...in which many secrets are not explained, a strange
chat at lunchtime is held, consumer goods are obtained,
and ancient powers are awakened for various reasons.
By Stefan Gagne, Spoof Chase Productions.

eastmaster Zelas-Metallum.  Her name echoes the wild forests, snarling wolves howling at the moon in quest for the night's kill.  Wild and untamed, sleek and refined, feral or fattened, she stalks the lowlands of beasts.  Beastmaster is the definition of predator; patient and silent, not moving, not even twitching until just the right moment -- and very deadly the eventual strike is launched.
    As one of the original Mazoku lords, the ring of which is second only to Shaburanigdo, the Demon King, she holds great sway and power over the lesser demons under her command.  They know better than to question her, or even to gaze at her when she actually visits them -- the visit a rare event, heralding a horrible future or a blessed boon.  She issues the statements; they do not ask questions.  For instance, why does she choose to dress in the finest citywear of an elite human woman, rich in taste and luxury, when she isn't stalking her prey in wolf fur or with the talons of a hawk?  Those who have asked were told the answer; at least, before their voice boxes were torn out, so that they could never repeat it again.
    "So why do you dress like that, anyway?" Xelloss asked.
    "It pleases me to keep up with the current fashion trends," Beastmaster explained to her minion, her general and priest in the great Mazoku cause of destruction.  She didn't bat an eye.  "That way, I can better blend in among the more select prey.  Strange that you would ask this now, little Xelloss... may I ask why?"
    "Ah," Xelloss said, smiling wide.  "That is a secret."
    "I could remove your throat so you would never tell again..."
    "But am I not good at keeping secrets, mistress?"
    He could get away with behaving this way around one of the terrible and fearsome Mazoku lords.  They simply had that kind of working relationship.
    When she came to him to hear his monthly reports, boring or interesting, she always came in style.  Her throne, comprised of the bones and pelts of lesser animals, always had an open space prepared for it in at Xelloss's home away from home; he always had a fresh pot of tea brewing, and once the pleasant smalltalk was out of the way, it was on to business.  The business was also pleasant.  Despite being soldiers of darkness and creatures of evil, they had a very comfortable sense about them, like a pair of old shoes.
    "It has been... how long?" Beastmaster asked, tapping out some ash from her long-filtered cigarette.  "How long since I came to you, offering employment in my franchise of the Mazoku?"
    "Mmmm... hundreds?" Xelloss said, scratching his chin -- a deliberately dramatic gesture, obligatory if anything.  "Beyond that, I'm afraid I couldn't say."
    "And not once have you asked about my fashion sense," Beastmaster noted.  "Were you afraid of the stories the little things spread of my wrath, trickster?"
    "Hmm?  Oh, no, not at all," Xelloss said, refilling his mistress's teacup.  "I simply figured it was the sort of thing I've always wanted to ask before I leave the fold.  And I kept forgetting to ask, since it never really seemed important at the time.  You realize what I am implying, yes?"
    "I realize," Beastmaster said.  "And as I promised you, the only terms of release open to you would be possible, one day.  At the very least, I give my prey a single chance at freedom.  Yes?"
    "Quite fair, quite fair," Xelloss agreed.  "It has been a long and enjoyable time in your employ, my mistress.  And in a way, I do regret leaving... but a promise is a promise."
    The two sat in quiet contemplation, sipping tea, musing on events transpired and to come.  The Mazoku lord finally broke the silence.
    "I have been a suitable employer, have I not?" she asked of Xelloss.  "I kept you busy.  If not with official tasks for the great cause, at least with little games to play.  Did my recent one not amuse you?"
    "Oh, it did, it did," Xelloss said.  "I particularly liked your method of delivery.  So indirect, so impersonal; rather a lot like the messenger.  Tell me, what did you yourself think of Minion?  That cutely annoying little tool you gave me to play with?"
    "A trifle," Beastmaster said, waving it off, dismissing it.  "Simple to make.  No challenge at all.  The real fun came in your reaction to his orders, in clearing up what was clearly an obstacle blocking your own goals.  Tell me, because I am curious, little Xelloss... you had two options.  You could have murdered Lina Inverse, after the decade you spent stalking her.  But you took the second way out, to kill her and restore her, satisfying my mandate yet achieving your own ends.  Why did you choose that?"
    "You need to ask?" Xelloss asked, perking the eyebrow of mild surprise.
    "No, I don't, but I'd love to hear the answer from your lips."
    "A game, then," Xelloss responded, knowing this would perk Beastmaster's interest.  "A trail of crumbs.  An order from on high to observe an eight year old girl, days after completing a spell I have interest in.  A long time suppressing my human side to better serve the Mazoku, a reservoir of unused need.  A being of unpredictability, of incident and mayhem, of innocent chaos.  A pact made long ago, a contract of employment.  A bowl of split banana pea soup."
    Leaving it at that, Xelloss leaned back in his chair, to watch his mistresses briefly puzzled expression.
    "What does soup have to do with it?" she asked.
    "Oh, nothing, really," Xelloss smiled.  "Just being silly, as is my wont."
    Beastmaster almost chuckled.  It was enough of a signal to please the trickster priest, though.  "A way of telling without telling, pieces of a puzzle," Beastmaster recognized.  "You have never lost your knack for riddles, Xelloss of the Mazoku."
    Rising, Xelloss finished the rest of his tea, and set the cup back on the table, never to be lifted again.
    "I believe you mean Xelloss of the Humans now, yes?" he said.
    The two shared a smile.
    "The way back to what you once were will not be pleasant," Beastmaster warned.  "You will be vulnerable once more.  Strong in magic as you always were, but no longer protected by my power."
    "I can afford the price," Xelloss said.  "Besides, it takes the edge off your game to cheat for as long as I have.  Time to reorient myself to reality, and not rely on a crutch.  Farewell, Zelas-chan."
    That aroused a chuckle in Beastmaster Zelas-Metallum.  Such playful insubordination!  She would miss him.  The chuckle rising to a laugh, a gesture unused in hundreds of years, she flicked dark power from her wrist, reaching deep into Xelloss's core and tearing him in half.
    A true Mazoku would always be a true Mazoku, it was said.  But those who were converted from another race and retained a large enough portion of their original being had a chance.  The darkness was torn from Xelloss's soul, a sticky mass clinging by hooks of will, shredding and clawing as they were pulled away, leaving behind a tattered but usable human...
    And the priest didn't even flinch.
    Banishing him back to the world he seemed to love with another turn of the hand, Beastmaster sat in silence in Xelloss's home away from home.
    She still smiled.  The game wasn't over.  She still had a final round to play with her favorite pet, and this time, she would win.  The predator was always patient, even if it took hundreds of years to finish the hunt.  And if she didn't purge the world of this strange thing Xelloss was so fixated on, she wouldn't be a true Mazoku, would she?
Click to continue...
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.
 Boy, that was a fun bit to write. >:)