"Head like a hole, black as your soul, I'd rather die, then give you control, bow down before the one you serve, you're going to get what you deserve." -Head Like a Hole, Nine Inch Nails

The realm of Xellas Metallium, much like all the Dark Lords' realms, was a reflection of her personality. It was a tasteful, well appointed place. Elegant, one might say. The furniture matched well with the carpeting, which was deep and inviting. The wallpaper was discreet, but beautiful, enhancing the dim lighting that somehow managed not to draw away from the beauty of the place while still holding it in a sort of perennial twilight. It could have been the dream home of any of a thousand insanely rich people who wanted to draw attention to just how rich they were without it looking too tacky. This once again proved that while good has better intentions, evil has better taste.

Like Xellas Metallium, it hid a heart as violent and dangerous as any of the most powerful predators.

Xellos walked through the well appointed hall (after removing his shoes of course, as evil did not want dirt or worse tracked all over its carpet thank you very much) at a leisurely pace, apparently unconcerned with the murderous glares the lesser minions of the Beastmaster were giving him. When in the halls of the Beastmaster, one conducted one's self with style and grace; monstrous forms were never shown; all maintained a human appearance. One learned very quickly that to do otherwise was... imprudent. The strain, tension, and fear was almost palpable, which was just the way Xellas wanted it.

Of all of the negative emotions, these were the ones most closely associated with the Hunt, the one thing that she, above all others, loved.

Xellos finally reached the large cherrywood double doors leading to the Dark Lord's inner chambers. He then seated himself nonchalantly on a tasteful black-leather couch waiting for the Beastmaster's prissy (if a monster could be considered prissy) majordomo to announce his arrival. Looking about the room with an unconcerned grin on his face, Xellos was in his element. Never give anything away, hide your true intentions, motives, feelings. That was the lesson the Beastmaster had taught him. For a moment he found himself returning to the years immediately after his creation, spent in this place, which time did not touch.

He hated it more than he hated anything... even the Beastmaster.

Centuries ago, before the terrible War of the Monster's Fall, Xellas had created him as any Mazoku was created, pulling loose a piece of herself and giving it form and will. A young but powerful Mazoku (some Mazoku had questioned the wisdom of the Beastmaster in creating a minion of so much of herself, so close to her own power, but most of those Mazoku were wisely silent about this, and the ones who were not no longer mattered much) Xellos had been prepared to serve the Beastmaster to the best of his ability. She had created him possessing of a will, intelligence and cunning that rivalled even her own. He was a truly terrible creation, and he owed it all to his new master.

It had taken her centuries to break him. Those early centuries passed like a blur in his memory, his perfect trickster's memory, which had never failed him, and they were full of the lessons in pain she had taught him. He'd spent his "formative" years as her plaything, her fully aware and conscious puppet, indulging every terrible whim the Dark Lord could imagine. He had realized, when he wasn't too caught up in whatever agony or humiliation the Beastmaster had dreamt up this week, that he had been created almost solely for the Dark Lord's fascination with control. He was as powerful as he was simply because Xellas had wanted a victim challenging enough to make her enjoyment last.

Domination, of one's thoughts, feelings, and the thoughts and feelings of others. Perfection. These things Xellas savored like fine wines. Xellos learned his lessons well. To do otherwise meant risking the Beastmaster's displeasure. It went without saying that one simply did not do that. Xellos had walked a knife's edge between violence and control, a silken glove containing an iron fist. He'd learned to hide it all behind an elusive smile, even in the depths of the worst possible torment.

When Xellas had tired of him, she'd set him to work, for waste not, want not was also a part of her philosophy. Loosed him on an unsuspecting people, an assassin for an entire race.

Xellos looked back on those days with regret. Not for the near destruction of a race of course. That would have required a conscience, something Mazoku did not have. No, his disappointment stemmed from what he perceived as his failure to handle the whole situation properly. Wholesale destruction was not a tactic he liked to use. Showing the dragons arrayed against him how powerful he was felt like a failure on his part. He should have infiltrated them, used them, manipulated them into their own destruction, heaping misery after misery on them, all the while hiding behind a happy, innocent facade. His handling of the situation then had caused the little problems he was having now. Of course, there HAD been a little war going on at the time, but every war had spies and sabateurs didn't it?

The majordomo turned to him and sniffed. "The mistress will see you now..."

Xellos stood and straightened his robes, and gave himself a quick once over, knowing that he'd find everything as it should be. He'd had millenia to perfect this. The double doors opened quietly. Showtime.


"Ah, Xellos darling! Give us a kiss. It's been far too long." Beastmaster grinned at him, demurely setting her cigarette in a diamond ashtray.

Xellos leaned forward and kissed her politely on the cheek, grinning back at her and bowing gracefully. "My Dread Lord and beautiful mistress. It has indeed been too long. How may this lowly servant please you?"

Xellas lounged back and smiled. "Charming as ever, my priest and general. Have a seat, we have much to discuss."

Xellos seated himself and politely refused when Xellas offered him some tea.

"Xellos, how comes the boy? I trust he is not too much like that simpering little dragon girl..."

Xellos neatly sidestepped the trap in that statement. "Of course not, Mistress, his education proceeds as planned. That naive little fool of a girl allows me time alone with him because of his attachment to me. It should not prove too difficult to bring him home, so to speak."

Xellas picked up her cigarette and cocked her head at him. "What of the priestess herself, Xellos? What plans have you for dealing with her?"

Xellos shrugged. "Ex-priestess, Mistress, and hardly a matter you need concern yourself with. I feel she should be left alone... for now. Harming her would be detrimental to our cause, should the boy find out... I would not underestimate his intelligence."

Xellas' eyes turned frigid for a moment, and her smile grew dangerously sweet. "Do you presume to dictate to me what I should and should not "concern" myself with, Xellos?"

This too was a trap. Show any weakness, and the Beastmaster would pounce upon him like a starving wolf. Xellos sighed inwardly... so predictable.

"Of course not, Mistress, I merely point out that she is a detail that could be ironed out at your convenience, and may yet prove useful. Still, as you wish... shall I destroy her then?"

Xellas leaned back, her eyes hidden by shadow. "No... not yet. Continue your observation, Xellos."

He nodded. "As you wish. I would bring a further detail to the conversation, Mistress."

Xellas remained silent, smoke wreathing her head. Xellos took a gamble and continued. "I have determined the origin of the disturbing ripple from Phibrizo's domain some 7 years ago. I ask for your leave to deal with the situation myself before I continue, Mistress... the information is of a delicate nature..."

Her eyes narrowed. "Continue, Xellos... mind what you say."

"It would appear that a little... unfinished business from the Claire Bible incident has emerged. Your brother, Gaav, has returned rather miraculously from the dead... though-"

Xellas' eyes flashed a brilliant purple and she lashed forward, dragging Xellos to within inches of her angry visage. "GAAV HAS RETURNED? Insolent... how long have you known this, worm?"

Xellos smiled, opening his own eyes and staring into her furious visage unabashedly. "Some time now, Mistress. Again, I ask to deal with this matter myself. Gaav is pitifully weak, and completely unknown to himself. He has apparently forgotten he was ever a Mazoku, and wallows with the worst sort of scum. He is of no consequence now, but should he return to his former self, it behooves us to have him on a leash, so to speak. If anyone could teach him to heel, Mistress, it is you."

She was silent for a long time, staring at him, and Xellos feared he may have over played his hand. He decided to pull his Ace in the Hole.

"Remember, Mistress, it was I who handled the infamous Lina Inverse difficulty so elegantly. I will not fail you in this. I swear it." his voice was a quiet whisper, his mask perfect. He rather hoped the confrontation would not take place now... not in her realm, with her soldiers all around... he did not feel the time was right. Not yet, anyway.

She frowned and her grip tightened. "And how did you manage to nullify that little girl, Xellos?"

He smiled. The temptation was too great. He raised a finger to his lips and winked. "That, is a secret."

She stared incredulously at him for a stunned second, then dropped him, put one elegantly gloved hand against her mouth, and laughed, loud and hard.

"Xellos, Xellos! Only you would have the audacity... ah.. very well, my Priest and General. I trust your judgment, for now. Go! Deal with my "brother" as you see fit."

He straightened his robes and nodded. "As you wish, Mistress."

She sniffed daintily and wiped a tear from her eye. "Someday, my dear, you really must tell me how you stifled that wretched little human sorceress."

His smile deepened as he turned and walked sedately out of the now open double doors. Stopping just inside, he turned, bowed deeply, and nodded. "As you wish, Mistress."

Once the double doors closed with a muffled thump, he strode through the halls of Beastmaster Xellas Metallium, maintaining his trickster's mask and smiling his secret smile.

"Soon enough, my Mistress. All too soon... for you."


The imposing stone fortress of the Black Hills Bandit Gang rang with the shrieking rasp of steel on stone. A teeth clenching sound, it echoed unceasingly, repeated over and over again with the same interval between each scraping sussuration. It caused no few bandits to look up blearily from their hangovers and curse. It caused no few guards on duty to straighten up and look officious for once. They all knew what it meant. The Bandit King who was once Gaav (though this last bit of information was obviously unknown to both him and his brood) sat on his iron throne alone in his great hall and sharpened his sword.

He was bored.

Staring at his reflection distorted in the deadly glimmering steel of his blade, he mulled over his current discontent silently. He was the Lord uncontested of the greatest bandit army ever to exist on the frontiers of Sailoon. He took what he wanted, when he wanted, and none dared oppose him. Not even the great nation of Sailoon could move against him, content (or at least hoping fervently) that he would remain true to his current motis operandi and raid only occasionally into the kingdom of white magic. All feared him. All whispered in his presence.

Why then did he feel as though he were doing something completely and utterly... unfulfilling? He frowned and stood, wandering down the length of his great hall in sullen silence. Those bandits who passed him greeted him with respect and deference. He did not acknowledge them. He wandered all the way to the top of his fortress, where the cold winds blew off the Black Hills and threw his long red mane across one shoulder. He placed his sword, which had served him well, point first on the icy stone of his fortress and leaned both hands on the hilt. He remembered the last time he'd enjoyed himself. Some foolish group of would-be heroes had wandered up, no doubt after the reward that scared little girl of a monarch had put on his head, full of their own importance. He'd met them all at once in combat, and their graves littered the hills now, as did all such victims.

It had been a decent sort of fight, five skilled warriors against himself. He'd drawn it out a little, giving them the respect they deserved for challenging one such as he, before killing each one effortlessly. The looks on their faces had been priceless.

That was the last group that had dared to face him. It had been ten years ago.

Strange... it didn't feel like ten years. Being without a past, he had no way of knowing how old he had been before Mel had found him on that fateful day, but he knew he should at least feel some effect. It was as though time passed for everyone else but him.

If only he could remember...

A flash came upon him, a memory... a stony face, defiant, frightened but trying very hard not to show it, blood running sluggishly down craggy features. A tall blonde man with eyes of steel crouching protectively in front of... a little girl? his sword glowing with a brilliant white light... a scared little girl in a white cape, confusion, uncertainty, and fear showing on her face as clearly as if it had been printed there... he struggled desperately to hold on to the memories, to get some idea of who he had been. Who were these people? Companions? Enemies? Why couldn't he remember?

A sudden explosion caught his attention by throwing hot air past his face, freeing him from his frustrated reverie and bringing a scowl to his lips. He looked down at the gate of his fortress as a fire raged out of control... and in the center of it stood what appeared, from this distance, to be a small figure in an outlandish costume, with a ball of fire held between her readied hands. She threw the ball of flame forward with a strident shout of "FIREBALL!" and the main gate buckled, at the limits of its strength. Guards scattered rather than become bandit tartar like their fellows, and a great hue and cry struck up as their forces tried to rally. His scowl became a grin of anticipation...

This promised to be... interesting. Lifting his sword up, he stepped back and took a running leap off the very top of his tower. A sudden whistling noise drew all attention upward... All action stopped dead when the Bandit King's terrible form slammed down into a crouch at the base of the fortress with enough force to leave a small crater in the hard bedrock. He stood slowly and assumed his most mocking posture, sword braced over one shoulder, other hand in his pocket. The fires caused the gate to collapse behind him, and the shower of sparks and the heat of the flame made his hair rise as though it had a will of its own, the heat distortion playing further tricks with his image and painting a terrifying and demonic picture. He grinned evilly at his target and somehow managed to hide his confusion at the memory confronting him. This girl... he KNEW her...

Mina Inverse let her startled gaze travel the length of the giant confronting her. It took a long time to reach his face, and what she saw there... Suddenly she didn't feel quite so confident about this little quest.

A booming, growling voice confirmed her fears. "You should be more careful about the doors you knock on, little girl... you might not like what answers."

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