Disclaimer and Foreword: AMG doesn't belong to me. "Choix" is a continuation of the story begun in "Amants," so if you haven't read that yet, you should go there first or you're going to be lost. Special thanks go to WillZ and Sethra, my prereaders, as well as Exp.626.Fan as our conversations helped inspire me to write this.
You Give Love A Bad Name
And we pray
Pour les fleurs du mal
I've lost my way
What is done will return again
Will I ever be free?"
"Fleurs Du Mal"
"Hey, Keiichi, I'll trade you."
Walking ahead of her, Keiichi Morisato turned his head and gave Urd a "yeah, whatever," look before hefting his two shopping bags and continuing on. The sun was just starting to go down, and Urd sighed in defeat as she hefted her own bags and continued.
"It's not fair!" she complained to his back.
"It's one hundred percent fair!" he shot back. "Belldandy asks me to get ice cream for Skuld, so I'm carrying that. You're the one that wanted six bottles of sake, so you get to carry that!"
"But they're heavy!" she whined, adding a calculated lip-quiver in hopes that it might sway him.
"Who needs six bottles of sake anyway?!" he asked her. "Besides, we're almost home."
That was true. The temple was already in sight. Resigning herself to her task, Urd carried on. It was all Belldandy's fault anyway. She was the one that insisted Keiichi go get ice cream, just like she was the one that pointed out Urd was out of booze.
Yeah, Belldandy's fault. That's the ticket.
As they climbed the steps, Urd made one more attempt, more on principle than anything else.
"Keiichi," she whined.
"Don't care!" he insisted.
"Hmmph!" Urd snorted. "Ever since Belldandy started giving you the goods, you've been growing a spine!"
That got a reaction out of him. He jumped and turned to her. "What do you know about it?!" he asked.
Urd grinned evilly. "Only what she writes in her diary..."
He blushed beet red. "Oh? So... What does it say?"
The Norn held her bags out to him. "Trade ya," she said.
Belldandy watched as the back door opened and Urd strolled in, talking over her shoulder at someone.
"... so, overall, a disappointing experience that definitely wasn't worth the wait and didn't even come close to the hype," she finished. A moment later, Keiichi, hauling bags of ice cream, sake and a good helping of his own humiliation and despair, shuffled in, tears running down his face.
"Keiichi!" Belldandy cried at his condition. "What's happened!?"
Urd grinned as she walked down the hall. "Just telling him about what you've been writing in your diary," she explained.
Belldandy blinked as she took two of the bags from Keiichi's hands. "But I don't keep a diary," she noted in bewilderment.
Keiichi dropped the bags and glared at the elder sister as she walked toward the living room.
"Urd!" he growled.
The goddess put her finger to her lips in thought. "That must have been someone else's diary..."
Keiichi rubbed his temples in frustration. "I swear, Urd, if it wasn't your birthday..."
Urd's eyes went wide. "What do you know about it?!" she cried.
It was the mortal's turn to smile. "Only what Belldandy tells me."
At that moment, the door to the living room slid open, and a crowd of people started cheering.
Urd slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. "I can't believe I fell for the, 'go get Skuld some ice cream,' charade."
The well-wishers descended on her, pushing a bottle of sake into her hand. Belldandy placed a pointed, red hat on her head. She sighed and looked at her.
Belldandy only smiled.
"So how old are you, Urd?" Megumi asked, pouring a shot for Keiichi.
Urd straightened proudly and haughtily proclaimed, "I'm twenty-four!"
Belldandy blinked. "But Neesan, you're..."
"I'm twenty-four!" Urd growled at her.
Someone turned on Keiichi's ancient stereo, and Belldandy went into the kitchen to remove the cake from the refrigerator. The mortal boy followed her, glad to be away from the crowd in their living room for a moment.
Belldandy placed the sheet cake on the counter and used a spatula to even out some of the frosting. Seeing his chance, Keiichi crept up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, giving them a gentle rub.
The goddess was having none of it, however. She turned and swatted him gently with the spatula, leaving a spot of frosting on his cheek. "Bad!" she chastised him with a smile. "None of that."
"I wasn't doing anything," he defended.
"No?" she asked. "Truly?"
"Really," he insisted.
"Oh," she said, turning back to the cake. "My mistake then. Gomen."
He stepped to the counter beside her as she made a few more adjustments to the cake. "You know..." he finally continued. "Unless I was supposed to be doing something..."
"What do you mean?" she asked innocently, turning to him, and casually licking a bit of frosting from her fingertips.
Keiichi took a deep breath at the sight and wondered briefly how she'd react if he took her hand and got the rest of the frosting for her...
Something about the way she smiled at him told him he was on the right track, but he was determined to hold his own in this battle of wills. A month had passed since Epiphany had showed them their innermost thoughts and feelings, and Keiichi had to grudgingly agree that Peorth had been right when she said she was giving him a great gift. Ever since then, the love he and Belldandy shared was more than an unrequited attraction, it had become a comfortable feeling they both soaked in like a warm bath. Two months ago, the sight of Belldandy flirting with him so blatantly would have caused blushing, nose bleeds and perhaps fainting. Today it thrilled him, made him feel special in a way he couldn't readily describe.
Screw it, he thought, taking her hand and gently licking the last bit of frosting from her finger.
The goddess turned a deep scarlet and felt a thrill run through her. A month ago, Keiichi never would have... But that was the point of Epiphany, wasn't it? To get them past such hesitancy.
Belldandy had always loved him, of course, but could sense his hesitancy. Thinking it was a deficiency in her, she waited patiently. After all, it was not unusual for courtships in Heaven to last decades. She had time. Mortals, however, did not, and once those walls had finally come down, their relationship had accelerated quickly. The flame that burns fastest, burns brightest. It was almost scary sometimes how quickly and completely their relationship was progressing, and she made a note to thank Peorth the next time she saw her.
Oh, Keiichi, she thought. If I had known then that you were just shy, I would have locked us in a room together and made you talk to me until everything was out in the open. I honestly thought it was just me...
She rallied and stepped closer. "Gomen, Keiichi, you have frosting on your lip." Before the boy could react, she was kissing him.
The door slid open, and Urd stood there with a near-empty bottle of sake. "Hey, you two! What is this? Seven Minutes in Heaven?"
Belldandy and Keiichi parted as if electrocuted.
"Ha!" Urd cried. "Busted!" Seeing their discomfiture, the already tipsy love goddess decided to tease them a bit. "Besides, it's my birthday. Shouldn't the birthday girl get a smooch?" She puckered her lips at Keiichi.
The lightbulb over the sink burst into tiny pieces of glass.
Urd grinned and turned to Belldandy. "I was only kidding," she assured her sister. She turned back to Keiichi. "Oi, Keiichi, Megumi is accusing you of having thirty Phil Collins CDs hidden somewhere in your room. She and the Auto Club are ransacking it..."
"Oh, Jeez!" he cried, bolting out the door and down the hall.
Urd watched him go and shook her head before turning back to Belldandy. "Helluva guy you got there, Belldandy."
"Hai," she replied. "Neesan..."
"Look, I was just teasing, okay?" Urd interrupted. "Besides, if I'm right, he's officially off the market now..."
"No, Neesan, not that," Belldandy told her. "I just wanted to say thank you."
Urd blinked. "For what?"
Belldandy smiled. "I know you never took credit for it, but you did help with the mental transceivers that made our epiphany possible. I never really thanked you for that."
The older Norn smiled. "Yes, you did," she replied. At Belldandy's questioning look, she went on. "I have never seen you as happy as I have this past month. Love suits you, Belldandy. It looks good on you."
"Hai," she agreed. "I am happy. I mean, I always knew what love was academically... but to be so deep in it." She closed her eyes and smiled. "And please, don't let me forget to thank Peorth as well. After she lost Wynn san, it didn't seem to be the right time so..."
"Don't worry," Urd told her. "She knows."
"Have you heard from her?" Belldandy asked.
"Chatted with her a couple of times on HIM," Urd told her, taking one last swig from the sake bottle and tossing it in the garbage. "She's back at work, trying to keep busy."
"I feel so awful for her," Belldandy said. "I can't imagine what it would be like if Keiichi died."
Urd arched an eyebrow. "Little sister, that's not the half of it," she said. "Wynn didn't just die. If he had just died, it would have been easier. But he didn't. They corrupted him, stole his soul. They took him from her a piece at a time."
Belldandy swallowed nervously. She couldn't even contemplate such a thing. She didn't want to.
Besides, this was a party. Putting on a smile, she hefted the cake off the counter. "I'm sorry, but I don't think one thousand candles will fit on this," she conceded.
Urd narrowed her eyes. "I'm twenty-four..."
The young man cowered before her, scooting on his butt into the far corner of the room. She looked down at him and sighed. You would think after a millennia of this they would have tweaked their approach, perhaps instead of just appearing in the room, they could show up outside their house and knock politely.
Instead, Peorth now had to... once again... convince a mortal scared out of his mind that she wasn't here to abduct him or probe his anus for some extraterrestrial science experiment.
"Who are you?" the young man asked. He reminded her a lot of Keiichi. Similar age and build, though this one was blond with blue eyes and a pair of glasses that screamed "chess club."
"I am the goddess Peorth," she told him, her voice bored and business-like. "I've come to grant your fondest wish."
After that things proceeded as they always did. He argued, accused her of being a joke/trick/hallucination, and she calmly explained that she was none of those things. This usually took awhile, but when the client finally accepted what she was, the real business started.
"I can wish for anything?" he asked.
"Oui," she confirmed.
"Um... Can I have a minute to think?"
She nodded her head in an affirmative and casually looked around his room. Peorth prided herself on a keen eye, using it to learn about her young client. Her gaze fell upon a bookshelf with several dust-covered books and one that had obviously been read recently. She pulled it off the shelf and opened it, finding it to be a high school yearbook. One page had been dog-eared several times, and a picture of the academic team adorned it. Her client was standing next to an attractive brunette.
The picture told her everything, not just what the camera had caught but the condition. The page was turned to often, and while fingerprints could be seen all over the page, the area around the young woman was pristine. She could tell he gazed at this picture often and knew what his wish should be.
"I'm... I'm not really sure," he admitted.
"Wish what's in your heart," she said simply, closing the book.
"I guess... I'd like a million dollars!"
Peorth sighed inside. Most young men were hesitant when making a wish with her, particularly when it involved matters of the heart. After all, he was a nerd and she was, ostensibly, a beautiful woman. Reluctance was natural, and this was the point when Peorth would usually berate the young man, hold the book under his nose and tell him point-blank what they both already knew to be true.
But she just couldn't summon the drive this time. Her sigil glowed, and a bolt of light flew from her forehead up through the ceiling and into the night sky. A moment later, the light faded, and she faced him again.
"Your wish has been granted," she said simply. "The money has been deposited in your bank account. Enjoy it." With that, she started for the camera through which she had entered.
"Oh, okay," he said, sounding almost let down, as if he knew he had blown an opportunity.
Peorth couldn't bring herself to care. She stepped through the camera...
And back into the offices of the Earth Help Center. Pausing next to the hardline crystal that allowed the goddesses to venture to and from the Earth realm, she knelt over a crystal table and signed in. Dropping the pen on the table, she started for her desk, walking past several goddesses who were working the help center's phones.
Before she could reach her phone, a voice from overhead stopped her.
"Peorth, I'd like a moment with you."
The goddess looked up and found the blue eyes of Freya gazing down at her from the second floor walkway where the administration offices were. The blonde goddess gestured to her office and walked into it, waiting for Peorth to come to her.
The younger goddess sighed and floated up to the next level, landing nimbly on her feet and following the Earth Help Center administrator into her office.
"Please, have a seat," Freya told her, taking her own seat behind a white marble desk. Peorth sat and waited patiently for her boss to begin. She wasn't one hundred percent sure what she wanted, and really didn't care one way or the other.
"Case seven-oh-seven-three-six has been closed out," Freya nodded. She checked her watch. "In record time for you."
"He knew what he wanted," Peorth told her, half lying, half not.
"Indeed," Freya told her. She took a breath and regarded her young granter. "Just like the two cases last week. I have to say I'm a little disturbed at this new trend in you."
"Their wishes have been granted," Peorth told her. "That's my job."
"Your job is to make people happy," Freya told her. "Wishes are a means to that end. If that end is not reached, the granting of wishes becomes irrelevant. You understand that. I've seen you take weeks to ascertain a person's true wish. You took pride in it."
Peorth felt a flash of guilt. Her boss was right about that. She had taken a great deal of pride in her work, and by rushing through those cases she had done those mortals a great disservice.
Freya looked at her in concern. "Frigga told me you might not be ready to return to work just yet," she confided in her. Peorth looked up in surprise. "I'm inclined to agree. You should take some more time."
"I don't want more time," Peorth told her sadly. "I want things to be the way they were."
"I understand that," Freya told her. "But you're still healing, and as you are now you are simply not suited for this job." Peorth looked up at her in panic. "No, I'm not dismissing you," the elder goddess continued. "But I can't have you on the line either. And since you will not willingly take time off, I must give you some other task for which you are more suited."
Freya jotted down information on a light pad and handed it to her. "A feedback," she said. "For purposes of market research."
Peorth looked down at the note. A five numeral number was printed there, a familiar number.
"Morisato?" she asked.
"Yes," Freya continued. "He is the only mortal to receive wishes from both us and the Goddess Help Line. As such, he is in a unique position to provide a direct comparison of our services. Go there, conduct a thorough feedback and write up a case study."
Peorth lowered the pad. "Busy work," she concluded.
"Back shop," Freya corrected. "Nothing too strenuous. I want you to take it easy. Wounds of the heart are notoriously difficult to heal. I don't want to see this one cripple you."
"Oui, Madame," Peorth whispered, acquiescing. "Will there be anything else?"
"No," Freya replied. "Peorth, you are like a daughter to me, all of you girls are. It eats at my heart to see you like this. Please know that this isn't punishment. I want you to heal. I want you to smile again." She became all business again. "Now go. And try not to work too hard."
"Oui." Peorth rose and walked out of the office.
Keiichi woke when he felt Belldandy squeeze him, her arms wrapped around him from behind as she spooned against him. It was something he'd come to recognize with her. Her sense of possessiveness seemed to permeate her dreams.
He glanced at the clock radio nearby and yawned. A moment later, his yawn was echoed by the goddess behind him.
"Oh my!" she said. "I overslept! I need to make breakfast!"
The mortal boy patted her hand. "I got it," he told her.
"Eh?" She watched as Keiichi climbed to his feet and threw on a t-shirt.
"I'll do it," he told her. "You sleep in."
"You're going to cook?" she asked, looking up at him with well-meaning, but skeptical, eyes.
"I can cook!" he defended. "I've done it before." Of course, that was back when he had Belldandy's vast memories and experience to draw on.
"And how much do you remember?" she asked coyly.
He paused uncomfortably. "Enough," he assured her. "What would you like?"
He's trying to do something nice for you, her mind chastised her. Let him!
She smiled and took pity on him. "Just miso soup," she said.
Keiichi nodded. "Okay, miso it is." He turned to go.
He turned back and saw her smiling, the act lighting up the room.
"Hurry back," she requested.
He hurried, moving down the hall as quietly as he could. While he and Belldandy had turned in early last night, from the sounds they had heard, he knew the party had continued long into the night and was sure there were still members of the Auto Club around who had chosen to crash here rather than drive home drunk.
Before he could get to the kitchen, he heard a soft knock at the front door. Figuring it was one of the party-goers who had left something at the house, he opened it without a second thought. What he found standing on the other side of the door startled him.
"Mr. Morisato!" Frigga cried, reaching forward to hug him. "It's so good to see you again."
"Ms. Frigga!" he replied stupidly. "It's... How are you?"
"Good, good," she replied, walking past him into the hall.
Turning back to the front door, Keiichi was surprised to see a man standing there. He stood a head taller than the college student with shoulder-length brown hair and green eyes hidden behind a pair of blue-tinted spectacles. White robes with red trim hung shabbily from his shoulders as if the clothing was meant to look regal but he just didn't have time to bother adjusting it enough to hang just right.
"I'm sorry, come on in," Keiichi told him.
The young god gave him a short bow and a smile and stepped inside. Keiichi rushed to catch up with Frigga, who was zipping through the house in search of something.
"If you're looking for Belldandy..." he began, wondering how he was going to finish that sentence without including the words, 'in my room.'
"No," Frigga said, trailing off as she glanced into the kitchen. "I'm actually looking for... OH, ALMIGHTY BEST AND GREATEST!" she screeched as Tamiya's large frame lumbered into view from the direction of the living room.
The reason for Frigga's startlement became apparent to Keiichi as he glanced at the man. "Oh, God! Senpai! Where are your pants?!"
Tamiya blinked several times, obviously still more than a little drunk. The Auto Club president was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of tighty-whities. "Not shur, Morishato," he slurred. "Losht them..."
Frigga blinked in utter horror and shock.
Keiichi just shook his head in puzzlement. "Lost them? Lost them how? How do you lose pants!?"
This question was answered a moment later when they heard Urd call out from the next room.
"URD, QUEEN OF ALL PANTS, DEMANDS ASPIRIN FOR HER HANGOVER!"
Keiichi smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand and growled. "Urd..."
A light of understanding seemed to click on behind Frigga's eyes, though she also appeared to wish it hadn't. The other god seemed simply confused by the whole thing.
"I see," Frigga said. "Well... I suppose it's to be expected."
They entered the living room and found Urd lounging in the middle of the room, a pair of pants worn on her head like a crown or a jester's hat and passed out party-goers snoring around the room.
Frigga took a deep, embarrassed breath. "Urd, honey," she began.
Urd looked up and pulled the pants off her head. "Oh, hi Frigga!" she greeted, climbing to her feet.
"I'm not going to ask why you're surrounded by several pantsless men and women," Frigga said. "I'm just going to assume you had... some... kind of good reason."
Urd stumbled a bit before answering. "It turns out I'm freaking awesome at strip poker," she told her stepmother.
"That's wonderful, dear," Frigga said, just trying desperately to wrap this part of the conversation up. She took a breath and put on a smile, taking the Norn by the shoulders. "Happy birthday, Urd."
The step-daughter winked. "I'm a thousand!" she whispered excitedly. "Shhhh... They think I'm twenty-four!" She giggled.
"Yes, honey, I know," Frigga told her. "And because you're a thousand, this is a very special day for you. And to commemorate it, I present to you the god, Nyd." She gestured to the god standing nervously nearby.
Urd arched an eyebrow. "You got me a stripper?" she asked Frigga. The older goddess turned crimson, mortified at the statement as Urd went on. "Well... the party's over and it's really not the same without a room full of drunk college girls, but what the hell, let's give it a whirl!"
"Belldandy!" Urd called down the hallway, ignoring her stepmother's look of horror. "Do you want a lap dance!?"
The god, Nyd, turned scarlet, humiliated, as Urd went on. Finally Frigga grabbed her by the ear and twisted.
"AIIII! Frigga! What the..."
"Be silent and sober up for ten seconds!" Frigga hissed at her. "This god is no exotic performer, he's to be your damned husband!"
The room went silent. Frigga took a breath and smiled again.
Belldandy was having the weirdest dream.
Since Keiichi had been so kind to offer to make breakfast while she snoozed, she had closed her eyes after he left and drifted in and out of sleep. In her dream, she first heard her mother call out for The Almighty... Then, Keiichi was searching for somebody's pants...
But to get them, he had trade the Queen of Pants a couple of Tylenol...
Then Neesan had asked if she wanted someone to dance on her lap, which was just plain confusing...
And that's when the shouting started.
Her eyes fluttered open at the sound of intense arguing coming from down the hall. Throwing on her blue silk robe, she opened the bedroom door and rushed into the living room where Keiichi and a strange man were standing outside the door to Urd's bedroom.
"Keiichi?!" she asked, making an effort to close her robe more tightly as the strange man... no, a god... turned to her. "What's going on? Who is this god?"
As he opened his mouth to reply, the shouting in the other room kicked up a level in volume.
"I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU WOULD THINK FOR ONE SECOND THAT I WOULD GO ALONG WITH THIS!" Urd was screaming.
"Who is Urd arguing with?" Belldandy asked.
The mortal once again started to answer, but was cut off as Frigga shouted back.
"'GO ALONG WITH THIS?!' YOU SHOULD BE ON YOUR KNEES THANKING ME FOR FINDING YOU SOMEONE EVEN REMOTELY WILLING TO ENDURE YOUR SELFISH NONSENSE!"
"Oh, it's Moder," Belldandy concluded happily.
"Yeah," Keiichi finally got a word in. "And this is... I'm sorry... 'Nidd?'"
"Nyd," the god corrected, bowing to Belldandy. "It's nice to meet you. And... I am so sorry. Lady Frigga told me that I... Well... That I was expected."
"Expected for what?" Belldandy asked.
"YOU WALTZ INTO OUR HOUSE WITH SOME STRANGE GOD IN TOW AND JUST EXPECT ME TO RUN TO THE ALTAR WITH HIM! HILD'S LEFT TIT, MAYBE HE SHOULD CHECK MY TEETH FIRST!" Urd screamed from the other room.
"'Altar?'" Belldandy asked, blinking. Her eyes narrowed. "Oh, please tell me this isn't what I think it is."
"YOU ARE A GODDESS IN MY HOUSEHOLD, MAKING YOU MY RESPONSIBILITY! PERHAPS YOU SHOULD HAVE CONSIDERED ALL OF THAT BEFORE GOING A THOUSAND YEARS WITHOUT MAKING ANY PREPARATIONS FOR THIS WHATSOEVER!" Frigga screamed back.
"Isn't what you think what is?" Keiichi asked, still genuinely confused.
Belldandy sighed, but couldn't help but be amused. "Yesterday was Urd's one thousandth birthday," she told him. "Traditionally it's a very special day for a goddess, and in our distant history even more so. You see, according to tradition, if a goddess hasn't married, or isn't expected to marry, by her thousandth birthday, it falls to the female head of the household to find her a husband."
"An arranged marriage?" Keiichi asked in shock.
Belldandy nodded. "It's fallen out of favor over the last millennium, but many of the elder gods' households still practice it. Our house is one of the most ancient, unbroken lines, so this really isn't surprising."
"Except to Urd," Keiichi finished.
The middle Norn nodded again, her face pinched with concern. "She's never really thought of herself as part of the house, part of the family yes, but never really part of the official household. Which was foolish, because Moder has always gone out of her way to include Urd."
Keiichi nodded. "So Ms. Frigga is surprised because Urd is surprised and Urd is surprised because she never thought Ms. Frigga would do this?"
"WHILE YOU'RE AT IT LET'S SELL SKULD TO GYPSIES!" Urd was screaming. "MAYBE WE CAN HAVE BELLDANDY TURN TRICKS OUT ON THE STREET CORNER!"
This statement was followed by the sound of a hand striking flesh. Belldandy recoiled at the sound, knowing that Frigga had probably just laid Urd out. Her mother was a very gentle, kind goddess, but there were lines you just didn't cross with her, and Urd had just crossed them, planted dynamite on them and blew them up.
The godly queen looked down at her step-daughter, who was sitting on her butt with her hand on her cheek, now reddening from the force of her slap.
"ENOUGH!" Frigga replied. "ENOUGH OF YOUR ETERNAL SELFISH CATERWAULING! YOU CHOSE TO BE A GODDESS! YOU CHOSE TO LIVE IN HEAVEN! YOU DO NOT GET TO BENEFIT FROM THOSE CHOICES WITHOUT LIVING UP TO THE RESPONSIBILITIES THAT COME WITH THEM!"
There was a long pause before Urd replied. "I will not whore myself to some strange god for your political connections," she bit out.
Frigga laughed incredulously. "Is that what you think this is?! Have I ever tried to make use of you for the benefit of our family? You overestimate yourself! For nine hundred years you've done everything possible to make yourself the black sheep in Heaven! There is no political value in marrying you off whatsoever! If Eir was not such a good friend to me, she would never have considered you even close to being worthy of her only son! You are not doing anyone a favor, Urd! Eir is taking pity on me by agreeing to this arrangement!"
Urd wasn't sure what felt worse; being whored out to the son of her stepmother's closest friend and ally or being told that she wasn't worthy of even being so.
Frigga took a breath and tried to calm down. "I didn't want it to come to this," she told Urd gently. "I never interfered with your love life, even when you brought home that...vile... hippy... lute player..." she bit out. "You are The Almighty's eldest daughter," she went on. "And with that unfortunate twist of fate comes responsibilities you haven't even begun to see."
"Do you really hate me this much?" Urd asked quietly.
"Hate you?" Frigga asked, tears in her eyes. She turned away, stunned and saddened by the question. "When you first came to Heaven, there was a lot of debate on what was to be done with you. You were the Armistice Child, the being whose conception ended the war. You couldn't just be swept under the rug. Your father considered putting you in the care of an elder teacher like Omoikane or Gwydion, where you would spend your childhood being taught how to be a goddess... and not a demon. Do you know why they did not take this route?"
Urd didn't answer. She was still too enraged by what was happening.
Frigga didn't wait for an answer anyway. "I went to The Almighty, and I asked him to place you in our house," she said. "You were my husband's daughter, my childrens' sister, and that made you and me family. And I could not bear the thought of you growing up like that. I believed that you could learn more about being a goddess by growing up with Baldr, Belldandy and Skuld."
She finally turned back to her stepdaughter. "I'm doing this because I love you, Urd. You've always been my little Urd, my eldest daughter. If I ignored your birthday and its implications, what kind of mother would that make me? You hate me right now for what I'm doing, believing that I'm singling you out for punishment. The truth is I would do, and under the right circumstances will do, the same for Belldandy and Skuld when the time comes."
Frigga started for the door, but Urd's next statement made her pause.
"I have no choice, do I?" she asked quietly.
The queen turned back to her. "Urd, you are the only goddess in our history who's ever had a choice." With that, she turned and walked out of the room, leaving Urd alone with her thoughts.
Peorth looked at the ground as she walked from the Earth Help Center toward her apartment overlooking Charity Square. She intended to leave for Earth the next morning. Right now all she wanted was a hot bath and a good dose of self-pity.
There was a low rumble of thunder overhead, and she suddenly remembered that The Almighty had promised rain today. She sighed. Of course, she had forgotten an umbrella.
She wasn't the only one either. Several other gods and goddesses began to walk a little faster, among them a couple holding an infant god close to them.
Her gaze rested on the trio for several moments as drops of water began to sting her skin. The baby god was so young its tiny wings were still visible. As the rain began to fall faster, she finally managed to break her gaze and continue on.
By the time she opened the door to her apartment and stepped inside, the goddess was drenched and lightning had begun to crash outside her window. Stepping into the bathroom, she drew a bath and undressed robotically before immersing herself in the water.
Looking up at the ceiling for a moment, she closed her eyes and her thoughts went immediately to him, watching him once again falling into The Spark as she rose away from danger.
The day she lost him forever.
"Wynn," she whispered painfully. "I never got a chance to hold your baby." She felt her chest constrict and held her breath, determined to fight off the sobs. The water in the tub splashed as she raised her hand to cover her eyes, hiding them from people who weren't even there.
Why did it still hurt so much? The first time she thought she had lost him, she had cried for months, but she eventually moved on. This time... This time was different. This time she had actually watched him die...
I wish I had never met him...
Her eyes shot open a moment later.
No! I take it back! she quickly reined the thought in. Wishes were powerful things, and she didn't want to risk losing the only thing she had left of him, her precious memories.
She would simply have to endure.
Gathering her thoughts together, she stood up and climbed out of the tub.
Syrinx cried out painfully as he unexpectedly struck solid ground. The avenging angel blinked and examined his surroundings even as a multitude of questions ran through his mind. How long had he been sealed? Where was he now? Was he in the hands of friend or foe?
The answer to the last question became apparent as he looked up and saw four members of Hild's infamous Elite Guard standing over him with weapons drawn. Syrinx was pretty good in a fight, but he knew enough to know that facing four Elites while unarmed was a quick way back into a seal... if he was lucky.
One of the shadowy forms in front of him beckoned him to rise, and he did, his hands up. He had to buy time until a chance to escape presented itself. The demons bracketed him between them, two in front, two behind as they marched him down a stone hallway lit by torches. It was like something out of an old monster novella.
The hallway widened into a large, open arena. The walls circling it were several meters high. Atop these walls sat what must have been a hundred demons, cheering and brandishing weapons. Directly opposite of him, sitting on a black onyx throne, was Hild herself.
One of the Elites prodded him in the back with the shaft of his spear, and Syrinx stepped forward. It was then that he noticed he wasn't alone in the arena. A tall figure stood on the other side, beneath Hild's throne.
Hild stood and raised her hand, causing every demon in the arena to go silent.
"My demons," she called out. "Today we have a very special treat! Today, our High Inquisitor takes the first step toward our ultimate goal. And it begins... with personal combat!"
The demons cheered.
Syrinx looked down as one of the Elites tossed a soul saber at his feet. He looked up at Hild in disgust and called out. "I'm no performing monkey to dance for your amusement!" he called out. "I won't fight for your blood lust!"
Hild shrugged. "No problem. Stand there and die."
As if the words were a signal, the other figure leapt toward him, the red glowing blade of his rapier arcing toward him. Syrinx ducked and rolled to the right, snatching up the saber as he went and barely avoiding losing an arm as his opponent's blade struck the dirt where he had been standing.
The avenging angel bounced to his feet and turned just in time to parry another strike. He got a good look at his opponent for the first time. Scars disfigured the right side of his face, and in the place of his right eye, a blue gem glowed dully. The demon gritted his teeth and made three quick slashes that Syrinx just barely avoided. The demons in the crowd cheered.
This guy knows his shit, he thought. But I still have an advantage no demon can match...
He leapt back and summoned his thoughts. "Angel come forth!"
His higher self, an armored angel with snow white wings named Above and Beyond, rose from his back.
In her throne, Hild smiled and watched intently.
The demon paused. "Black Jack come forth!"
Syrinx's eyes widened as something dark and hideous rose into the air above his opponent. "Almighty be merciful," he whispered.
The creature hissed at him.
"He's yours, Jack," the demon told him.
The bat-winged thing leapt forward, and Syrinx braced for the attack, but was shocked to find he wasn't the target. The creature instead crashed into his angel at full force, knocking it into the far wall.
"Beyond!" he cried. His moment of distraction cost him as the demon struck, knocking the saber out of his hands and throwing him to the ground. The demon pinned him to the floor, his blade at the avenging angel's throat.
But he stopped short, content to just keep him there.
Syrinx turned his head and saw the creature on top of Above and Beyond, slashing at his angel with red and black claws, screaming at it in an otherworldly howl. He could feel each strike against his angel reverberate through his soul, causing the avenging angel untold pain.
Suddenly, the creature leaned down and tore the angel's throat out with its teeth!
Syrinx's eyes widened as he gasped, then they closed again, and he went limp.
The demon gave it a moment, then rose to his feet, watching his opponent's chest rise and fall with his breath. Nearby, Black Jack threw his head up and howled in ecstasy as the angel below began to melt away.
The demons in the audience cheered. Hild turned to the Elite standing on her right. "Initiate the recall," she ordered. "One hundred percent contact."
She stood up and applauded while she waited for the results. The demon bowed to her as the creature merged with him again. Raising her hands, she once again quieted her followers.
"Well?" she asked.
"He's asleep," the demon told her. "Comatose."
"Excellent." She turned as the Elite approached, whispering the results to her. Smiling she turned to the demons. "The recall is complete!" she announced. "All demons are accounted for! My demons, our Inquisitor has done it! Know now that the first mile on our long road to victory is behind us! We have defeated Doublet!"
The demons went wild and began to cheer the Inquisitor's name as he stood stoically below them.
"METHEUS! METHEUS! METHEUS! METHEUS!"
Below them, the rampant god once known as Wynn, stood there and let the adulation wash over him. Inside his soul, his angel basked in the murder it had committed, the other angel's blood in its teeth.
He knew... He knew this was only the beginning.