I TELL XIN THERE'S NO TELLING what my stomach is capable of when this upset. He already knows, having seen me flood flame-consumed cities in an ocean of bile, and, only minutes after hurriedly enjoying a fresh feast, give birth to a blue belch on the battlefield.
"Yes, Your Highness, we won't let it get any more irritated."
He has been prodigal on the job of monitoring the rooks of rock, thoroughly botching jobs and scrambling communications. It's been a month since they were supposed to give the battle cry at Woodstock--a gig at which they never even appeared--and, even after a direct warning for Mick and an additional scare through Marianne, still I haven't heard so much as a groveling apology!
Marianne's a gem, a bit on the fragile side. Anita on the other hand: a real she-beast! As it turns out she's none too satisfied with Keith's infrequent feasts--so hard is it to tear him away from guitar it gets so he forgets to eat the fruits of all he's reaped. Such is the irony of the crossroads contract: ambition, the seat of fixation on remote, elusive success, is displaced by compulsion to prove one's worth in the light of all the acquired notoriety. So riddled with insecurity is the contractee, regardless of real talent, he exhausts himself trying to prove it wasn't just because of that dumb devil he's a womanizing, starstriking millionaire.
Xin's a sweet little gnome, always willing to mollify. But what's this? A smudge! "Xin, is that a clean spot on your conscience?"
"Uh, nothing, Great Ruler."
"Come here, Xin, or I'll tweeze your balls 'twixt graphite claws."
"Oh, that! It is but a superficial sigil--a stray confetto appended to my sticky skin, my Unholiest of Unholies."
"At my hooves, Xin, or we'll correct that imperfection on your otherwise-hideous phys with a swift kick!" Xin's oversized skull, smooth but for a couple of tufts of spiny bristles where his tertiary nose once was, reveals a network of bruises, burns, and mottled splotches that serve as a history of the ignominies and atrocities I have charged him to commit around the globe. Running a brick-hard, brick-red digit over the familiar map of mayhem, I find the pure spot that glinted a second in the phosphorous glow of the cavern and caught my bloodshot eye: a lily-white chevron of undefiled flesh indicating the spot on his skull corresponding to Sydney.
"And so fresh! What do you conceal to unbesmirch the perfect blight of my name, Xin?"
"Sir, surely it was just another evil task half-heartedly completed. I'm a sloth among beasts, King . . . the slowest lowly. . . ."
"Confess! Lest I brain you with my hairy hoof and let all the ghastly, igneous innards flow from your globe onto the cold cavern floor!
Xin whimpers as if to a mother--I almost permit myself a slip of pity!--and blubbers, "It is thy charge, the singer . . . he plans a free concert to climax the American crusade. . . ."
Struck dumb, I. The boy Jagger schemes virtue and, whereas by our sinister rule book he should have fallen, my own trusted Xin preserved him! By the petty timbre of his whimper when a second later I cuff him with the hatchet of my tail I can tell he saw me falter. He knows better than not to anticipate punishment, but admittedly on this occasion it wasn't mercilessly swift. The pagan poster boy is causing us to permit good on his behalf! The situation has turned dire and demands drastic, dastardly action.