A Trial of Love and Hate
Inside the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa in Tokyo, there was a tiny 24-hour gym. It remained open even as late 3 AM, albeit to guests only. It was filled with a modest assortment of cardio machines and yoga mats, interspersed by extra space.
One of the bikes was manned by a familiar form. It was a long, stringy-haired man with significant upper body strength, no shirt, and legs so thin they practically disappeared into the folds of his yoga pants.
Between the man’s heavy huffs and puffs, the sound of a decoherence field activating resonated through the room.
“Oh, Mister Shadyhalo.” The voice of a young lady echoed through the room, bouncing off its mirrors. “I thought it was you.”
The man pressed the stop button twice to cancel the workout in progress, then turned around to look at the woman sitting cross legged on a yoga mat.
“Is that really you, Lady Xana?”
Xana was wearing a dark green cropped hoodie and a pair of women’s bike shorts in black, with one vertical green stripe down each side. Her hood was down, giving Mastema a good look at her messy, white hair and a pair of emerald eyes. Whether a trick of the dim light or a fault of his own exhaustion, Mastema couldn’t help but notice Xana’s eyes seemed to be glowing.
“No, I’m certainly not the woman who was bathing with her partner when you chose to make a complete ass of yourself.” Xana stretched to her left. “Definitely not the lady you speedran nine circles of Hell to see on the axis between Heaven and Makai.” Xana stretched to her right. “Absolutely not the person you tried to visit as a weirdly strong pizza guy at the doorstep of The Liberators Tokyo Branch.”
“Very well…” Mastema toweled off. “I may have come across too strong in the past–”“Strongly thirsty.”
“Whatever you say.” Mastema shook his head. “Is your arrival part of your journey to better understand God? And is your new manner of dress, so similar to your bathing suit from before, the humblest you could think to wear while standing in one who shares His countenance?”
“Hmm.” Xana’s eyes locked straight on Mastema’s. “I want to know more about you.”
Mastema met Xana’s gaze. “A shut-in fake human, constructed by an evil wish-granting machine, deep in a ridiculous realm created for mass genocide, wants to know more about one of God’s foremost creations?”
Xana snorted. “A nephilim granted forgiveness by God, acting like a hoity-toity Diet Satan, thinks he gets an archangel’s clout, when the ten plagues of Egypt are his only accomplishment?”
“Oh my.” Mastema smiled wanly. “Is there such a need to bare your fangs at me, Lady Xana? You didn’t come all this way to insult me, did you?”
With a few steps, Xana flitted from one end of the room – almost as if she were floating. She came up to Mastema’s exercise bike and grabbed his back without hesitation.
“I came to be with you, Mister Crow-schemey-face.”
The phrasing took him aback. Mastema was glad that the exercise bike was not in motion. He stumbled backwards, then regained his composure so as not to lose Xana. It then strike him that Xana was unusually light compared to what he had come to expect for humans.
“Then… are you suggesting that we go on a date?” He puffed out his chest. “You, a child of the Hollow World, on a date with the angel that leads children of righteousness astray?”
“Oh, I checked with Gabby, and she says it’s okay,” Xana’s eyes glowed gold and her voice changed became deeper, less cute, “as long as you don’t try anything untoward.”
The echo of that voice not hers was unsettlingly familiar. Quickly, though, the green of Xana’s eyes returned. “I would like a bad angel to show me around Tokyo,” she said.
A belly laugh erupted from the grey angel. “You’re a funny one. And I don’t understand quite why you are as open with me as you are…”
“You remind me of somebody I used to know.” Xana let the words hang in the air for a solid minute. “And I’m going to be part of your family, after all. Isn’t it natural that we get to know each other better than through hearsay from Bible study?”
Mastema was in the middle of packing his things to leave as Xana finished her explanation. “…I might have a spare jacket and sweatpants. Are you sure that your legs and belly won’t be cold with what you’re wearing?”
“Nah, I like the wind and the cold.” Xana was finishing her yoga routine. “Besides, I’m used to three hours of sleep.”
Mastema took a moment to think of an appropriately sinful 24-hour diner that they could stop by, other than Denny’s. “Lady Xana, would you care to share some Peking duck at Chinese Cafe Eight Roppongi?”
Xana was moderately familiar with the establishment. “The cheap place with Christmas lights and phallic statues?”
The inquiry was met with a solemn nod, and replied to with a curiously enthused shrug.
“Whatever you say, Most Holy,” Xana said.
The chef serving the house specialty, 2,888 yen freshly served peking duck, had barely started before Xana raised a thoughtful “mmmm.”
Mastema whispered, “Lady Xana, your countenance is more troubled than usual.”
As was typical of her nature, Xana never smiled, laughed, or blushed. But she was very capable of a wide range of negative emotions. After one large sip of her favorite Asahi beer — number one in Japan — she looked up at Mastema.
“I am not impressed with the decor.”
Mastema nodded. “It is certainly tacky and in poor taste. I figured it might suit your discerningly sinful palette.”
“No, not like that.” Xana pointed straight at where the giant brass phallus, wrapped in Christmas lights, was facing. Her brow crossed. “Whoever decorated this place?” Xana leaned in, whispering conspiratorially. “They’re scared of vaginas.”
Mastema stroked his chin somewhat thoughtfully. “Well, I think that’s a reasonable approximation of—”
“No, THAT is a dish plate. And the butts we saw on our way in? Leaves in front of the naughty bits. Dicks, though? Never since visiting Amazon have I seen so many sculpted representations of a dude’s member.”
Amazon, Mastema wondered? When had she been to the rainforest? Then he remembered: that was the name of a gargantuan online marketplace. It was a business that spanned the entire planet.
In his suit with blue tie, looking as he did like a tall, handsome human, he could have passed for one of their executives. Though in reality, the occupation he claimed to hold among men was a political one.
He thought on what she had said between bites of steamed dumplings. It seemed worth addressing, given that the venue had been his choice… even though the topic hardly suited either his disguise or his true nature.
“It seems you are right. There is a lacking amount of representation for some finer details of the female form. Perhaps… it was short-sighted modesty?”
“They need to learn to appreciate women. Not just the curvy bits.“ Xana was noticeably passionate about the subject, enough that other tables were starting to notice the elfish woman filled with unsolicited feedback.
A corset-donning pink haired lady marched over to the table.
“Xana?” she scowled, more at the room around them than at Xana herself. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Oh, Shioneesan.” remarked Xana, drawing her attention away from the decor she disliked and the prices she appreciated. “To what do we owe the pleasure? And it is a pleasure, too. Very pleasurable.”
Mastema nodded, though the gesture went unacknowledged.
Shiori gave Xana a cold stare. “Let’s take this outside.”
As the ladies left, Mastema quietly left some money on the table, floating about a good thirty-six feet away from the two engaged in a tense conversation.
“Xana, we might need to talk about the time you’re spending with these angels.”
“Do we? They’re pretty. They have highly efficient solutions to problems. They want what they think is best for humanity. And they want to slaughter demons. What’s not to love?”
Shiori’s demeanor grew darker. “While you’ve just been friends with Gabriel, the Neo Liberators have had to deal with one of her co-workers. A really annoying one.”
Xana nodded. “Amane means well. She might be a little out there with her plans, sometimes, but—”
“SHE NEARLY BRAINWASHED US!”
“Okay, that sounds more like a problem. But you still killed her, like you did Hayate. Right?”
“Look, Xana.” Shiori took a moment to calm herself and keep her voice down. “I don’t know why you keep choosing to literally sleep with the enemy, but I’m…” she sighed heavily. “…worried about you.”
“You don’t think I can handle myself?” Xana snapped her fingers and a bolt of raw electricity singed the side of Mastema’s suit.
Mastema cleared his throat, brushing off the embers on his ruined suit. He wanted to say something. He had several things to say, really.
Xana looked scornfully at him. “Don’t get involved.”
He nodded and held his hands up in a resigned pose.
Shiori looked at the beaten-down Mastema and then at Xana, with her unusually light-footed step and glowing emerald eyes.
“…not bad,” Shiori muttered. Had Xana learned from the way she kept the fatass in his place, she wondered?
Loudly exhaling, she beckoned to Xana. “Just… don’t do anything stupid. The others are worried about you.”
“I’m fine, Shioneesan. Better than ever.”
“Alright. I’ll let the rest of the gang know that I saw you in Odaiba, you did not suspiciously possess MORE inhuman traits, and you were DEFINITELY not eating Chinese food in the red light district with a devious, conniving angel.”
“Sounds great! You shouldn’t worry about me.”
Mastema waved at Shiori; the tensions seemed to be settled. “Shiori Koden! You don’t recognize me at all? No acknowledgement that I was the right-hand demon of the head of the Liberators? A founding father?”
“Shove it, Mastema.”
Xana’s ears perked up as she turned towards Shiori. “Oh, you have a history?”
Shiori glowered. “Just old men with stupid plans to fix the world. Nothing more, nothing less.” With that, she sauntered off.
Seeking to save the event from total disaster, Mastema had an idea as Shiori took her leave. “Xana, dear summoner, would you like to see the arcades of Odaiba?”
“People still go to arcades? Well, sure, whatever’s open this late.”
For reasons unknown to many, most relating to how power is institutionalized, the Japanese government had considered a certain subset of angels as people of power within their ranks.
Mastema was not a pretender at human political power, but lived it, as a real life politician by day at the House of Councillors representing the Liberal Democratic Party. It was not unheard of for those at his level to request for facilities to open just to them, after hours, for extremely small parties and fleeting events.
Xana wasn’t particularly interested in the details, but had retained just enough knowledge to understand how it happened. Suited and with long hair past his shoulders, Mastema was able to request a private opening of one of Tokyo Joypolis’ most famous rides well after hours and with nobody else but park attendants at hand.
“This is Gekion Live Coaster?” Xana looked within a series of TRON-like portals to a teacup shaped roller coaster with buttons and screens.
“Yes, Lady Xana. It is an indoor roller coaster and competitive rhythm game.”
“Is this really the most evil, sinful place that you could find for the two of us?” Xana judged him quite harshly.
“The waste of resources needed to keep an entire indoor theme park, fully staffed with arcades and print club machines for a party of only two. Does that not sound like a facility catering to gluttony beset by pride, right there?”
“That sounds like capitalism, Mister Tightwad.”
But less than a minute later, Xana looked on with intense curiosity at the displays in the rides themselves. She nearly failed to listen as she was seated and told to buckle up by the staff. With fingers at her button, Xana steeled herself as Mastema looked considerably less invested in this part of the ride.
“Get wrecked, Mastema.”
The ride started with a song that neither of them recognized; Xana was more aware of Vocaloid music if anything and Mastema preferred classics so old even classical enthusiasts didn’t know them. Still Xana was able to hit notes with the same speed and intensity of a round of SkaBIRD in Trombone Champ while Mastema did his best to look like he was trying.
Halfway through the ride, the coaster started to accelerate at twenty five miles per hour with inversions and twists through the entire indoor park. Xana’s poker face remained completely unchanged as Mastema practically flailed to keep his hair out of his face.
As the ride came to a complete stop, Xana was to absolutely nobody’s surprise the surefire winner.
“So, what do I get? Money? More games? Plushies?” Her expression turned grim. “…cheeeeevos?
Mastema beamed, “Pride, my fair maiden! And the sensation of being thrown about in a thrilling manner.”
Xana sighed. “There were so many easier ways to beat you. And besides, nothing beats being dropped fifty stories by Gabby in a clear night sky.”
It was now Mastema’s turn this evening to make a funny face. Just what were these celestial ladies doing in their spare time? He pondered the ramifications of what he just heard, before thinking better of probing further.
“Well, no matter. I have a present for you at the hotel, if you’re interested?”
“Are we going to your room?”
“…Probably. It is late, and this gift is hard to contain.”
Xana’s eyes glowed gold for three uncomfortable minutes of silence. Then, another woman spoke through her. “Fine. Do nothing impure.”
Upon arriving just outside the window of where Mastema indicated he was staying, Xana and Mastema found that the window was still locked.
“Hold on.” Xana’s finger charged up with a yellow glow, then pressed it upon the lock of the window. With a small boom and the smell of blue smoke, the window now moved freely.
“It’s one of those smart locks, they’re pretty easy to deal with.” Xana blew the smoke from the tips of her fingers as she was being carried on Mastema’s back. “You were saying?”
“Xana, I have an early Christmas present for you.”
A loud, disruptive mewling could be heard in the darkness.
Xana looked on with confusion. “A kitten? But, I don’t think I could take good care of one.”
Mastema lifted the ball of fur and claws up into his hands from an usually large cat bed.
Xana observed the surface from which the small cat was sleeping. “Wait, that’s a dog bed.”
“The cat was most picky about what surface they chose to sleep on. It was the only one which they appeared to actively prefer over the hotel beds.”
This cat was a messy grey tabby, with beautiful green eyes that matched Xana’s.
“Does it have a name?” she inquired, as she held out her hand for the cat to sniff.
“Not yet. I felt you might prefer that responsibility.”
As she was petting it, Xana recalled some trivia about the Book of Jubilees, from her studies of the Bible and its sometimes non-canonical extended works.
“I think I’ll call her… Azura.” Xana held the cat close to herself, looking back at Mastema with the cat’s head positioned directly under her own.
“I can keep her?” Xana asked.
“Well,” Mastema began with a finger to his lips. “I don’t believe there are any good pet places open this late to get her everything she needs at short notice. And what I have here is quite heavy — especially the litter.”
“You want me to stay the night.” Xana’s eyes became heavy lidded. She didn’t understand how a politician could open a theme park on short notice at the dead of night, but not a supermarket or a pet store.
“I would certainly not mind that, my dear.”
Though Xana could probably make do with a FamilyMart or a 7-Eleven and creative use of supplies that a pet needs, she was at least open to this set of events, conditionally.
“Will you give me all the desserts from the room service menu, pay all of my bills for the next three months, help run my FF XIV guild with an iron fist, spend the rest of the night in the hotel room shirt and pantsless so I can see your muscles, AND apologize to Gabriel in person for all of the inconveniences you’ve given her in the past month?”
Mastema took careful inventory of what this very good business lady was proposing. As a self-assured master of negotiations, he felt the need to add something of his own to the list of demands.
“Would you also take off your hoodie, if we snuggled up on the giant cat bed with Azura?”
Xana closed her eyes and smirked. “…that’s your demand?”
“Well, you are already on the cat bed, and it seems it would be more comfortable for both of us.”
Xana had not realized that she was especially comfortable on the giant cat bed, next to Azura. It just seemed to come naturally.
“Get those things paid first, Celestial Crony Capitalist, and there’ll be some space for you.”
Xana handed Mastema her phone with forms to fill out and an open call with room service, making very certain that everything was signed and paid for just right, before the three called it a very pleasant night together.