Lina and Gourry were busy scouting the area. They were back at the place where they found Zelgadis, hoping to be able to get some clue about the group of Mazoku that had attacked the shaman. So far, nothing.
"I don't get it." Lina flopped down on a nearby rock, looking like she'd Dragu Slave the next person she saw. "I don't get it. We know they were here. We saw what they did to Zel. So why can't we find them?"
"I don't know, Lina." Gourry was just as frustrated, though the reasons were slightly different. In any case, he didn't feel like playing the 'dumb as dirt' sidekick right now. "Maybe they're using some kind of magic to hide?"
"Even if they were, I'd be able to sense it. There's no magic anywhere near here. It's like they just disappeared."
"Can they what?"
"Can they just disappear?"
Lina sighed. "No, they can't just disappear."
"But we can't find them."
"I know that, Gourry! Tell me something I don't know!"
"Well, did you know Xelloss was standing right behind you?"
Lina looked over her shoulder, and was greeted by the familiar cheesy smile. A shriek and a fireball were the Trickster Priest's reward.
"What the hell are you doing here?!" Xelloss was one of the last people Lina wanted to see right now. "What is it this time, Xelloss?"
Charcoaled, Xelloss brushes himself off, grin planted firmly in place. "If you really must know, I'm after the same thing you are."
To get the bastards responsible for hurting Zel? I find that hard to believe... Gourry kept his thoughts to himself. He wasn't feeling particularly friendly towards any Mazoku, including Xelloss.
"You're after the same thing we are? Why doesn't that make me feel better?"
Xelloss walked over to them. "Now, now, Lina. It's not good to have a bunch of rogue Mazoku around killing the locals, you know."
"And you expect me to believe you're doing this out of concern for the town people?"
Here it comes... Gourry took an uneasy step back.
"Sore wa himitsu desu."
That hurt, Gourry thought, as the priest fell over, extra crispy this time.
The ill-famed Trickster Priest recovered quickly, his smile never wavered. "Nice shot, Lina."
Lina sighed heavily. "Look, Xelloss. We don't have time for this. Those Mazoku hurt Zelgadis, and we want to make sure they don't get another chance. So why don't you go back to whatever you were doing and let us get back to work."
"Now, now, Lina. I'm here to help."
"Help? Fine, do you know where these Mazoku are?"
"No. But wait!" Xelloss held up a hand before Lina could toast him again. "I can help you find them. It's easy enough. All Mazoku can find each other when they really need to. It's not that difficult."
Lina considered this, then gave Xelloss a hard look. "Okay, fine. But if I even think you pulling one of your tricks again, I'll Dragu Slave you back to L-sama, got it?"
"Maamaa. I am curious however. What could prompt you into hunting down a bunch of Mazoku? Did the townspeople hire you? I hope they got insurance."
Gourry watched impassively as the priest was roasted again, well-done this time. While he didn't mind watching the Mazoku suffer, he had a promise to keep. Besides, he didn't think it would be a good idea to tell Xelloss why they were out there. Unfortunately, he didn't have a say in the matter.
"For your information," Lina scolded, "these particular Mazoku hurt Zelgadis. We want to find them and make sure they don't hurt anyone else like that."
"I see, I see." Xelloss' eternal smile faltered just a little. Lina didn't notice, but Gourry did. "That's very noble of you, Lina. Of course, I'll help in any way I can. I'm at your service." Xelloss gave a slight bow to Lina, who only snorted.
"Help? Alright, Xelloss, you can start by telling us where these Mazoku are hiding."
"Well, you see, I don't know the exact location. I'm too far away. But I can find them as I get closer. As for where they are..." Xelloss points to a nearby mountain. "I believe we can start our search there."
"Alright! Finally. Let's go, Gourry." Lina stomped off with her usual brashness. Gourry waited until she was far enough ahead, then turned cool eyes on Xelloss. The Mazoku gave him a curious smile.
"Something you wish to say, Gourry?"
"Actually, yes." Gone was the bumbling, good natured Gourry everyone knew. In his place was a man who had no qualms about killing to protect what was his. He advanced on Xelloss, who while still smiling, was hard pressed not to back up or flinch.
"I do have something to say, Xelloss. A secret, since you like them so much.""Oh? What secret do you hide, Gou-kun?"
Gourry walked closer, forcing the trickster against a tree. The dark energy radiating off of Gourry was like nothing Xelloss had felt before. If he thought about it, Xelloss might have admitted that the faint sensation he was experiencing could almost, almost, be fear.
"My secret, Xelloss? It's nothing, really. Only that I am going to kill the Mazoku responsible." With a swift motion, Xelloss found himself pinned against the tree, the Sword of Light held against his neck. One wrong move, and he'd be without his head.
"Now Gou-kun, you shouldn't play around with the Sword of Light like this..." Xelloss' words were cut of as he felt the heat pressed to his skin.
"One, I'm not playing. Two, I will kill them. Three, if I find out you had anything to do with what happened to Zelgadis, I will kill you too. That's my secret."
The smile faltered again, replaced by a look Gourry had seen before, but he wasn't sure where. Xelloss opened his violet eyes, staring directly at Gourry.
"You and I have the same goal. And unless I miss my guess, we have the same reason as well. But you can keep your secret. I had nothing to do with this attack. Everyone has a limit, Gou-kun, everyone." Something in Xelloss' voice told Gourry that the Mazoku had crossed even the trickster's limits. Gourry almost felt sorry for them, but the memory of Zel crying out in his sleep quickly fixed that.
Gourry removed his weapon from Xelloss' neck, the light winking out. "I'll believe you, for now."
That infuriating grin found it's way back on the Trickster Priest's face. "Well, that's certainly good for my head, ne? But if you plan on a little demon hunting, then we'd better hurry up before Lina comes back and chars us both. Not that it isn't a pleasant experience. I wonder if I can scare her into another one?" With a wave, Xelloss phased away.
Gourry glanced at the empty spot. He shrugged and turned to follow the direction Lina was headed. As he walked, Gourry thought about what he'd seen in Xelloss' face. It was a familiar look. Gourry knew he'd seen it before. A look that spoke of something hidden, of pain, fear. He knew he'd seen it before, but where?
Up ahead, Xelloss was the unfortunate, at least to a normal person's mind, victim of a Burst Rondo, knocking him into a small pond. He recovered, and floated along side Lina, still smiling. As he passed the pond, Gourry realized where he'd seen that look from.
Leaning over the edge, Gourry saw the exact same expression on his own face.
Does this mean... Could Xelloss... about Zelgadis?!
While it might help Xelloss' claim to innocence, Gourry wasn't sure he liked this any better.
Ahriman watched as his followers prepared. He didn't have the heart to tell them they weren't going to kill anything this time. Actually, he didn't have a heart, period. He needed them in order to get his chimera back, and telling them this might cause some dissention. Besides, if they did a good job, there was always the townspeople...
"You're thoughts are wide open, Ahri-kun."
Ahriman froze. Only one person was able to sneak up on him in his own domain. Only one person he feared more than the Beastmaster or even Shabranigdo himself. Only one person he ever truly loathe/loved, as much as a Mazoku can love someone at any rate. Ahriman turned slowly, already aware of what he'd see...
Mo`re Xiuh stood smiling. His beauty was more suitable for an angel instead of a demon. His pale skin was set off by his raven-black hair. A thin, small nose and full, rosy lips completed his loveliness. His tall, slender build was a stark contrast to his incredible, if rarely seen, strength. Azure coloured robes hid an equally beautiful body that Ahriman was all too familiar with.
"You're going on another hunt again, Ahri-kun. Are you sure that is wise?"
Even in Mo`re's soft tones, Ahriman knew a veiled order when he heard one. Normally, Ahriman wouldn't dream of going against Mo`re. Simply put, he didn't have enough power to take on this Mazoku Indrani(1) and survive. Still, this was different.
"Mo`re-sama, this will be no ordinary hunt."
"Of course it won't."
Damn his demon soul, he knew. Of course he knew, Mo`re knew everything. With his luck, Mo`re knew the reason for this particular hunt as well.
Mo`re sat down in Ahriman's seat. His smile was warm and inviting, which Ahriman knew was only surface packaging.
"If you insist on going on this hunt, might I make a suggestion, Ahri-kun?"
Ahriman's face twisted into a gross parody of a grin. "Of course, Mo`re-sama. Far be it from me to turn down anything from one who has given such sage advice in the past."
Mo`re only smiled at the intended sarcasm. So long as you do what I say, then your snide remarks hold no meaning for me. Mo`re leaned back, looking coolly at Ahriman. "You should leave your foot soldiers behind on this hunt, Ahri-kun. It will be better for you to go alone."
This was not what Ahriman expected to hear. He believed in safety in numbers. Not to mention, he could keep an eye on his 'less than loyal' followers. Going alone made him unduly vulnerable, and left his position open to attack.
"Mo`re-sama, surely I will need their help in..."
"Acquiring your prey? Not in this case. He is more or less free for the taking. His only protection at the moment is an ill-trained shaman girl. She is hardly a threat, so long as you don't kill her."
Don't kill? That didn't sound right. "Mo`re-sama, I don't understand. If she is his protector..."
Mo`re waved a dismissive hand. "Like I said, she is ill-train. But she does have very powerful allies, as well as an entire kingdom behind her. If you destroy her, the results could be unpleasant for you."
Ahriman sighed. He didn't like the thought of leaving anyone alive, especially anyone with a bond to his chimera. But Mo`re had a point, and he doubted the Indrani would bail him out if he did kill the girl. So she would live, lucky her.
"Very well, Mo`re. And just what will my followers be doing in the mean time?"
Mo`re fashioned a brush from nowhere and began running it through his hair. "They will be dying, of course."
"Lower your voice, Ahriman," he scolded. "I have perfect hearing, and I don't think you want the others to hear this."
Scowling, Ahriman did as he was told. "I do not understand. Why are my followers to die?"
Mo`re gave an air of regal boredom. "For one, they are only following you because they believe you are a great power. Mazoku are typically a bloodthirsty, power-hungry group. If any of them find out where your true power and allegiance lie, they'd try and kill you hoping to take your place and gain my favor. Two, they are merely cannon fodder. You can replace them easily enough. If you'd like, I can create a new batch for you, with far more loyal followers for you to command."
Ahriman frowned. Accepting any favours would only put Ahriman further under Mo`re's control. He hated this servitude. Ahriman would prefer being an equal, if not Mo`re's master. He could think of many ways to make the beautiful Mazoku scream. Still, there were worse thing's than following the creature responsible for the battle between Ceiphied and Shabranigdo.
Mo`re continued brushing his ebony locks. "Three, their deaths will provide you with the cover you'll need to accomplish your errand."
"Really? How is that?"
Mo`re sighed. "You haven't been listening, Ahri-kun. Remember the shaman girl? I said she has some very powerful allies. It would stand to reason, considering who she is protecting, that these allies are hunting for your group even as we speak."
"But if this is so, shouldn't we prepare for an attack?"
If Mo`re heard him, he didn't act like it. "I sense three of them. One is a powerful black-magic user. One is an extremely strong Mazoku. Could be related to Zelas, since I feel her hand in its aura. The third is something altogether different. I can't put my finger on it. It's aura is great, as is its force. It will kill most of the others on its own. It has the power to kill you, and will do so if you are here."
Ahriman did not like this at all. A mage, a Mazoku, and some... thing... he didn't even know about that could kill him. While the mage and the Mazoku were no problem, the third... Ahriman hated variables, especially dangerous ones. He glanced at Mo`re, waiting for him to continue.
"However, Ahri-kun, if you were to leave now, these three will be busy making short work of the fools you lead. They will believe they have eliminated the threat, thereby leaving you free to retrieve your quarry. By the time they realize the truth, you will be far removed from their range."
As much as he detested it, Ahriman had to admit it was a sound plan. "Very well, Mo`re-sama. I will hunt now, by your leave." Ahriman didn't wait for a response, intending to capture his prey quickly. He took a step, but was halted by the invisible force of Mo`re's power.
"When you have appropriated the chimera, you will bring him to me. I wish to see if there is any validity to your theory myself."
Damn him. Still, Ahriman felt confident that Mo`re was only going to give his chimera the once over. Then, the blue skinned beauty would be all his.
The magic holding Ahriman faded. With a hasty bow, the Mazoku made a quick exit. Mo`re waited until Ahriman was gone before a dark smile arose on his lips.
"Bring Zelgadis to me, Ahriman, and the servitude you despise so much will finally come to an end."
To be continued....
1. Indrani is a Hindu goddess who at one point personified jealousy and evil intent. In the story, I'm using it as a title (i.e. lord, king, czar, etc).
On to Chapter Four or Back to Hibernal Heart or Back to the Thorned Roses or Back to the Roses?