6. Opening Moves

"I see you have been talking behind my back again Roma."

"Hild!" Roma gasped involuntarily.

The silver-haired demoness ruler of Hell smirked with a sense of pleasure when she detected the anger behind Roma's eyes.

"Demonspawn! How dare you interrupt my business!" Roma demanded, her nostrils flaring.

"My, we haven't met for ages and this is how you greet me?" Hild asked coyly.

"I have nothing but curses and insults for you," Roma sneered.

"Ha ha," Hild laughed melodiously, "you sound more like a demon than a lightspawn."

For her part, Skuld looked on bewilderedly. Urd was down, Peorth was down. Belldandy wasn't doing too well either. Matthew the stranger lay on the burnt grass unmoving, while Keiichi was just like her, stunned and speechless.

The appearance of Hild didn't really help to settle the Goddess of the Future's frayed nerves. The three sisters and Keiichi first encountered the ruler of Hell during the debacle involving Velsper and Peorth's unwilling youthening.

Even the problems arising from that was mild compared to the horrifying Angel-Eater that Hild had unleashed on the sisters, causing near-permanent catatonic states on Urd, Belldandy and Peorth.

The horrible experience of that ordeal was never lost upon Skuld, even though her angel was never devoured, she felt utterly helpless in face of the monster. Only the timely and brave intervention of Keiichi, Skuld and the warrior goddess known as Lind managed to stop the Angel-Eater and save them.

"Looks like you kids are in trouble again," Hild drawled to the young goddess.

Something about her condescending smirk sparked Skuld's indignation. "What do you mean, 'again'?! You caused some of the troubles yourself!" she snapped, momentarily forgetting that she was talking back to the ruler of Hell.

Only when Hild narrowed her eyes, did Skuld remember it. The demoness was still smiling, but her eyes were blood-curdling.

"And what brings -you- here?" Roma asked, her lips twitching in a sneer, a total change from the kindly grandmother look she had when the Elder Goddess first arrived.

"Can't a mother drop by to visit her daughter?" Hild countered. She affected a surprised look when she saw Urd lying in a heap, as if noticing the Goddess of the Past for the first time. Urd was still unconscious, otherwise she would have displayed some form of negative emotion at Hild's presence.

"Hmm, I see you have been disciplining the children again," Hild remarked, surveying the damage all around the area.

"Now that you are here, perhaps you would deign to take your daughter back to Hell where she belongs," Roma suggested acidly.

"Funny, I thought your precious GOD, the Almighty, the Creator decided that she belongs with you people," Hild replied, a sarcastic tone rolling down every mention of Heaven's leader.

"How dare you mock Him!" Roma seethed. In a blaze of anger, she thrust a palm at Hild and a bolt of lightning leapt towards the demoness.

In direct contrast to the difficulties the goddesses had when facing Roma's bolts, Hild made a show of yawning. A slight wave of the hand and the lightning simply dispersed.

"You can do this all day and I won't feel a thing, you know," Hild pointed out, lightly fingering a lock of her platinum hair.

The Elder Goddess clenched her fists in an effort to calm down.

"I will withdraw for now," Roma said through gritted teeth. It was obvious to all that she was swallowingly her considerable pride out of knowledge that Hild was infinitely more powerful than she was.

Even Keiichi knew it. When he first saw Hild, Belldandy had explained the the various earrings, bracelets and other accessories on Hild were the same sort of power limiter devices used by the goddesses. As powerful as the goddesses were, they only used a single item each, but the fact that Hild wore so many and yet could still display such power was not lost on the young Japanese man.

"My, are you asking for -my- permission? I feel -so- honored," Hild laughed.

Roma took a deep breath and closed her eyes. After a moment, they opened and the fury behind them disappeared. She quietly went over towards Belldandy and Keiichi. Hild pointedly ignored her and instead floated over to Urd's prone body, which she proceeded to poke around mischeviously.

Even though he knew he was powerless, Keiichi protectively shielded Belldandy from the approaching Elder Goddess. He knew better than to ask Hild for help, the demoness wouldn't do it unless it was in her interest. If she could display such callousness towards her own daughter, why would Hild lift a finger to help them?

"Do not worry, Keiichi Morisato. I have no further intentions of harming you or anyone else at this moment," Roma said solemnly.

Despite her assurance, Keiichi had no intentions of believing her.

Roma sighed. "This is proving far more difficult than I thought. And it was supposed to be a simple errand..."

She glanced back at Hild, who was pulling Urd's face into comical positions despite Skuld's mild protests. Nearby, Peorth was already beginning to stir due to the commotion.

"No matter, I am confident we will achieve what we want," Roma announced, turning her attention back towards Keiichi, and then looking at Matthew.

"What -do- you want?!" Keiichi blurted.

"Did not I mention earlier? We want you, Keiichi Morisato. And the person known as Matthew."

"But, but why!?"

Roma shrugged. "That is not for you to know. But you will come to us, sooner or later."

At this point, Belldandy spoke up. "I afraid not, Elder Goddess Roma. I am bound under contract and by willful choice to Keiichi. There will be nothing that can separate us," she said resolutely.

Roma looked at Belldandy. The Goddess of the Present's face was determined, her eyes unrelenting. A sudden thought crossed Roma's mind when she saw Belldandy.

"A very brave statement, considering the Ruler of Hell is here. What if she takes Keiichi away? Would you stop her? Do you swear upon it?" Roma asked casually.

"Of course," Belldandy said immediately. There was no room for hesitation or doubt. Her feelings for Keiichi was paramount.

"And of Matthew? You barely know the mortal, would you swear to put him under your protection from the forces of Hell?"

This time, the sheer kindness within Belldandy answered. "I will not allow any harm to come to him as well."

Roma nodded and smiled in a satisfied manner. "I will have this officially recorded. This will be treated as an official contract, Belldandy. Make sure you do not fail."

"I will not," Belldandy said. It wasn't a promise, Belldandy stated it matter-of-factly. She had that much belief.

"What's up with all that nonsense? I thought you were leaving," Hild interrupted with affected boredom.

"My task is done," Roma said. She glared at Hild as her body began to dematerialize. But just before she disappeared, Hild saw that the Elder Goddess had a private smile.

"Hmmm... I wonder what all that was about," Hild wondered aloud disinterestedly.

---

Back at the hall of Yggdrasil, Cohors' shoulders slumped as he watched the scene unfold on a monitor screen.

"She failed. As you have feared, someone -did- appear and upset our plans," he said to the figure sitting beside him.

Judge Fides, leader of the Justice Department and defacto head of the Elder Gods, linked his fingers before his face thoughfully. "Regrettably, it seems so," he said. "Still, we should have expected Hild to appear when we are dealing with such a sensitive matter."

"Do you think she suspects?" Cohors asked, looking at the monitor again.

"I doubt it. In anycase, there is little we can do to stop her if she does indeed know," Fides answered. Despite his station, he knew there was little he could do to stop Hild. Even with his considerable powers, there was no way he could equal Hild.

A sudden beep at a nearby terminal distracted them. Curious, Cohors went over to check. His eyes scanned the screen quickly before pressing a button and had a hardcopy printed out.

"I think you will find this interesting," he said as he passed it to Fides.

The most senior of the Elder Gods took it and read it slowly. A smile slowly formed on his wizened face.

"Roma is a very resouceful person," he commented.

"I do not understand..." Cohors said doubtfully.

"The gambit Roma played has failed, but with this she has given us another card to play. No... it is more than that. Consider this an irrevocable caveat on our interests," Fides replied.

"Then we still have a chance?" Cohors asked, still unsure.

Fides' eyes twinkled with confidence.

"A chance? No my friend, we are almost guaranteed to win!"

---

tbc...

Dedicated to devil-urd, who never stopped encouraging :)

Once again, written sparsely over a long period of time. As always, C&C welcome.