he University was abuzz.  Prisoners!  They had prisoners!  Legendary criminals of the week!
    "Serves them right, thinking they could assault the Dragon University," one particularly school-spirited Dragon said.  "We'll put that Mazoku out of its misery."
    "Maybe the other one can be saved."
    "I doubt it.  She's been corrupted, from what I heard.  Let one of her wings go to darkness."
    "So?  Forms are mutable.  Natures aren't."
    "What about the Knight?  I heard she told a Council to screw off!  How can they stand for that?"
    "She brought in the criminals."
    "I don't trust her.  Humans are too weird.  They've got no moral decency!  Killing each other off like they do and causing hurt and harm randomly..."
    "Do you think they'll let us watch them execute the Mazoku?"
    "Will this be on the test?"
    And from on high, the Dean of Dragon University watched students running around the campus quad.  He looked down on them with a mixed expression.
    "The fountains are lovely," he said, voice crackled with old age.
    "Mmhmm," Luna agreed.
    "We didn't make those, you know.  They're Wetlantis original.  But the children love them so.  It's rather peaceful.  But we didn't make them."
    "Not a very peaceful day, however," Umias noted, turning away from the window, to look across his study at the human.  "What with the tidings you bring."
    "You've put my campus in an uproar," he continued, faintly annoyed.  "There's talk among the students of finding where we put the Mazoku, and ending him themselves.  Violence from the tongues of babes.  I've even had to put Angela under guard... for her protection rather than for guarding her."
    "Strange days," Luna shrugged.
    "I should simply have the three of you escorted off campus immediately, possibly to a proper Council," Umias noted.
    "No.." Umias said, sinking into his padded office chair.  "No.  Jedal will handle it.  I'm an old Dragon, Luna Inverse.  Best let the young ones handle affairs.  They'll be the leaders once I'm gone, after all.  Ceipheed's will that life go on, regardless of death..."
    Unable to tolerate any more one-worded responses, Umias took a leap.  "Do you ever lose faith in Ceipheed?"
    "I have," he continued.  "I have thought things that put my faith in question.  The new Dragons are not... they are not what I would call ideal.  I was there when the Gold Dragons committed genocide on the Ancient Dragons, you know.  I was young.  We slaughtered them so that our place in the hierarchy was assured, all justified under the plan that life must go on.  It was only a LITTLE death, we reasoned.  The Ancients were stale and unable to defend us during the War, we could do so much better if they would have let us have a chance..."
    "I know th'history," Luna said.
    "The history doesn't say much about the aftermath," Umias stated.  "Because Gold Dragons wrote the history as the victors.  But we changed, most of us, the leaders of the assaults.  We realized our mistakes, how we might have destroyed our kind in the infighting, the futility of warring... perhaps the coming of Xelloss was our penance.  He nearly wiped out the Gold Dragons.  Singlehandedly, even... was Ceipheed punishing us?  Was it a coincidence?"
    "Stuff happens."
    "It will happen again!" Umias said.  "Already, a Mazoku war runs.  A repeat event!  When this one fights to a stalemate -- as they always have despite the glory of Ceipheed and the natural assumption that good wins over evil -- what then?  Will another kind say the Gold Dragons have done poorly, and destroy us?  Will the Mazoku see this new generation as a threat and send another hunter?  The students are brash and foolhardy.  The whole new generation is!"
    "Kids," Luna said.  "What can ya do?"
    "You can have faith in Ceipheed, that life will be preserved and the flame of life never will be extinguished..." Umias recited.  He inhaled deeply.  "If you still believe that."
    "You don't?"
    "Realize that I cannot tell another Dragon this," Umias said.  "If someone like Jedal knew my faith was not the unswerving zealot's stance most Dragons today have, my position as Dean would be compromised..."
    "Then why tell me?"
    Umias paused, his scattered thoughts reassembling.  His furor returning to the calm depression he held upon first meeting Luna.
    "You are Ceipheed's right hand," Umias said.  "I don't know.  Perhaps... perhaps I wished you could give me some assurance.  I need to know that my fears are unfounded.  Tell me, as a prophet or a warrior or whatever your role is.  A human you may be, but right now, I trust you more than I would most Dragons."
    Luna sat back, thinking about it.  Umias stared at the Knight of Ceipheed, at this strange little human who seemed to hold such power... a simple girl, but with such confidence!  Confidence he wished he had.  A confidence that was not as frightening as the looks of absolute devotion he saw in the eyes of other Dragons.
    "One way or another, life will go on," Luna said, speaking with an edge of holy reverence.  An edge of prophecy.  "By Ceipheed's hand and by the hands of several others.  I state now and forever that the best laid plans will lead indirectly to the proper conclusions.  Everything is flawed and whole with cause and effect.  Thus, all measures taken to achieve the goals and subgoals of Dragonkind will lead to peace regardless.  Final, resolute, intended peace, identified or not, under the grace of the Lord of Nightmares.  That is what will happen."
    "I.. I don't understand," Umias said.  "Do you mean that Ceipheed is wrong?  Is He right?  What does He intend?"
    "He's wrong for the right reasons and right for the wrong ones," Luna said, looking directly at Umias from underneath her heavy bangs.  A brief flare of the blue light of Ceipheed flashed in her eyes... no, it was golden.  A wobbling, chaotic spark.  "I will be guided as his hand and I will contribute as ordered.  Be it a puzzle piece or a puzzle, the picture will be unified at last.  Aid me."
    "Anything," Umias agreed.  Without question.
    "I need the Lock."
    "The what?"
    Luna's posture relaxed, her voice slurring back into form.  "Y'know.  Silvery.  Lock-shaped.  Artifact."
    Umias grasped for the conversation, still unable to shake the tingle from his spine of the future-reading.  "Artifacts... they are kept in the museum.  West wing.  But the lock.. no Dragon can touch it without incredible pain.  We have had it guarded, as it seems to be of import, but... listen, that artifact was here in Wetlantis before we arrived, just sitting in a room, as if someone had dropped it into the universe at random, very long ago.  We don't know what it is."
    "I do," Luna said.  "Fork it over."
    "It's not as easy as that," Umias said.  "There will be questions -- politics.  Why we gave it to a human.  You are under question, even if you have given us the two traitors... listen, Jedal may not approve of this move, and he does have sway in the student body, so... it's not that easy.  Maybe if I work it over in an impromptu Council, in a few days--"
    "Too long."
    "I could try to simply authorize your taking of it as an emergency measure under the grace of Ceipheed, but not everybody here believes that you are Ceipheed's voice.  I suppose if you worked fast enough... although there may be pursuit if it is agreed that it was the wrong thing..."
    "Maybe if I--"
    The elder Dragon startled, as Luna... chuckled.  There was a joke going on, and only she got the punchline.
    "Sit, relax," she suggested.  "Chill.  Already got plans workin'."
    "Plans?  Is this.. is this part of Ceipheed's will?"
    "Naw," Luna said.  "It's mine."
    "Got a smoke, mate?"
    "Silence, dog!!"
    Now THAT was uncalled for.
    Granted, Bugger had been having the worst day he'd had in a long time since the last worst day he'd had in a long time (yesterday).  And yes, he was captured by his enemies (one set of them) and was probably going to be killed within a matter of hours, or given his luck, minutes.  He was trapped in a deep, nasty little cell in the storage basement of the Dragon University, where they still had rats and mold.  To top it all off, his hands were bound behind his back using restraints made of painfully strong white magic.
    But despite all this, maybe he was just allowing a small bit of hope, but he figured asking for a cigarette wasn't out of the question.
    "Come on, I'm not going to live long enough to enjoy it properly," Bugger said.
    "Dragons don't smoke," Jedal, captain of the guard said in a nasty tone.  "It's a filthy, health-destroying habit."
    "I know.  That's the point.  Spare a light?"
    "You're going to be executed," the Dragon reminded him.
    "At least it'll be a change of pace from almost being killed," Bugger said.
    "Doesn't this worry you at all?"
    "Figured it'd happen sooner or later," Bugger said.  "Just got to expect it.  Wake up one morning, oh no, probably going to die today.  Go to bed, figure, well, maybe tomorrow."
    "You're not like other Mazoku I've met," the Dragon said, keeping up the angry tone instead of switching to a curious one.  "They would gratefully die for the glory of Shaburanigdo, their foul demon king!  At least they had some spirit to them, unlike you, spineless maggot!"
    "Nothing glorious about death," Bugger muttered.  "Some people like to be martyrs for their causes, but I don't.  Oh, they say, how tragic and noble, let us be inspired by his messy end to do whatever deed we want to do!  Where does it get the actual martyr?  Dead.  Can't even bloody enjoy it, because 'e's dead.  No point whatsoever."
    Jedal snorted.  "Better to put you out of your obvious misery, then."
    Bugger squatted.  Not much choice.  "Rather obvious, is it?"
    "You Mazoku are a predictable lot."
    He didn't respond to the crack.  Thinking had set in, and once you get around to a serious bout of thinking, it's hard to stop.
    This is exactly how he'd behave, wasn't it?  Get tossed into the worst case situation, expecting it all along, and whine and stew in it like he usually did.  Eventually, he'd be destroyed, without much protest.  Luna must have predicted he'd do it.  She knew he'd be a pushover, nudged directly into a grave.  And Angela...
    The half-Dragon had hit hard times, certainly.  Mopey.  Depressive.  No self esteem.  Just like him.  How would she act when she was betrayed?  Probably sulk a lot and wait to be convicted and sentenced by the Dragons.  Just like he was.  AGAIN she was going to act like him!  Of all the...!
    Luna was expecting them to roll over and die, to raise her standing with those stinking lizards.  That's why she used them.  They'd do just what she wanted.
    "Bloody hell," Bugger said aloud.  "That BITCH!"
    "Silence, you--"
    "You have NO idea how much that pisses me off," Bugger shouted at Jedal.  "Why should I sit here and do what she wants?  She wants the perfect pessimist, does she?"
    Jedal got a white ball of fire ready.  "Be quiet, or I'll--"
    That's when Bugger opted to shift to his true Mazoku form.  The fireball winked out, its owner quite terrified.
    As he should be.  Bugger, in full 'glory', stood tall and wide, a walking lump of waxy slime and dirt in a shredded trenchcoat.  He had a blob of pus for a head, and eyes that floated in bloodshot agony.  It snapped through the restraints without much of a thought.  Could've done that at any time, he thought to himself.  But she wasn't expecting me to.
    "I don't think I wanna BE the perfect pessimist today," he slurped, in a voice like raspy flesh on shrapnel.  "Or maybe even ever again.  Not if it's gonna make me this easy a mark to be used.  Bugger THAT.  Now beat it, kid.  I gotta score to settle with the Lunatic."
    "You.. you won't get past me!!" Jedal squeaked in a mousy voice.  "I will stop you, even if it means my death!"
    The Mazoku picked Jedal up by his head, and smashed him against the ceiling.
    "Unoriginal little blighter," Bugger gurgled.  "Think I'll be especially nasty to you on general principles.  Ought to learn a lesson..."
    Jedal spat up a wad of blood, glaring.  "Fine, then!  Destroy me, you foul worm!"
    "Ohhh, that's not what I meant," the Mazoku said, flooding one gooey hand with black energy.  "Rather the opposite..."
    The first explosion to be felt in the Dean's Office was a pretty good one.  It had that earth-shaking feel to it, a low hum that you can feel in the ancient stones, followed by enough yelling to be heard even from that distance.
    Umias set down his tea, looking concerned.  "What was..."
    Luna rose, straightening her waitress uniform.  The elder Dragon looked at her, confused.
    "What's going on?" he asked.  "Do you know of this?"
    "Just plans," Luna said.  "Sorry for the mess, gramps."
    "What are you talking about?!"
    Luna paused.  "Do you trust me?"
    "I already said I did!"
    "Groovy," Luna grinned, big and wide, and possibly a little mean.  "You won't get in trouble!  Gonna steal the Lock.  Not your fault I backstabbed ya, right?  Gotta go now.  Thanks for the tea.  Later."
    In a flash of white light, Luna was gone.
    Umias stared at the space she was previously occupying.  He swallowed, hard.
    "I hope my faith was well put," he said to himself.  "In you and Ceipheed."
    His door burst open, the unfamiliar form of Jedal staggering in, clutching at his misshapen arm.
    "Sir!!" he wailed.  "The Mazoku escaped!  It's horrible!  He's... he's..."
    "Oh, no.." Umias said.  "Casualties?  The students?"
    "No," Jedal said, showing his arm.  "He's... healing them, sir.. oh, Ceipheed!!  Don't look at me!"
    "Stop that," Umias ordered.  "Go and rustle up the guard.  ALL of it, tainted or not.  I want them in full arms and attention to stop the Mazoku.  And... pull the guards out of the museum as well, we need all the manpower we have."
    Angela's cell was considerably more up-scale.  She was at least half-Dragon, after all, and that entailed some comforts.
    She was kept in a simple unoccupied dormitory room.  There wasn't a lock on the door, and the window had no bars.  The guard was there to keep others from coming IN, and the walls weren't even very thick.  But regardless, she was held as fast as if she was chained to a fifty ton rock.
    The only person in the world who had given her a fair shake after her accident had turned on her.  Any worth she might have had to the Dragons was gone.  Motivation was, as a result, the last thing on her mind, content to just lie there on a stiff college bed, and wait for whatever was to happen to her.
    There was some commotion in the hall, but Angela didn't stir.  Didn't even register the noise.  Took no notice of her door being blown to component atoms, and the Mazoku walking in to meet her.
    Bugger downshifted back to a humanoid form, and waved a hand over Angela's open eyes.  "'ey, gel.  You drugged or something?  Wake up."
    "I'm awake," Angela said, in a flat tone.
    "Ah, great," Bugger grinned.  "So!  Let's blast the hell out of here, annihilate Luna and split.  Up you go."
    She didn't move.
    "Oh... no, let me guess," Bugger sighed.  "You're too sad to bother.  You know, this is gettin' tired, gel.  What's the problem?  The real problem?  What's got you so wormed out?"
    "You know."
    "Refresh my memory."
    "I'm... nothing," Angela said.  "Not a Dragon.  Not a Mazoku.  My people fear and loathe me, my god rejects me, my only supposed friend betrayed--"
    "Stop!" Bugger said, holding up a hand.  "Back up.  Got something wrong."
    Angela slowly sat up on the bed, glaring at him.  "Ceipheed himself TOLD me I had no worth."
    "Not that.  Forward a bit, try again."
    "What, that Luna betrayed me?"
    "Not what you said."
    "Yes it is."
    "No it ain't."
    "Yes it is."
    "No it... DAMMIT, gel!" Bugger yelled.  "I'm trying to be NICE to you here!  Play along!"
    "It's still true, isn't it?!" Angela shouted back.  She snapped her wings out, showing off the crux of her problem.  "What am I?  A Dragon or a Mazoku?  Tell me!  The Dragons won't let me be a Dragon!  What else can I be!"
    "You can be dead, if we wait here long enough," Bugger said, nervously looking at the door.  "They'll catch on pretty quick that I'd come here."
    "Why would you come here?" Angela asked.  "You wouldn't want to save me.  Just leave me alone."
    It probably wasn't the most elegant solution, and certainly wasn't the most pleasant, but it worked.
    With a snap, Bugger reached out and grabbed the remaining angel's wing, and tore it from Angela's back in a swift, sharp motion.  Before she even had a chance to blink, he had darkness in his hand, healing the injury... and growing a duplicate black bat's wing.  A matching set.
    "There!  Fine!  You're a FULL Mazoku now!" Bugger said, tossing the torn wing away.  "Who cares if Ceipheed thinks you're worthless and those idiotic Dragons sneer at you?  At the very least, and I do mean very least, I don't give a damn who and what you are, and I'll accept you!  None of the other Mazoku will, but they're all wankers!  They don't want me, either.  Jeez, gel, given that we're both generally despised, you'd think bein' in the same boat would give us a little something to rely on..."
    Angela stared in abject horror, at the severed, discarded wing.  Her mouth formed a round, round O, as did her eyes.  "You... you just..."
    "So can we give the self-image thing a rest and go after the real enemy here?" Bugger asked.  "Luna Inverse.  She played us off to make herself big with your ex-Dragon pals.  Fat load of pricks they are!  They could care less about you, so why should you care what they think?"
    Angela fell into her mind, lost without a paddle.  It was so confusing.  Who and what was she?  Just when she had decided she wasn't anything, the situation went and changed again.  Now where did she stand?
    Bugger reached out, offering a hand.
    "We've got to hurry," he said.  "Guards'll be charging in here any second now, little miss Mazoku."
    "I'm.. Mazoku now, aren't I?" Angela asked, quietly.
    "If you wanna look at it that way," Bugger said.  "Doesn't matter to me what terminology you--"
    Angela gathered a ball of black energy, and hurled it at her old wing, incinerating the feathers, melting the bone.
    "We're going after her together, right?" she asked again, now with more fire in her voice.
    "Ah... yeah, that's... generally the idea," Bugger mumbled, a bit stunned by the show of power.  "You okay now?"
    "No," Angela said.  "But I'm getting better."
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.