ObWarning : Some Lime/Dark content.

    A young girl ran through city streets, clutching the blackened book of magic to her chest.  A smile actually was on her face.  She had done it!  True, she had to burn down a large part of the school in the process, but she had done it.  The truest book of dark magic was now hers.
    The city guard and the security at the magic school were probably after her, but she knew this city like the back of her eyes.  Every twisted alley, every shortcut through a refuse-strewn sidestreet, every nasty and horrible place nobody bothered to go were her paths.  It was so easy to get things done if you went places others didn't dare to go... and the things you could do there!  She was smart enough despite her young age to see how it all related, both disregarded city slums and dark magics others dare not touch.  It was probably ironic.  Her literature teacher would be proud she had made the connection.
    No, they wouldn't find her.  She wasn't going home again, to her empty apartment home, which hadn't seen proper cleaning in three years.  She was going to her workshop.
    At one time, the building had been a factory for smelting iron.  The nice thing about it was that all the metal structures acted like a natural buffer to muffle her magical experiments from the rest of the city, and most importantly, from the guard.  If they knew...
    But idle thoughts could wait.  She had a purpose, after all.
    Shoving open the rusted door, she ran up to her main lab, to the magical pentagram.  It was an inverted one -- much more powerful than the standard ones, but tended to be more unstable.  Unstable, that is, if you lacked control.  She had the control.  And now she had the book.
    The title roughly translated to 'The Dark Lore', and it was reportedly a field manual for the Mazoku themselves.  It was captured by some of the more prominent students of the sorcery school during the last Mazoku war, and kept secure in the most ward-riddled room of the library.  She had spent years studying in class for the express purpose of beating those wards, and today, had succeeded.  In this book was the one spell she had been wanting, wanting for three long, nasty years.
    She shoved some meaningless experimental materials aside, making room on her desk.  The book opened roughly, the pages warped and crackling beneath her fingers.  A quick skim through the book found the spell she needed.  She found the right ingredients, which she had estimated would be required beforehand, and started the chant, wrapping herself in black magic like a blanket of cold.
    "Words spoken on a dark wind of will, spread with wings and let my call be heard," she spoke, reading each symbol and translating as she went.  "Deep-Sea Dolphin.  Hellmaster Phibrizo.  Chaos-Dragon Gaav.  Dynast Grauscherra.  Beastmaster Zelas-Metallum.  Come.  Come all, I beg thee, allow me to supplant at your feet for the favor of Shaburanigdo, the demon king of all.  I have prepared the way for my power to become your power.  Come.  Come all, I beg thee.  Allow--"
    "We heard you the first time," a gruff voice responded.
    The girl whirled around, facing.... three perfectly ordinary people.
    One of them was a tall warrior-type, with tanned skin and fire-red hair.  Another was a young boy, perhaps her own age, with a pleasant smile and wide eyes.  The third, staying near the back, was an older woman, wearing the finest city clothes, fashions available for large budgets from the best tailors.
    The warrior looked at the others.  "This is a first.  Some kid's applying to be the Knight of Shaburanigdo.  How old was the last idiot that tried this?"
    "Twenty four," the boy smiled.  "I like this.  It's funny."
    "We don't have time for this," the woman said.  "Let's kill her and leave."
    The girl stepped forward.  "W-wait!  I spoke the words.  I deserve to be heard!  I know how the spell works, and you guys need to hear my claim and decide!"
    The warrior studied the tiny girl, sniffing the air... and frowning.  "I can see in her mind.  It's older than it looks by years, this isn't just some stupid kid.  She knows what she's doing and wants to do it.  The brat's going to put up a fight, isn't she?"
    "I think it will be fun," the boy smiled.  "We don't get together often and we don't have entertainment when we do.  Let's hear her.  My name is Phibrizo, and this tall person is Gaav.  The woman is Zelas-Metallum.  The other two were busy and couldn't come, sorry, nice girl."
    The girl immediately got on one knee, despite her school uniform getting in the way.  "Please... I want to be the Knight.  The Knight of Shaburanigdo."
    "Kid, let's be frank here," Gaav said bluntly.  "Shaburanigdo's toast.  He's been chunked into seven parts and isn't likely to pop his head up to let you be his representative.  The Mazoku don't need some screwy human gumming up the works by pretending to be the unholy Knight.  This position's gone unfilled for about three hundred years, and we're not really interested, you know?  We have our own agendas and problems to deal with.  So if you ask nicely, we'll just tear your head off to put with the other morons who've tried this and call it a day.  However, if you insist on wasting our time, we can be less merciful..."
    "You have to hear me out," the girl said, voice on edge of cracking.  "You have to!"
    "Don't be mean," Phibrizo warned the older Mazoku lord.  "She's a funny little girl.  I wanna hear her."
    The woman, Zelas-Metallum, stepped up beyond the others.
    "Words are inefficient..." she said, darkness flowing down her arm, gathering over an outstretched hand.  "I will open her mind instead."
    The girl froze.  "What--"
     She was born eleven years ago, and named at birth Lara Benzedi.  It was her mother's last name and her father's choice for a first name.  She showed exceptional ability, even at a young age, learning to read before any other children her age, able to do basic math early with numbered blocks.  Her mother guarded her and tutored her, keeping her safe from all harm, rarely letting her out into the urban metropolis of Zefielia's capital city.  She--
    "Boring," Zelas-Metallum said, echoing from outside Lara's memory.
    "I have a million and one things I could be doing rather than watching some kid's memories," Gaav commented.  "She shows promise, for a human, but is she special in any way?"
    "I'll move on."
    --tapping magical powers when others were riding bikes, studying books of magic.  Lara had no problems staying indoors and playing, because the times she went out, the people were idiots and called her names and made fun of her mother, whom she loved.
    But she did enjoy exploring the city at night, because there were a whole bunch of places where nobody lived that had fun things in them.  Some homeless people lived there, as well as bandits and thugs, but that just meant more practice, and practice made perfect.  Mommy said so and mommy loved her.
    Her daddy didn't think the same way, she thought, but he didn't talk much.  He didn't show up much.  He was a traveling merchant and could only see her when he was in town, but he always had a smile and a nice gift and that's all Lara wanted from him.  He made mommy happy too, which was good.  Mommy loved Daddy.  She was very happy with the pearls he gave her today, and they spent a longer time together upstairs than usual.
    "Now remember, Lara," her mother smiled, that afternoon.  "Black magic is the only real power.  White magic is useful and Shamanism is funny but only by specializing strong black magic can you hurt people you need to hurt."
    "Okay, mommy!" she smiled.  Because her mother was always right.  And the next day, she decided to practice by crushing those people next door who kept talking about her mommy behind her back, saying how she shouldn't have been let out of the hospital and was a danger to the community.  And then she hurt the people who came asking how those people got hurt.  But eventually this got boring, so--
    "Fun family," Gaav mocked.  "You know, it's true.  Humans can be total freaks if you drop them in the right environment.  You think we should start a genetics program?"
    "It would be a waste of time," Beastmaster Zelas-Metallum said simply.
    "I like her," Phibrizo said, smiling mentally.  "But she was a nice kid then and now seems adult.  Why is that?"
    "I'll ask her."
    --found out that her daddy wasn't just her daddy, he was some other kids' daddy too.  But Lara didn't care, because she was the most special one to him, and he always had a smile for her.  And today, he'd smile best of all!  And mommy would hug her and be very happy.
    She had amazing news!
    She was accepted to the magical school!  The youngest student yet.  She showed how good she was by throwing her testing professor around the room when she got bored with the tests.  He said she had the strongest power he'd ever seen -- and in Zefielia, a land known for exceptional sorceresses, that meant a lot.  It meant Lara was more special than anybody else, even Daddy's other daughters, anybody in the world!
    "Mama!  Mama!!" Lara called out, running up the stairs that led to her mom's apartment.  Her certificate of admission was tightly wadded in her hand, her fingers gripping it proudly.  She threw open the door, and entered... and saw them fighting.
    "If I don't go, Jessica's going to be suspicious!  She already is!" Daddy shouted.  "My daughter was kidnapped, for crying out loud.  It's going to look bad if I don't start doing the good father thing immediately to make up for this.  I can't come to the city anymore, and that's final!"
    Lara ran to her room to get out of the way of the fight.  They had fought a few other times, and her room made a good place to stay, reading her magic books and waiting for it to stop--
    "When does this get interesting, Zelas?  I've got things to do."
    "Be patient, Gaav."
    --had to wait an hour or three before Daddy left.  She heard Mommy crying, but assumed it would all be okay, because Mommy got very emotional from time to time.  Emotional was one of the important words she knew well.
    Once everything was nice and quiet, she decided she'd go show Mommy her certificate.  Then she'd be happy and everything would be fine.  It was a very good plan!
    Lara hopped off her bed, and ran to her mother's room, twisting the knob and entering.
    "Mama, look at me!  I'm going to be the best sorceress ever!" she declared.
    Her mother was busy adjusting some kind of bedsheet, hanging from a ceiling beam.  She had to stand on a stool to reach it.
    "That's nice, honey," she said absently.  "I'm going to go now.  Excuse me."
    Lara's mommy stepped off the stool, and hung in the air.  Lara didn't quite understand why--
    "WHA-hoa!!" Gaav cheered.  "Sweet.  Kid's mom commits suicide right in front of her.  That would break the human mind, wouldn't it?  That whole psychology thing really sticks it in and breaks it off."
    "Can I keep her?" Phibrizo asked.  "She has a lot of pain and hatred.  It tastes very good.  Maybe I could enjoy that for a few years.  She's funny and I like her, like my little devil I made for the prison."
    "There is more here, but this is taking too long.  I will summarize," Zelas said, patient and calm.  Her memories span through in a blur, running in the city, more magic, pretending to take classes and pay attention, learning and hating... "She seems to wish to destroy the world and everybody in it, especially the other girls her father spawned.  The usual trite human will."
    "She's strong," Phibrizo said.  "She could serve."
    "We don't NEED a Knight of Shaburanigdo.  It's a stupid idea," Gaav sulked.  "And I don't trust anybody you'd approve of, Phibby.  Besides, what would a human be able to do that a Mazoku can't?  I don't care how strong she is, it's not merited.  Let's just kill her and go have dinner."
    In a winding motion, Zelas skimmed back over one detail... and smiled widely.
    "You know I hate that look," Gaav warned.  "Spit it out."
    "I will ask her one question that will convince you all, regardless of allegiance to our individual causes," Zelas said.  "One moment while I release her mind."
    The room snapped back into sharp relief.  Lara sank to her knees, all the breath sucked from her lungs, weak in front of the three Mazoku lords.
    Zelas-Metallum gestured, unseen force tugging upwards on Lara's chin, to raise her eyes to meet theirs.
    "Tell me, little thing, who is your father?" the Beastmaster asked her prey.
    "Os-Oswald Inverse," Lara said.
    The other two Mazoku looked thoughtful.
    "You're right.  This mungs things, doesn't it?" Gaav asked.  "Inverse.  The man's little more than a comma on the pages of history, but his family name isn't.  Inverse... it's the same as that blasted Knight of Ceipheed."
    "Not to mention the younger one, Lina Inverse," Beastmaster said.  "The one who cast the Giga Slave.  I have my top man, Xelloss, looking after her.  I suspect she will develop in interesting ways..."
    "Lina and Luna are funny humans," Phibrizo agreed.  "Lina has the Giga Slave.  She interests me.  The illegitimate Inverse daughter as the Knight of Shaburanigdo would also be very neat.  I like this a lot."
    "S'got a ring," Gaav admitted.  "If those two little kittens prove to be a pain, we'll have an antidote ready.  Shaburanigdo isn't going to be talking to her anytime soon, so she'd be ours to control.  All three of us, not just any one of us.  The other two can find their own pet human.  This is assuming she survives the testing and modifications, of course..."
    All three Mazoku looked at Lara Benzedi Inverse, sizing her up.  They were smiling.
    "I'm going to have a lot of fun," Phibrizo said.  And meant it.
    One year she spent in the care of Zelas-Metallum.  The Beastmaster changed her into a rabbit, and hunted her relentlessly through Wolf Pack Island, taking the form of a ravenous dog hungry for her flesh.  Lara learned how to hide and evade, and eventually, how to set traps and be clever.  All the whole, a slow bitterness seeped into her.
    "This is the Slow Poison, child," the wolf spoke into the rabbit's mind.  She had a strangely loving voice, of a predator that cared dearly about the prey.  "It's a key component we feed any human we catch.  You'll learn to embrace it eventually."
    It was a year spent in fear, with Lara sometimes unable to remember who she was.  But she kept her burning desire, her wish to be the Knight of Shaburanigdo, and let the Mazoku lords play with her.  That she wouldn't let Zelas-Metallum destroy or dissuade.
    The next year she spent in the care of Chaos-Dragon Gaav, but he didn't have any real use for her.
    "What am I supposed to do with some human female I don't need or want?" Gaav complained.  "You're no knight, you're just some kid the others wanted to have fun with.  They're that bored with life.  Fine, fine; you can be my servant.  I suppose it's as good a job as any, and maybe you'll learn something."
    So Lara joined the servant's staff, which lived in mortal terror of Gaav, being captured humans themselves under the command of a Mazoku headmistress.  Lara never caught on why they hated Gaav and spoke of him like they did in hushed tones.  Lara understood Gaav, how irritated he was with how things were, and would blow off steam by lashing out.  He was at least the most bluntly honest person she had ever known.  She picked up many interesting skills working on his staff, as well.
    The next year was spent in the care of Hellmaster Phibrizo, and he turned out to be even more honest.
    "I don't think you're much of a knight," he explained.  "So I don't care about training you, I just want to play with you until you die.  It'll be fun, and I don't think the others will really care."
    He condemned her to the prison he had created in his name, Hell, where humans, Dragons and Mazoku who had displeased him were incarcerated.  There, Lara spent a great deal of time doing little else than suffering in a variety of ways.  Phibrizo personally handled most of this, since he was about as bored as the others.  He made it his goal to grind down Lara's desire to be the Knight, desire to burn the world, any motivation she could have.
    He very nearly succeeded, given his mastery of such things.  Lara might have been strong, but she was human, and the Mazoku had been learning methods to break humans for longer than history remembered.  She slowly lost herself and everything she stood for, worked on constantly by Phibrizo in his boredom, to the point where she simply was waiting to die...
    Then the Dark Lord was resurrected.
    Lara remembered that day most of all the days she spent in the prison.  It was the best day she had ever had in her life.
    She was in her cell, curled up in the ball she usually assumed when sleeping, drifting in and out of bad dreams when the voice spoke to her.
    I have returned, he said, a voice booming like evil on top of hate on top of madness.  I, Shaburanigdo, have been reborn through the eyes of Rezo.  Awaken, child.
    Lara sat up straight, the voice like a cool drink of water in the desert.  "L-Lord?  Is it you?"
    They have treated you very badly, Shaburanigdo growled.  As humans should be.  But their disrespect to me in the process, ignoring your intended position, will not be tolerated.  You are not a toddler, a joke, or a plaything.  Awaken.  Arise.  You are the Knight of Shaburanigdo, and will serve your purpose well, whether I am here or not...
    And she finally saw the face of her lord, the twisted monster's face... and it almost seemed to smile at her.  A fire-crackling hand reached out, caressing her cheek... she screamed from the pain and the delight, like a father bestowing a kiss as a reward for a job well done.
    Lara stood up tall.  Her mind broke free of the black poison it was being fed, and she felt more sure about herself than she had in years, her will, her desire returning to her.  Her wits and her mind were free and her independence solid.  Sentience.
    "Thank you," Lara said, smiling for the first time in years.  "I won't let you down."
    No.  You won't.  Now go, and do as you wish.
    On Wolf Pack Island, Beastmaster Zelas-Metallum was busy reviewing notes from Xelloss.  Interesting reading material... if this was accurate, and the Mazoku priest had rarely been inaccurate, Shaburanigdo was reborn... and no less than a day afterwards, Lina Inverse had--
    The doors of her throne room simultaneously imploded and exploded, torn to subatomic particles by a blast of darkness.
    The bodies of Gaav and Phibrizo were tossed into the room casually.  They weren't fatally injured, but had enough scrapes and bruises to show they were muscled, and muscled by someone stronger than they were.
    Lara Inverse, Knight of Shaburanigdo, stepped into the throne room after them.
    "Your pals needed a lesson in manners," Lara said, stepping on Gaav's back as she approached Beastmaster.  "Your Lord doesn't like you playing with his daughter like some common human, you know.  And now that he's back, there's going to be some changes acknowledged.  You want to handle this the easy way or do we have to get into one of those climactic magical battles that lower the property values?  It's a nice island, and I've got some fondly bad memories of it.  Hate to see it burn."
    Zelas-Metallum frowned.
    "You are not Lara," she said.  "Lara was a stupid little girl.  Clever, but weak--"
    "I'm new and improved," Lara smiled, posing.  "My dark lord's given me the juice.  I don't exist in your hierarchy, and I'm not your toy.  That okay with you?  Last chance to answer."
    Beastmaster held out the written report.  "Your lord is dead.  Lina Inverse crushed him shortly after his arrival."
    The Knight froze.  She trembled, feeling a loss she couldn't explain.  "D-Dead?"
    "Seems your rival is not a trivial matter any more," Beastmaster said.  "I have no problems with your place in things.  You've certainly given the boys something to think about regarding it.  But now what will you do, without Shaburanigdo to guide you, left hand of darkness?"
    "I'll KILL HER!" Lara shouted, hands balled into fists.  "The SECOND time she's taken away my... MY--"
    "Not yet," Zelas-Metallum said.  "We need to know more about Lina first.  I have my top spy on the job.  I realize I cannot order you, but I can suggest as an advisor that you wait.  More important things are afoot.  Now, I ask again.  What will you do?"
    Lara trembled with rage... barely suppressed, contained, controlled.  Calming, ordering herself down.
    "Just because he's put to sleep again doesn't mean he won't return," she said, through tight jaws.  "Even Lina Inverse can't destroy Shaburanigdo.  I'll be around.  Working for his causes.  You'll see me again, Beastmaster."


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Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.