Part 170 Hopeshift

All that remained was to talk to Megumi at N.I.T. and explain the situation to her. Simple, apparently so...but trying to get his sister to believe that he was a vampire? Keiichi could only hope that Megumi had been situated enough with Bell and her sister's 'Goddess stuff' to buy the notion about the Hijacker.

And what if biting Megumi didn't work? Or even worse, what if he and Bell-chan had mistaken the cause of his affliction, and he actually bit his sister? Placing himself in Megumi's shoes, Keiichi pondered whether or not he would volunteer to be bitten by a vampire based on what seemed to be a flimsy bit of evidence...

Keiichi had arranged to have Megumi meet him at Whirlwind while Chihiro was off for her lunch break.

"Hey Megumi!" he waved as she pedaled up to the garage on her bike.

Megumi smiled winningly at him as she wove into the repair shop.

After some small talk, Megumi looked at him impatiently and asked, "What do you want? I can read you like a book, Big Brother, and something tells me that you really need a favor from me. So quit stalling and spit it out!"

"What would you say if I told you that I was a kyuuketsuki, Megumi," Keiichi asked, stumbling out his words.

"Why, that's ridiculous. We just got back from Romania, so I'd think that you'd been watching too much 'Twilight' or fantasizing about the place, heh hee. Of course, there's all these crazy sightings of vampires in the news, but not you. Not with Bell-chan here, not with"

Her voice trailed off as she noticed the grave expression on Belldandy's face.

"NO WAY!" she shouted with disbelief, pounding the front tire of her bike on the ground for emphasis.

"It's true, Megumi," Keiichi answered slowly. "Just like how you have to take those 'beauty pills' because of Belldandy's mistake, I've gotta deal with turning into a kyuuketsuki every night. The only difference is that there is no known cure for mines."

"But Keiichi and I both believe that there is a solution, but we need your cooperation," Belldandy explained slowly. "The other night, he tried to bite Tomohisa...and instead of biting his cousin, Keiichi turned back into a normal mortal. We believe that when he tries to bite someone in his family, the effect is lessened. Since you're his sister..."

"You want him to bite me?!" Megumi finished. "That's crazy, even if I'd agree to it. Why don't you repeat the incident with Tomohisa and see if it happens all over again."

"Megumi, you gotta understand that Tomohisa...and Skuld...were majorly freaked-out when I tried to bite him. Skuld basically froze into a statue and Tomo had a severe asthma attack and passed out. I don't think we're going to get any cooperation from either of them, especially considering the friction between Belldandy and Skuld as of late."

"Well...I suppose I should be the good younger sister and do what I can to help out," Megumi said. "But what if I turn into one of those things?"

"I bit Chihiro and she didn't turn into a vampire. Back in Cluj, the night I didn't come back," Keiichi countered.

"You bit Chihiro?!"

"Yes, he did," another voice joined in. Chihiro had been standing in the doorway, unnoticed by the three until now.

"I watched him throw a bear over some church ruins when it threatened me," Chihiro added. "It seemed that he was part himself-part kyuuketsuki when he bit me. So it isn't like he's totally outside of himself and acting out of control."

"So all I have to do is be willing to have him bite me?" Megumi ventured.

"Yes," Belldandy answered. "What we are hoping for is for Keiichi to revert back to his human form when he tries to bite you. But if he doesn't change and is ready to bite you, I'll try and keep him away. But he has to bite someone every night, otherwise he doesn't transform back. So I've been letting him bite me."

" unromantic," Megumi commented.

"Yes, but it is romantic in a sense, because Bell-chan is protecting me from myself," Keiichi argued. "If she didn't do that, then I'd be forced to bite people instead...not to mention that I might be caught. I could have attacked you or Genji whenever you guys come back late at night if it wasn't for Bell..."

Megumi frowned at that. Seeing her brother locked up for being a vampire wasn't a pretty image by any means.

"Okay, let do it tonight and see," she announced, hoping that this wasn't going to turn into a big mishap.

Urd emerged from the TV right after dinner and urgently floated over to the meal table.

"It's Troubadour," she said breathlessly, floating behind Belldandy.

"Troubadour? What about him," Keiichi asked.

"I found Cevn in Oxford, back in 1886. What they did to him was despicable. They left him to die in a dungeon of some kind underneath one of the old buildings, even going as far as to brick up the doorway. When I got him back to his room, he told me about a mortal from the future...this future...has traveled back in time to try and trap him. He also said that this mortal guy had brought a group of super-dictator types back into the 19th century with him, all who were planning to create a plot to enslave humanity. He's written a fifth section to his Magnum Organum and it deals with syncognition. The man from the future wanted to prevent him from publishing it, and consequently tried to kill him."

"What does this have to do with Troubadour?" Belldandy asked after Urd went into detail about the depths of the plot.

"Troubadour brought both Cevn and this badass guy back into the 19th century somehow. I Probed the mind of this guy, who called himself Lord Reginald, and found out that it was definitely Troubadour who he was dealing with. Troubadour orchestrated the whole plan, I think."

Belldandy didn't miss the telltale flicker of suspicion in her Elder Sister's eyes. If Troubadour had been sent into the past, or had the power lent to him to travel the TimeCosm, then it had to be done by a Norn, since no other Gods could have done so. She also didn't miss the tearing up in Urd's eyes as she described how Cevn had been treated.

Could her sister finally be coming to her senses about the relationship between her and Cevn?

But this was secondary, because the unauthorized travel through Time was a very serious breath of the Rules. But why didn't the Xeomn computers catch it? If Troubadour tampered with Time, that should have set off a whole plethora of alarms in Syntrasil.

"This is very grave," Belldandy remarked. "Troubadour is an Earthrealm Spirit whose function is that of a Muse. In his case specifically, he is a master of music. Time is not within his jurisdiction."

"So that means that he's somehow learned to travel through Time itself?" Keiichi asked. "Urd, he's your boyfriend. Why would he do something like this in the first place? I don't understand it all, but I do understand that he's supposed to be here to help the Muse of humankind create healing through art. Why would he aid a bunch of evildoers who wanted to take over humanity?"

"I'm so pissed off at him, I could just scream," Urd noted. "He knows how much we all love the Earthrealm mortals...and then he pulls this. He's got a lot of explaining to do."

"But what if it wasn't him," Belldandy ventured. "What if he was aided in traveling Time."

Belldandy had a haunted expression as the implication of her own conjecture ran through her mind. There were only three Norns, only three Goddesses that could traverse the TimeCosm by dint of responsibility.

So it was either her, Skuld, Urd...or Mara?

Urd tried to summon Troubadour as she worked on healing Cevn. His absence was as much an admission of guilt as she could expect...but he had been acting suspiciously as of late. Why did it feel so confusing in her heart. She had befriended Cevn, but didn't particularly care for him; but now she seemed to be much more concerned about him than before.

Troubadour had cheated on her in the past.

Could that be happening again?

She created a healing circle around Cevn's inert body, to restore him to full health while he slept. This business with Troubadour traveling Time was irksome, because it involved her sisters. She didn't suspect Belldandy and Skuld...but what about Mara. Mare was the head of the Demoness Grief Office, so she wasn't supposed to be able to travel through the TimeCosm. But what if she could? But even then, Mara was her twin sister and this whole scheme reeked of something deeper than a plot that Mara would hatch. Why would Mara tempt her with Troubadour.

Urd realized that the tempting had nothing to do with anyone but herself. She had jumped onto the notion that she and Troubadour had unfinished romantic business. But when it came to sex, she just couldn't do it with Troubadour. She had Shared with Troubadour, and that was as pleasurable as it was before. But even then, something was amiss. He seemed to be obsessed to an un-God-like extent with mortal sex. Mortal sex was nothing to a Goddess; just a very limited expression of intimacy compared to Sharing. Could it be that he was thwarted by her refusal to make love to him in the flesh-and-blood manner, and thus became caught up in wanting to 'conquer' her that way?

Why would he be mixed up in this business with Lord Reginald and his cronies anyway?

Troubadour wasn't exactly a God that was concerned about the far as he was concerned, the mortals could blow themselves up and he wouldn't give a shit. Besides, their music wasn't all that special anyway compared to that of many other mortals. And Gods.

But what was this twinge in her memory, about how Cevn was able to play the God's and the Demon's music?

She regarded Cevn's sleeping form and formed an opinion that he was more mysterious than she had expected. Part of the mystery thrilled her, unexpectedly.

Megumi arrived late, about an hour after sunset. Tomohisa was in his room studying or perhaps avoiding, and Belldandy and Keiichi were sitting on the temple's veranda decking. Just by coincidence, there was a full moon peeking out between strands of autumn clouds. A fine night for a haunting or a murder, her mind quipped at her.

"So what happens now?" she asked the two lovers.

"We wait for Keiichi to change, and then you present yourself to him," Belldandy explained. The words sounded strange coming from the Goddess, and she felt herself flush with a twinge of embarrasment. Keiichi shook his head at Bell's gaffe.

But maybe this wasn't just a family taboo...but an incest taboo, Megumi wondered. What if there was was more to it than simply family? Could the effect be heightened by a brother-sister dynamic. Belldandy did say that the Hijackers tended to feed upon culture.

She sat down on the grass, fascination and apallment twinning in her heart as she waited for Keiichi to transform.

"Why isn't it happening?" Keiichi wondered aloud. Just then, a shudder filled his frame and he began to stand up, suddenly looking menacing. Megumi leapt to her feet as she noticed that her brother was snarling at her with a sort of hissing sound...and then he leapt overhead.

With a slam, he landed on the roof of the garage. She realized that this was utterly impossible...he must have jumped at least 15 meters in the air. He really wasn't human!

"," he hissed at her, preparing to pounce on her like a cat jumping on a mouse. Fear liquified inside her spine as her instincts kicked in to the threat of being attacked. Could there be a way to dodge him if he jumped at her? She frantically looked to Belldandy, who was watching with a worried expression. Belldandy did say she would help if things got out of hand...

He made his move and jumped down onto the veranda, somehow sweeping her off her feet as he jumped.

Pinning her up against the side of the temple house, she could feel a heat emanating from his body, as if his body temperature was elevated well beyond human standards. Keiichi was just inches from her neck...canine teeth suddenly extending towards her throat...and then he collapsed. Behind him, a sparkle of purplish lightkins floated off into mid-air. And was snuffed by a black cloud.

"Someone killed the Hijacker..." she heard Belldandy announce with a sad voice.

Next to her, Keiichi was shivering and sweating. No longer did he sport the long canine teeth of a kyuuketsuki. He seemed to be having a minor seizure as his body was returning to normal.

"Is it gone, Bell-chan?" he asked in a quavering voice.

"Yes my love," Belldandy answered. "It moved out of your body...but then something killed it."

"What?" Keiichi exclaimed. "Why would someone or something attack the Hijacker once it left me?"

Megumi listened as Keiichi wondered aloud at the voice he heard in the back of his mind when the Hijacker released him. Her brother related that the moment it let go of him, it had said, "Now all of you are free."

It was just after lunch that I heard a commotion out in the temple's yard, near the garage. Banpei and Sigil both seemed to be having a fit, interrupting the delicious Sunday lunch that Belldandy had made for us. The two were shouting excitedly. Skuld was the quickest, almost hurling herself away from the dining table and out the door in a single leap.

Protective instinct for her creations.

As we all gathered past the doorway and stepped out onto the wooden veranda that surrounded the temple, we saw Banpei and Sigil circling around Troubadour. Urd's boyfriend. I felt a crawling bile of uncomfortability in my throat, because Troubadour seemed to have a decidedly threatening air about him. He knew that we had found him out, in Oxford.

"Urd, I demand that you accompany me to Syntrasil. Now!" he sang out in a rich voice.

"NO!" Urd shot back. "Who do you think you are, coming here and making demands of all things? After what you've done to me, after what you tried do to think that I want to go back to Syntrasil with you? You're an idiot for even considering such a demand. I'm my own Goddess: I go where and when I want to go. Not at your beck and call."

"That will be to your misfortune then," Troubadour answered. "I have a harem of Goddesses up there, plenty to choose from. Plenty who are more beautiful than you, more polite than you, more worthwhile than you. Perhaps...sigh...this was a mistake on my part. Trying to recreate the passion we once had. But you certainly played your part in it as well. I know that you still love me Urd, and this is why I am here. Show some courtesy and travel with me."

"I refuse."

Troubadour floated closer to our group. I could sense Skuld bristling with anger besides me.

"You cannot resist my song, Urd," he said. He started playing a song on his stringed instrument, which looked like a cross between a sitar and mediaeval lyrette. I looked at Urd, whose stern expression suddenly softened. After all, these two had a hundred thousand years or more of history between them, and according to Belldandy, had been 'going steady' for about 20,000 years during her teens, prior to her being designated Norn of the Past. Impossibly, Urd had gone back to him while I was at Oxford, which completely pissed off Skuld and disappointed Belldandy. Mara was livid at this exchange.

"Urd, you can't do this!" I shouted. I recalled to her all the betrayals of her love that Troubadour had caused her in the past...and in the recent past. Still, she stepped forward towards him until she was a few meters away. I was reminded of how the mythological Pan would play his pan-flute and draw maidens to him.

"Troubadour, things are different now. I could tolerate your infidelities in the past because we were both teenaged Gods. I attributed it to your immaturity back then, and simply tolerated it. You and I were beautiful together. Then I find myself no longer Norn of the Past...and free to love again. A number of Gods came to me, they wanted me. But I chose you over them. And what did you do? The same old graceless inconsiderate shit. You fucked around on me, trampled on my feelings, ignored my honor and shamed me in front of my sisters. I loved you...but now I don't. There's a reason why I'm now immune to charm of your song. I can walk away because I now know without a doubt where my love belongs. I love him."

Urd was pointing straight at me.

A collective shout arose all around me, but my shock drowned out all of it. How was it possible? Maybe she was saying it to piss off Troubadour, to make him leave. I looked in Urd's eyes...and saw a deep sense of sadness and betrayal.

"Troubadour, Urd has asked you to leave, so I suggest that you withdraw from here as she has instructed you," I insisted, walking up and standing in front of Urd.

"What's this? You're a mortal! How delightful? My dear Urd must be playing a love game, saying that she could ever possibly love one such as you. This is dearly entertaining!" he exclaimed.

"This is no entertainment, Troubadour. I'm done playing games with you. I'm done playing with you. It's over already. Just go. Leave us be," Urd said flatly.

"This I cannot do, my dear Urd," Troubadour answered.

"How many times does she have to say it? What does it take for you to understand that she is saying 'get the fuck out'? For a God whose region of service is that of an Earth Spirit with Muse attributes, you sure have mud in your ears," I answered.

"Shut up, Cevn! Don't make things worse!" Urd demanded.

"Who are you to address me as such, mortal nothing?"

"Earth Spirit, I warn you. This one is no mere mortal. You have no idea..." I heard Mara interject. "Blazes, you really have no idea what you're messing with. If you keep this up with my twin sister, you're gonna anger me. But if you anger him, you're gonna be in deep shit with no arms and legs to swim your way out of it."

"This is rich! You think I would trust you, Demoness?" Troubadour countered. "If you weren't a Demoness, I could have you.'re pretty good looking...I could trade Urd for you..."

"You fucker!" Urd shouted. "You say you love me, you went to all this effort to charm me...and now you're even saying shit like this about my own twin sister? I...snff...gave my heart back to you when I learned that I could love again. You trampled on it instead..."

Urd was badly shaken, and I was livid.

"Angry aren't you?" Troubadour said to me. "Angry because I have what you cannot. I've had Urd in every single conceivable way. She gave herself to me...something she would never consent to do with a worthless scum like you. How does that make you feel?"

"I don't care about that," I shot back. "You've hurt her, and that's what matters to me."

Urd was aghast at Troubadour's claim, and she shook her heard 'no' quickly. That was more than enough for me. Urd may be crazy, mischievous, a virago who has wanted to get laid ever since she came to the Earthrealm. But her eyes were true, and she may have given herself to Troubadour when they rebounded back into their relationship, but she didn't have sex with him. She had withheld this, and I knew in an instant that she telling the truth and Troubadour was lying about his relationship with her. And probably about a lot of other things as well.

"These are my best friends," I said. "And Urd is the best of my best friends. What you've done is wrong and is clearly disrespectful to her."

Gasps from the sisters.

"But I am the Troubadour," he said condescendingly. "Unlike you, who has a distorted sense of self and a disgusting fear of women, I have a thirst for women. Mortals, doesn't make a difference. I must remain free to pursue my muse, which is pure-hearted."

"You...pure-hearted?" I overheard Belldandy say in an angry voice.

"Yes, I am. My heart is so pure, so wonderfully pure, that I must share it among many. Many loves, many lives, many hearts. Your sister is but one of them, and holds a small but dear place in my heart. Yet, my heart is destined for greater things than this Goddess. I have to play is my nature."

"Well, this is my nature," I said, punching him as hard as I could in the jaw.

As my fist crushed against his jaw, I heard Mara say, "You just fucked yourself royally, idiot!"

My hand seemed to explode with pain, and I realized that Mara was talking to me.

Cevn's scream of pain was jolting, she could hear his knuckles crackling as they were crushed upon impact as he hit Troubadour three times in the face. He might as well be punching a marble statue...

"Elder sister, let me Skuld bomb him! He's hurting Cevn," Skuld asked.

"No, my dear sister," Belldandy told her as she raised a restraining arm and held it against Skuld's chest. She felt Keiichi rest his hand on her shoulder.

"Skuld, this is something between men. I know that you don't understand fully, but you cannot interfere. Trust me as a mortal man myself, trust my sense of masculinity. Just like your sister has to refrain from rescuing me from my errors, you have to be patient. Interfere now, and you'll hurt Cevn far more than Troubadour ever could."

"Well said, my dear," her older sister added.

Skuld felt sickened as Cevn tried to do a spinning kick of some kind. She heard a "snap!" as the bones of his ankle shattered. Troubadour was doing this to him! Not just resisting his punches and kicks, but making it so that he was injured back in some way. Cevn was limp-hopping around on his right foot, his left foot too badly injured to put his full weight on it.

"Troubadour, stop it!" Urd demanded. "Stop this immediately!"

"Shut up, Urd!"

Skuld could sense Cevn's emotional state, and realized that Troubadour's rebuke had caused him to snap past the point of sanity. Cevn punched Troubadour one final time with his injured hand, and screamed in agony so loud, it caused her to wince. She made a hand-motion to Banpei, even as her eyes were stinging at the sight of this. This wasn't just was cruel.

"Stand up and face me, mortal," Troubadour demanded. "Or are you too pitiful, too weak, to honor the virtue of your 'friends'? Or do you imagine yourself in love with Urd, whose heart is stained and..."

"Big mistake, that," she heard Big Sister Mara say in a low voice, slowly shaking her head "no". What did her Demoness sister know that she didn't? This set off a rapid cluster of thoughts...Mara capturing the two of them, tearing Cevn's eyes out. Mara and some Ultimate Demon. Hild. Big Sister Urd dying, while the God's Music was playing. But Big Sister Urd didn't die. Then there was that race...the Solar Federation race. Cevn had given Keiichi a pod with music on it, and it had caused the racer to run faster.

It was the music!

"As you know, this instrument is more than just a mortal instrument. It was crafted so that it could make music in any vibration in the audible spectrum...and beyond. It can recollate matter itself, filling flesh with hyperdimensional bugs, or simple slimeworms. It is made of waves themselves, an indestructible craftpiece of universal vibratory energy. It makes waves in my hands...waves that sound beautiful...waves that can even destroy. Vibrations...including the ones that would turn every solid bone in your body to liquid," Troubadour announced haughtily.

"Bring it on," Cevn gasped.

"Troubadour, for Lord's sake, he's not in his right mind. Spare him! Because if you kill him, I will hate you for the rest of my life," Urd pleaded.

"I could care less about your feelings, Urd," Troubadour told her.

Skuld felt horrified. This was Urd's boyfriend? The one Urd fell in love with? She knew what love was was that special bond that she had with Tomohisa. But Cevn and Urd weren't in love. They might have been, but now it just wasn't possible. But there he was, standing up for her Big Sister, just because she was his best friend. His "best of best friends" he had said. But isn't that what love does between two people?

She glanced at Belldandy and Mara...Belldandy was terrified, hand over her mouth, a rigor of shock and disbelief. She looked at Mara again, but her Demoness Big Sister was...

"If you have something in mind, you better do it, kiddo," her Demoness sister said. That seemed to snap her elder sister out of her fugue.

"Skuld...NOW!" Belldandy shouted. Instantly in syncognition with her two older sisters, they all joined together and developed a plan.

She heard Urd's mental voice pleading "please, just let him have the power one more time" in the softest of voices. She didn't understand what that meant. But she knew that the only way to fight music was with music.

Troubadour was a Muse, but Cevn could create the God's and Demon's Music.

"Banpei! Authorization 1447a-Skuld! Activate overlap soundpod!"

"With pleasure," the robot watchman replied.

Urd cried out as Troubadour played the fatal note...which was drowned out by the God's Music and the Demon's Music playing simultaneously. Cevn screamed and seemed to be caught in a web of electricity which lifted him up off the ground, seemingly burning him as if he was being consumed by one of Urd's thunderbolts.

Belldandy screamed as well, knowing that this was a tragedy that would burn in her sister's heart forever. But something seemed familiar in the sight of Cevn floating in the air...

She felt Holy Bell emerge from her. Floating behind her shoulders, her Angel joined her voice to the God's Music. Urd's Angel-Devil, Mara's Devil-Angel, and Skuld's precious Angel all joined in song with Holy Bell, were singing along with the music Banpei was broadcasting

...and then it all came back to her. The True History. Cevn floating in the air just like this, unharmed when Isilblius had killed everyone and burned him to a crisp. Urd jumping into a pyre of fire. The Seven creating the OmniArc. It dawned on her that her Big Sister was in love with Cevn...still! Isilblius, actually the SurGoth, exiling her out of her own Goddess soul, leaving her to die. Cevn defeating the SurGoth and becoming something much more than the Ultimate Force...

The God's Music, and how Cevn had gone near-insane trying to come up with a solution to save Urd.

Cevn slowly descended to the ground. Troubadour just stared at him in disbelief...he should have been a puddle of boneless flesh...but he was unharmed.

"Keiichi told me a story once, back when we were stranded in 14th century Japan. About how a group of cutthroats had stolen a young child away from her mother and threatened to kill her if Keiichi and his men didn't hand over their gold. Before Keiichi killed each and every one of them, he told them this. Attacking and endangering his men was a treasonous offense. Attacking his person was a personal offense. But trying to kill a young woman's innocent daughter...was an unforgivable offense. I remember these words of Keiichi's, as both a timely warning and an instruction."

"Bell-chan, what the hell's he talking about?" Keiichi asked.

"The suffering you've inflicted on Urd and her sisters is a treason against love. Cheating on her, lying to her, is a treason against her person. But betraying her heart is an unforgivable offense, a treason against her Soul. You're going to live with this for a very long time, Troubadour," Cevn said.

He reached out and grabbed Troubadour's guitar-like instrument...and broke it in two. The Earth Spirit looked at him in utter disbelief.

"That's impossible! That instrument is a Muse. The only being in existence that could break it is the Almighty..." he stammered.

"Well, it looks like he..uh, just broke your little Muse," Mara sneered. "And I set aside my Demoness instincts and made a good faith effort to warn you of this. So go blame yourself for your problems now, dumbfuck!"

"Well, I'll just go and have the Lord create a new Muse instrument for me," Troubadour replied sarcastically.

"I won't allow Him to," Cevn said.

"WHAT!?" Troubadour wailed.

"Troubadour, Cevn is much more than a mortal," Belldandy explained. "He's even much more than the Almighty. There are...times...when he becomes imbued with an energy, not always because he wants to, but because it wants to use him for some purpose. This is one of those times. Believe me, if he wishes to prevent the Almighty from doing an action, he can and will do it. Have you ever considered why Urd was able to fall in love with you again? It was because she was freed. My older sister was no longer limited by being the Norn of the Past; her heart was no longer confined in the providence of the Past...which created the opportunity and possibility for her to experience romantic love in Present. Now, she is just a Norn with no 'district' of Time, free to love anyone she chooses. Can you even begin to comprehend what an enormous reconfiguration of reality would be required to do such a thing? He," she said gesturing to Cevn "was the one who did it. In doing so, he basically gave Urd to you. You had your chance to make it right, but you chose to betray her all over again with your sweet, venomously false words of love. I am filled with regret and disappointment, because you lied to my dear sister."

"Let me explain it so even you can understand, you big airhead," Skuld added. "There are five forces that energize everything. The Ultimate Force governs the Nine Dimensional Divisions and enforces the Rules. The Intimate Force creates expansion, it is the force for growth that created the OmniArc, and now the OmniCosm. The big Syntrasil thing that we're all starting to learn about. The Soular Force is the force that powers the engine of Love, Souls re-energizing Love so that we can express it with meaning. The Love Force is the energy that binds together and vivifies all life. And the Life Force moderates between those who are here and those who are in the Mid-Realm. In other words, it is the bridge between Life and Death."

"But there is a force beyond and yet within those," Mara noted, drawing a gasp from everyone present except Cevn. "Those five forces are unified by the Balancing Force. I was there, in a sense, at the end of Time. I'll tell you what I saw. This 'mere mortal' gave up his life, willingly...and became the Balancing Force. He let it take him, completely. Everything that he was...was gone. In exchange, Everything that had been destroyed by the SurGoth was reinvested, rebirthed by that force of Balance. That force was activated and then guided by Twelve: a group of Divine children who spoke and acted with Nine Voices; a trio of Divines whose BlissGifts anchored the expression of creation; and the shattered, particulate remnants of the Everything. Together, we rebuilt all of this. The Balancing Force, in its wisdom, returned him to us. Because he's family.

"Right now, that force is in him. He could snuff you out of existence without an effort. He could snuff the Dark Lord out of existence without an effort. And you just royally pissed him off by hurting Urd. My twin sister loved him once, and he made her forget, so that she wouldn't have to suffer the regret of loss. But he still loved her, knowing that she could never love him. Right before he sacrificed himself, he changed the roles of the Norns. There were many reasons for this, but one of them was this: knowing that he would be gone, he made it so that Urd could find love again. We're all here because of this Balancing Force, which right now is wielding him as he wields it!"

As her twin sister pointed towards Cevn, Urd was stunned by Mara's revelation. There was a True History, where Cevn had saved her and everyone else. She knew beyond a doubt that her heart was his for the taking, and that somehow, his heart was hers for the taking as well. She just didn't know how this had come to be. But he had remembered the poems, back in Oxford. Could that have been when she first had an inkling that he had loved her, for most of those poems were about love? But those weren't just love poems...she realized with a start that he had written them about her, all those centuries ago.

"Oh my God," she gasped, shaken by the enormity of what she was feeling inside. She looked at Cevn, whose eyes were some strange glowing goldish color...whose forehead had a combined God's and Demon's seal upon it. He had set her free...and she had picked Troubadour over him?

Her three sisters had been right all along!

"Damn, I'm such an idiot!" she cursed herself. She felt Belldandy hug her from behind.

"Urd, you're not an idiot. You sought out love honestly, and that can be forgiven. Cevn wanted you to seek out love, and sometimes we who are in love make bad choices. But you will need to lead him back to you, if you want to make amends for this. He's already forgiven you, otherwise this wouldn't even be happening. You said you loved him, and that is a start on the path of healing."

Bell was right.

They looked at Cevn, who was glowing with energy. He appeared to be in some kind of hypnotic trance; his mind was there but then again it wasn't there. A blend of the mortal and the Balancing Force.

"He...had wished for be the force of Balance," Urd disclosed. "I just hope Balance will give him back to us when it's done with him."

"D..don't ki..kill me, man!" Troubadour exclaimed desperately, slowly back-stepping away from Cevn.

"I hope he does something worse than killing you," Keiichi shouted angrily, silent until now. His vehemence shocked Belldandy until she realized that her fiancé was speaking aloud what each sister felt in her heart. Now their group was complete, four sister Divines and Keiichi.

Belldandy looked at Keiichi, again impressed by him. "You knew, didn't you, my love? You saved Cevn from himself by allowing him to stand up to Troubadour unimpeded, by keeping us from rescuing him, by letting this go to the very edge of danger. As a man, you knew that he had to sacrifice of his convictions, just like you have stood strong and brave amidst the certainly of defeat. I remember you giving me these rings, creating hope out of hopelessness. You've risked it all for me, countless times, my dear husband. I don't know what it means to be a man, but I know what it is to love a man. Once again, through your courage and've proven that you are my hero, Keiichi. I love you so much and I am so proud to your wife!"

"I love you too, Bell-chan. That love for you is now strengthened with a vow. I will always protect you...and at times I will do this by protecting those you love, in my own way. That's what husbands do."

Profoundly touched by the truth in his words, Belldandy released Urd and almost collapsed into Keiichi's embrace, so she could feel his heartbeat next to hers once again. She couldn't imagine being more loved by him, and yet he had ventured even deeper into the essence of his own heart, offering her himself with total selflessness. Surrounded by his love, Belldandy could truly tell herself that nothing was more delightful.

"Troubadour. You would have taken my life without a forethought, simply to appease your vanity. In doing so, you would have killed part of Urd's heart and injured her sisters. When you behold them, when you look at Belldandy and Keiichi...that is what the true love is. Skuld and Tomohisa represent the potential of love to endure in every situation. Mara...well, she is going to be find herself exalted by the ultimate Love a Demoness can have, an intimacy of the highest order. In the name of love, they heal rather than harm. I will not stoop to such baseness as murder. I killed the SurGoth, and I have had enough of killing," Cevn said.

"By the heart of the Almighty!" Skuld burst out. She didn't know this! This man that her Big Sister returned to love...had destroyed the Destroyer of Everything.

"But there is a price to pay for your actions today...and in the past. Rather, I would give you a sanction that is a fitting reprimand of your deeds. Henceforth, you will be unable to create or perform music again. That which is your sustaining joy will no longer be in your grasp. You will know that it is so for the rest of your existence, because you are no respecter of those who you have harmed under the guise of 'love'. I also banish you from the Earthrealm. The Living Gate will grant you passage to this world no more. The Earthrealm deserves a better Earth Grade Spirit to steward it than you. Go wander the Realms for a time, to listen to your true calling. In time, you will learn what you need to learn. And if you honor what you discover and keep it in your heart, you will again become a Troubadour. You will become a superb Troubadour whose Muse fully resides in the calm of his heart. Until then, you must search your motives and learn humility. In this way have your harms have been balanced against you."

"Harsh!" Mara commented, clearly impressed. The Demoness in her was thoroughly enjoying Troubadour's grief, which was overflowing at the moment. It was so palpable, she was almost drunk on it.

"By the way, you may leave of your own choosing, or I will make you leave. You are no longer welcome here," Cevn asserted.

Troubadour looked at them with an appalled expression, and then vanished.

"Urd...the rest is up to you and your sisters, he said. A few seconds later, Cevn collapsed to the ground...and Urd was by his side in a flash.

"Have fun whacking off, you dick-head! See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!" Skuld said with biting sarcasm.

Belldandy didn't even bother to scold her younger sister.

"Hey you guys, I was wondering," Skuld asked over that night's dinner. "I mean, Troubadour is an Earth Spirit and Cevn was...well, way beyond that, to put it bluntly. But to take away his ability to make music? Isn't that what he lived for? Wasn't playing that Muse guitar thingy his main joy in life? Taking that away from him...wasn't that a little extreme?"

Urd of course wasn't at dinner, because she was standing vigil over Cevn. Whatever had happened, it had drained Cevn completely, but Big Sister Mara had assured her not to worry. Things like that happen when the Balancing Force was involved, she had explained.

Belldandy looked at her with a thoughtful mien for a moment, clearly pondering her questions. "No, my dear sister. I think it wasn't unreasonable. I think it was justice."

"Huh?" Keiichi blurted out, unaccustomed to seeing his normally gentle and forgiving girlfriend have an attitude like this.

"Skuld, you were a very young child when Urd and Troubadour were in love. But I was just three years younger than our sister, and I saw that pain that she had to endure. She was your age, deeply in love, but conflicted because that love betrayed her with an uncaring constancy in the person of Troubadour."

"But there still is someone behind all of this," Mara noted. "Troubadour wasn't acting on his own, and he certainly didn't gain control to move through Time...unless it was due to one of us." She looked pointedly at Belldandy and Skuld.

"Mara, that's impossible," Belldandy answered. "I would have nothing to do with Troubadour. Plus, I'm in favor of whatever aids the Earthrealm mortals. I wouldn't bring dictators into the past to try and corrupt the Timestream of the Future."

"This whole scheme was to try and keep Cevn from finishing Magnum Organum," Skuld said, holding a finger up for emphasis. "Troubadour found someone in the 22nd century who had a grudge against syncognition, and then aided him in an attempt to enslave humanity. It's an attack against the much as it is an attack against us."

"What do you mean, kiddo?" Mara asked.

"It's almost as if someone is trying to sow discord between us," Skuld explained. "Look at how we each suspect each other of aiding Troubadour. And..."

"And look at how each of us has been upset with each other. Belldandy is mad at Urd for hooking up with Troubadour. Skuld is mad at Belldandy because Tomohisa's asthma cure was revoked by the Almighty. Bellandy is mad at me because I talked to Keiichi about postponing the wedding. And Urd is mad at all of us because we didn't condone her relationship with Troubadour."

"What if some outside enterprise was involved in this," Belldandy ventured.

"But who?"

"Not who, but what," Cevn remarked from the hallway, Urd floating next to him. "The Enigma Book...and you yourselves...both mention that you were preceded by a trio of Goddesses called Fates. Clotho the spinner, Lachesis the alloter, and Atropos the unturnable. According to history, they tried to use Time to their own benefit in an attempt to overthrow Kami-sama and were consequently banished to Urd's Well as a result."

"That's...a bit of a stretch," Keiichi countered. "That would mean that they somehow got free, which wouldn't make sense if the Almighty had sent them there in the first place. And even if they got free, why would they want to mess with us?"

"My love, Time is a temptation to those who are immature," Belldandy replied.

"And the OmniArch was just expanded and totally rebuilt," Skuld commented.

"What do you mean?"

"The OmniCosm isn't just some perfectly organized universe. It's the result of a balancing act, created by the Balancing Force. There is a possibility that the Fates were released from Urd's Well when the Everything was being reconstructed," Skuld elaborated, seemingly speaking her thoughts out loud.

"So what do we do?"

"We go check Urd's Well to find out if the Fates are still there," Urd stated.