Rain poured down on the city streets. Roy didn't care, though; he was indoors, enjoying a large amount of alcohol, and waiting for something to happen. A something he hoped would never happen, that this whole exercise would be a complete waste of time.

      The two soldiers, Lt. Burke and Lt. Biggs, were sent out on a 'fact finding mission'. Find the target, to be specific. They'd hidden the temple well, and it'd take a bit of picking through the city through the night to find it. Through the night and to the morning, when Roy said oh to hell with it and was enjoying a brandy breakfast.

      Zelgadis entered through the double doors of the inn, his face concealed by a mask, to keep the locals from panicking at his skin. Roy panicked anyway and tried to hide the booze.

     "No luck so far," Zelgadis commented, sitting next to Roy. "But soon we will have the target locked. You'll take lead of the charge. Expect up to ten of the enemy cultists to resist."

     "Yeah, whatever," Roy said, downing another drink, since the commander hadn't said anything. The drink, unfortunately, made him curious enough to stick his neck out. "So what are you doing with this outfit? Sir."

      Zelgadis glared sideways at him, not interested in answering.. but answered regardless. "Working and waiting. Partially to pay a price."

     "Oh, gambling debts. Yeah, same boat."

     "No. I haven't purchased the item I intend to buy yet. It has taken years, but we are quite close to perfecting the process..."

     "The what?"

     "A cure," Zelgadis said, simply. "A cure that magic has failed to provide in the thirty plus years of my life. A cure that science can find. I'm a patient man, though. I can wait a bit longer for the results I need."

     "Yeah, it's got to suck to be a freak and not be able to mix with normal people," Roy stupidly said. "And to be that way for thirty years, fweee, bad news-- you have your sword to my neck again, don't you?"

     "Yes," Zelgadis said, voice like ice, grip as steady as a mountain. "And one of these days, I won't take it away. But for now, you're of more use to Elizabeth alive. And to me. But never refer to me as a freak again. Never."

      The boy stood, slowly easing the blade away, and plucked two pills from his belt pouch. He dropped them into Roy Balderdash's alcohol, where they fizzled immediately.

     "Sober up," he ordered. "Be ready to move out soon."

      After the commander had left, Roy took one sip of the drink -- head clearing instantly to a large headache. He tossed the rest of the bottle to the potted plant and stomped off, in a foul, foul mood.

      Of course, Lina's determination was so strong, burning like the fires of a sun, so incredibly powerful and righteous that she IMMEDIATELY walked right out into the rain and checked into the nearest inn, walking upstairs and into the room and flopping on the bed and snoring in one swift motion.

      Several hours later, though, she was up and ready to put plan 'Amaze the Natives' into effect.

     "What's the plan, exactly?" Penny had asked.

     "Well, we walk in, and I convince them to let Zoey go!" Lina said. "I mean, it's a simple enough idea."

     "But HOW!"

     "I'm working on that," Lina said, dismissing it.

      In order to fully prepare for this complex plan which had to be exercised like precision clockwork, Lina spent the rest of the day eating and shopping at various locales in and around Nostrum.

     "Are you looking for ingenious special effects devices that will convince the cultists they're having a religious experience?" Penny had asked.

     "No, I'm trying to find a new pair of boots. It's high time I replaced these, the heel squeaks."

      As the zero hour approached, the rain stopping, the sun setting, Lina further braced herself mentally and physically with a very large dinner that she asked Penny to pay for.

     "Gods don't carry much money," Lina had explained. "We just have gifts of bounty bestowed on us."

      FINALLY the hour of the ceremony was on them.

     "Guess we'd better get going," Lina decided, hopping off a bar stool (as she had been enjoying various drinks and complementary pretzels for the better part of an hour). The Wandering Monster Table, which was being used as a footstool to compensate for Lina's short stature and the high bartop, was tremendously relieved.

     "About time," Penny grumbled. "I'd go broke if you took any longer to prepare. So WHAT is the plan?"

     "The plan is THIS!" Lina said. "You stay quiet and follow my lead. Or better yet, just stay quiet and follow behind me. I know crackpot religious types, and I know Martina, so I've got the expertise to have this crowd eating out of my hand. Mark my words, in an hour (assuming they don't do the closing ceremony again) we'll be out of town with a dark god to guide us to what we seek!"

     "What you seek, you mean."

     "You're the one who wanted to tag along for the adventure experience," Lina pointed out, poiking Penny in the armored chest a little. "Now. Here's how it'll work. We take our stolen robes and sneak in the back, just like before..."

     "OH GREAT AND UNHOLY ZOAMEL etc. etc. etc," the cult leader declared, waving his ceremonial staff with a knob on the end of it in the air, tracing the demon's sigils in the sky with black fire that nobody could actually see. "We come before you this night in the spirit of bloodlust and anger, so that our enemies may continue to burn forever in the sight of your RAGE!..."

     "Eventually, he'll get to some point where he babbles about instructions from Zoamel," Lina continued. "And that's when I fake a rapturous seizure using a mild electrical spell on myself, for realism..."

     "Let the infinitely powerful voice of your dark brilliance echo across the land!" the leader shouted, little veins poking out in his neck. "Hear us, o terrible lord, and guide us on the path! Let us be your hand as your wisdom leads us in a bloody path towards--"

     "Whaaaoorgh!" Lina wailed, twitching and shaking her arms. Little white sparks popped off her hands, to add to the effect. "Hooaahr! Wubba wubba! Oooaoaohagooooo! ZayzayzayZAAAY!"

     "A seizure?" Penny asked. "Do you think they'll buy that?"

     "That's what the spell's for, kid. Realism! Not that I've actually seen a mad cultist in the throes of a religious conniption fit, but I'm sure it'd be similar enough."

     "But it's safe, right?"

     "Of course!"

      One of Lina's flailing arms smacked into Penny's robed head, and blasted the young girl back into the next pew from static discharge.

     "Oh, okay," Penny said, relieved. "As long as it's safe. So what then?"

     "Okay, then I improvise a little, depending on how they react. But the idea is to pass it off as having had a vision of Zoamel, one I'd be MORE than happy to relate to the rest of them..."

      Lina turned off the spell, trying to shake off the aftereffects. The other cultists watched her, wondering in a sort of odd curiosity if she'd explode anytime soon -- the leader quietly wished he'd picked a god to worship who didn't have things like this happen on a regular basis.

     "...O, what a vision I have had! What rapture!" Lina started. "I have seen the dark lord! The great and almighty Zoamel Gustav!"

     "Well, of course, his statue's right there," a younger cultist said, pointing helpfully.

     "Not THERE, you twit, I mean in my mind!" Lina snapped. "Now shaddup and pay attention!!"

     "Yes'm," he mumbled.

     "What glorious sights I have seen, and so on!" Lina continued. "The Dark Lord rising triumphant over all enemies, striking them down with a fantastic sword of fire! It must be an omen, a message, from the Lord to us!"

     "Well, why didn't *I* see it, then?" the leader complained. "I'm the one who started this branch of the cult. I put in the paperwork and sent in my fifty gold, and I want at least ONE vision before I--"

     "Zoamel doesn't LIKE it when people interrupt his messenger's prophecy," Lina warned, in her best Creeping Evil Death voice. "Ahem. There is a PROBLEM! Out there, in the wilds of the world, rests an enemy who plots to DESTROY Zoamel Gustav!"

     "...don' wanna get up for school today, mum..." Penny mumbled, one pew behind Lina. Lina got a large sweatdrop behind her head, but carried on regardless.

     "We must all pray for Zoamel to go out into the world, and destroy this enemy! Only with our sacrifices, our hopes and our RAGE can the Dark Lord persevere! Our hatred and unending anger will, you know, help. So. How about it? Wish him well on his vacation?"

      The bewildered cultists turned to the leader, the only real voice of authority around here. Such as it was.

     "Uh..." the leader leaded. "Well, I guess so. You're quite certain it was lord Zoamel? Not some enemy posing as him to trick us? Who ARE you, anyway? You seem new."

     "Yeah, but what if they don't buy it at all?" Penny asked, while they were planning. "You've got to have some kind of trump card. Maybe.. ooh! I know! We dig underneath the building and erect a complex trap door escape system that lets us flee to safety before we're all slaughtered?"

     "I've got something better, which doesn't involve as much physical labor..." Lina said, with an evil grin.

     "Ah.. I come from a far away land," Lina explained quickly. She pulled Penny out from where she was resting, jerking the girl awake "With my companion, I am spreading the word of Zoamel Gustav to all the branches, under.. the direct orders of HIGH PRIESTESS MARTINA!"

      THAT impressed them. Hushed whispers whispered in hushed tones.

     "Very well!" the leader said, spreading his arms to look cool. "Friends, this is a glorious day! Under the Unholy Martina's geas, we shall pray for the success of the Dark Lord in his travels! May his time from us be spent wading knee deep in blood!"

     "Sounds like a good plan, I guess," Penny agreed. "Maybe we should run it by Zoamel first, though... you know, just in case?"

     "Why? It's PERFECT!" Lina declared. She gathered up her cape, and walked out of the inn, to head right for the ceremony with Penny in tow. "In one fell swoop, we'll have our own Demiurge in the back pocket. What could go wrong?"

     "In accordance to scripture, an offering will be made to speed Zoamel on his journey!" the leader declared, to the rousing cheer of the cultists. "Let us pay homage to the terrible lord. Marty, cast Detect Virgin."

     "Right, boss," the cultist goon said, chanting a quick spell and snapping his fingers.

     "Eh?" Lina asked, right before she started to glow a pale pink.

      She was the ONLY one in the room glowing a pale pink. She looked left, looked right, notably looked at Penny, who had started blushing for some reason...

     "Um," the leader said. "That's not good. Can we sacrifice Martina's messenger?"

     "There's a precedent, o leader," Marty said, flipping open a Pocket Guide To The Unholy Rites of Zoamel Gustav. "Happened once fifty hunner'd years ago. Once dead, her spirit will become a beacon of ultimate power that continues to spread the message, according to Martina 3:16, which goes on to say 'I just sacrificed your ass!'."

      Two meaty hands clamped over Lina's shoulders.

     "Well, fire up the altar, let's get this show on the road!" the leader cheered.

     "H-HEY! Whoa, whoa!" Lina shouted, waving her arms madly in protest. "I'm too important to be killed! And I don't want to become a spirit beacon of power, either! And I am NOT a virgin! I mean, uh..."

     "It's in the rules," the leader explained, as the swarthy cultists hauled Lina onto the altar. "Can't wish the dark god off on a journey without a virgin sacrifice. That's how it works. Don't squirm, it makes the ritual messier, and Marty doesn't like mopping up this place."

     "It's not the mopping, it's the blood-soaked Bingo cards," Marty explained. "Hard to scrape off the floor. Takes all day."

      Lina thought quickly. Okay, this wasn't good. But COULD she die if they, you know, stabbed her repeatedly? She was a god, right? Although... she was shot earlier today and that hurt like hell. It wasn't fatal, so MAYBE this would be fine, but pain was generally disagreeable with her person. But if they weren't CONVINCED otherwise...

      What was she thinking? She wasn't going to play pincushion to a bunch of robed weenies. Option C, blasting the hell out of everybody and wishing they'd built Penny's trapdoor so they could take a hike, was looking more and more attractive. It meant no Demiurge companion, but... She kept most of the words to a fireball spell at the ready, and waited for the right moment.

      Penny, now QUITE awake and alert thank you very much, thought quickly as well. Most of her thoughts consisted of swinging on chandeliers waving her staff and shouting 'What ho!' but there wasn't a chandelier. And that would probably get them both killed, which was more of a problem. She had to try to push all the crazy heroic impulses out the door, and work this out LOGICALLY...

      Then it occurred to her. She lowered her voice to a whisper, and spoke the words.

      'Auf neef keif aff freddyisthedevil afff neeef kiff iy iy, Zoamel, Zoamel," she chanted. "Gustav est ein leibenshein dayo dayo, bosco.'

      A voice spoke to her mind, a voice of handsome features and good annunciation. Her eyes watched Lina, who was clearly looking towards the exits, while the leader whistled and tried to sharpen a curvy knife on a flat stone.

      'This is not a very good time to manifest,' Zoamel echoed in her ears. 'Not with everybody watching. Not really my style at all--'

     "You've GOT to help," she whispered to herself. "Do something. Please? Before it's too late!"

      Three figures stood outside a darkened, closed tavern on the streets of Nostrum. By now, most sane people had gone to bed, so Zelgadis wasn't bothering to wear his hood. Roy paced irritably, waiting for word.

     "So are we going to do this or not?" he asked.

     "Patience," Zelgadis ordered. "Our scout returns."

      A figure stood on the rooftop... then jumped off. He twisted in midair, and landed with a dull THUD on the dirt road, before straightening up and saluting.

     "They are inside, sir," the soldier reported to Zelgadis. "It is a ritual hour, and they aren't guarding the door."

      Zelgadis drew his blade.

     "Now we act," he said.

      'She would not be truly harmed,' Zoamel protested. 'She is Demiurge, and immortal. It is not our way to make ourselves obvious to people, not if it is avoidable. You have little to--'

     "Today, she was wounded, and she bled," Penny pointed out quickly, trying to ignore the looks she was getting from nearby cultists. "That doesn't sound very immortal to me. I don't know if she can survive this. PLEASE, do something!"

      An unearthly pause.

      'Penny... Lina Inverse means this much to you?' Zoamel asked. A tone of curiosity.

     "..I believe in her," Penny said, simply. It was the truth.

      The massive statue of Zoamel Gustav raised its head. Stone ground against stone.

      Many, many heads quietly turned to see the miracle. The few unbelievers in the crowd, faced with a large statue coming to life of a god that likely would bite you in half rather than give you a flower, decided that maybe believing wasn't such a bad thing after all.

      The flow actually seemed to strengthen the god, as the slight motion turned into a full motion, leaping from the pedestal with the grace of a cat; coming down on the altar, feet positioned on either side of Lina, who decided to hold very, very still.

      [Your sacrifice is not required, my children of darkness,] Zoamel spoke, in a voice like knives shredding flesh. Handsome, well mannered flesh, but the edge was still there. [I hear your call, o minions of despair, and your rage empowers me. Boldly I shall go into the night, and return with the spoils of war, all for you, my faithful. It shall be done.]

      Nobody was quite sure how to react. An embarrassed silence fell over the crowd.

      [I would appreciate a 'thank you,' you know,] Zoamel admitted.

      The cult fell all over itself to thank the god, swear allegiance, suggest the many ways in which they were already thankful and how he didn't have to squish them all into paste, that sort of thing. The leader QUICKLY hauled Lina off the table, taking out a lint brush to make her robes a bit more presentable, which Lina did her best to bat away in irritation.

      Zoamel walked his statue back to its resting place, and reassumed the pose it was in originally... before changing his mind, opting for a fiercer sort of pose, as a reward. Then the light died out in the gargoyle's eyes, the ritual was over, and the cultists decided silently and unanimously to call it a night with no closing ceremony.

      One minute later, Lina and Penny were alone in the temple.

      Lina yanked off her robe, exhaling in relief. "Okay, maybe it wasn't AS perfect as I'd hoped, but it got the job done," she decided. "And you know what they say, any demonic ritual you can walk away from with your intestines intact is a good one--"

      She lost a fraction of her balance when the young girl grabbed her up in a huge, energetic hug.

     "I'm just glad you're okay!" Penny exclaimed, laughing in joy. "It's all worked out so great!"

     "...uh... right," Lina said, not quite sure what to do with the hug. Fortunately, it was interrupted.

     "I believe we should be going now," Zoamel Gustav said, having manifested with no particularly flashy entrance, in his flawless white suit. "The night is long, but I am ready to honor my believers in this quest."

     "Right!" Lina said, detangling herself. "So!... Lina, Zoamel and Penny, into the glorious future! Three kindred souls of adventure and--"

      The Wandering Monster Table jumped out of Penny's pack, and landed on Lina's head. "Demiurge!" it chirped in happiness, repeating the stock line it had in its data set as it analyzed Lina.

     "...and that damn thing," Lina conceded. "Let's go."

      While that would have been the high note to conclude the night of adventuring on, a nice, happy event, it was not the last event of the night.

      After stepping onto the street, they couldn't ignore the roaring flames coming from the tavern just across the street. The building had been singled out, the entire structure turned into a roaring inferno, with no signs of who had done it. Likely, they had left shortly after finishing.

     "Ara? Did someone kick over a lantern?" Penny asked. Before she noticed the dim shapes of bodies in the flames... bodies that were not moving.

      Zoamel Gustav frowned, the warm air brushing his white bangs aside from his face. But his eyes weren't hard or rageful, they were sorrowful.

     "That," he explained, "Was the last remaining branch of the Holy Church of Melody, Goddess of Bards and Musicians. And now, they are no more."

      Lina scratched her head a little. "...wow. That sucks," she admitted. "Who would've done something like that? Music critic?"

      The dark god in white turned, to progress down the street, not looking back. But he did speak, as he walked.

     "Rational minds started this atrocity," he said. "Minds with no love for myths, legends and belief. We had best be on our way, Miss Inverse. There are more dangerous things than gods out on the streets tonight."

      High above the city of Nostrum, cold winds whipped through the mountain passes, like icy reminders that Mother Nature wasn't always a happy woman.

      Xelloss perched on an impossibly thin rocky cropping, balance better than any simple human, as he watched smoke pour out of the city. Normally, he was a smiley kinda guy. Tonight he frowned.

      The raven made no sound, but Xelloss stroked its feathers anyway, in what little he knew about comforting people.

     "Now now, in despair there is hope," he enigma'd. "They're well on their way. When the time is right, we will introduce ourselves. And then revenge will be ours. Sweet, lovely revenge. Mmm. So, where do you think they will go next?"


     "My thoughts exactly. No sense in stalling. Off we go."

      Summoning his fading strength, Xelloss studied the faded ruins of the mountain kingdom. It was just a matter of picking out the five points of the dark magical circle that was here a thousand years ago, which was easy to do from the landmarks.

      If he was up to full speed, teleporting all the way to Darata would be easy and not require a circle of power. Sadly, this was not the case. Assisted travel would have to suffice.

      For now.


Story copyright 1999 Stefan Gagne, Slayers characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production hosted by Pixelscapes.