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Nena Camadera    61
Nena Camadera

Heh, don't worry about it.

 

So I'm currently with the folks on leave after my adventures surviving the wilderness, which means I'm away from most of my files regarding my stories for the next week or so.  With that in mind, however, I'll use what free time I have to expand a bit on the universe Angel Biter and Origins takes place in.  For those who ask nicely, I might even answer some questions for those who ask.

 

So with that in mind, I'm going to start off with something that has only occasionally been mentioned in Origins: The Unification

 

[spoiler]

 

This is an old event that happened even before the Old Wars between the God's and Demons, when the many gods were still segregated to their own territories and were more willing to go to war with each other rather than against any sort of demonic entity.  This was a time when many gods weren't even fully aware of each other, as each was contained within their own little dimension, their own little piece of the world.  Yet the gods are many, and as the humans they created began to expand, so too did these many entities seek out new territory, and more often then not, the lands they sought to expand into were occupied by native dieties.  Some times these people were small and weak; ancestors glorified for past deeds that had been elevated to a position comparable to godhood, yet lacking the true power that came with the divine.  These ones were easily overtaken and oftentimes subjugated and even enslaved by older and more powerful deities.

 

When those groups of a similar size and power met, however, oftentimes wars were started that would last decades and into centuries over the rights to the territories,  oftentimes with atrocities committed on either side that were borderline demonic. The most cunning of these groups even utilized demons as temporary allies, though the more foolish, who did not hold up their end of the contract, oftentimes found themselves victimized by those same demons at a later time and date. Other tribes, which held no demons nor seen such creatures before, used entities in the form of Jotun or Fae for their wars, though their end goal was always the same, and something that which those used and abused entities came to view in disdain.

 

Eventually this dislike grew into a form of great hate, and soon enough Fae and Jotun, Rakshasa and Oni, found themselves forming alliances with each other more often then with the Gods who enlisted their aid.  New wars began, not over territory or resources between bands of gods but by deities and demons, spirits and ancestors, those creatures which went bump in the night and the glowing lights which held them at bay.  When it grew to the point where gods ceased warring with each other and instead chose to band together with the deities that were once their greatest enemies, it occurred to 'someone' that there had been a shift in the ways of the heavens.

 

This 'Someone' was Marduk of the Wind, son of Enki, Slayer of Tiamat and Master of Storms.  He was the one who came to the conclusion that not only were the the evil creatures of the earth banding together, but that they were coming together unter the guidance of the last remaining Ancient Ones, those creatures that had survived the First War between Ancient Ones and Elder God's and had been banished from the heavens in a hale of magic and violence.  Through this recognition came another: That the gods of this time would surely be destroyed if they could not come together under a common cause, and so with the guidance of his father he began taking the first steps towards unifying the many gods under one banner.

 

Through wit and charm he brokered negotiations and treaties with those of the surrounding territories, creating a great nation that came to dwell within the heavens together rather than through force of will.  Yet there were many who still refused, many who saw this as an affront and who feared the loss of their freedom and culture by this powerful, fearsome 'Unifyer'. They fought.  Through shadows and forests and magic and worlds, they fought, creating hazards for the budding nation of gods even as it continued to expand.  However even by then Marduk's nation had already grown to the point where there was no turning back.  Those who resisted were brought in by force, given the option to join willingly or be cast aside as demons.  And not every demon in Niflheim can claim it's origins to the Ancient Ones or a similar demonic entity.  Gradually, it grew to the point where even those few who banded against Marduk and his nation stood no chance, and found themselves absorbed into the nation as soon as Marduk's armies laid waste to them, absorbing them into the Heavenly Body as quickly as they were defeated.

 

With this came resentment, and from resentment was born hostility towards Marduk, this 'Daitenkaicho' and with this hostility came a threat.  Marduk became very aware of his position of power and of those who resented him, and as the last of the great tribes of gods and ancestors were joined with the nation he'd created, a new system of power was created to help manage them.  Licenses were formed to manage the power of those around him, allowing him to put restraints on those he believed hostile and further enforcing the loyalty (and the freedoms that came with it) to his position.  New rules were placed on the head of his society, and new organizations were created to help ebb the riseing anger and dissatisfaction the many gods viewed him with.

 

Perhaps if he'd started earlier, he might have kept his seat of power.

 

Yet as it was, his actions came too late, when the fostered threat of uprising became to strong to ignore.  A vast civil war erupted in the heavens between two warring factions, and like the First War a millennia before, that Ancient Side found themselves loosing to the newer, more supported younger group.  Marduk was overthrown as Daitenkaicho and vanished; some say he was murdered, (though such things had grown taboo since the First Unification), whereas others believed he'd been banished from the heavens, forced to wander through the world in the incarnations of Man.  Others believed he'd fallen to the demons, and where some claim he'd been torn apart by them for grudges long past, many others believe he'd made himself a nest among them, using his charisma to gather an army of his own that, so it is rumored, might unify the many evil creatures that haunted the lower plains.  No one save those who shared his blood are certain, and whenever Daitenkaicho Marduk is brought up in conversation around them, they become surprisingly closed lipped.

 

A new Daitenkaicho emerged where Marduk failed, however, this one still young but experienced with the ways of war and the people.  A God of the Norse Tier, he took the time to reevaluate the role that came with 'Daitenkaicho', and worked to make it a name that was not so much spat out in hate and fear so much as a title worthy of respect.  Though still a warrior at heart, there was wisdom in his ways thanks to his own relations, and he took the advice of his family to heart, recognizing the need for change and for peace.  Through him came a great council, one that would last through the Old War between Gods and Demons and would last well beyond that, establishing a sort of constitution that would guide others throughout the test of time.  This council was formed of the heads of all the various tribes, allowing palavars where once there were wars, and ensuring stability remained in the heavens, in the great ruling nation that had formed with it.

 

...And then that god, that Daitenkaicho, made the mistake of meeting a woman.  A creature that may have been a god, may have been a demon, but was certainly something beyond anything he could have ever imagined.  And then that god, that man, fell in love with that woman.

 

But that's a story for another day.

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Urd    47
Urd
On 05/01/2016 at 11:33 AM, Nena Camadera said:

Of the mysterious Kingu of the Ancient Ones, who consistently haunts Belldandy, and how he sees and knows all that is to happen and is patiently awaiting the return of the one he once called a 'mate'. 

 

On 13/01/2016 at 8:45 AM, Nena Camadera said:

Their words poisoned her mind, and sick with grief Tiamat began to fashion monsters, abomination with venom for blood that would act as the vanguard of war, their general the demon Kingu, who bared upon his chest the Tablets of Destiny.  

 

On 13/01/2016 at 8:45 AM, Nena Camadera said:

Yet even Marduk has to admit that while defeated, Tiamat and the kin that allied with her are far from dead.  "Dead but dreaming." Is how he termed it, and though difficult, it is possible to reawaken these primordial powers, the Ancient Ones

 

 

AHA

 

I knew i had read something about the ancient ones and Kingu before somewhere.

 

 

Soooo.

 

 

Spoiler

 

 

I would place my bets that Kingu's motives for "guiding" Belldandy and helping Urd stablish herself in Hell is either:

 

1 - somehow Urd is the key to awaken them again

2 - could Urd be the one he once called 'mate'?

 

Am i anywhere close?

 

 

Edited by Urd
grammar

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Nena Camadera    61
Nena Camadera

Okay, so some new things will be coming up in the next couple of chapters that may confuse people, so I'm going to give a description of what those events are now.

 

Commune



Communes are special ceremonies conducted by deities that allow them to share experience and pass down knowledge instantaneously.  It's a technique that only Gods utilize and requires both parties to trust one another indefinitely because of the intimacy of the technique.  The experience causes both deities to meet at the 'crossroads' of their respective mindscapes and from there to cross into each other's minds, where they are allowed to re-live certain instances in that deity's life that might provide insight into an event at hand. 

 

While not uncommon, Communes are generally conducted by older deities who've been Guided by others enough times to become a Guide themselves.  As a rule, younger deities are required to experience a Commune at least once with their mentor, if for no other reason than to become familiar with the ceremony.  As such, for many of the younger generations, their only experience with Communes are with their mentors, making the experience intimidating with a god they aren't as familiar with.

 

Communes are used to help treat everything from troubled spirits to mental illnesses within gods, as a proper Guide can be used to discover the source of what ails a deity and from there take steps to further curb the damage.  They are primarily seen as a healing tool for the soul, and are perhaps one of the greatest reasons behind Asgard's tranquility and harmony, as many of the older gods have literally walked a mile or more in the shoes of another.

 

Oftentimes, for those individuals who are more wary of Communes, or those Guides who don't wish to overwhelm those younger deities with their greater experiences, barriers are erected to ensure that the level of trust needed for the ceremony is granted, though it is often done more often with the older gods.  To leave all sections of their life open for a god who has lived only half that time would be to overwhelm the guided, and in some instances this has led to madness or delusions that they are not themselves but are their Guide due to all they have experienced.  

 

As part of the Commune, the ceremony always starts with a request for the Guide to lead the Commune, and ends with a thanks from both Guide and Guided in appreciation of what each side has experienced and what has been revealed in light of that subject.  Oftentimes, from there, solutions are granted to whatever problems had brought up the request for Commune, before both parties end and leave their respective mindscapes.  It's important that they leave in good faith and on good terms, for to leave on ill terms is the equivalent to placing those gods in a condition where those negative connotations are then directed at themselves, for they have lived those instances that placed them in such ill moods, despite the fact that did not initially experience those instances.

 

Because of the level of trust and honesty that must be allowed between both parties, in more recent times Communes have been primarily limited to deities holding a first-class license because of their inability to lie.  This is especially true with Guides to the point where it has become a rule: A Commune Guide must hold a First-class, restricted license at the least because of the potential damage a Guide could do to a deity seeking aid.  This ensures the Guide remains honest and humble, due to the lives that Guide is asked to experience at any point in time.

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Urd    47
Urd

Question:

 

Is Communing only possible between gods?

Or can Demons 'commune' too?

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Urd    47
Urd

Another question that i just thought off.

 

I dunno wether or not i asked this already..but if i did, i dont recall the asnwer :/

 

Can Urd still change back to being a goddess out of her own free will?

Or is she permanently stuck with being a demon?

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Nena Camadera    61
Nena Camadera

Communes are only possible between gods due to the level of trust, honesty, and intimacy required on both sides.  Demons don't have anything similar to it because trust and honesty aren't displayed in such manners, and for a demon to attempt to Commune with a god would be similar to a demon questioning, 'how do I know you aren't going to stab me in the back once we start?'  It's kind of similar to how Urd lashed out at Celestine in Origins during their first couple of days together. Celestine wanted to see what was ailing Urd and Urd, still with a Falkin mindset, ended up lashing out at Celestine in aggression.  Demons don't allow for that level of trust with strangers, and rarely even gain that simple level trust with their own mates and family. 

 

As for Urd, that's something that remains to be seen.  I think the better question to ask would be this:  Would Nidhogg allow Urd to leave?

 

 

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Urd    47
Urd
5 minutes ago, Nena Camadera said:

Communes are only possible between gods due to the level of trust, honesty, and intimacy required on both sides.  Demons don't have anything similar to it because trust and honesty aren't displayed in such manners, and for a demon to attempt to Commune with a god would be similar to a demon questioning, 'how do I know you aren't going to stab me in the back once we start?'  It's kind of similar to how Urd lashed out at Celestine in Origins during their first couple of days together. Celestine wanted to see what was ailing Urd and Urd, still with a Falkin mindset, ended up lashing out at Celestine in aggression.  Demons don't allow for that level of trust with strangers, and rarely even gain that simple level trust with their own mates and family. 

 

As for Urd, that's something that remains to be seen.  I think the better question to ask would be this:  Would Nidhogg allow Urd to leave?

 

 

 

 

No, not leave.

 

Just, you know, switch.

 

Wonder if Urd can still do that...like she switched to demon and back to goddess again in the manga...only this time it would be the other way around.

 

Kinda like: (stupid omake inc)

 

Belldandy: dinner's ready!

Skuld: about time!

**they all sit in table**

**Skuld is staring at Urd, who makes water boil when she touches the jar or something** (this is getting dumber by the sec...not that Urd would drink water..but meh)

Belldandy: would you mind sister?

Urd: oh yea..sure! right**

**switches over to goddess mode once again**

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Nena Camadera    61
Nena Camadera

Ah, I see what you're saying.  I misunderstood.

 

That's...a little more complicated, to say the least, mostly due in part to how Urd became a demon this go around.  Essentially that piece of her rebelled against her, which was one of the reasons why Urd ended up in Nidhogg's realm.  From there, you take into consideration what Nidhogg had her do there, and, well...

 

Until she gets a better hold on her powers, it's really not a point that's up for conjecture.  At this point, whether or not Urd is a demon or god is kind of akin to if Urd is a resident of Niflheim or Asgard and who is managing her passport to the other side.  Yggdrassil was in charge of it in Asgard, but again, Nidhogg is in charge of most of the infernal abilities in this realm, so...

 

Now, say Urd manages to reach a point of power where she's above such things, in which case labels such as 'demon' or 'god' can no longer apply to her...

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Urd    47
Urd

Hmm..guess that's thinking far too much down on the road =)

 

I do remember that Nidhogg took her heart and put another "stronger" in its place...and that there's a magical band resting on her arm, sealing her magic ^^

 

I was just wondering , that's all, that Urd could (at some point) reassure their sisters that she's still 'her'...and she's not all gone to the other side...if that makes any sense...

 

If not, just ignore me...i'm up since 4:10 and i'm working on a sunny sunday. Oficcialy hate my life right now ^^

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Nena Camadera    61
Nena Camadera

You're good, I know where you're coming from working on the weekends and what not, and I enjoy answering questions (when I can ensure I don't spoil anything...)

 

In some ways, I suppose you could look at Urd in a bit of a reversed circumstance: before, she'd primarily been a goddess with a capability, but no intent to switch over to a demon (plus, it was hinted that there would be unforseen issues with that, but I digress). Now Urd is primarily a demon with what might be a capability to return to a goddess, but also at a significant risk to herself: Her magic as a goddess is locked away, there is (technically) a warrant on her head as a goddess practicing Goetia craft (if what the Valkyries said is true), and that would leave her as a goddess within Niflheim, which is a position that leaves her vulnerable because of the healthy prejudice against gods there (just as there's a prejudice against demons in Asgard). If she does has the capability, there would be no intent, even if it would reassure her sisters.  

 

For lack of anything else, Urd is going to stay a demon her entire time in Niflheim, and bouncing between her two heritages wouldn't solve anything if it came to reassuring her sisters.  If anything, it would only solidify the belief that 'demon=danger' within the minds of the Norns, and its hard to say if they would ever see past the red markings that would mark Urd as 'demon' instead of looking past those and seeing Urd.  Whether or not any of the Norns realize this is up to debate, but Hild recognizes it easily enough from her time with Tyr.  As such, it'll be more encouraged that she remain as she is now while interacting with her sisters, so that that they can stop seeing the 'demon' from the 'god' and instead see nothing but 'Urd', regardless of the color of her markings.

 

 

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Urd    47
Urd
8 minutes ago, Nena Camadera said:

 

For lack of anything else, Urd is going to stay a demon her entire time in Niflheim, and bouncing between her two heritages wouldn't solve anything if it came to reassuring her sisters.  If anything, it would only solidify the belief that 'demon=danger' within the minds of the Norns

 

 

 

 

Damm you and your dammed good reasonings!

 

You got me big time with that one ;) 

 

SO, how's that course 15 thingy going? Googled it and it seems...boring...in lack of better term.

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Nena Camadera    61
Nena Camadera

Goodness...It's...how can I explain this.

I know!

 

(Rant Start)

 

So, as an individual in the military profession such as myself, you've probably had times of professional military education, where they make you attend a mandatory class with others like you so that you can grow as a leader and gain further experience to help progress your career.

 

Now take one of those classes, and I mean every. Little. Detail. And cram it into a pdf filled with useless, atypical scenarios that would normally be found in a 'perfect world'.  Now provide ten definitions for the same thing that pdf is trying to teach, all the while informing those reading it that 'all the material crammed within is testable'.  Fill simple concepts like leadership with so many BS definition and subcategories that you feel like pulling your hair out, and then add a section about proper stretching techniques and recommended exercises to pass your upcoming physical fitness test, because obviously you don't know how to run or do a pushup without a book telling you.

 

Now divide that pdf into a multitude of different books and create two tests designed to go over scenario-based questions that you literally cannot study for because they are not found in the book, and oh by the way, if you don't pass the tests within the year, you can't promote or re-enlist.

 

...That being said I take my first (attempt) test on Thursday.

(Rant end)

 

Crap, that wound me up.  I have a lot of issues with Course 15 because, when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, it's the military's way of getting as many NCO's out of service as possible while placing all the responsibility on the NCO's themselves.  Can't pass the test because our books are so filled with fluff you don't know what to study? Well obviously you aren't the type of NCO our forces need.  Go fuck yourself.

 

Anyways, here's Wonderwall.  Not where I normally place it, but screw it. A treat since I can emphasize with you working god-awful hours on the weekend.

 



The black jackal of death herded the pack of ghouls over the lands of the dead while the burning Neshama stood by, awaiting the moment of ambush.



This one was a small pack, consisting of only ten members in various states of decay.  They were the stragglers that had escaped the earlier cull of a thousand or more, and now, with the oncoming dust cloud rising across the terrain, the Neshama tensed, listening for the signal that meant the creatures were within range.  Fire of bright shades of yellow, orange, and red danced across her shoulders, eager and hungry as they awaited the jackal’s cry.



The dust cloud was more visible now, and in it the Neshama spied their prey, the decaying remains of unnourished souls; pitiful creatures unrecognizable form the souls they once were, abandoned and left to rot in the uninhabited land of the Netherworld.  There were men whose skin peeled back in flaps, frail women that looked to have wasted away to skin and bones, even children, their naked bodies covered in bites and scratches that bled thick, white pus.  They were a horrible sight to behold, and the flames that danced across the Neshama’s shoulders flared, eager to nip at the putrid flesh and the disease riddled cavities of the pitiful, stupid beasts.



Closer now, and closer still they came to the point where their faces were almost recognizable.  The flames grew higher, and above their snap the Neshama could hear the heavy moans of those within the small assembly, racing forwards and blind to the threat ahead of them; their perception was weak and herd-minded, and the ghouls were only aware of Death at their heels.  She tensed as they drew ever closer, straining her ears for Death’s cry and wondering if perhaps she’d missed it, if Anubis had released his howl and had it trampled beneath the heavy moans of their prey.  Yet that was impossible, for her hearing had done nothing but improve since separating herself, and she could no more miss his cry than grow blind to the oncoming ghouls.  Closer yet and closer still-if she didn’t act soon, the ghouls would be atop her, and her flames would be slow and burning, not the all-consuming, rapid typhoon that would render them to ash.  Yet still she waited, for they were still not close enough, no, not yet, and instead crouched lower, until her legs strained beneath her.



The world seemed sharper the more she focused, clearer in a manner that Mara had never before noticed as a Niflheimian Demon.  The air was filled with more scents than she could ever hope to recognize, yet each one a trail she could identify and follow if she so chose.  The air itself almost appeared visible to her as the Neshama, and with it she could see everything from the heatwaves emanating from her surroundings to the individual air currents produced by the retreating ghouls.  Her hearing had improved as well, as if she actually focused the demon could hear the individual breaths drawn by each and every ghoul as it ran; had their hearts still beat, Mara was almost certain she’d hear that as well.  Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…



A howl, high-pitched and long, rose over the wails of the ghouls.  Mara’s breathing hitched up a notch, and with a smile wreathed in flames the demon launched from her cover, skirting in front and then around the group of wretches with all the speed of a brushfire.  The creatures released screams that might have passed for horror in another life, those in front trying to stop or divert away from the flames, only to be pushed forward by their fellows behind them.  It was a herd panic, one that left them blind and stupid to the true trap ahead of them.  The first wave of ghouls-only three, unfortunately, were consumed by the Neshama’s flames, yet the seven left, driven by fear of both Death and Fire, once more diverted their path, heading right in the one direction Mara hadn’t sectioned off.



Which was fine, for what remained at the end of the fire’s line, at the end of Death’s chase, was The End for the seven that remained.



Panting, Anubis, in the raw form of a black jackal, herded the ghouls onwards, snarling and yipping as he egged them on.  Mara, her first task completed, raced around the god with a fresh wreath of flame, closing  in behind him and then racing past the beast’s left side.  A strategy they’d worked out long before and put into play several times already, Anubis didn’t even react to the sudden flames, despite the dirt growing hot and molten beneath the pads of his paws.  Instead, the deity slowed his pace, allowing Mara to race past first him and then the ghouls, who all scurried away from the burning, wraith-like being. They crashed into each other, those nearest the flames Mara had first cast catching alight and shrieking in pain.  Now in a tunnel of Flame and Death, the only option left open was what Mara left them; a funnel to the third piece of their group, who laid buried beneath the sand and rubble of the wasteland.



Yet even had they been perceptive, even if their minds had not faded to rot and their spirts deteriorated to shells of what they once more, the ghouls would not have seen what rested in front of them.  Even Mara, with her senses now much sharper than before, was only made aware of its presence due to previous planning; had she been herded towards what waited in ambush, the Neshama, like the ghouls present, would not have noticed Ammit’s presence until it was too late.



All at once the ground exploded.  Mara retreated back from the area, and on the other side of the flames Anubis slowed to a halt as well, panting as the remaining ghouls were engulfed in a pair of long, reptilian jaws.  Ammit’s avatar was a huge, frightening behemoth, her snout alone long enough to swallow two men at once.  With Death at their backs and Fire at either side of them, the ghouls were consumed two, almost three at a time in huge, quick bites, until all that remained was the cackling fire and the demon’s cohorts.



A simple thought ended the flames, allowing Anubis to trot around Ammit as Duat’s demon pulled herself from the sand pit to stand next to Mara.  The Neshama cooled her flames, bringing them into herself now that the excitement had faded, and with it the jackal rose to his hindquarters, no longer a beast but a jackal-headed man once more.  He stood tall and slim and dark, adorned in little aside from a blue headdress adorned with gold and a golden loincloth from his waist to his knees.  “That should be it for the ghouls in this section.”  He claimed, watching as Ammit shook sand off her large body.  ‘I’m not smelling anymore in the surrounding area.”  He looked at the two female demons, tilting in head to one side in curiosity.  “What of you two?”



Mara shook her head.  “I’m not getting anything.” She replied.  “But then, my nose isn’t trained to ghouls and souls like yours is, even as I am now.”  She shrugged.  “If it helps, I’m not picking up any strange heat signatures or cold spots in the surrounding area.  Right now it’s just the three of us, and if I strain, I can just catch Thoth back at camp.”  She looked towards Ammit, who was shifting to a smaller, more humanoid form now that the hunt was over.



When the demon stood with the body of a woman and the head of a crocodile, Ammit gave her two cents.  “I can’t sense anything.”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “But then I’m also half-blind and near deaf though-I can barely see the two of you in front of me.”  The demon squinted at the two of them with eyes the muddy, green-yellow of water algae and released a hearty cackle.  Ammit was a large demon, even when not in her more beastly form.  One of the few, if only demons that claimed Duat as her home, she was a heavy-set woman with light brown skin and a coarse, tawny-gold mane that flowed down her shoulders in multiple dreadlocks.  Mara had only recently met the demon and had been startled to learn that not only did Ammit work side-by-side with Anubis and Thoth, but was also a close friend of the two of them as well.



For Mara, who’d had her own friendship with Urd, this had come as a surprise; demons and gods weren’t known for fraternization, and oftentimes such relationships ended on poor terms between the parties involved.  Even the relationship between Mara and Urd had grown strained as the two of them had grown older.  Not even the Daimakaicho had been able to make such a relationship work; she’d left the Daitenkaicho to his world and retreated to her own, and now more often than not used Ansuz as a means of communication between the two of them to keep things cordial.  Yet here, in Duat, where the dead outnumbered the deities responsible for them, Mara saw no such indications of a crumbling friendship.  The three of them: Anubis, Thoth, and Ammit, were at ease around each other. There was no underlying hostility or even jealousy amongst the trio, and they interacted with a closeness that spoke almost of a close sibling network, like the type between the Norns or what Valu always strived to achieve with his own siblings.



It was a refreshing change from her own culture, and though weary at first, Mara was quick to accept Ammit’s easy-going, relaxed nature.  Despite her nature, Duat’s demon had almost no temper that Mara could distinguish, and tended to laugh off things that would have left her Niflheimian counterparts seething. For a demon who’d never seen such a behavior displayed in a ‘kinsman’ before (there was a god once, but now no more), the Neshama found she welcomed the change, finding herself slipping into a role of her own that the Underworld entities welcomed with open arms.  And why not?  Those in power within the Deadlands had little to do with Anubis and his pack.  The Jackal God was a simple guide; a Shepard leading those who had passed into Duat.  Thoth was a Record Keeper, one who did little more than manage the books of those who passed under him and Ammit was seen as even less—those outside their little clique viewed her as little more than a beast with a voracious appetite.  They had no place in politics, and as such they were allowed a certain freedom that was more often denied to those with power, and for the first time in her long life, Mara found herself in a unique situation where nothing was expected of her either.



For a demon who’d been under the eye of the Daimakaicho since childhood, Mara took to this new-found freedom with great flourish. 



“Come, let us return so Thoth can draft a report.”  Anubis said, and began the trek towards camp.  They followed a slim trail in a single file line east, with Anubis leading the way as the trio navigated around large spires of sandstone and deep crags within the earth.  The traveled downhill, where their scents wouldn’t carry on the wind, and it was as they were about to round a cliff-face that marked the beginning of their camp that Mara paused.  Ammit, who was walking behind her, ran into the Neshama, and with a grunt stepped back, rubbing her snout.



“Bansar, wait a moment.”  Mara announced, unaware that she’d called the god by the old nickname she’d first known him by. It was enough to make the jackal pause, and his ears perked up in interest, the underworld deity looked back at the Neshama.  Mara narrowed her eyes.  “Something’s up ahead.  I’m picking up additional heat signatures from the camp.”



Anubis and Ammit shared a look.  “An envoy?” Ammit suggested.  “Osiris been snooping ‘round real hard since you came, Ibri. Might be checking to make sure we demons are behaving all nice and pretty-like.”  The demon’s voice was amused, yet the other two could hear the underlying resentment at the prospect.



Mara shook her head.  “It’s not…at least, I don’t think it is.”  She muttered.  “It’s…one of them has a signature similar to Thoth’s—had that one not been a few feet away from him, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish the two-they’d just sort of mash together into one large heat wave.  But the other…”  The Neshama pursed her lips.  “It’s…it’s weird.”



“Weird?”  Anubis and Ammit spoke in chorus, then sent a startled look to each other.  Mara didn’t notice.



Instead the burning woman nodded.  “Yeah it’s—I can’t explain it.  Like it’s here and…not.  Like…”  The Neshama twirled her hand, as though the motion would describe what words failed, then shook her head.  “I don’t know.”  She shrugged, looking between the god and demon at either side of her.  “Just…weird.”



“Then I suppose we should meet our…weird guests.” Anubis reasoned, and then, as an afterthought asked, “Thoth is safe, is he not?”



“I think so.”  Mara’s voice grew soft.  “He’s not moving erratically, and neither are the new ones.  But I can’t sense emotions or read thoughts-only heat signatures.  I can’t even see their auras in this form, so there’s no way for me to distinguish a god from a demon or demi-god or some other entity.”  She released a frustrated breath before falling silent, shrugging her shoulders in a ‘what can you do’ manner.



Anubis fell silent, turning back in the direction of camp.  After a moment, he moved onwards, and the two demons at his back fell back in file behind him, no longer tense but alert and aware of any signs that might signify who their ‘weird’ trespassers were. As it was, their answer was displayed as soon as the trio rounded a bank of sand stone a good seven feet high.  Thoth was indeed fine…fine enough, in fact, that the god was serving water to the two strangers in their camp; a pair of gods, one male and one female.  The two were resting on a couple of boulders that Ammit had rolled into the camp several days prior, the large stones acting as make-shift seats in a land where not even trees could rot in peace, and were holding what seemed like a pleasant enough conversation with the Scribe as the trio approached.



Anubis recognized one, had seen him enough times as a guest in Duat to know his name, but could not place the woman that sat by Hades’ side.  The camp denizens hadn’t noticed their small group yet, and the woman was angled away from the trail the Death god and demons were on in such a manner that it hid her face, yet Mara seemed to recognize her.  The god’s ears swiveled backwards as he heard Mara suck in a deep breath, then release it in an angry hiss.  Belldandy.”  Not another Underworld god then, but the Almighty’s middle child herself.  And, it seemed, one with a history with Mara.



An unpleasant history, at that.



The Norn must have heard her name, for the goddess turned in their direction, blue eyes (like that of the sky in Asgard, Anubis would later think) widening in surprise as she observed the group which had snuck up on her.  She seemed to recognize Anubis well enough-him with the black jackal head-and her eyes passed over him and drifted further down the line.  Confusion arose on her face as she observed the two behind him, and the god watched as her eyes darted from one demon to the next.



Beside her, Hades turned to observe them as well, and with it Thoth rose from where he sat on the ground, placing the gourd that held their water off to one side.  “Ah!”  He cried, and his voice sounded like the squawk of a large bird, “It seems the rest of my troop has returned! Welcome back.  We have guests.”  The Scribe, similar to Anubis and Ammit, was in the body of a human from the shoulders down.  From the neck up was that of a large bird with white feathers and a slender, long beak, which clicked as he spoke.  “Allow me to introduce Etlu[V1]  Hades of…Hades,” the ibis’s black eyes sparkled in laughter, “And Norn Belldandy-Enitum[V2]  of Asgard.”  He gestured to the duo.  The death god nodded to them, his expression stoic, but relaxed.  Belldandy mimed him after a quick glance.  The Norn seemed ill at ease standing next to her companion, looking as out of place in the Underworld as a cat on a cloud.



No one commented on the anxiety wafting from the goddess, as instead Thoth continued his introductions.  “And here we have Urbat [V3] Anubis, Son of Seth, and Duat’s Guide, along with Usgu[V4]  Ammit, the Consumer of Souls and Neshama Mara of Niflheim.”  He looked to the trio.  Etlu Hades has been hearing about our efforts to curb the ghoul population within Duat and the bordering Yomi.”  The ibis-headed man revealed.  “He wanted to see how we were progressing and mayhaps employ our services in his own territory—it seems more and more ghouls are spawning near the River Styx, and much of it is outside of his control.”



Hades stepped forward, and Anubis moved to meet him.  If not for the stiffness in the god’s back or the way the god’s sharp, pointed ears were directed towards his fellow god, the action could have been taken as Anubis welcoming Hades into his camp.  Yet for the two demons, whose tongue that was contrived from body language as much as speech, the gesture came across as something else.  From Ammit’s perspective and indeed perhaps even Mara’s, though she knew him not as well, Anubis’s movement came across as territorial. Not so much as a welcome as it was the jackal-headed god moving to intercept his fellow deity, blocking the Greek God from advancing towards the demons at his back.



Ammit moved to stand beside Mara, resting a large hand on the Neshama’s shoulder.  The nails were thick and discolored, the flesh around it hard and lumpy.  Mara started at her touch, and the snarl that had peeled its way onto the Niflheimian demon’s face vanished.  She shot a glare at her companion, and the crocodile-headed demon stared at her with one placid eye. Not now.  That look seemed to say.  Whatever angers you, place it aside.  Leave it for another time.  Grinding her teeth, at length the demon looked away, returning her gaze back to the deities before her. 



Belldandy was watching her.



The Norn’s brows were furrowed together, observing Mara with the harsh scrutiny one saved for an art gallery.  It made Mara’s skin crawl.  Yet Ammit did not remove her hand from the woman’s shoulder, and it’s weight brought with it its own strange comfort; that Mara was not alone in whatever reason had brought the Norn down to the Underworld, that Belldandy, for a change, was the stranger in this strange land and that not everyone would be on her side.  Things were different in the Netherworld.  Mara had a pack.  And Belldandy, so it seemed, had only an Underworld deity who was trespassing in another god’s territory.  It was a cold comfort, but one Mara found she relished all the same. 



Before them, Hades was speaking with Anubis, yet the words had long since lost any interest to the demon.  Instead, the woman’s bright eyes were focused on Belldandy, whose gaze did not drop in submission nor harden in challenge.  They remained curious though.  Uncertain, disbelieving, as though the woman before Belldandy did not fit the mold she had come to expect.  And could she be blamed?  Of this, even Mara had to admit that no, there was no blame that could be cast.  The Neshama was a theory; a construct of myth and hypothesis, yet never a proven fact.  Not until it had been brought to light by a Divine Scribe had it ever been considered, and until it had been brought forth by a half-dead demon, such a creature had never before walked any plane of existence that was not mental.



As such, when Belldandy took a tentative step forward and spoke one word, “Mara?” the demon was obliged to respond.



An.”  Mara paused a moment, realizing she’d spoken Falkin.  “Yes.”  She repeated, and it was all she could do to keep the anger from her voice.  “It’s me.”



Belldandy pursed her lips, and in her face Mara came to a sudden realization: Belldandy was nervous.  Whatever her reason for visiting the Underworld, it was not one she was comfortable with.  For one of the few times in her life, the Norn of the Present was out of her element.  “I did not…”  She trailed off, distracted, and then tried again.  “Mara, are we well met?”



The question caught the Neshama off guard.  Indeed, caught even the demon beside her off guard, for a moment of surprise spread across both women’s faces in that moment.



“Should we not be?” Ammit’s voice was a deep rumble in Mara’s ear, layered with so much Falkin accent that it took the Neshama a moment to understand her words. 



Mara stared at the goddess, her gut twisting into a knot.  “Belldandy, what are you saying-“



“Mara, please.”  Belldandy interrupted her, and startled, Mara fell silent.  Belldandy never interrupted people.  Not unless it was urgent.  The goddess bit her lip, and again that nervous look flickered across her face.  “Please, before we speak any more, I need to know: Are we well met?”



Ammit fidgeted next to her, and this time the rumble that arose held no words at all; it was instead the deep, guttural noise of a predator whose territory had been crossed, where that creature was uncertain of what had entered its home and was in no mood for confrontation, yet was none the less curious as the what had so crossed into its den.



Mara wished she could relate.  Instead, her ears caught a snippet of Anubis’s conversation with Hades, and for a moment she focused on it, allowing herself to be distracted by the jackal’s calm, whispery voice.  “…I will allow you among us as guests, however I ask that you be mindful of your audience.  Not all of us are gods, yet those of us who hail from a different background still deserve the respect of a peer.”



“That is a reasonable request.” Hades replied.  “I understand that the demons you work with hold an equal status in your territory, and as such I am willing to treat them in that same manner.”



“Then we shall break sup and bed with you, though we have little to give.” Anubis’s tone was polite, but not warm.  Not cold, either, but rather a steady neutral that gave nothing towards the death god’s internal thoughts. 



Mara diverted her attention back to Belldandy, and with heavy reluctance caved.  An, we’re well met, Belldandy.”



The transformation that overcame Belldandy then was immediate, and, Mara would later reflect, unsettling.  All at once the anxiety fled her body, and the sharpness that had made the Norn’s eyes so harsh (like fresh-cut sapphires, hard and sharp, drawing blood) softened.  The tension left her shoulders with a great sigh, and to the Neshama it appeared as though a great burden had been relieved.  It’s like she ditched a monkey that was on her back.  Mara thought, lips pursed in thought.  Question is, what was that monkey, and why did it insist that I be the one to welcome her to our fold rather than Anubis?  Just what in the nine worlds is she here for?



The demon had an aching feeling that she would find out soon enough, and that there would be time a-plenty for such questions now that Belldandy was a guest amongst their fold; an aching, nagging feeling that Belldandy was going nowhere fast, just as Mara herself, and that most terrifying of all, the both of them were about to be played as Rixtusa[V5]  in a play whose theme would undoubtedly end in tragedy. 



Across from her Belldandy said, “Thank you, I…”  All at once she trailed off, looking from Mara to Ammit before trying again.  “I did not recognize you.”  She took a tentative step forward, once more displaying her unease, then seemed to think better of it and stepped back.  It created a strange, shuffling dance that made the Norn appear even antsier then before, and again Belldandy spoke anew.  “I…your shape keeps changing.  Is…is this also an avatar?  I had thought your form would be like it is in Niflheim and—“ Again she fell silent, biting lip.



Ammit patted Mara’s shoulder.  “Me thinks I’m unnerving the Little One.”  She rumbled.  “I’ll leave you two to catch up.  Hold your temper, Ibri.”  She gave Mara a meaningful glance-an impressive feat for a crocodile-then released the Neshama. She dipped her head to Belldandy, then took a wide berth around both the two death gods and the Norn, moving to Thoth’s side from where the Scribe sat behind them.  The god was scribbling across a curled scroll of papyrus, his right hand a blur that paused just long enough to adjust the paper, glance at the scene before him, and then dive into his scripture once more.  At Ammit’s approach he looked up long enough to acknowledge her with a glance, and as she sat on a stone near him the Scribe once more buried himself in his notes.



Some of the anxiety faded from Belldandy’s person with the demon’s departure.  Mara sent her a measured look.  “You say I am in Niflheim?” 



Belldandy stared at her, her expression stoic before the Norn decided that Mara was at least for the moment willing to speak with her.  She nodded.  “You came…” She paused, frowned, and tried again.  “You came with Urd on a Goetia called Valu.”



“Valu?”  Mara straightened at the name of her cousin.  “I was with Valu?” Her hesitation fading now, Mara continued, “I was with Urd?”  Belldandy nodded at each question, giving Mara pause.  “…What about the others?” Small licks of flames began flickering across the demon’s arms, dancing as Mara took a step towards Belldandy.  “What of Skuld and Keiichi?”  She repeated, “Are they okay? Are they out of that cell as well?”  The flames expanded and lengthened, causing Anubis to pause in his conversation with Hades.  Is Keiichi alive?”



“Yes, yes they are both fine.”  Belldandy was quick to reply, watching with wary eyes as the fire grew to consume the woman’s body, devouring her skin with such excitement and appetite it was terrifying.  “Mara, what happened to you-“



Yet Mara wasn’t finished.  “What about the others?”  She demanded.  “What happened to the Chakras, to the tulpa?”  Her whole body alight now, she advanced on the Norn, and wherever she stepped the ground didn’t just melt; it boiled.  Yet the demon seemed blind to the fire, distant from the heated shades of red and orange and yellow and even white that so damaged everything it touched.  What happened to Loa?  She reached for the goddess, no longer a demon but an elemental wraith; a force of nature of such raw and potent power that even Hades, a regent in his own right, was quick to shy away from.



Belldandy released a small noise from her throat and moved back, yet Mara was fast-too fast, when had she become so fast? And was grasping for her with talons that burned so bright they left spots behind her eyelids.  She couldn’t escape that paw, and the realization was terrible.  Mara would grab her, and when she did, she’d melt right through the flesh and bone and tear that piece of her off, leaving nothing but a castrated stump in its wake.  And then when she returned to her real body, when she awoke from this nightmare, her arm would be…



All at once Anubis appeared between them, intercepting the Neshama before Mara could grab Belldandy.  He appeared like a phantom and moved with all the fluidity of a shadow.  He grabbed the burning woman by the forearm with both hands, shoving the limb up and over his head.  The flames cackled and snapped against the black sky of the underworld.  From where he gripped the Neshama, the jackal’s hands began to smoke.  The god’s ears folded back against his headdress, and Anubis bore his teeth in a pained grimace.  The rancid smell of burning flesh began to permeate the camp, and the death god began to tremble with pain.



As quickly as it began so too did it end.  The fire that was Mara went out, leaving the Neshama as she was before: her skin translucent, the essence within a strange, chaotic magma that twisted and wreathed with a life of its own and her eyes two glowing pits of heat.  “Anubis, let me go!”  The demon didn’t sound angry.  Far from it, in fact—she sounded scared.  “You’re hands—“



Hissing, the god’s grimace grew into an agonized snarl.  The god pried his hands off Mara’s arm at a slow, painstaking rate, and Belldandy brought her hands to her mouth in horror as the flesh of his palms peeled off from his hands.  Mara cried out in dismay, and Belldandy felt a wave of nausea pass over her. 



Behind the Norn the others were gathering.  “What is this?”  Hades cried, at the same time as Ammit shouted, “What happen?”  Even Thoth had come to investigate, his scrolls forgotten over concern for the jackal-headed deity.



The flesh that still clung to Mara’s forearm was already turning black and disintegrating, yet Mara didn’t seem to notice.  “Your hands!”  She repeated, gesturing to the god and recoiling when Anubis cringed at her approach.  She didn’t touch him, but instead looked to the others, her expression desperate.  “We need to do something!”  But what?  Mara and Ammit were demons who who’d never developed restoration spells.  Thoth was a scribe who worked with the dead and Hades one who ruled them.  Neither of them knew anything about life or re-creation unless it was reincarnation, and that was of the soul, not the body.  The Neshama looked at the Norn before her, whose presence was had come across as weird when she’d first sensed it and even now didn’t look ‘right’ to her eyes.  There was something wrong with it, even now, yet Belldandy was still a goddess of the Assiah, a goddess who knew restoration spells and healing spells and—“Belldandy, please…”



Yet Belldandy was hesitant.  For her this was a dream; her subconscious had been pulled here by Kingu and had been left to its own devices, and she was away from the body that housed her true self.  It was a state she’d grown familiar with, though she disliked it, for it placed her in the same category as a tulpa, one that both existed and did not.  Her magic had worked, once upon a time, against a tulpa from within a cell designed to cancel out magic.  But did that mean that her magic existed on the same plane as the tulpa did? Or did that mean that her magic did not affect that actual physical world around it?



“Belldandy…”  Mara’s voice was strained, desperate almost, and biting her lip the Norn moved closer.  Anubis’s hands were held out in front of him, away from him, as though they horrified him as much as they caused him agony.



“Anubis, let me see your hands.”  The death god didn’t hear her, and so Belldandy inched closer.  Mara retreated to give them space, and taking the hint Thoth moved back as well, placing a gentle hand on Hades and Ammit to draw them away too.  The group fell silent, and with it Belldandy became aware of a high-pitched whine on the edge of her hearing, and with a start realized it was coming from Anubis.  It was the sound of a canine in distress, and as she wrapped her hands gently beneath his, she could feel him tremble.  No, not trembling.  He’s vibrating he’s in so much pain.  She looked at his open palms and again had to bite back a wave of nausea.  The flesh had grown black and charred, littered with a multitude of ugly blisters and seared muscle.



Her stomach flip flopped, and Belldandy took a deep breath, regretting in when the pungent smell of burnt flesh filtered to her nose.  Despite herself she shuddered, and then closed her eyes and focused.  Yggdrasil, please let this work.  She asked, knowing that right now, it was the World Tree from which she drew power that would decide whether or not Anubis’s palms would heal.



Keeping her touch feather-light, her fingers traced patterns across his knuckles.  Her eyes closed, she didn’t see how the jackal-headed god winced, nor how Mara, at his back, had further distanced herself, watching the two of them with nervous anticipation.  She missed Hades approach and the look of awe on his face as the flesh across the god’s ruined palms began to mend. How Ammit moved to Mara’s side, speaking in hushed tones that eased the Neshama’s nervous dance.  Or when even Thoth moved a bit closer, observing with black eyes which held a keen intellect as muscle healed and blisters faded. 



In fact, the only thing Belldandy noticed outside of her attempts to heal was the energy leaving her body.  Not in so much as it was pushed from her as it was pulled into Anubis.  She could feel it in the way her fingers first tingled with a familiar healing magic, and then burned with power, as though someone had lowered a dam and had let forth a great torrent of water.  She heard it echo in her ears as a dull roar, and behind the darkness of her closed eyelids two pearls of silver light appeared to her.  She watched them, realizing that what she was seeing was Anubis’s eyes, and that the two of them both watched each other from the safety of their mindscapes: His an impenetrable darkness, hers a blinding brightness that befit their residential positions of Life and Death. 



Are you upset with Mara?  Belldandy asked, knowing that now was her best chance to converse with the god in privacy.



Are you? Anubis responded.  Her actions were not directed towards me.



Belldandy considered his question, aware that the boundary between their thoughts was slim here, and that any thought too strong would be heard by the other.  No. She decided.  Frightened, yes, for I am unaware of her capabilities in this new form, but not angry.



And there is your answer.  Anubis replied.



You are a forgiving deity.  It was very possible that Mara maimed you with her flames.



Before her, Belldandy was given the vague impression that Anubis was laughing.  What is death if not forgiveness?



I see.  Another pause, and feeling a bit emboldened by the god’s good nature, Belldandy tried her next question.  Is it true that you’ve started a relationship with Mara?



This time it was Anubis’s turn to pause.  When he spoke anew, it was with a question of his own.  Why are you here, Belldandy?  You are a goddess, yet you visit our lands as a Sheut, a shadow.  I see no ka, though I know it exists within you, which means it still resides in your Khet.  Please, I sense t restlessness of your Ib and would know your ba as you would mine.  Let us Commune here, where we shan’t be interrupted so that your Ib may be at ease once more. 



A wave of surprise surged through her being at the request.  The last deity she’d Communed with had been Celestine, a year before his inevitable imprisonment on the moon within the Assiah.  Not even her siblings had Communed with her, for Urd held too many lies and secrets and Skuld was too young to understand what was happening, for to Commune was to share the essence, to mix the waters of the soul, and to share the essence was to share the heart and mind, not as two but as one.



I don’t know if I can.  She confessed.  I’ve not Communed in many an Eon.  And the proposition scared her.  It scared her even as it enticed her, for the Norn feared Anubis’s feelings.  She did not want to experience his love, his desire, nor even his affection towards the demon; not because she feared seeing Mara in the light of love, but because it would further convince Belldandy to abandon Kingu’s quest; that what she was doing was indeed wrong, and that the prospect of the pain she was due to render upon the demon and the god would leave her unable to accomplish the black deed.  And she feared how Anubis would react upon learning of her quest, of the hurt that would feed from him into her and the guilt that would go to him.



She feared the pain that rested on her shoulders.



I will guide you if that is your fear.  Anubis remained calm and kind despite her misgivings.  If you fear that I may see too much than I shall help erect a barrier to protect us both.  But I would know you, Belldandy, for even here your light wavers with a shadow I do not understand, and it worries me.  I am concerned for you, Belldandy, Child of the Daitenkaicho, and I would see you well again.



Her heart hurt hearing those words, and Belldandy was reminded of something that had never occurred to her:  Anubis was an old god.  Older than her mother, older than Hades, perhaps even older than the Daitenkaicho Himself.  That a deity like him should associate himself with a demon so young, while not unheard of, was peculiar.  Yet it was also, in a way, reassuring.  Wisdom came with age, and patience to those with a gentle heart, and she’d seen nothing to indicate a cruel side to the god.



That is in due part of my nature.  Anubis spoke, and with a start Belldandy realized her trail of thought had come across to strong, leaking through the meager barrier she’d erected and into plain sight of the deity before her.  I am no demon, though my affiliation would speak otherwise.  I am a god, just as you are a goddess; allow me to know what has brought you here before you bring yourself to fear my reaction.  You must be deeply troubled for such childish thoughts to enter your mind.



I am.  Belldandy replied, her tone rueful.  And for that, I feel I must apologize now.  I fear I have arrived as a halberd of bad news, Anubis. But…I shall allow us to Commune, if you would guide us. 



As it will, as it shall be. Anubis replied, guide me as I guide you and let our ba meet at ease.



And thus they began.



What followed could not be expressed with mere words alone.  It was an event that one had to experience to understand and to appreciate: memories of the mindscape relieved, emotions blended with sights, love gained, lost, and rekindled anew, passion like a raging bushfire left uncontrolled.  Every small scrape and every broken heart was experienced all at once; his throat burned, he felt sick and could taste blood in his mouth.  Her hands were on fire from where they’d been scalded by a Neshama’s flames.  Shame mashed with joy, ignorance gave way to knowledge, one life melded with another and for in that brief moment conjoined into one new being. 



It was an overwhelming experience, and when she would later return to herself Belldandy would be glad for Anubis’s guidance, for if not for him, she would have been certain that her mind would have been lost beneath the riptide of experience.  Yet that was for a later time, where (she’s in a cage next to a lynx and a bear and the lynx isn’t moving, he’s aiding Celestine bring down the Gate and doesn’t understand the consequences) she is Belldandy and he is Anubis and the pair are no longer conjoined as they are now. 



Many doors are closed to her.  Few doors are closed to him.  In the underworld, where Belldandy still grasped Anubis’s hands, tears began to trail down the Norn’s face.  Though the palms were now healed, neither opened their eyes and Mara watched them both in concern, too afraid to approach, too afraid to injure to further investigate.  He speaks with Kingu and is told what he must do, she sees Hades and the Norn that is herself and smells of That Time from the Death God’s flesh.  He is filled with grief for what must pass. She is filled with suspicion and anger as those memories resurface.  He doesn’t want to get destroy the happiness between Mara and Anubis.  She sees Hades approach the demons, his eyes alight with interest and bars his path with the sudden urgency to protect her pack. 



And then all it once it is over, the two of them on opposite sides of their respective mindscapes; she a white star in the dark, he a black hole in the light, and the two intersect where light and darkness blend into grey.  The intensity of their beings faded as they approached the grey, and as it did Belldandy found she could make out Anubis’s shape, him the black jackal that so symbolized death and rebirth and with only a headdress and a brilliant choker of gold and lapis lazuli.  I see you.  Anubis said, and he sat and panted, smiling a jackal’s grin as his tail waved about.  I see you very well, Kin, and now I know you very.  The jackal put his right foreleg forward and inclined in a bow.  I give thanks for trusting me with your ankh.



I give you my gratitude.  Belldandy replied.  I have grown wiser with what you have shown me, and I thank you for guiding me through the Eons.  She bowed as well, ending the Commune with her thanks, and as she straightened a part of her jumped as she saw her arm.



In the light and in the shade, it almost appeared to be covered in fur.



She stared at it, then to her hand, finding fingers that ended in claws, and gave a small little yelp.  It was as physical as it was mental, and from where he stood near Anubis Thoth jumped.  “Belldandy-Enitum?” He chirped, feathers cresting in surprise.



Yet the goddess did not respond, and neither did Anubis.



Instead, from within the shared mindscape, Anubis rose to approach her.  What ails you?



What is this?  Belldandy looked at herself in the shadows, finding a body less and less like what she knew and more like one she’d once held nightmares of.  There was fur on her arms, and in the light she produced it shown a pale gold.  It felt rough and coarse beneath her hands.  She felt up, and the fur did not fade, looked at her chest and found her breasts enveloped in the same strange coat.  In fact, form what she could see, her entire body was covered in the stuff; all but her hair, which remained as its normal shade of almond brown. 



She wore no clothes, that that did not surprise her.  Mindscapes rarely allowed for such things, and while her nudity did not bother her, the fact that her appearance was not human did.  She looked down at her feet, and though they were as covered as the rest of her, they remained like a man’s.  For that, she was grateful.  Yet there were still other changes she’d not noticed.  Wings like Holy Bell’s flickered at the edge of her vision, and she had a tail, a tail like—



I don’t like this!  She cried.  What is this? Why has my appearance changed?  She’d visited plenty of mindscapes before, had held Communes with Celestine on more than one occasion, and each time she’d remained as she always had: as Belldandy, middle daughter of the Daitenkaicho and Norn of the Present.  Not…not this.  How do I change back? She was frantic.  How do I change back, Anubis?!  There was a growl in her voice she’d never perceived before, and it frightened her.  She twisted around, staring at the wings, the tail, it’s not a lions, it’s just like—She cut the thought off before it could go further, and Anubis trotted over to join her.



Have you never seen your Ba? He asked, and Belldandy stared at him in mute shock.  No? Never?  The Jackal tilted his head to first one side, then the other, then panted in a manner she thought was meant to be reassuring.  Calm yourself, Child.  You are still you.  This is your…ah, what is the word you of the living plane use?  Your soul! That is it!  This is the appearance of your soul, Belldandy.



No it isn’t! She argued.  It can’t be!



Why not? Even now, Anubis remained calm.  Despite all he had seen and the knowledge he’d both gained and shared, the Death God remained undisturbed.  Belldandy envied him that calm.



It can’t be because it’s like—Again she cut herself off.  She felt her face, and her hands already told her what she’d already concluded.  A short, squat muzzle, more coarse fur, ears that moved with her words and emotions.  She sucked in a shuddering breath and then projected the image of what she so feared.  Anubis hadn’t seen that during the Commune.  She’d buried it too deeply, had placed too many wards on that part of her life for the god to dare approach it.  She’d wanted to forget that time, just as she’d forgotten Celestine’s act against the heavens and her own involvement in it.  Yet there had been no potion that time.  No Urd, ready and waiting with a potion to make her forget.  No Urd because she’d been—It’s like that! She cried. Why is it like that?! Why, when I’ve never seen this side of me in all my years?



All things are laid bare in the Netherworld.  Anubis’s voice was soft.  Death divulges all truths, even those we would bury in the sand.



But I’m not dead!  Belldandy protested.  I’m not dead and I shouldn’t be like this!  That—it frightened me, and it frightens me still!  That I should bear such likeliness to it is horrible!  It brought nothing but death with it! Death and disease!  Except that wasn’t right.  Death, yes, but not disease.  Not viruses and bacteria, not infection and contamination but dis-ease. Could it be a harbor for such things? Of that Belldandy was certain, yet in that time so long ago, it had brought no such things but something much worse.  It had been a harbinger of disaster, from the moment she’d dreamt of it until the day it’d manifested before her on that bleak summer night.



It matters not.  Anubis continued.  You are in the Netherworld, and within my territory on top of that.  I see all Ba for their true appearance, and you are no different, Belldandy.  He paused there, and as an afterthought added, Perhaps that is why you see yourself this way.  Here in the Gray what we see is mixed, and so mayhaps my own perception has bled into yours.



Belldandy wasn’t convinced.  But what of the rest of me?  She asked,



 

 



~*~



“So what would you like to do?”



Urd peered over at Hild, her lips pursed.  “…what do you mean?”  She ventured.



Hild cast a disapproving look towards her daughter.  “I mean,” She started, “That I have given you time to think and I want an answer before we meet your sisters.  Do you want me to educate you in all matters Falkin? Or would you be more comfortable with other mentors?”



Urd stopped mid-step in the middle of the hallway, and Hild stopped with her.  “Be blunt Urd.  You’re not going to hurt my feelings or insult me, if that’s what you fear.  Time has distanced us, and you even admitted that you’ve come to fear me.”



They were in the west wing of The Daimakaicho’s castle; an area reserved for ‘winter demons’, those Falkin who more often resided on different dimensional planes or worlds.  It was slang, a term for demons who’d dwelt in Jotunheim when Muspelhiem was in its hottest season, drying the mists of Niflheim and leaving water so scarce that droughts were a common occurrence.  Those demons always departed for kinder lands during such deadly seasons but would always return with winter’s approach, when Jotunheim’s blizzards cast so much snow about that Niflheim obtained a rainy-season before the heat returned, providing for many what had been their main source of water for eons.



Nowadays it had come to include all manners of foreign guests as well: diplomats from surrounding nations, visiting political figures ranging from simple spirits who acted on behalf of a higher god or demon, all the way to military generals from other War-states who’d dropped by to discuss military exercises.  The corridor Hild and Urd were in was unoccupied at present, sans the Norns, as they were reserved for higher ranking, special guests that warranted their own unique sort of protection.



There had been Angel Slayers guarding the hallway’s threshold.  Guards in full armor who’d watched Hild and Urd pass with attentive eyes.  Guards armed to the teeth with polearms and swords, throwing knives and even something that looked like a gun—a rarity in Niflheim, where small arms had never gained the same amount of popularity as they had in Asgard.  Most demons disliked how high maintenance they were and complained of how noisy they could be and how the air stank of oil and gunpowder after each discharge. To see two Angel Slayers-not just guards but Angel Slayers—on guard so close to her sisters had left a bad taste in Urd’s mouth, one that reignited the dismay that she was not in Asgard, she was not in the Assiah, and Belldandy, Skuld, and Keiichi were strangers…perhaps even intruders within Niflheim’s boundaries.



Now, with those two behind them and out of ear shot, Urd stopped to stare at her mother, uncertain of what to say.  More and more I see evidence that those I hold dear do not belong here.  She thought to herself.  And yet I am to stay?  When I’m almost certain I don’t belong here as well? And now I am to choose between a mother whom I fear and strangers I know nothing about?



Hild must have seen the distress on her face.  “You won’t be completely among unfamiliar demons, you know.”  She assured.  “I’m not so cruel as to abandon you to the four winds and let Niflheim worry into you like a piece of meat.  Some of the mentors you would have are demon’s you’ve already met, and those you’ve not seen yet are of an amiable enough nature that you won’t have any issues with them.”



“And what if…I want to be mentored by you?”  Urd asked.



Both of Hild’s silver brows shot up in surprise, and for a moment she stared at her daughter, stunned.  Then the woman blinked and shook herself, reminding Urd of a dog casting water from its coat.  “Well…”  She said, gathering her thoughts. “Then I would take the time to teach you.”  She replied.  “But the pace would be fast, Urd. Very fast.  And hard, too.”  The woman shook her head, this time with dismay.  “Niflheim demands much from the Daimakaicho, and as such I cannot slow my own pace in order to mentor you at a rate you’re comfortable.  If you want me to teach you, then you’ll have to hit the ground running and learn as much as your mind and body will allow.  There won’t be any time for rest.”  She spread her arms in front of her.  “You’ll either adjust enough to run by my side as my equal, or you’ll fall and be dragged behind me like a rock.  There is no middle-ground.”



Urd pursed her lips, a frown tugging at the corner of her mouth.  “Who would be me mentors then?”  She asked.  “Don’t get me wrong, Hild, I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I want to know all my options before I make a decision.  I’m not going to let myself be blindsided by a lack of information.”



Hild nodded in approval.  “That’s a good policy to have, Urd.” She said.  “Knowledge in this world is power, and being able to differentiate between two different angles of approach will serve you well here.”



“Hild…” Urd sighed, her voice strained, and the Daimakaicho stared at her in confusion.



“Urd, it’s only a compliment….and a word of advice, if it pleases you.  Need everything I say be judged with suspicion?”



“Can we please just get back to my…mentors?”  Urd rubbed her brow in aggravation, and Hild let the subject drop.



“I was thinking of having Goetia Valu instruct you in the art of using your Rimanis. “  The elder demon started.  “He has a natural affinity to it due to his mixed heritage, and takes to shifting between forms with an ease even I have difficulty emulating at times.  Goetia Ronove will be the one to re-educate you on Niflheim culture and the various territories and alliances we hold, whereas Ardat Lilitu will be instructing you in a more Political-Military focus, in particular red forces vs blue forces.



“Red forces versus blues forces?”  Urd raised a silver brow, and Hild smiled.



“Demons against gods and whoever would ally with them should war be declared.”  She tapped her brow in emphasis, one slender finger grazing the red sigil on her forehead.



“Oh.”  Urd grimaced.  “I shouldn’t have asked.”  The woman muttered under her breath, and then, in a louder voice, “Do I…I don’t really need to learn that kind of stuff, do I?”



Hild’s expression grew grim.  “Yes,” she said, “you do.  We are in an armistice with Asgard, Urd.  Not peace.  There has never been peace between our two nations, and I don’t think there ever will be in my own life time.  You might be able to change that should you ever come to power…but until then there remains a possibility of hostilities developing to the point where that armistice is lost, and you must be prepared.  You need to know how Niflheim’s military works as well as how Asgard’s military works, so that you can plan accordingly and react when necessary.”  She paused for a moment, and then her face brightened.  “…Which is why I’m also going to assign Goetia Furcas to you for lessons in military tactics and strategy.  He’s got a lot of experience on his shoulders, even if his patience isn’t always the best, plus you seemed to get along rather well with him.”



Urd winced.  Hild had come up with Sir Furcas on the spur of the moment because she’d been dumb enough to whine.  Open mouth and insert foot.  She thought.  You’d best keep your mouth shut lest you want even more mentors…this is four already, and Hild looks like she’s just getting warmed up.



And indeed, Hild was far from finished.  “You’ll also need to train your body in order to keep up with your Rimanis.  Adrenaline only goes so far, and if you want to keep up with your peers, your targets, or your enemies, you’ll need to exercise those muscles used in that form.  Jotun Thorn should be able to help you there, and what a blast you’ll have with that one!”  The woman rubbed her chin.  “Of course, Thorn doesn’t know any sort of martial arts…I was thinking that Marller would be more useful there, but with her as she is now, I may need to reassign that spot.  But that can come later, as Marller might yet recover from her condition.”



“Now, as for magic—“



Urd started, “Why would I need a mentor in magic? I already know how to cast spells.”



Hild sent her a sidelong glance.  “True…but those spells have all been divine in nature.”  She said.  “Tell me, how well can you say you know Falkin spells?”  She pointed to Urd.  “Your body is holding a great amount of raw energy in it, Urd.   Isn’t that one of the things that so worries you?”  She asked, “The fact that you’ve so much raw potential flowing through your veins that you could lose control of yourself at any moment and go berserk?”



The younger woman said nothing.  Urd’s expression said enough on its own, and the Daimakaicho nodded.  “Asura Indrajit will help you conquer that fear.  He’s a very powerful magician, and he’ll make sure you aren’t overwhelmed with the power you’ve inherited.   If you take the time to listen to him and follow his instructions, I don’t think he’ll even be your mentor for long; you already have a strong foundation for magic, regardless of its attributes, and there isn’t anything he can teach you in terms of spells.  That will be more my forte, since there was never an opportunity to educate you on that special brand of magic unique to our bloodline.”



“Wait then, so you are teaching me?”  Urd asked, brows furrowed together in confusion.  “But you just said that it’d be a bad idea! That you didn’t have time for that when paired up with your duties as Daimakaicho, and that I could run myself down trying to keep up with you!”



Hild nodded.  “Yes.” She said, “But that is only if I take you completely under my wing. I can spare a couple of hours each night to teach you what no one else can.”  She paused and pursed her lips.  “But only if you’ll let me.”



She fell silent there, observing Urd as the woman stared at her.  A combination of emotions traversed her daughter’s face, ranging from distrust to dismay, anxiety to regret, relief to reluctance.  At length, Urd sighed and ran a hand through her hair.  “…Alright.”  She said.  “Alright, I—“ The woman bit her lower lip, staring at Hild’s collarbone rather than meeting her eyes in a manner that could have been mistaken for a challenge.  “These lessons…I’ll let you teach them, okay?”



“And if I told you there was more I wanted to teach you, would you allow that of me as well?”  Hild asked, watching as Urd grew ridged at this new request.  Hild was pushing her luck, she knew; it should have been enough that Urd was at least willing to learn a bit more about her heritage, but there was still so much that needed to be taught.  What’s more, their relationship was broken-worse than that, it was shattered; fragmented into a million tiny pieces and scattered across a vast terrain of nothingness.  It needed to be repaired, and while spending a few hours in the evenings discussing magical theory would help mend the beams, it would not allow for anything more concrete than a student-mentor relationship. And while that was fine where everyone else involved: Valu, Ronove, and the others, for Hild it was unacceptable. There were too many forces at work outside of her control that would take advantage of such distrust.  Too many demons, too many people who would string the two of them out like a pair of fiddles and dance in the destructive after light produced by them from such a fractured relationship.  Urd didn’t realize that.  Refused to realize it, for that meant trusting Hild at a time when she didn’t even trust herself. 



She saw the look of protest on Urd’s face before the woman even voiced her displeasure, and Hild cut to the chase.  “Urd, you’re my daughter.  The Daimakaicho’s daughter.  There are things you need to learn that cannot be taught by anyone else.  Things that only I can teach you.”  That weary look had returned to Urd’s face, and Hild felt a small hurt in her heart.  “And I want to mend what’s left of our relationship.  We’ve been on bad terms for far too long, and quite frankly, I’m sick of it.  I don’t want to play silly games or manipulate you into doing tasks that could be accomplished with a simple request.  I want you to be comfortable around me, Urd, where we can speak as equals; not as a student and mentor, not as liege and servant or demon and goddess or even mother and daughter.  Equals.



“And if I don’t succeed you as Daimakaicho?”  Urd challenged.  “You said that you want us to speak on equal terms, but what if I don’t want to learn about politics or how to run a nation-hell, a world?  Are you going to waste all that time-all that knowledge-on someone who’s going to turn her back on Niflheim the first chance she gets?”



“Yes.”  Hild was blunt.  “You asked me to be honest with you, and so I am.  Despite your own claims that you have no desire to remain here longer than necessary, you are still a demon, and subject to my rule.  Regardless of your own plans, I still intend to groom you for a position as the next Daimakaicho, Urd.  You have always been my chosen candidate for that position.  And at the end of it, should you choose instead to abandon that position?”  The Daimakaicho shrugged.  “Then you shall gain a little extra knowledge you might yet put to use and I shall still die at the end of my term.”  Hild raised her hand in a such is life gesture.  “Niflheim will either fall into a stratocracy or a new demon will emerge to act as the new Daimakaicho.  Either way, when that time comes it will be out of my hands. I see no one else fit to fill the position.”



Urd looked unconvinced. “Not even that Hagall-chick who ousted you a while back?”



“No, not Hagall.”  Hild’s voice was firm.  “She’s a good kid, I’ll warrant, but a one-trick pony can only do so much.  Even with her ability to trap people within their mindscapes, once demons figured out her game, she’d be either disgraced or dead before a full month in office.”  The woman shook her head.  “Besides, Hagall doesn’t have the experience necessary to run Niflheim; her plot to take me out and rule in my stead was just a small portion of her original goal, mind you, and that was to reinstate my term as Daimakaicho before it came to an end.  And you remember the chaos that accompanied her reign: Contractors swarming the Assiah, granting the simplest of desires to the ignorant with nothing to bind them to Niflheim’s records?”  The Daimakaicho barked with sharp laughter. “Our economy would have tanked due to the sudden inflation, and that’s without considering how Asgard would react.  Had Hagall remained in power and left things as they were, the gods and even those surrounding territories would have seen it as a sign of aggression.  They’d have acted against Hagall’s regime and Hagall would have drawn Niflheim into a war it wasn’t prepared for.  For that reason alone she would have been taken out: the older demons remember the war with our divine brethren, and none of them…none of us want to return to such a state.  Even the old glory hounds have come to enjoy the relative peace the armistice brings.  If there’s to be a war, then let it be after our ancient bones have become ancient dust.”



Urd frowned.  “Please don’t talk like that.”



Hild raised a slender brow.  “Talk like what?” She stared at her daughter in open confusion.



The younger woman grimaced.  “Like you’re about to kick the bucket.” Urd replied, rubbing her arm without looking at Hild.  The woman’s palm still had the rough, pad-texture of a beast, and the Daimakaicho could hear it scraping against the skin.  “The way you talk it’s like….almost like you don’t expect to live much longer or something.”



For a long moment Hild stared at her daughter, saying not a word in her own defense.  The silence grew heavy, and Urd began to fidget beneath the uncomfortable silence.  “Urd, you must realize this.”  Hild’s voice had become soft and quiet.  “My first term as Daimakaicho came and went with Hagal’s rebellion.  Had it not been for her, we’d not be having this conversation now; my life would have ended with my term, and it is only through her foresight that I am alive now.  Yet because I had to usurp her for the position of Daimakaicho, because I had to once more seize control of that title and become re-instated for a second term, I’ve now backed myself up into a corner.”



Hild sighed, for a moment looking wistful.  “Had you stayed here with me rather than left for the Heavens as I’d planned all those eons ago, things would have turned out differently.”  She admitted.  “I would have stepped down from my position on my own volition to retire before my time had expired, and you would have succeeded me as the next Daimakaicho.”  Urd looked at her in alarm, and Hild raised a hand.  “Do not misunderstand me Urd, I don’t blame you for the choices you’ve made.  You’re your own person and subject to your own choices, not some pawn to be manipulated on a chessboard.  The fault lies with me and me alone, as I lacked the foresight to make any changes to my initial plans.  I’d always thought you’d return to me before that time came up, that you’d grow bored with Asgard or grow angry at how the gods treated you and return to me.”  She smiled.  “In my own blindness I’d forgotten that you were as tenacious as I, and that any obstacles you’d face would be seen as a trial to conquer.”



Urd frowned.  “So you’re content with Niflheim falling apart after you die?”  She asked, and the demon’s expression darkened.  “But didn’t you create this land?  Didn’t you draw the position of Daimakaicho and lay out the very laws that even now threaten your life?”  The demon felt a small pearl of anger bead in her chest, and the woman bared her teeth.  “How could you be so irresponsible!?”  She demanded.  “Why would you allow this land, these people to fall into discord after everything you’ve done to ensure it’d flourish?”  She threw her hands up in frustration.  “Why would you even write yourself a death sentence?”



Hild’s smile was benign.  Peaceful, even.  “The demons who would take over this land need to realize that such power is a death sentence, regardless of the length of term.  The laws I’ve laid in place are written in such a manner that no one taking over from an ousted position can change them…though if someone was to inherit the title, those rules would be subject to change.  And I’m staring at the woman I want to inherit my position right now.”  She replied.  “As I stand now, that transition of power has already begun.  As such, I cannot…will not take further responsibility for Niflheim.”  She shrugged, and that same smile grew rueful.  “In some manners, I’m already dead, Urd.  My actions are to guide you down the right path, and from here I ask you this:  Knowing that I would die…that I am grooming you to take my place and will not bother with another heir…would you abandon the people of this land?”



Urd froze, staring at her mother with her mouth parted as though ready to argue.  Yet her mother’s words caught her off-guard, and for that a small piece of her hated Hild for it.  With a grimace that was more a snarl, she looked back down the corridor they’d traversed, back to the Angel Slayers they’d initially passed.  The woman didn’t respond right away.  Instead, she recalled a time with the Goetia in Purgatory.  It had been in the first couple of days since the woman had joined the pack of Goetia, and was still adjusting to the presence of the many demons around her.  She hadn’t brought herself around to trusting them, and it had made Urd restless.  The others had sensed it, yet she was a stranger amongst their fold, and no one bothered approaching her unless it was to impart some new bit of information or instruction to her.  Tensions had risen in the pack because of it, tensions strong enough to instigate arguments and fights amongst demons who on a normal basis worked with a steady cohesion around each other.  The blame was with Urd, of course. She was a stranger in their midst who didn’t know them and didn’t trust them, and they were forced to drag her along whether anyone liked it or not.



She had been cold and distant and mistrustful of their intentions, and her attitude was reciprocated with the Goetia being distant and directive, barking orders she was expected to follow and communing when she was out of earshot.  She had not wanted to deal with them, and neither had the Goetia wanted anything to do with her.  And then Valu, good ol’ Goetia Valu, Last of the Dragons and golden terror to Valkyries, had tried to speak with her one night.  They’d made it about half the way to where the fortress was located and had stopped to break for supper and rest.  Urd had wanted to press on, felt they needed to press on, and had gotten angry snarls and warning growls for her troubles.  Goetia Amy, one of the more polite members of the group, had even gone so far as to tell her to ‘fuck off’, and so she’d separated herself from the camp to sit in silence, her mind so filled with anger and fear and distress she thought she might go mad.



Valu had approached her that night.  Alone at first but as the hours waned Amon joined them as well.  He’d brought a couple of rations, and had tossed one in her lap before she could say anything and had made himself comfortable across from her.  “So,” He’d started, ignoring her glare.  “Did I ever tell you that Mara was my cousin?”  It was the first time any of the Goetia had bothered to speak to her as an equal; not an outsider, not a goddess hiding behind the face of a demon, not even as the Daimakaicho’s daughter, whom they had to humor for fear of their liege’s wrath or even as an enemy they were forced to interact with.  In those late hours, Valu had been the first Goetia to treat her like a person, to express himself as a person.  “Mara used to talk a lot about you, you know.”  He’d said.  “I’ve known her all my life, since I was a mite of a hatchling and our Dams stole her from our Gran-Sire to help raise us.  I was the third one of my bunch, but the other two were both males full-grown and had already abandoned the nest, and so Mara-that’s what you call her, right? Not Marller but Mara, after she inherited our Grand-Sire’s name?  Anyways, she was forced back in the middle of her training to help rear me.”



He’d spoken fondly of the woman, much to Urd’s surprise, and then had further surprised the demon by asking about herself.  “Mara’s always been like an older sister to me, though we’re cousins.  You’ve got sisters too, right? Two younger ones? The one that was captured with Mara and the one that you left at the shrine.  What are they like?”  Which, after Urd had spoken on her sisters for a bit, had caused Valu to laugh.  “I’ve got a bunch of younger sisters of my own back home, though three of them are younger than Skuld.  Since I’m Goetia now, I don’t get to interact with them like I used to, so they’re always excited whenever I go home to visit.  Miska, she’s the oldest one, loves hearing stories about the Outer Realms, but Seeka and Jihn, the younger two, are only interested in the sweets and toys and bring back for them.”  He’d opened a dimensional pocket then and withdrawn a couple of plastic dolls; familiar plastic dolls with disproportionate arms and legs and long blonde hair.  “I think these ‘Bar-bees will do the trick, don’t you think?”



Now, with her sisters’ safe and Valu no doubt amongst his siblings once more, his words from that night returned to Urd.  “I think these Bar-bees will do the trick, don’t you think?  A Bar-bee for Miska, who would sit enraptured by her older brother’s tale of the Assiah with humans on one end and Valkyries on the other.  A Bar-Bee for Seeka, who was dark like her mother and had scales like her older brother, though hers were of a Naga while his were of a dragon.  A Bar-Bee for Jihn, still tiny and teething and who would crack open her throbbing gums on Bar-Bee’s plastic legs as her fangs poked through, yet who was still mature enough to understand what was happening around her.  And them but little meru, children sheltered under their dam’s wing.  She thought to herself.  Yet with Hild’s own irresponsibility, you would condemn them to a life of chaos and fear?



While a part of her said no, another piece of her said yes, yes she would, and rightfully so: Valu’s siblings were not her own any more than Niflheim was the home she so sought.  For Hild to suggest that Urd be responsible for so many people, be they elders or children or able-bodied demons was cruel, even for the Daimakaicho. 



“You said yourself that I am not a pawn on a chessboard, Hild.”  Urd continued to stare down the hallway.  The only portion of the guards visible from her observation point were their arms, each holding a spear that warned away those who desired mischief.  “And as such, I’m not going to play your games.”  She pursed her lips, then returned her gaze to her mother, finding that Hild was observing her with the careful scrutiny of a blacksmith honing her weapon.  She ignored it.  “I’ll allow you to teach me.  I’ll allow these other mentors to teach me.  But know this, Hild:  I will not allow you to twist my arm into a position I don’t want.  Of that I stand firm.  I’ll listen and I’ll learn just as you want, but don’t expect me to take up your mantle just because it’s what you want.  Call me selfish if you want, but I will do what is right by me.  And while I want nothing to do with your position as Daimakaicho, I will still learn from the mentors you give me.  But,” she emphasized, “that is only because I recognize the value that comes with knowledge and the wisdom that can be gained through experience.  Not for politics.  Not for you.”



Hild stared at her for a long moment, her expression a careful neutral that left Urd grasping at the Daimakaicho’s train of thought.  Yet Urd would not back down, no, not with this, and though she could feel her hands trembled the younger woman kept her gaze steady.  At last, it seemed, after a decade had passed in minutes, Hild inclined her head in understanding, a slim smile on her face.  “Then I will respect your decision.”  She said.  “But know this, Urd.  I will push you.  Your mentors will push you.  The demon you associate yourself with will push you.  Many of the demons you will interact with already see you as a successor of sorts, and will treat you as such.  Your tenacity will be tested day in and day out, and that on top of what your mentors and I will be educating you on.”  Again she paused, allowing the words to sink in before continuing.  “Show me the strength of your resolve, Urd.  Show me that you will cave to no demon’s expectations.  That if you feel the need to change, it is because of a decision you came to of your own free will and not because you were pressured into it by others.  Remember that we are demons, Urd, and as such we are always searching-always-for a sign of weakness.  We are predisposed to search for weaknesses in other, just as we are inclined to follow those who have power.  Here, that resolve will be your strength, and I expect you to stand by it.  Imma nustei, Imma shan.



“Shartel.  Urd replied.  “I understand.  Shartel.  She frowned.  “Now can we please go and see my sisters?”



At that, Hild smile and hooked an arm around her daughter’s shoulders.  “Of course!”  She chirped, “They’re right at the end of the hallway. I’m certain they’ll be ecstatic to see you!”



Urd tensed at the unwanted touch, almost wrenching herself from Hild’s grip. Yet her mother’s touch was light; questioning almost, and it gave Urd due pause.  She looked at the hand that now rested on her shoulder, almost hovered over her shoulder, and then looked at Hild.  The woman’s gaze was imploring.  Will you allow this? It asked, and for a small eternity Urd considered it.  A large portion of her was still uncertain, still mistrustful, still certain that this was just another ploy to manipulate Urd.



But she’s been honest with you.



It was a tiny voice that had spoken.  The voice of a child, the voice of a past long forgotten and buried beneath her years in Asgard as a goddess.  And it made her pause.



You asked for honesty and she gave it.  You asked for you sisters and she gave it.  You asked for control and she gave it.  Will you give her this?  That same voice asked.  That voice that reminded her of Nidhogg, of the child she’d met there, and the body she’d found on Yggdrasil’s root.



Gingerly, she relaxed, lowering her hand back to her side from where it had risen to grab the offending arm. Instead she inclined her head, this is fine, and Hild’s face brightened with an unadulterated joy.  The woman beamed a smile so innocent it was almost childlike, and the arm settled around Urd’s shoulders with more ease. 



It was in that way they continued down the hallway, Hild’s happiness so prevalent that by the time they’d reached her sister’s suite even Urd had a slight smile on her face.  And in the eons that came and went, it would be how Urd would choose to remember her mother best: in that first instance where permission had been given.  Where a joy and love so unblemished by those thoughts that made Hild ‘Daimakaicho’ appeared on her face, radiating the woman with a warm glow.  The woman’s elation was pure and childlike, and in that instant Urd forgot the years of hurt and anger that had so driven the two of them apart.  For a moment, and just for a moment, there was nothing but the warm, amiable air between a mother and daughter.



The moment passed; however, as all moments do, when the duo arrived at the Norns’ suite. 



Hild’s arm fell away from Urd’s shoulders and the duo distanced themselves from each other about ten feet from the suite.  The door was open, and light was pooling out of the threshold, illuminating gleaming puddles.  At five feet from the door, Hild paused and frowned, causing Urd to look at her.  “Why is the door open?”  Urd asked.  “I thought you said no one was supposed to be down here.”



“They aren’t.”  Hild said flatly.  “And the Slayers would have informed us if your siblings were out in the hallways.  The only ones I’ve granted permission down here are Goetia Amon and Valu and Ardat Lilitu.”  The frown deepened.  “I’m more concerned about…” She sniffed the air.  “…Do you smell that?”



Ur stared at her, the inhaled as well, gagging when she did.  The woman looked at the puddles on the ground before her with renewed disgust.  “It smells like…”  She grimaced.  “You said Amon’s up here?”



Hild nodded.



“Is he…”



Hild sent her a flat look.  “He’s a Goetia.”  She said.  “I’d sooner ask if you if Skuld wet the bed.”



Urd sent her a dirty look, and from inside the suite a voice, young and pretty, exclaimed, “I don’t wet the bed!  That’s Keiichi!”



“No I don’t!”  Another voice protested.  “That was an unfortunate circumstance!”



“Both of you, could you please just—“ Belldandy sounded close to frantic.  “Ardat Lilitu, what are you doing with Goetia Valu—“



Hild and Urd shared a look. 



Hild and Urd looked back to the door.



Hild and Urd looked back to each other.



Together, mother and daughter peered inside.  “What in the nine…” Hild began.



“…flying fuck is…” Urd finished.



 


 [V1]Lord

 [V2]Princess/Lady/Mistress, Lady of Power

 [V3]Dog of Death

 [V4]Officer

 [V5]Rixtu =Fate/Destiny Saklu=Fool/stupid  Rixtusa=Fate’s Fool

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Board startup date: December 12, 2004 13:15:32
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