a dimensional bubble with a simple summon spell, but this time I might need something more substantial.
"There's only one existing account of someone surviving a night here." My sister continued, unaware of my epiphany. "He was buzzed out on golden Mipross vine and floated through the night thinking he was having a bad trip. Wasn't till the next morning that he realized what had actually happened. I read his novel on the way over here. Fascinating read. He was executed for "murdering" his friends by the way."
"So we're just replaying the last moments of a bunch of dead people." I mused. "Xellos told me I had to play my part."
"Pff, yeah, he a good lay?" Luna laughed. I choked on my next words.
"I! NO! WHAT. I WOULD NEVER!" My voice raised in panic.
She had the gall to look disappointed. "Yeah, it's a little sweet isn't it?"
My mouth hung open in shock. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Big bad Mazoku tries to save your pathetic soul from being devoured. That's a love story if I ever heard one." Disbelief gurgled our of my mouth as she continued. "I mean, you'd think he'd have more fun sitting there watching as the spirits noticed you and picked your astral self to pieces."
Gourry chose this moment to float behind my sister as lucid as he ever managed to be. "What's he doing?" He asked, oblivious to Luna and I.
I noticed the music start to swell from the fog below. I opened and closed my mouth, fuming, but I couldn't find the words to express the absolute loathing I was feeling at the moment.
I focused down below and saw Xellos giggling and dressing our stone replicas in a garish version of his own corset and stockings. Sequins and rhinestones sparkled in the stage light, displayed for an empty auditorium. I happily noted that Luna's statue was leaned against a wall backstage covered with an afghan, bedecked only in stockings.
Xellos smeared one last layer of crimson on my statue's lips then stood back admiring his work. He frolicked backstage to pull the Medusa lever. There was a loud pop as Martina's sleeping figure disappeared from subspace.
Her statue animated. She sang of her divided love between Xellos and Zangulus and shimmed across the stage nipples bared. "Rose tints and my world and keeps me safe from my trouble and pain."
"Pff. You can do better than that, right, blondie?" Luna cackled at Gourry before he disappeared with a pop.
Gourry's statue animated and he did things with a feather boa that made my face hot. If he piled any more innuendo into his verse, I wasn't sure I couldn't handle it.
"Well, you'll be up soon," Luna chirped. She smiled at me as Zelgadis disappeared behind her. I knew that smile. And I knew I only had a few seconds to figure out what she wasn't telling me, but watching Zelgadis stagger across stage in his high heels. His song, an uncomfortable whine, was making it hard to concentrate.
The air thickened around me and Luna's face blurred. Space whirled around me then I was dazzled by the glare of the stage lights. The warm glow of the spotlight trained on my and I felt the now all to familiar push at the back of my mind as someone fed me lines. I felt confident and sexy and (sort of) knew what I needed to do. The music strained when I missed my opening, there was a terse few seconds as I deliberately clamped my mouth shut. The voice grew more insistent then my part was over. The band missed the first few notes of it's fanfare as the spotlight swung from me up to the top of a metal tower. Xellos perched up high wearing a lavender cloak that shimmered like the last few moments of sunset. His expression soft and his eye make up touched-up to glitter overload. He started his verse with no hesitation. I rolled my eyes and looked away.
Without the glare of the spotlight I could now see that the auditorium was not empty, as I had first thought, but every seat was filled with a body in varying states of decay. I shivered when I noticed the slightest movement- or did I imagine it? - of a head turning my direction. My stomach clenched. One by one, more empty stares turned my direction. I had been noticed.
Xellos finished his verse and dived into a pool obscured by fog. Martina and Zelgadis wandered towards the pool in a daze. Gourry did not follow them but continued to watch me. Between the two of us we were drawing a lot of attention. Gourry kicked off his heels and I followed suit.
An audience member in the front row shifted, recrossing her perfect legs. A young woman with icy blue eyes and perfectly curled hair locked eyes with me. I knew those eyes, and if she opened her mouth, I'd know that stupid voice too. Here was my personal tormenter. She was one of the few figures who showed no sign of decay. Ancient and unaging, this must have been one of the original guests. My blood ran cold. She gently stroked the cheek of a sleeping figure slumped in the seat next to her. The figures red hair spilled over her shoulders and curled around a face that looked eerily like mine. I clenched my fists.
While I had been focusing on her, flimsy bodies rose from the surrounding chairs. The shuffled in front of the blond, blocking my view.
It was now or never. I chanted a spell softly. It was a shot in the dark, but...
"Goz Vu Row!" I could feel a familiar rush of power as my shadow, fractured by stage lights solidified and grew monstrous. It rushed towards the approaching bodies and as it engulfed their shadows they one by one fell to the ground. Lacking power, the shadow faded, falling just short of the pretty woman and her dead eyes.
Zelgadis stammered a weak, "huh?" just inches away from the pool. Martina was already splashing around in the water licking the air like a fool. Xellos floated in his little ducky ring, his make-up running. He acted as if he hadn't noticed a thing. The lever near my sister fell on it's own accord, turning her once stony body to flesh. She pulled the afghan over her head and stood only clad only in the blanket and her stockings. She started her own little soliloquy.
But I didn't have time for their antics. The bodies were dragging themselves upright and a tall, handsome musclebound beefcake wondered up from one of the back rows. He had eyes only for Gourry. "You take care of him!" I shouted to Gourry, my eyes never leaving the blonde's. She stroked my doppelganger's cheek and instantly it blemished and crumbled to dust. The sight made me shiver.
The music swung into an upbeat jazz as more figures were appearing from the back rows. A glasses wearing dweeb and a groupie in sequined top hat and tails wandered from the wings. More were waiting just beyond the reach of the light.
"Elmekia Lance!" I wasn't up to my usual ability. Only a few weak flares appeared, but I fired them straight towards the my personal tormenter. Animated bodies stepped in front of her to take the blows and she remained unscathed. Ugh. I dashed left, making a beeline towards my dappleganger. Seeing some puppet of myself flopped, unmoving next to that hussie felt... weird.
I dodged to the left, narrowly missing a grab from a dusty corpse. I sidestepped the next then whirled, chanting a spell in the back of my mouth. "Elmekia Lance!" There was nothing between us now! A flare streaked hitting the blonde square in the face. She was thrown backwards disappearing behind a row of chairs. More corpses ambled my direction as the spot light swung erratically, casting wild shadows on the walls. There was a loud bang as the doors at the back of the auditorium were thrown open to reveal-
"Amelia!" I screamed, casting another weak flare to my left at the oncoming horde. She never looked at me, but instead trained her intense gaze on a dripping and smeared Xellos standing mid-stage, his arms thrown casually across the shoulders of Zelgadis and Martina.
She stood tall, accusatory finger outstretched dramatically and took a deep breath. "Xellos! It's all over! Your mission is a failure! Your lifestyle's too extreme!" All activity in the auditorium paused, attention drawn to the princess, clad only in garters and a horrendous gold tunic. "I'm your new commander! You are now my prisoner." She gestured dramatically with a strange device in her hand. "Prepare the transport beam!"
Martina hurried away from Xellos, pulling Zelgadis with her. Xellos smiled looking not the least bit abashed. "Please." He held his hands out in supplication. "I can explain."
The spotlight spun of its own accord onto Xellos who looked poised to start another damn song. This was really getting old. Even the audience was losing patience. The corpses started the shift around, faces turning from me to Amelia and back to the stage. I suddenly remembered Gourry, craning my head around to catch the two musclebound blondes eying each other, having never moved from their original standoff. My eyebrow twitched in irritation. I was itching to find the the blue eyed girl and make sure she stayed down. I could barely catch a glimpse of my body, or whatever it was, from behind the shifting figures, their eyes glued to the stage, waiting for Xellos to start singing.
Just as when I missed my opening the music strained, missing a few notes until the jumbled mess fell apart all together. Then there was silence, broken only by the rustling as the figures started shifting around. Dead eyes turned towards me. A few corpses shambled my way. Xellos looked down at me and smiled. "I always fround this part so tedious."
Before I could react or anyone else moved, Gourry lunged forward. His powerful muscles rippled under oiled skin, like a tiger leaping for the kill. He sunk his fist into his impassive double, who dropped like a rock, falling unmoving to the floor.
"Really, Gourry. Attacking a child like that? He was just a few hours old." Xellos winked. Gourry stared at him openly.
"Lina-san! Look out!" Cried a voice from the back of the chamber.
I jerked reflexively, barely missing a lunge from a dead spectator.
"You pretty little thing," a voice hissed from my ankles. I jumped back to see the blonde crawling from between a row of chairs, her eyes crystalline and inhuman, her voice seemed to come from beyond her, echoing from the very air. "I'll eat your soul!" She screeched, flying from beneath the seats, hands grasping. I jumped up, leaping awkwardly over the row straight into the arms of one of the reanimated corpses. I struggled, but my arms shook with fatigue.
The spotlight swung its glaring light onto me. The blonde rose from the front row, her body in silhouette from the bright light. In the cornea around her body I could see the faint outlines of red runes etched into the ceiling. The spot light was anchored right in the center of the auditorium, and the very castle. And, if I remembered correctly, right under the dining hall.
She leaned forward and I cringed as she sharp fingernails dug into my shoulders , her mouth opened to reveal a void ringed with sharp fangs. Her lips hovered, rasping against mine as she spoke. "You're mine now, Lina Inverse." Warm, soft lips forced themselves against mine. I mumbled my incantation against her lips, but my vision was fading along with what strength I had left. The blondes head snapped back courtesy of Gourry, his hands wrapped in her hair. She snarled and writhed. With a mighty heave her tossed her right onto the stage. She never touched the floor, but rather floated malevolently upwards, the tips of her perfectly manicured toes dragging against the floor. Gourry quickly dispatched the wraith holding me down with a kick to the head. He reached towards me but was forced back by my magic field as I struggled out the last of my incantation.
A white line arced out of my extended hand, cutting through the skull of a lunging corpse like butter then directly into the spotlight.
I coughed and wheezed. Gourry had thrown himself over me and knocked the wind out of me. He winced as he raised up. "Did you know that was going to happen?" I shrugged. He sighed.
"A little warning next time would be nice."
The sounds of a scuffle became apparent. I distinctly heard Amelia cast her signature spell then something wet smacked against a wall. Gourry had to help me up as I struggled to my feet. The auditorium was utterly destroyed. A black void hung ominously over their heads and a crater directly beneath it. The corpses too near the powerful release had been turned to dust the rest were collapsed on the floor. I scanned the room guiltily before confirming that no one else had been caught in the direct blast.
Zelgadis stood immobile on stage, Martina sniveling behind him, unaware that Zangulus was curled up sleeping at her feet.. The blonde wraith had been blown against a wall and was slowly crumbling to dust. Amelia had just knocked someone dressed suspiciously like herself through a wall. My sister switched on an industrial sized fan for no apparent reason and tossed a silk scarf at Xellos who wrapped it around his neck, his expression never changing. Amelia glanced at them then struggled down the aisle towards me.
"Lina-san! Are you alright? Where are we? All I could hear was music and suddenly I woke up and you were being attacked."
I shook my head completely unable to summarize what I thought had happened.
Naga decided that that was a good time to saunter into the mess announcing that she couldn't find the 'transport bean'.
"GRACIA!" Amelia screeched at ear splitting decibels. Naga, for once in her damn life, was speechless.
Everyone seemed to be as back to normal as anyone in this group ever got, confused, but unscathed. I sighed. After all that effort it seemed as if the solution had been easy.
The was a crackling sound that rolled my stomach.
Oh, what now.
Bones popped and ground together as corpses started rolling towards the still smoking crater. Gourry snatched me up and onto a row of chairs, holding me up as a body slithered past, pulled by invisible tethers. It's head knocked limply against the chair supports. Amelia leaped up, balancing precariously on the backs of the chairs.
"Lina-san, look up there." She hissed, looking not at the roiling mass of bodies in the crater, but instead in the dark nothingness in the ceiling. I blinked, but I was sure I saw it for an instant: a plain, leather bound book floating in the void.
There was another gut wrenching pop. Zelgadis cursed. My head snapped back, peering over Gourry's bicep to see the stage. The crumbling blonde started to disengage herself from the wall, leaving clumps of golden hair. One eye dangled from its socket.
"We've got to get that book." I mummbled into Gourry's chest, squirming. He nodded, but made no move to release me.
The mass of bodies in the crater heaved upwards, an incoherent haystack of stray limbs and blank eyes.
I groaned and shifted again, signaling Gourry to set me down. I didn't know what shape the others were in, but I figured I only had one more good shot left in me. Between us we had zero weapons or armor and none of us seemed to be wearing pants.
Gourry never complied, but instead leaped gracefully from the red velvet upholstery into the nearest aisle. A dismembered arm flew overhead. Amelia jumped out of sight.
The mass of corpses had started dismantling itself, shooting stray body parts around the auditorium like a horrifying fountain.
Martina shrieked as she toppled over Zangulus in her efforts to flee. "Zangy!" She snatched him up the the collar and drug him across the floor. Zelgadis chanted and let loose a flare at my blonde tormenter. She jerked to the side, and his flare singed what little hair she had left. She hissed.
"Amelia! Zel!" I called out, as Gourry jostled me around, dodging stray hands and legs. "Use Ra Tilt!"
Unfortunately my helpful comment reminded the nice blonde lady that I still existed. She bee-lined for me, but I was one step ahead. I released the spell I had been chanting over Gourry's shoulder.
"Blast Ash!" With a muffled scream the woman disintegrated, only her garter belt remained, unblemished atop of a pile of ash. "One down," I breathed.
A bespectacled dweeb and the sequined groupie descended on Zel and Amelia. Naga was hashing it out with a pale woman in a garish gold tunic. An old man with the same crystalline eyes as the blonde wheeled from off-stage looking confused, but radiating menace. All the original cast was here, except...
"It'll be dawn soon." Xellos quipped from behind us. Gourry let go of me in surprise and I landed on my ass.
"What happens at dawn." I groaned, ignoring Gourry's outstretched hand. I managed to stagger to my feet.
"I guess we'll find out shortly." Xellos smiled.
"Where's your double?" I asked.
"Oh, he's dead by now."
I blinked. Anyway, we had more important things to deal with. "Gourry! Cover Zel and Amelia." I dodged a stray elbow.
But Gourry's help was unnecessary. Amelia and Zel had already completed the chant, releasing their double powered Ra-Tilt into the fray. It punched through the dweeb and the groupie and finally into the limb tornado vaporizing bodies and stray limbs, but it fizzled out before it could get them all. If anything the body tornado seemed angrier and shot fingers and kneecaps with greater fervor. The floor started to rumble and chunks were falling from the ceiling. Time was ticking.
I chanted quickly. "Levitation!" Nothing. Damn. Levitation worked by manipulating air currents, but in this astral plane it was useless. But wait...
Behind the stage there was a great metal tower lit with the letters RKO. If I could climb it I could maybe jump to the hanging lights and make my way towards the book. I had to make the jump. I didn't have a choice. I wove through the discarded limbs and heaved myself up on stage with great difficulty. Who was I kidding? I'd be lucky if I made it to the top of the tower, much less, make the jump to the book. Before I could dwell too long I was scooped up as easily as a kitten. Gourry slung me on his back and I clutched around his neck. "Gourry! Get me up that tower."
Without a word he was off, stocking feet dodging nimbly across the stage and up the tower without anyone seeming to notice. He jumped neatly to the hanging girder and crept along it, then jumped to the next. The swung and creaked, but held. The roaring and trembling of the building grew. Smoke was billowing from cracks in the wall. I clung to him as the swaying intensified. "Gourry!" I cried. One of the cables snapped, then another and twisted metal wailed. Gourry jumped to the last strand of lights. He coughed as dust sifted from the ceiling. I flung my arm out and batted away a dead hand. Amelia and Zel were dodging the body parts and chunks of ceiling. Naga was doing...something. Dead bodies were dancing around her as she laughed.
We reached the end of the catwalk, but even Gourry couldn't make that jump. The book floated malevolently, the void above it crackled and the bodies beneath it whirled. If we missed the jump we'd be sucked into one or the other, and the results wouldn't be pretty either way.
Gourry suddenly reached behind and swung me around into his arms. "H-hey! Just because of earlier don't you think for a minute you can just take liberties wi-"
"Do you trust me?"
His eyes were intense and I gave a small worried nod. "Good." He back up a few steps then rushed forward.
"Wait!" I screamed as he leapt off the end of the catwalk. We wouldn't make it! As we started to fall he threw me from his arms. The boost was what I needed to reach out and fumble for the book. I had it, but Gourry was tumbling towards the whirling bodies as an inexorable force pulled me upwards. Time slowed dramatically.
"Gourry!" He seemed suspended in the air, his eyes locked on me. The tornado had slowed, but lightning crackled around me and I drew further away, the book glued to my hand by it's own power.
Darkness coalesced around me as a struggled to wrench the book open. By pure force of will the cover unfastened. The pages ruffled by unseen winds and the book fell open to a page with a drawing of lips, painted a lurid blood red. Time stopped as the lips parted and a ghostly voice echoed all around in song.
"Science Fiction, Double-feature..."
Events of the night blurred by me, flashing and spinning. I heard voices and snippets of music as scenes and faces flashed past. Images of the castle started to fade away and I could smell fresh air and a cool wind rushed past me. Someone screamed my name, then I realized I was falling.
Luckily Xellos was standing right beneath me.
Wham. That's it. I blacked out.
A glowing orb spins as the music fades to a soft piano.
A shadowy figure pauses in the doorway of the library, lit only by the soft light of the slowing orb.
And crawling on the planet's face
Some insects called the human race
Lost in time, and lost in space
The door snaps shut and the orb stops revealing an ancient peeling globe.
The library fades away, but then again, did it ever exist at all?