It's all done but the paperwork -- Xellos might have faced down death, but he still has to explain himself to Zelas.
The normal sounds of the forest were shattered as something crashed through the underbrush. A deer, eyes wild enough to see the whites, nearly tripping over its own legs in its haste to get away. Behind it, weaving through the underbrush as effortlessly as a pedestrian through city streets were a pack of wolves. With them, rode a woman on a roan-red mare, her hair loose and her garb a well-made violet riding habit, one not out of place on a queen out on a foxhunt.
An observer might wonder how the horse was able to handle the forest with less effort than the deer, or why it did not shy at the wolves at its heels, or even why the wolves were acting better behaved than dogs when it came to the horse and rider. Or what the whole affair was doing on an island far from the continent, where deer and wolves should not be.
Then again, a human observer probably would be the next victim of this wild hunt.
One of the wolves leapt for the deer's throat, and brought it down in a crunch of bone. The victorious wolf gave a look to the woman, who nodded, before it started tearing the corpse into edible chunks. The rest of the pack gathered around, coming to rest by their dinner.
The woman, for her part, dismounted, and, with a wave of her hand, the uncanny horse disappeared. She turned away from the pack, and spoke to the air. "You bring news."
The air shimmered, and a form resolved itself, falling to the forest floor as the teleport finsihed. The head and upper torso were human, almost flawlessly so, but most of the torso and limbs had been torn away, revealing a black mass writhing as it attempted to knit itself back together.
Zelas sighed. "You were reckless, my priest."
Xellos tried to cough, and something twitched in his wound. "It was necessary." His voice was softer than it should have been in his human guise -- most likely due to the missing simulacra of lungs. Zelas sighed, taking out a bone-handled knife that was as much a part of her as her clothing, or her arms. It wasn't strictly necessary to accompany the transfer of enough of her power to let Xellos heal enough to give his report, but still, she drew the knife across her palm and held the hand out to her servant.
The body he was able to reconstruct was crude, barely humanoid, with little attention spared to detail. He would return the rest quickly as he healed on his own. Xellos had always had a knack for imitating humans that made him supremely useful. Nonetheless, as soon as he had legs again, he kneeled, head down, and slightly canted to the side -- a human gesture of submission combined with a wolfish one. "I apologize for interrupting your hunt, Mistress."
"It is of no consequence if you bear news of the battle with the ghost of the Dark Lord." None of Lord Ruby Eye's lieutenants could help but notice the presence of the ghost on the Astral Plane once it had awoken, the way it felt like an off-key instrument, corrupted by either going through a very human death with its host, or with the interaction with the Golden Lord that killed it. Wrong-feeling, but not alien as Dark Star had been.
It had been a relief when the feeling has passed, with the surge of power that indicated someone had invoked the Name of the Lord of Nightmares.
Zelas knew all that, and from that she could construct that someone had released the Hellmaster's Jar she had had her servant sought, and that Lina Inverse had probably been on hand to prevent the ghost from acting more than on a local scale. And that the Golden Lord of Nightmares had not seen fit to return the world to Chaos.
But details would be necessary for future plans, and Xellos had an eye for them.
"Go on," she said. "You may start by telling me how you were injured."
"Ah," Xellos replied. "Well, the second was keeping Miss Lina alive for long enough for her to cast her spell. Even a human would not invoke the Lord of Nightmares lightly. She waited until all of her companions were down."
"Deceased?" Zelas asked. Given the social nature of humans, that would alter Miss Inverse in ways that bore thinking about. Whether it would make her more or less useful would depend on exactly what happened.
Xellos shook his head. "Injured, but alive. Miss Lina was perceptive enough to see where things were headed, and the ghost of the Dark Lord was more interested in knocking down targets instead of making sure they stayed down."
"And the first?"
Xellos shrugged. "Well, it seemed it was the quickest way to make sure none of them were terribly concerned about me trying to stab them in the back. They, after all, couldn't tell a piece of the Lord Ruby Eye from its shadow."
"One would think they'd be more concerned by the bigger threat of a piece of Lord Ruby Eye, than one of his lieutenant's priests." Zelas replied.
"Ah, but Miss Lina had already counted on the fact I had seemingly overlooked one of her companions as little consequence when I had been aligned with Lady Giaconda. She would remember that, and make sure she didn't make the same mistake," Xellos answered. "Especially since she had underestimated people before."
Zelas replied. "Necessary, it seems. Annoying, but necessary. Continue, please."
"As you wish, Mistress." Xellos bowed, filling in the details of the battle as they walked, going from the point in which he had teleported back to the island briefly to confirm that the resurrection of Rezo in the Prince of Taforashia's body had brought the Dark Lord with it, and that their suspicions about the piece's corruption seemed probable. She could have simply folded space to return, but the walk in normal space gave her the chance to inspect her domain with senses other than her feeling for the Astral Plane. And it would give Xellos a chance to reform his body to something that could work as a human body as he walked. She wanted him back on his feet as soon as was possible.
Xellos paused a moment after finishing his report, then said, "shall I inform Lords Deep-Sea and Dynast that their search can be called off?"
She hadn't realized that Xellos had observed the activities of her siblings and fellow lieutenants while he had been orchestrating the control of the Hellmaster's Jar and its controlled release. Frankly, she had thought the problem of locating it and getting it to Miss Inverse would take up a sizable fraction of his attention. Curious, she decided to see how much he had found out. "Search?"
"Why, yes, Mistress. I believe that Lords Deep-Sea and Dynast had observed independently the ghost of the Dark Lord, and were taking their own actions. Given the activity in the north, I suspect that Lord Dynast was trying to unseal Lei Magus and the piece of Lord Ruby Eye. Lord Deep-Sea's activities were harder to grasp, but if she was investigating for a solution, the only one I could think of would be to locate one of the five remaining humans with pieces of Lord Ruby Eye within them."
Mostly correct, even in the speculation. "Bu their agents didn't interfere?"
"No, Mistress. The only mazoku I encountered were two still bound to Red Priest Rezo."
"Would that have worked, in your opinion, based on your observations?" She had doubted it, but Xellos had better information.
Xellos considered. "The power I observed from the ghost of the Dark Lord was like an uncorrupted piece of Lord Ruby-Eye. Perhaps a bit weaker, since it couldn't draw on the other pieces -- Miss Lina and Mister Pocota were able to siphon off some power with their spellcasting. It may be possible for another piece to destroy it, but it seemed far more risky than using a known quantity."
Zelas nodded. "We are in agreement. Speaking to Grausherra and Dolphin will be unnecessary. I can send a lesser messenger."
Xellos nodded. "Orders, Mistress?"
Zelas considered. There was always things to do to further her agenda. But nothing was pressing, and the humans, in their mayfly lives, were being quiet. "Reconnaissance. And recovery." She smiled. "You did well, my priest."