A/N: Oh, thanks to everyone as usual! You're so generous! ^_^ I just can't believe I have so many reviews. You guys are incredible. Special thanks to everybody who has actually come back more than once. Additionally, shikome kido mi, I LOVE your reviews. You always let me know exactly how the story makes you feel. This is so invaluable to me! Plus wonderful insight! Thanks to everyone again. I just feel like thanking you all so much because it is largely due to your encouragement that I haven't given up on this story yet (um...see below for more details). As for scantily-clad Xelloss, hehe, you can at least discern his general build from the Brass Rackets episode (i.e. not particularly formidable...heh heh. Not to mention those girly limbs in the Femile episode!).
"I see," Xelloss said softly. Rashart bristled a moment and seemed on the verge of challenging him anew when the general-priest, suddenly laughing, said, "I'd love to stay and chat, but I'm afraid I have pressing business elsewhere. Ja," and phased out.
Raltark relaxed his body against the wall behind which he had been hiding. For a moment, he had feared that Rashart was going to get himself into a full-blown fight with the little bugger. All the same, he didn't feel much relieved. His twin brother was not the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but he was a damn good swordsman. How was it that the sniveling little priest of Juu-ou's had managed to defeat him? But while Rashart stood sullenly, pondering this exact question, the answer was becoming dreadfully clear to Raltark. In fact, it was quite simple. Xelloss was, in fact, *not* a sniveling little priest. Rather, he seemed to have no small amount of power which he had kept hidden from everyone for his own nefarious reasons, no doubt. Several suspicions Raltark had had began to come together in his mind.
Raltark stepped around the corner of the hallway and into Rashart's path as he made to leave. "Oh, Ral, hey!" the brawny general waved nonchalantly at his brother upon seeing him. "Is that meeting startin' yet? I suppose we should go attend Lord Gaav."
Raltark held out a hand to stop Rashart's passing. He noticed with some consternation that Rashart had actually retained a dark scar across his neck where the staff had rested. Nothing that a little time on the Astral Plane wouldn't heal, but still, to leave a lasting physical mark on a mazoku's material form required some talent.
"Rashart, hold. I saw what happened just now. How is it that you came to be defeated by the Little Beast?" Xelloss had come to be nicknamed the Little Beast, or even the Little Beastmaster or the Lesser Beastmaster by the other generals and priests because of the way he followed Beastmaster Zelas around, clinging to her skirts like a simpering little puppy. It was not considered to be a good thing in any way.
Rashart merely shrugged off his brother's worry. "Huh. That little trickster got the best of me this time, I guess," he said, pounding one fist into the palm of his other hand. "I have to admit, I'm surprised at his strength. You wouldn'a guessed it from lookin' at him, eh? Well, next time we meet, I promise to bash his little skull into the ground, goddamn smile and all."
He made to push past Raltark, but the priest held out his hand again. "What made him accept your challenge? You told me last time you approached him, he seemed quite unwilling."
"Aw, he's a coward, that's what," Rashart nodded contemptuously. "But he finally agreed to do it if I promised to give him information if he won." Rashart snorted. "You'd think he'd 'a at least asked for somethin' valuable! Damn idiot!"
Raltark, meanwhile, was holding his head in his hands, too preoccupied to prevent Rashart from passing him this time.
"Come, on, ya dolt. If we don't hurry we'll be late, and then what will Gaav-sama say?"
As it turned out, the servants of Gaav barely made it on time. And they certainly did not have time to explain the situation to the Demon Dragon King before or during the meeting. In the end, Raltark ended up having to wait until everyone had been dismissed and Gaav had dragged him aside in an abandoned hallway. Even then, just as he opened his mouth to convey his findings to his master, a lesser demon popped in from the Astral Plane and bowed deeply.
"Lord Gaav, your attentions are required in a matter of utmost importance. Lord Dynast wishes to speak with you..."
"Tell that old bugger that I've talked to him more than enough for one century and I don't feel like talkin' to him again."
The demon paused for a moment, as though contemplating what sort of effect this message would have on the Ha-ou, before continuing. "Lord Dynast is adamant in his request. If you would deign to give him but a moment of your time..."
"Gaav-sama, about that..." Raltark began, but he was cut off by a swift jerk of Gaav's arm.
"Hold on, Raltark. I'd better go look into this. It's either that or my whole fucking day is going to be ruined by Grausherra's constant badgering." He began to phase out, adding at the last minute, "You might as well come with and tell me there."
But Dynast Grausherra was no more successful in communicating his important news to the Demon Dragon King than Raltark had been. Gaav announced his arrival with a few ungracious comments and the next half an hour was lost in useless bickering. And before Raltark could suggest that thing get back on track, the whole company was interrupted by a loud scream echoing throughout the entire palace.
Dynast and Gaav looked up as one, exchanged glances, and phased immediately to the scream's point of origination. They were not alone. Zelas and Phibrizzo arrived only moments later and the assembled party turned to see a very strange sight, indeed.
Kai-ou Deep Sea Dolphin was curled up on a divan in the middle of a curtained room, naked, her blue skin gleaming in the candlelight, and doubled over, holding her head in her hands while Xelloss looked on. She was also screaming at the top of her proverbial lungs. It was not really so unusual to see Deep Sea Dolphin unclothed, as garments are typically more of a hindrance than a help to creatures of the sea, but there was something about her nudity this time that disturbed her siblings. It seemed almost more...animal.
It was impossible to say when the Beast Priest had arrived; perhaps he had preceded them by only a few seconds, or perhaps he had been there for some time. Somehow, Dynast felt inclined to believe the latter. For although slightly confused, the priest did not seem appropriately stunned, as one should be on witnessing such a scene. Going off of this idea, he was the first to break the silence by demanding, "General Beastmaster, what happened here?"
"She just started screaming like this," was the calm reply.
"What do you mean? What happened to her?"
"I don't know...exactly," Xelloss answered vaguely. "I didn't mean for this to happen. She just started screaming all of a sudden."
Phibrizzo had begun to poke at Dolphin's essence through the Astral Plane, but he received no coherent reply.
Gaav, bewildered and nervous at the idea of some unknown threat which could have had so drastic an effect on a Mazoku Lord, thundered, "Well, you must have done something! What was it?" In his mind, there was no doubt the sneaky little bastard was involved.
"Oh, nothing much," Xelloss replied in the same even tone as before.
"Nothing much, eh? Must've been something for her to go off like this." Gaav's fear had quickly dissipated into the desire to tear somebody's flesh and bones into little pieces. It was probably lucky that everyone present had neither.
"But I didn't do anything...important."
Over the sound of Gaav's battle cry, Dynast interjected, "Stop being so cryptic! What did you do?" He was prepared to take slightly more drastic steps than the Demon Dragon King. If Xelloss did not answer the way Dynast was expecting him to, he planned to incinerate the little creep, no matter what it meant in terms of his current treaty with Zelas. After all, he couldn't have the priest leaking information.
Finally Xelloss' demeanor changed a bit. "What happened between Lord Deep Sea Dolphin and myself is a secret that only we two will ever know. It is a secret because the truth will never pass my lips, and well...good luck trying to get anything out of her!" Xelloss jerked a thumb at the still hysterical mazoku. The screaming had died down, and she now seemed to be rocking back and forth and muttering to herself.
It sounded like, "Blood! Blood! I can see it...it's everywhere. The death...the death is all around me!"
For awhile, everyone could do little more than stare at the raving Dolphin. Her tangled azure hair had fallen into her face, but she made no move to brush it aside. At first, they thought she would abandon her physical form altogether, but, for some reason, she remained. Slowly each mazoku lord receded into his/her own thoughts and began to comtemplate how to convincingly deny his/her involvement to the others without giving away any vital information.
After a long silence, Phibrizzo gazed intently at Dolphin, who was still muttering, and said quietly, "How extraordinary."
"Extraordinary?" Gaav directed his frustration at his elder sibling. "I don't see how this is helping us serve our lord. If anything, this is probably just setting us back. And it's all thanks to your meddling, ya frost-bitten bastard." Now he was facing Dynast. "If you weren't so damned concerned with causing anarchy amongst us five, this kind of thing wouldn't be happening.
Phibrizzo aimed an indecipherable look at the Ha-ou. "Been sowing the seeds of discord, have you, Dynast?"
"That's not your concern, Hellmaster," Dynast answered coldly. "Gaav, if you had one ounce of intelligence, you would see that I am right. We are on the verge of discovering a piece of our lord. Don't you want to be free of all...obstructions when that happens?"
"If I were a good servant of my lord," Gaav retorted, "I would be too interested in having him resurrected to care about who resurrects him or when or why. And fighting amongst ourselves is only going to delay our goal and decrease our power. I want to go out and rip out the throats of some bloody dragons, or wreak havoc on mankind, not stand here and bicker with you."
A wide grin spread across Phibrizzo's childish face. "For once, my sword-slinging brother is right," he said, absently tracing some invisible pattern on the divan's arm rest with his index finger. "Our goal may be to create chaos, but the returning of the world to darkness, can, unfortunately, not be brought about haphazardly. It will require careful planning and precise cooperation. If we allow anarchy to reign, we will end up destroying ourselves without accomplishing anything. It is part of the endless ironic balance of the universe that chaotic beings such as ourselves must use order and rational thought to achieve our goals." He tipped an imaginary hat at the absent, and yet ever-present, Lord of Nightmares as he spoke.
Gaav was mildly surprised, but not unpleased, by Phibrizzo's apparent backing of his opinion. He was about to support Phibrizzo's admonition, when he was cut off by Dolphin's sudden relapse into a hysterical fit, at the end of which, she blindly clawed at the air and screeched, "Death!...Phibrizzo will bring death to you, Demon Dragon King. Beware!...I feel the pain. Bodies torn to shreds...intestines trailing on the ground! I see it all!
The resulting silence was the longest yet.
Gaav and Phibrizzo threw a number of awkward glances in each other's directions. Finally Gaav managed to choke out, "W..was that a...prediction?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Gaav," the Hellmaster scoffed, "I just said I agreed with you, didn't I? We're on the same side here. What could possibly motivate me to kill you now?"
Gaav did not reply. Instead he subtly shifted his weight into a defensive stance and continued to favor his brother with a inquiring glare.
"Oh, come on!" Phibrizzo rolled his eyes. "She's raving mad. Anyone can see that. Besides, you don't have intestines. She couldn't possibly be talking about you."
Still, Gaav neither spoke nor relaxed his position. Zelas, who had been unusally quiet the entire time, shifted her gaze from Xelloss, where it had been residing for the past ten minutes, and rested it on Dolphin, who had become somewhat forgotten in the resulting tension. Then she laughed.
Dynast gave an exasperated sigh and, leaving his two elder brothers to their staring match, moved to sit beside the Kai-ou. "Dolphin! Do you know who I am?" He shook her shoulders, reaching out across the Astral Plane and trying to jolt her into consciousness. "Please, you must come to your senses." When his attempts proved unsuccessful, he turned to his siblings and said gravely, "Don't forget, if Dolphin doesn't return to a sane state, none of us will ever know what she was going to reveal about the Dark Lord's resurrection."
This bit of information completely broke Gaav out of his trance, lighting his eyes with a sudden fire. "That's right!" He practically pounced on the hapless Xelloss and, shoving his face next to the priest's, spat out, "You'd better tell me right now what you did, you piece of shit!"
"Tsk tsk," Xelloss shook a finger admonishingly at the mazoku Lord. "How are you so sure that I am behind this? Dolphin did as she desired. I was merely following orders."
"Who's orders?" Gaav gave Xelloss a violent shake. "Dolphin's? Zelas'? Dynasts'? Phibrizzo's?"
Xelloss grinned. "Now that is a secret."
Zelas only barely managed to extract her minion from the grasp of her elder brother before certain doom was visited upon him. Fortunately, though, she was in time, and placing a slender hand in front of Gaav's face, she waggled her finger at him as well. "Quit that. You heard him. He was following orders."
"Oh, so they were yours, eh?" Gaav growled.
"I never said that. Far be it from me to attack my older sister. I would never give Xelloss such a rash assignment." Zelas casually formed a cigarette out of thin air, lit it with a snap of her fingers, and began to inhale its sweet smoke.
"Well, don't look at me," Phibrizzo shrugged, sensing Gaav's eyes upon him. "I'm the one who's trying to keep things peaceful, remember?"
Dynast turned an icy gaze on the childlike mazoku. "So you say, but I know I'm not the only one who's been operating behind his siblings' backs."
"Well, how do I know it wasn't you," Phibrizzo retorted. "If you'd plan the demise of one sibling, you'd plan the demise of all."
"Who said I've been planning anyone's demise?"
The Hellmaster took up a mocking pose. "Now that is a secret," he sneered.
Gaav watched the situation wildly escalating out of control. At last, he brought the bickering to an end by bellowing, "Stop it" as loud as he could, accompanied by a blaze of fire which singed the tips of all the curtains hanging about the room. When he felt he had everyone's attention, he continued, "This isn't getting us anywhere. Zelas, nobody trusts you for good reason. And frankly, I don't trust your servants either. Raltark, isn't there something you wanted to tell us?"
"Oh." Raltark, largely forgotten amidst the chaos, was jolted out of his own reverie. He stepped forward nervously. He had really meant to make his announcement in private to Lord Gaav. To make the kind of accusation he was about to make publicly could result in some very unpleasant consequences. "Um...Well, your lordships..." he threw a glance at Xelloss, who was looking at him strangely, with an almost expenctant, gleeful attitude. Hastily, Raltark continued, pointing to the general-priest. "He is not as he appears to be. For the last several centuries he has let us believe that he is a harmless fool who blindly does Juu-ou's bidding, but it's not so. He has been hiding his true power from us all this time. Ask him who it was that killed that mad sorcerer, Bo-lin, who eliminated so many hundreds of our kind. Ask him who destroyed the kingdom of Aritaal, the capital of white magic in the Vaas Grasslands region. Ask him what happened to that clan of black dragons who were threatening the Island 70 years ago. Ask him who gave Rashart that scar..."
Gaav's head jerked up. "What's this?"
All eyes rested on Xelloss. For a moment, the priest remained unaffected. Then, he did something entirely unexpected: he opened his eyes. And for the first time since they had met him, the Mazoku Lords were treated to an unobstructed view of those glittering, purple icicles. No one really needed to say anything. The malice and intelligence apparent in those eyes were enough proof for everyone present that Raltark's accusations were true. Raising one eyebrow, Xelloss replied coolly, "Well, I guess the cat's out of the bag. It matters little now, anyhow. I have already accomplished what I meant to accomplish with that masquerade. Juu-ou-sama, if you'll allow it, I will retire. I am exhausted with the days...efforts."
"Go," his master acknowledged. And he went.
Dynast, his own dark eyes boring coldly into his sister's skull, responded with his characterisic icy malevolence, "It would seem you have some confessions to make, Beastmaster."
"Oh, really?" Zelas laughed, exhaling a series of smoke rings. "I don't feel like confessing anything."
"Perhaps I can make you reconsider that."
"You don't frighten me anymore, Supreme King," Zelas hissed. She tossed back her head, her near-white tresses swaying wildly with the movement. "I feel such a sudden freedom. I think I'll go celebrate with a few drinks. And perhaps I'll ask Xelloss to keep me company tonight." She looked pointedly at Deep Sea Dolphin. "He's really excellent in bed, you know. So good, it drives me crazy! Ahahahahahahahahaa!"
From the corner where he sat, Phibrizzo watched his sister's image dissolve into the air and smiled.
A/N: *ahem* As you may have noticed, updates getting less and less frequent. *cough* Yup. My old obsession calls. What can I say? Erik holds the key to my heart. (See profile). Also, the semester is dragging on and I find myself increasingly distracted by schoolwork and social events. Haha...social events...for a recluse like me that means D&D sessions and band gigs. Oh well. But seriously, I will try to not completely abandon this since people seem to be actually reading it, moreso than anything else I've ever written, but I don't foresee great forward leaps in progress. I have a few more chapters already planned, but the going is slow. And if I get the summer job I am applying for, I won't be around for half the summer at least. Fortunately this chapter is pretty long. And after all, this seems like a pretty good ending place. Maybe I won't go on and this will be a story about how Dolphin went insane. Well, I'll have to think about it. I think I may have at least one chapter left. Those of you who want me to continue this are at least lucky that the Phantom of the Opera section of ff.net, or what's left of it, either simply doesn't get as many readers, or I'm just not any good at writing Phantom fiction, because I've never had so many faithful followers there. Which is precisely why I'm writing this right now. Well, as Amethyst Angel puts it, "To be (or not to be) continued." Ok, back to not writing my German essay...