taggering, Lara reached out blindly in the dark,
finding only the jagged rocks of cave walls to help her.
How long had she been wandering down here?
One day? One hour? One week? Disorientation kicked her
in the head every time she tried to clock it. C.Q.'s friends had
done good work. For the first time since her initiation rites under
the three Mazoku lords, she was miserably weak, and wracked with genuine
She swallowed any complaints. It was for the
cause. Father would be proud of the lengths she went to. She
just needed to rest a little. Yes, to rest....
And her world went from vertical to horizontal,
body collapsing to the ground. The chimeras had better find her.
Lara did NOT intend to die down here from these obligatory injuries.
Dead souls that failed the Mazoku sometimes go to Phibrizo's realm, and
she had visited Hell once already, without finding it to her liking.
Time passed. How much, she didn't bother to
Finally, a boy.. it was probably a boy... came into
her fuzzy view. Seeing her, he quickly went to her side.
"Miss! Are you okay!?"
Perfect. Relieved, Lara let go of her consciousness,
and drifted away...
Lara knew exactly what part to be playing here.
You take one part vulnerability, one part nervousness, two parts thankful
humility, one part meek, one fake name (Luna was her favorite) and mix
'em up... bammo, Instant Victim(tm). Even when
she faded in and out of consciousness, the chimera doctor using magics
and potions and healing methods to revive her, she made sure to fit her
role with coughing she didn't need, scared looks she wasn't feeling and
mumbled words which could be constructed in ominous ways.
After a day or two of this, she was strong enough
to sit up, talk and stay awake. Nobody suspected that Lara was faking
her illnesses and injuries, because she wasn't faking them; she actually
was ill and injured. While she got back the energy to walk so that
she could really case the town and see what she was up against, she started
to learn a few things about her 'saviors'.
The one who had found her was a boy named Chi'Bi.
He was a scrawny sort, unable to find the right words to say in any situation
and very nervous around her. She figured he was about the same age
as her, but since she felt she was at least ten years older in her head,
that made him a boy.
"I'm real glad to see you're okay," he said.
"You had us all worried."
"I was worried too," Lara smiled falsely.
"All those monsters... but you look strong enough to handle them.
I wish I had taken a bodyguard with me, or something, instead of exploring
that cave myself."
Chi'Bi blushed. Lara couldn't see it very
well through his stone skin, but it was something in the eyes that gave
it away. "Gosh, miss... well... when you gotta go home, I could bring
you back! I'm okay with a sword and I'm learning new stuff every
"That would be great!" she said, relieved.
Relieved, mostly because she had found her weak
link to work on.
Chi'Nai wouldn't serve her purposes; the girl was
pretty vacant, without a strong reaction to anything. In fact, most
of the chimeras were emotionless, from what she saw once she could walk
under her own power. It was like a tribe of machines. She sat
in the same sidewalk cafe for three days to check this theory, and saw
the same chimeras running the same errands at the same times, day in, day
So far, the only ones she had identified as being
possible patsies were Chi'Leas and Chi'Bi. Chi'Leas was a senile,
doddering old fool, constantly rambling about this thing or another, and
taking this whole 'worship chaos' thing way too far. He liked to
stop by and 'talk' at Lara, and she'd have to put up with every boring
minute of it. No, Lara couldn't see any angles to work on there.
The boy was emotionally dead, like the others.
From what she was able to observe when she spied on him from her temple
guest room window, to other chimeras, he was as routine as the rest of
the lot. But whenever he came in to supply her with food or fresh
bandages, he tripped over himself to try to contain emotions. Clearly,
she had triggered something in him and being such a psychological baby,
he was having trouble coping with it.
Now all she had to do was identify it and exploit
The first step happened entirely by itself; the
second seemed immediately obvious.
The mission had taken a week. Time was hard to
measure in this underground city, but she had an internal clock like a
Daratan Watch, and kept tabs. She had made a few check-ins with Zelas-Metallum,
more out of who-cares generosity than any genuine desire to keep the Mazoku
informed. Lara could handle things herself without their help.
But there was still the Chi'Bi situation.
It seemed so obvious, so ordinary that she was clearly overlooking it by
probing too deeply into the boy's psyche. In a sweaty, nasty afternoon
of frustration, Lara decided cooling off and approaching from a new direction
was the only way. Fortunately, these chimeras had heard of indoor
plumbing, so a private bath was all hers to relax in.
Unfortunately, they had yet to figure out what 'Privacy'
meant, and put that bath in the main guest room.
Chi'Bi walked on in carrying her dinner tray.
"Hello!" he greeted, spreading a smile he only kept
for her. "I brought you your WAARGHGHHH!!!"
Needless to say, the dinner would have to be enjoyed
by the carpet rather than Lara.
"Don't you know how to knock?" Lara demanded, grabbing
a towel. It was a rare slip to her usual speech, but suitable.
"Sorry!!" Chi'Bi apologized, turning--
No, wait. He didn't turn right away.
No... he got a good eyeful.
Oh, of all the...! Lara was thankful for the
revelation and grumbling internally at the same time. Of course.
Some recluse who's never seen a human before, much less an attractive and
female one, who's probably got a bit of a twitch to him to begin with.
Naturally that's what his angle would be. Such a stupidly simple
On the plus side, it would be very, very easy to
take advantage of. On the minus side, Lara didn't particularly care
to take advantage of it. It was, after all, so typically evil to
do and typically 'wicked wanton sorceress'. If word got out about
this, she'd never live down the jokes, becoming a living anecdote of villainy.
Of course, none of that truly mattered, she simply liked to complain before
Unlike the other Mazoku, she would do anything required.
Pasting her best purrrring feline smile on her face,
she stepped out of the tub. "Now now, no need to apologize..."
There was one flaw in her plan, but she only saw it
The chimeras clearly had underdeveloped emotions.
But they weren't dead feelings, simply submerged... and when you deliberately
pull one out of the mire using every tool and technique you have, you can
expect it to be a bit uncontrollably strong. And wild.
Not that she couldn't handle the brat physically,
but his psyche started getting whacked out from word one. He spent
far, far more time hanging around Lara than before, and unsure of exactly
what was happening to him, was clumsy with handling every emotion he had
left. If this kept up, others would notice how the reclusive guy
suddenly was a spastic, nervous wreck who seemed to be addicted to something...
and that would inevitably draw attention to Lara. So she decided
to accelerate things.
First, she got him as hooked as she possibly could,
until he was little more than an emotional wreck, dependent on Lara.
It was surprisingly easy. Then she simply let the disguise drop,
"You'd to anything to help me, right?" she soothed,
playing with the kid's sharp, pointy hair.
"Of course!!" Chi'Bi blurted.
"I'm actually here to steal something," Lara said.
"It's a set of clasps, silver in color. Do you know where they are?"
Chi'Bi concentrated. Thinking was harder for
him now that most of his memory registers were occupied with Lara.
"The elder.... yes! I know!" Chi'Bi declared.
"They're the holy relics the Lord of Chaos gave to our protection.
Chi'Leas keeps them in a special cave off to the side of the temple."
"What kind of security?"
"It's locked and barred with iron, no guards.
But it doesn't matter. Nobody can touch them, according to the scripture."
"Nobody who isn't human," Lara explained.
"If you lead me to that room tonight, I can bust down the door and take
Whatever spell-without-magic Lara had on Chi'Bi,
he proved to have at least one limit.
"Wait, wait... I can't help you," Chi'Bi said, simply.
"It would be wrong. I would be betraying Chaos and my people, and--"
Lara got out of bed, and stretched for maximum impact.
"Okay. I'm a fair person. I'll simply find some other guy who's
stronger and more willing to help me. I'm sure he'd enjoy our little
games as well..."
Exactly the right lever to use. Primitive
jealousy over mate selection flared in Chi'Bi's eyes.
"You're mine," he weakly insisted. Lara tried
hard not to laugh. "I'll help you get those things. I'm strong
"That you are," Lara smiled. "Very strong.
And we'll have a bright future together. I think you'll actually
like changing sides, the Mazoku are much more powerful than you can possibly--"
Caaaareful... calculate words and postures, guide
things where you want them...
"They're not so bad," Lara said, putting as much
casual emphasis in her voice as she could. "They have SUCH fun.
Fun like you and I have. And they're more exciting than anything
you can think of, even in your wildest imagination. I'll make sure
you're rewarded for your trouble."
Chi'Bi still had some doubt on his face. This
was going to be a hard sell.
"But for now," Lara continued, playing a trump card,
"There's something new I wanted to show you that we can try."
Yes... she was definitely going to have to keep
word of this from getting back. Stone wasn't all that comfortable,
but the embarrassment would be far worse. Instead of worrying, she
formed a plan of how to deal with it... a plan she could execute any time
she wanted, once Chi'Bi stopped being useful.
That night, she stole the clasps.
Lara almost had to laugh and kick herself.
If she only knew where the blasted things were, she could have stolen them
herself a long time ago. But Shaburanigdo's vision stopped at the
doors of the city, and some kind of guide was required. Still, this
was a lesson to be learned; why go through all the bother of corrupting
some guy she didn't even like to find out the information when she could
have simply beat it out of someone? Very inefficient. She'd
have to endeavor to stop wanting to be so Dramatic. It never got
him anywhere, either.
Once the clasps were safely away, she felt Shaburanigdo
touch her soul again.
"The next item is here," he said.
Her mind reeled through a vast maze of caverns.
Perfect. The next item would only be a long hike through the underground
to get to. She thought she recognized the final destination, but
it was blurry and the vision ended right when she reached it... no matter.
Her mind had the map memorized to get there.
Still, now on the lam from the city with the silvery
glowing things in a backpack, she had this guy to deal with. He slowed
down her progress greatly, since now -- naturally! Sheesh -- he wasn't
even able to get to sleep without his fix. To get rid of him now
might not be wise, though, since who knew what kind of trouble they might
hit along the way? So, she kept the fastest pace possible in all
things, and moved right along.
The journey still was taking an inordinate amount
of time. What's more, at her last check-in with Beastmaster, it seemed
that Luna and Lina Inverse were onto her scam. Of all the luck!
But Lara refused to worry. It was about time she faced down those
two, now with a legitimate reason to scrag them back into the stone age...
Days of boring travel passed. Lara dropped
all pretense of being this shy, innocent girl and felt free to be as nasty
to Chi'Bi as she actually wanted to be... and annoyingly, he didn't seem
to care, as long as she kept him satisfied. Eventually she just stopped
talking to him completely.
And days later, she had arrived at her destination.
Instantly, she recognized why she felt like she
had seen it before.
They were now standing at the gates of Hell.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka
/ R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.