ears went by without any word from the Dark Lord, but Lara didn't mind.  She was too busy.
    After all, didn't she have His cause to promote?  She started out small, just stretching her legs after what felt like years as a worm, a crawling thing that had no power and no mind.  Lara had already given Gaav and Phibrizo a roughing, and decided to call it even; she dropped in on them from time to time for favors or just to annoy them.  Gaav was busy with his own plots and plans, and usually shouted at her until she decided to leave (usually deciding to when he finally stopped shouting).  Phibrizo still looked down at her as a human plaything, so she tried to make herself as much of a nuisance as possible.
    As a result of her meddling, she now understood why the Mazoku tended to fight and argue and occasionally assassinate each other.  They had nothing better to do.  By standing outside things, she had a clearer view.
    The Dragons and the Mazoku were in what essentially amounted to a staring contest.  Every now and then one would strike at the other or launch some amazing plan of action that didn't amount to much, but neither had the strength to start up the Mazoku Wars again.  Shaburanigdo slept in seven pieces, and as for Ceipheed... who knew?  If he wanted to support his ranks, he'd show up more.  As is, nobody had heard from him since the last war.
    So here was Lara, enjoying amazing freedom that came from having such power and immunity.  She could taunt the Mazoku at will, who really lacked any faith in the demon king when he wasn't looking, and occasionally harass the dragons.  She took up a residence, more or less, in Evilania and tried to convince the fools there how to properly serve the dark lord.  (They never quite caught on, mind you.)  Every now and then, for fun, she'd sabotage a human community or two.  Sometimes small things, like destroying trust between friends, and sometimes meddling in politics -- an amusing game.  Life was good.
    One year or so later, she heard word... Gaav and Phibrizo were dead, supposedly at the hands of Lina Inverse.
    Lara had no real attachment to the two.  She hated them, but she knew that hate was just love with its back turned, a tidbit told to her long ago by an acquaintance... so, when their respective minions chose to hold mourning services (what a joke!) she was there to attend.
    Zelas-Metallum, the only surviving Mazoku lord with any sway over the population, was there as well.
    "This limits us," she said.  "Dynast and Deep-Sea rarely get involved in the affairs of the Mazoku.  Am I to be expected to direct all our efforts now that these two fools killed each other in a quest for power?  They lacked the graces of a true predator, and now we all suffer as their blunder puts them in Lina's deathgrip."
    "You have someone watching Lina.  Why not just have him assassinate her?" Lara asked.  "If not him, I'll do it."
    "It's not that simple.  First of all, he has grown.. an attachment for her.  I can sense it without even asking.  My prey is playing games with me now, losing his focus.  In addition, we still don't know her role in things.  What part could she possibly play?  Her sister Luna should technically be the crux of our problems, but we rarely hear from the so-called Knight of Ceipheed.  None of this makes sense, and until I know for certain, I will not make dangerous moves.  We are too weak to take risks now."
    "If I hear anything or learn of anything, I'll tell you," Lara promised.  "I hate you dearly, Beastie, but anything that promotes our Lord's cause is key."
    "You may be the only one among us who actually seeks to promote a cause other than their own," Beastmaster said.  "Myself included.  And the irony is that you aren't even Mazoku.  Surely you recognize this paradox?"
    "I recognize Paradox," Lara nodded.  "And he taught me not to give a damn about things like that."
    Months passed.  Lara's seventeenth birthday came and went without a family celebration, since her human dad had disowned her, her mom hung herself and her true father was still asleep in the dark hearts of man.  That's exactly how she phrased it to the cafe waiter who served her the cupcake she asked for.
    "Ah... interesting," the man said.  "Excuse me."
    He swapped her table with some waitress, who Lara decided to scare by setting fire to her bill in protest of the high prices.  Overall, a pretty average evening, but she got no pleasure out of it.
    It had been more than three years since the only time she heard her father's voice, urging her out into the world to do as she pleased -- and it pleased her to help her father spread fear, terror and destruction.  That's all she had done with her life, and felt satisfaction knowing that she was so completely devoted to Shaburanigdo.  The problem was not how she felt about her life, but how she felt about her work.
    Perhaps she wasn't taking large enough risks, or making big enough plans.  Of course, people to make large risky plans are idiots and die in nasty ways -- like Phibrizo.  Stupid little brat tried to subvert the Lord of Nightmares, which is just stupid.  Even Shaburanigdo answers to Her.  At the moment.
    But if Lara really was going to fill her pledge to the final cause of the Mazoku, that being the complete destruction of everything that exists, she was going to have to aim higher.
    She hated the world, true, but that's not why she wanted to see it go boom.  No, she wanted to make father happy.  To show that even though she had the handicap of not being born Mazoku, she could out-Mazoku any of those scheming, self-interested bastards at their own game.  She'd be the chosen one!  Well, she WAS the chosen one, but she'd show the whole world eventually.
    For fun, she let herself be arrested for setting fire to the cafe.  Besides, she had been evicted from the inn for not bothering to pay the man.  She intended to threaten him into a free stay, but never got around to it, too busy causing havoc and despair around town.
    A jail cell wasn't a comfortable place to stay, but it was a solid roof and had all the luxuries she needed; flat surface to sleep on and a roof.  Lara had herself thrown behind bars with nary a frown or a grumble, and caught some Z's.
    Her dreams were the usual round of Nightmares, of nooses and screaming, and of the various ways the Mazoku lords kept themselves entertained with her.  She had learned to ignore the things by now.  After all, once you recognize such obvious dream symbolism and themes, it's just like reading the same bad novel over and over; you shut it out, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
    Then, halfway through her dreams, she heard His voice again.
    Her soul filled with joy, feeling the presence of the demon king.  This time, he came to her in vision and sound, the malformed beast of all, gigantic beyond gigantic, his power overwhelming and crushing to her mind.
    The scenery was odd... Shaburanigdo hovered inside a world of perfect lines, silver streaks of such perfect right angles, forming a four dimensional matrix of gridlines.  Tiny gray, white and black lights ran in mathematical patterns along the lines, forming and reforming with each other in patterns she could identify...
    But it was definitely Shaburanigdo.  He didn't seem to fit in here, but who was Lara to say what He could or could not do?
    "Lara.  Knight of Shaburanigdo," the beast recognized.  "I greet thee."
    Lara was on her knees immediately.  "I'm pleased to see you again, father.  Tell me your will, so that I may manifest it in your world."
    Shaburanigdo got right down to business, no caring words or emotions whatsoever.  "You must locate the pieces of the Most Important Thing In The World.  With that, you alone can destroy everything as you always have wanted.  I will guide you first to the manacles, which are held underground by a tribe of chimeras.  Obtain them at any price.  Follow this vision to find them--"
    --her mind reeled away from her jail cell, across the lands and seas, into a cave and through a network of tunnels and into a large underground city--
    "--that is all.  I will contact you again," Shaburanigdo said.
    "I will do this for you!!" Lara declared.  "I have waited long for this moment.  Thank you, father!"
    The vision left her quickly, task complete.  Lara felt a pang of disappointment.. no encouragement, not even a threat.  Nothing.  Strange.
    But His will was His will.  Her mind had the path burned into it.  She'd have to make a trip across the sea to Pleasantville and into the cave, then win the confidence of the tribe and sneak out the object... no need to endanger it by blasting her way to it.
    And if it really could end the world, fulfill her wish...
    She smiled.
    Wouldn't Zelas-Metallum just turn GREEN with envy?
    As usual, Lara didn't bother announcing her arrival in the throne room of the Beastmaster.  She simply appeared in place and started talking.
    "Shaburanigdo has spoken to me," she smiled.  "He--"
    "Impossible.  He hasn't been resurrected," Beastmaster said, not looking up from her written reports from various spies.  "I would know, given all the networks I have."
    That's not the reaction Lara wanted.  She whipped out a lance of black power, and slashed the table carrying Zelas-Metallum's paperwork in half.
    "It was HIM," Lara emphasized.
    Beastmaster sighed.  "Fine, fine.  What did he supposedly say, little human?"
    "I'm going on a quest to recover items of power," Lara explained.  "Ones that can smash the world apart and finish the Mazoku cause."
    "And what items are these?"
    "The Most Important Things In The World."
    "An absurd name for an absurd notion," Zelas yawned.  "Why wouldn't--"
    And Shaburanigdo was there!  Framed in the glowing quicksilver lines of math, he appeared in the throne room.  Just like that.  He reached out, striking Zelas-Metallum, flashing a pulse of the most amazing agony ever seen in the world down her spine... just enough to be convincing.
    "You will work with Lara," he said, and vanished.
    Lara looked positively smug.
    Beastmaster struggled to return to her throne, clutching at her heart.  She glared at Lara.  "How... how did you do that?!"
    "Me?  I don't recall doing anything.  Now, Shabby, that's another matter..."
    "That was NOT Shaburanigdo!!"
    "Can you afford to be wrong?" Lara asked honestly.  The whole situation was really amusing, though; making the Beastmaster crawl for her!  The very thought!
    "I don't see what I can do," Beastmaster stated, glaring at Lara as she regained her composure.  "If it's a quest for you, it's a quest for you alone.  You've never worked with one of us."
    "I'm not going to take stupid chances like your pals do," Lara said.  "And we're not going to let the Inverse Wonder Kids stomp on this.  You are going to help me think of a way to keep them at bay while I get the goods."
    "Lina is busy on some foolish quest.  I already have an agent named Bugger tailing her," Zelas-Metallum said.  "As for Luna... I don't even know where she is.  This is something I will admit to, as Luna is not easy prey.  How do you plan to keep her out of your hair, human?  I have no ideas."
    Lara sat in thoughtful repose.
    And eventually, the idea came to her.  Just as simple as that.
    "It's easy," Lara said.  "We threaten the humans and raise enough ruckus to make nobody even consider looking elsewhere for trouble.  We do the unthinkable, the greatest threat ever to be seen in a millennium.  Namely... you're going to start the Third Mazoku War.  Congratulations, General Zelas."
    It was worth the stunned look on the predator's face.  Yes... Lara thought.  I'm in control now.  Not you.  Me.
    It took more arguing than that, but the decision had been set; the Mazoku were going to war... at least, the semblance of a war.  Zelas could spare enough troops to tangle with the Dragons, target large human resources and cause damage.  It would be more than enough to set the home fires burning, if not enough to be considered a full apocalypse.  They'd delay the start until after Lara had the manacles, just in case she failed somehow; less loss that way.  Lara would go alone, to attract less attention, and would keep Zelas updated.
    Step one... the manacles.  Likely just one part of many, Lara figured.  But she'd get them, get them with style, and get them successfully.  Lara knew that to pull off a true deception, one had to do unthinkable things.
    Her first stop was to visit a Mazoku known as the Costume Queen.  She was a very special purpose Mazoku, covering the realm of hideous fashion and clever deceit, helper to spies and thieves everywhere.  C.Q. was also Zelas-Metallum's personal advisor on all human fashion trends, which Beastmaster had an abnormal interest in -- childish, Lara considered.
    C.Q. was only happy to help.
    "Daaahling, you have no idea how much I've wanted to work with you," she smiled, vaguely feline appearance radiating cozy comfort.  "To have a human aligned with us that would hold still while I experimented with clothing... truly a maaaarvelous thing!"
    "I can't stay long," Lara warned.  "I just need your help assembling a costume.  You'd be directly helping Shaburanigdo."
    "The demon king!"
    "Oh!  Oh, sorry.  I had forgotten the pronunciation.  No offense intended, mais oui?" C.Q. smiled.  "Very well.  I'd simply love to assist.  What do you need?"
    "What do you know about the Hi'Chi'Orld?"
    "The chimeras?" C.Q. asked.  She fehed with as much contention as she could muster.  "Fashion nightmares.  Totally unimaginative.  They haven't changed fashions in years--"
    "Are they friendly?  Generally loving of life?  Would they take in a perfect stranger, for instance?"
    "Why ask me?  There are cultural study Mazoku you could consult."
    "I heard once you could learn a lot about a people from their arts," Lara buttered up.  "Such as... fashion.  In fact, I bet fashion is a wonderful indicator.  And if anybody knows fashion, it would be you, the world's foremost expert... right?"
    C.Q. preened proudly.
    "Why, of course.  Yes.. yes, I'd say they're stupid enough to take in a stranger.  But to REALLY embrace one with open arms, it'd have to be a hard luck case."
    "That's what I figured," Lara said, confirming her idea.  "Here's what I need you to do.  I want an outfit that just screams 'refugee from a thousand terrors'.  You know, shredded clothes, fake bruises, messy hair, the whole nine yards.  Kicked puppy feeling.  Someone they'd immediately take indoors and nurse back to health..."
    "...after which you'd turn on them.  Delightful!" C.Q. agreed.  "But they're a perceptive race.  Not in terms of emotions or motives, but appearance.  They'd spot fake bruises immediately, being so fact driven as they are.  No, no... for a true costume, you WILL have to go the whole nine yards."
    "What do you mean...?"
    "I know a Mazoku named Glonk.  He's large and mean looking, but very precise," C.Q. stated.  "I'll direct his efforts like a painter with a brush.  Then I'll have a specialist in famine handle draining your energy and muscle to keep you feral... surely you aren't afraid of a little pain, Knight of Shaburanigdo?"
    Lara hardened.  "Of course not.  Whatever it takes to make His will into reality."
    And she meant it, too.  Unlike the other Mazoku, hypocrites all, she would do anything required.  Anything.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.