Angel Biter 31
Mara: Ma'ra noun [ Icelandic mara nightmare, an ogress. See Nightmare .] (Norse Myth.) A female demon who torments people in sleep by crouching on their chests or stomachs, or by causing terrifying visions.
"So that's it, eh?" Urd peered through the binoculars with a frown, observing the old fortress from where she lay hidden on a large plateau overlooking the old, dead fortress. The demon frowned. "It looks as dead as the rest of this place though..." The ex-Norn trailed off, dropping her gaze as she felt a warm body lean into her. Looking to the source the demon found Amon at her side, staring up at her with golden eyes and panting heavily. Absently the bronze woman reached over and ran a hand through the wolf-snake's thick fur, scratching through the coarse hairs and to the soft downy coat beneath, causing the beast to groan happily.
The silver-haired demon caught a flash of movement further down the small outcropping, and Urd watched as Caim and Glasya-Labolas slid away from their vantage point. Upon catching her eye Caim motioned her over as well, and after one final glance over to the fortress containing Skuld and Keiichi, Urd turned away and followed after.
The group of four had buried their bags in the sand, thanks in no small part to Amon and Labolas's hound avatar. Purgatory was hotter than the Sahara at midsummer, yet Amy seemed to know it like the back of his hand, and before the group of four had set out to stoke Vikoka's haunting grounds out, he'd prepared them all as best he could.
"There's nothing I can really do for Amon." He explained. "Amon is Amon. He cannot return to his original body-only an avatar of an avatar. He is better as he is now, for his senses are keener than any among us. Yet his fur is thick and the heat is vicious, so you will need to take extra reserves of water for him." The redhead handed Urd a large bag. It jingled as she slipped it onto her shoulders. "Keep it as deep underground as you can. In that way you can ensure the water stays cool without the use of magic. This land hungers for nothing if not blood and magic, and so it is all Sir Furcas can do just to bring water up from any underground wells we find. Spelling the canteens to keep cool will do nothing but feed the land and draw things we don't want."
Urd nodded. "Right. No magic." The Goetia had instructed her to change her clothes before entering the Deadlands as well. Now, like them, the ex-goddess was adorned in soft, warm pastels to help reflect the sunlight. Not white, however. White blinded in the light of Purgatory and stood out just as badly as black. On top of that it was the color of the gods and of Asgard. Only traitors wore pure white. That and Valu had threatened to hog-tie her if Urd even considered wearing the color amongst the Goetia. Urd thought he was joking until he'd shrugged and withdrawn a rope before having his three-headed dragon hold her down with one paw.
That had not been a fun experience. "I've always wanted to try bondage..." The words echoed in her mind, and the demon shivered reflexively despite the heat. "So that's what it feels like." She muttered beneath her breath. Karma's a bitch.
Labolas looked up at her, head tilted to the side in a manner similar to his doggy avatar. "What feels like what?" He asked.
Urd shook her head. "Nothing." She replied. "Just the mutterings of a madwoman." She'd forgotten how good Dog-man's hearing was.
Labolas grinned at her in amusement and returned his attention to the boulder Caim was heading towards. The dark man whistled and if Urd squinted she could see the pair of glowing red eyes that appeared in the small crack beneath the rock. The owner, one of Valu's dragon's, shimmied out with an identical chirp in the form of a pale blur that raced across the heated sand towards Urd. The woman flinched as she felt tiny claws latch hold of baggy clothing as it scurried up her body, and then the dragon was perched on her shoulder with the aid of the many folds of loose cloth. The creature observed her with all the cold, contemplative stare of a serpent and absentmindedly Urd ran a hand down the length of its neck, enjoying the cool, uniquely-bumpy feel of its beaded hide. Like a lizard. No scales. Not like a snake.
Its body was a chilling presence at her back, and beneath the heated sun it was comforting, despite its connection to Valu. The demon smiled, meeting its icy blue eyes with violet. "I'm flattered that you enjoy a woman's company so much." She told it. "However I think there is another who would appreciate this cool body of yours more." She pointed to Amon, whose movements were slow and labored in the desert heat. "Why don't you give ol' He of the Fur Coat a break?"
The little dragon cocked its head to one side, a split tongue darting out to taste the air. Then it was off without a word, gliding through the air to Amon, where it came to rest on the wolf's back. Unlike Urd, the beast didn't flinch as the reptile scurried across it's body, taking up residence on the wolf's back and fanning its wings out on top black fur like a second skin.
The wolf sighed, and for a moment it almost looked like Amon was giving her an appreciative smile.
Yet wolves were incapable of such expressions and when Urd blinked the look was gone, replaced once more with a panting wolf-snake adorned with a dragon.
The demon turned her attention back to her more human companions, finding them both staring at her oddly. "What?"
Caim shook his head and returned to moving the large boulder, yet as Glasya-Labolas assisted him, the gray hair man commented, "What you did for Amon-that was rather generous, Bright Lady." He grunted, and Urd winced at the nickname. It had spread throughout the other Goetia, and now she was lucky if they called the ex-Norn by her true name. "Most demons would have kept something like that for themselves considering where we are. Everyone knows how a dragon's body is colder than most to help keep control of its inner fire. In such as heated environment as we're in now, having a dragon like that on your shoulder is a priceless gift."
Urd raised a silver brow. I suppose that explains why Valu stayed behind with the others. Old Man Furcas looked like he was going to catch fire with how red he was getting in this land's sun. Vaguely and image of the remaining Goetia piling up beneath Valu's two headed dragon came to mind, and Urd shook her head in amusement. "So what's your point?"
"Don't let that kindness get the better of you." Caim chirped, his voice as high as his avatar and at odds coming from such a tall, dark, lanky body. "Shit like that will leave others to take advantage of you mercilessly. Demons take. They rarely give. Not unless something of equal value is given in return. That is why we make contracts rather than grant wishes. If you give, we will take and take and take until there is nothing left for you to give. Remember that."
Urd rolled her eyes with a sigh. "It's not like I needed the damned dragon." She growled. "Regardless of what you all seem to think, this land isn't really that hot." She played. "How do you know I wasn't simply trying to get rid of Valu's dragon?" She asked in a softer voice, approaching the duo and crossing her arms across her chest. "And how is that any different from getting water for Amon?"
Caim shook his head, and Labolas shrugged. "It is necessary to give Amon water as he is an asset to our team." The man explained. "Amon's ears and nose are far greater than my own, and his venom can be a potent and silent killer to those who are our enemies. Because of that, it's important that he stays alive and able bodied."
"A useless demon has no place within the ranks of Goetia." Caim finished softly. "A useless demon holds no rank, no title in Niflheim. They are lower than the earth itself, for even the earth proves useful in giving us something to tread on. A useless demon is nothing, and is treated as nothing until he proves to be something. Only those that prove the most beneficial are granted any amount of power. And so we ensure that those who are remain useful to us." The man sent the new demon a stern look. "You'd do well to remember that, Bright Lady."
Urd raised a silver brow. "That's some way to show you care." She muttered under her breath, causing Labolas to send her a glare. The demon ignored it in favor of leaning against the boulder hiding the hole their bags were stowed under. "Well, in that case, we might as well grab that water for Amon then. Like you said, we don't want a useless demon, right?" The bronze woman smiled over-sweetly, causing the duo to give her uncomfortable glances. Then Labolas shrugged and moved to the boulder as well. After a moment's hesitation, Caim followed as well, and together the trio of demons leaned against the stone. As one they pressed against it, grunting as they fought to move the weight away from the hole.
After a moment, the stone loosened before it slowly began to slide across the sand, grinding coarsely against the ground. The boulder was heavy and the sand loose, and more than once any one of the three demons slipped or stumbled in the fine grains. Yet none the less the stone moved, the hole they'd made gradually appearing as a black crescent moon in a negative perversion of the night sky. The crescent slowly grew larger as a waxing moon, until finally a black half-moon appeared.
The Goetia stopped there. Any further and the trio risked stepping into the hole in the stress of pushing the boulder. It wasn't very big, being only half of what they'd made, but it was large enough for someone small or thin to slip inside. Panting, Labolas and Caim centered their gaze on Urd, and the silver-haired demon stared back with a raised brow. When their looks didn't waiver, the Norn sighed. "Fine, fine. I'll get it." She growled.
Muttering obscurities under her breath, the demon kneeled next to the hole and peered inside. Nothing but darkness greeted her, and with a shake of the head Urd slid first one, then the other leg inside. Mindful of the large boulder, the bronze woman carefully slipped inside, momentarily disappearing from sight. The ex-Norn grunted as she hit the ground within, and with only a half-moon of light to guide her, began feeling around the bags beneath her until she came across the heaviest. The woman hoisted the bag over her head in offering, and after a moment it's weight lightened before disappearing completely, leaving the sun to bath her head in its rays.
The sand was too unreliable to allow her to climb out on her own, something all demons present knew, and after a moment two pairs of arms lowered themselves into the pit as well. Caim and Labolas were dark silhouettes against the sun. Urd reached up to grab them, feeling hands wrap around her arms and hoist her upwards. "Watch your head, Bright Lady." Caim grunted, causing Urd to watch the looming boulder from the corner of her eye with apprehension. Yet the woman rose from the hole without error and within moments it was over, leaving Urd at the edge of the hole once more.
Caim was gone almost immediately, heading towards the pack to grab water for Amon, yet Labolas stayed for a moment to spare her a glance. "Having fun yet?" He asked and Urd sent him a glare. The demon laughed before offering the woman a hand, pink and matted with gray in a reflection of his canine-self.
After a moment's hesitation the silver-haired Norn accepted the hand and with a grunt Labolas hoisted the demon to her feet. "Oodles." The bronze Norn muttered, wiping the sand from her pants. "I'll have even more fun when we actually make a move. I've got a wee bit of stress that I need to relieve, and I'm sure Vikoka and Loa will be more than happy to help." The woman shook her head in frustration. "I just hate standing around and doing nothing!"
Labolas regarded her carefully. "You know why we only watch now, right?"
The demon sighed, running a hand through her short hair. "Yes." She growled out. "I understand fully. You want to do reconnaissance on the facility to observe any patterns of life. That way we can more easily find any weak points in their guard and use that to our advantage when we actually strike."
The Goetia graced her with another smile. "Good." He said. "Glad to hear those late-night chats with with ol' Furcas are actually teaching you something." The man dug into a pocket, withdrawing something small and long. The man offered it to her. "Here." He said. "We want you to keep hold of this."
Taking the object, Urd examined it. The object was a long, straight, and hollow. A blow hole was carved into the top, and one of the ends rounded and shaved into a mouthpiece. "What is it?" It seemed to be made of bone, looking like a small, musical instrument a parent would give their child for entertainment. "I hope you don't expect me to start playing music for you guys now. You boys never struck me as the musical type."
Labolas snorted. "You'd be surprised." He played. "Valu can play the flute like you wouldn't believe, but that's another story." The man gestured to the item. "What you have there is a Nomed Whistle. It's used to bring sanity to those lost in blood lust."
Urd toyed with the whistle, a silver brow raised in doubt. "Is that so?" She asked. "So why are you giving it to me?" Her curiosity getting the better of her, the demon brought the whistle to her lips.
"Don't you blow that thing here, Urd." Labolas warned, surprising the Norn by using her actual name over the nickname gifted to her by Valu. "What you have there is something we all consider rather dangerous, especially to anyone who isn't lost in blood lust.
Silver brows furrowed together in confusion as Urd brought the whistle away from her mouth. "How is it dangerous?" She asked. "And why in the Yggdrasil's name are you entrusting it to me?"
The Goetia frowned. "Among the Goetia, you learn that there are a couple traits that many demons have." He explained. "One of 'em is the Sight, or the ability to see into the future. A couple of us have it, though it varies in strength in accordance with the demon." The man hesitated. "What's more is that we've been getting reports from some DEMINT...and...there's a high possibility that we'll be running into a situation where that whistle will be needed."
Urd sent the man a dirty look. "That doesn't tell me anything." She pointed out.
"It's Marller." Caim approached, backpack strapped to one arm as he drew near. Amon was further behind, rapidly lapping at a bowl of water while Valu's dragon looked on. Glancing over his shoulder at the two beasts, Caim nodded to the boulder before heading towards it. Following behind the dark man, the small pack of demons moved behind the large rock.
Safely out of view from the more beastly members of the team, Caim continued. "There is a chance that the Marller we greet will not be one who can distinguish friend from foe." He pointed to the whistle, still resting in Urd's grip. "The Nomed Whistle rouses those whose sanity sleeps, and those with the Sight have seen evidence of its use."
Urd frowned, feeling a shiver race down her spine. "What the hell are you talking about?" She demanded, voice low and cold.
Labolas and Caim looked at one another, seeming to communicate some hidden message only the Goetia knew. Finally Labolas spoke. "There are times..." He started, choosing his words carefully. "When a demon who is granted an avatar over a devil has...issues. To allow oneself to hold an avatar is to allow oneself to devolve into the beast that is written in that demon's genetic code, yet still maintain the Higher Self necessary for rational thought."
"For this to be achieved, a demon must be stable on all aspects of himself. He must be sane. He must hold no inner turmoil. He must be accepting of who and what he is. For him to be unstable on any one aspect of his Higher Self is to risk loosing himself to the instincts that are the avatar, the Other Half."
"Amon became one of them." Caim commented. "As did Goetia Vassago. Marller holds the same risk when her avatar is accessible."
The words struck her like a bolt of lightning. "Your saying that Mara-Marller-is unstable?" Urd hissed. "And she's in there-alone-with my youngest sister!?" Her words came out in a near-scream, and as one Caim and Labolas tackled her, shoving the Norn against the boulder and silencing her with two different sets of hands.
"Keep it quiet, Bright Lady." Labolas whispered. "There are certain things that certain demons must be made unaware of."
"Valu's relationship with Marller is strong, Bright Lady." Caim took over. "And those dragons are his eyes and ears. If word came to him of our possessing the Nomed Whistle, he would go out of his way to sabotage any plans involving it."
"You mean he doesn't even know you have this damned thing?"
"If he did there would be no whistle for us to give you, Bright Lady."
The man's words were not reassuring, and as the Goetia released her once more, Urd found herself staring down at the little bone whistle. "What exactly does this thing do that would scare Valu enough into wrecking his group's own plans?" She whispered hotly.
For a moment neither demon spoke. Caim sighed. "The whistle forcibly awakens the conscious from where it sleeps. A demon who's lost himself to instinct can be rendered to his senses once more; however, for those too far gone, such as Amon, it will do nothing but injure the mind."
"And you're thinking that there's a possibility that that window of time will have come and gone before we reach her." Both Goetia nodded, and Urd pursed her lips. "And that in blowing this damned whistle, we'll harm her rather than help her, giving Valu ample reason to destroy this thing."
The two demons held their peace and Urd ran a hand through her hair. "Well isn't this just a wonderful surprise." She said nastily. My best friend turns out to be an unstable nut and my baby sister is locked in a cell with her. On top of that the giant fucking dragon that is related to her could go rouge and sabotage all our efforts to save them without a second thought. "Yggdrasil damn it and Nidhogg bless it, are we ever going to get a break?"
Skuld awoke stiff, sore, and warm. Blinking tired eyes, the youth stared into the darkness of the cell, finding her eyes more easily adapting to the shades and shadows than upon her initial arrival in the cell. An arm was drooped around her shoulders, and somewhere in the past several hours since falling asleep Mara had shifted positions. The raven-haired Norn now rested in-between the demons legs, lying against Mara's chest. The demon was a warm, familiar presence at the youth's back, yet she could hear the labored breaths rising from the blonde's chest. Uncomfortably the youth wondered to what extent the fanged woman had been injured, and just as quickly she pushed it aside. Dwelling on it now would not change or help anything.
A small frown on her face, the youth scanned the cell, noticing a couple of bowls resting near the cell gate but seeing nothing else out of place. Curiosity getting the better of her the young Norn slid out of Mara's grip, relieved to find that the demon didn't automatically awaken at her movement. The woman needed her rest after what she'd been through and it wasn't like the strange bowls were going to contain some demon within their contents.
Besides, she didn't see any other demons around; particularly Loa. So long as that one was missing, Skuld felt fairly secure in her cell.
Moving over towards the bowls, Skuld sniffed the air. Something that smelled vaguely of broth returned to her nose. Tipping her head to one side, the youth picked one of the bowls up. "Soup?" She asked aloud, wondering how long the liquid had been there. Obviously a while, considering how cool the bowls were. Skuld shrugged. Food was food and the lass couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten. The very scent of it caused her stomach to complainloudly, and the youth dipped a finger in one of the bowls to ensure it was indeed soup.
Upon licking her finger, the Norn gagged. "This...this isn't soup." She muttered, wiping her mouth on her arm as she placed it down and stepped away from it. "It-it tastes like motor oil! They can't really expect us to eat this stuff, can they?"
No one answered her, and so with a huff the youth turned away from the bowls, suddenly without appetite once more. "I'd sooner eat something Urd made than that stuff." She grumbled, turning her attention instead towards Keiichi.
The man hadn't moved since she'd fallen asleep, Mara's cloak still lying discarded at his side. Sighing, the Norn approached the man, gathering the cloak in her arms and disliking the stiff quality it had to it. "This can't be a good thing." She muttered, yet none the less proceeded to cover the man's torso once more. "Try not to kick this thing off, okay Keiichi?" She instructed him. "Mara gave you it to keep warm, and I think she'd be pretty mad to know you weren't using it considering how sick you are."
Keiichi didn't respond, and Skuld frowned, hesitantly moving a hand to rest on his shoulder. It felt too cold for one wracked so heavily with fever. "Listen, hang in there, okay? We'll find a way out of here. We'll get you some real help and then we can go see Belldandy and Urd, and I promise I won't beat on you until you're all patched up and feverless again and back to normal, okay?"
Keiichi's silence was disturbing, and the youth's frown deepened. "Keiichi?" A pale hand moved from the mortal's shoulder to his forehead, and black brows furrowed together in a deepening concern. It was cold. Too cold. That same hand then trailed down to the man's throat, and Skuld's breath caught in her chest.
"MARA!" Skuld screamed, bolting upright and racing to the demon in question. The blond awoke alert at once, and heedless of the fanged woman's injuries Skuld collided with the wounded demon, smashing small, desperate fists against her chest. "You need to do something, you need to do something!" The youth screamed. "Keiichi-he isn't-please!" She begged.
How long had he been like this? She was certain he'd been fine before falling asleep...when had it happened? How long had she been sleeping? At what point did Keiichi...
Beneath her fists Mara dodged her blows in futility, causing the demon to grunt and hiss and growl in both pain and her native tongue. Yet whatever words the blonde was trying to communicate to the Norn fell on deaf ears. "Please Mara! You've got to do something! Help him!" The raven-haired child paused in her panicked attack, pointing towards Keiichi and watching as slit red eyes darted to the man in question.
Those same eyes then narrowed, and with her good hand Mara shoved the youth away and unsteadily rose to her feet. Too desperate, too terrified to care, Skuld grabbed that same hand and half-lead, half-dragged the injured demon to Keiichi's dormant form.
"Bring him back." The young Norn's voice wavered. "Please, I don't care how you do it, just bring him back."
If Mara even understood what Skuld was saying, the demon did a remarkable job of ignoring it, instead sinking to the floor gracelessly beside Keiichi and resting a hand on one shoulder. Skuld watched in urgency as the demon examined Keiichi, feeling his throat, hissing angrily and examining the wounds on his back. With a grunt she rolled him over, moving to rest her head against his chest only to snap up with an angry snarl.
The woman wheeled around to face Skuld, eyes raging. "You!" She roared, lunging at the youth and earning a frightened scream from Skuld in return. The demon's good hand wrapped around the collar of Skuld's shirt, and the demon yanked the Norn forwards. "Hands." The blonde snapped, releasing the girl only to snatch hold of one of the child's wrists, thrusting it down on Keiichi's bare chest.
Mara then bore her weight down on Skuld's hand, only to alleviate the pressure and bare down once more not a second later. Terrified, Skuld watched on in panicked confusion, hand throbbing as Mara started a rhythm on Keiichi's chest. Then the blonde paused, releasing Skuld's hand and placing her ear to the man's breast once more. The frown on Mara's face deepened, and the demon shifted to press her lips against Keiichi's mouth.
Skuld felt Keiichi's body swell beneath her hands, and only then did the pale Norn realize the demon was trying to resuscitate him. When Mara removed her mouth from Keiichi and glared at Skuld, the raven-haired youth quickly moved to press down on the man's chest, imitating what Mara had tried to communicate to her not a minute beforehand.
"Stop!" Mara snarled, and Skuld froze, watching as once more the demon attempted to breath some sort of life into the man.
"Go!" She announced, and once more Skuld frantically pushed down on his chest, praying to Yggdrasil, to the Almighty, to any god of life or death that Keiichi would return to them.
Like some horrid game of Red Light, Green Light, the two continued their efforts, and with each shout, with each attempt, Skuld felt a small piece of herself grow closer and closer to death.
This wasn't happening. Keiichi wasn't supposed to die. Not after all they'd been through. Not after all she'd been through for his sake.
Belldandy was going to be crushed. She could see it already. They'd get out without Keiichi and return to Belldandy and her big sister would...Belldandy would...
Her eyes were burning again, and Skuld could feel moisture dot her hand like raindrops. Only they were inside, and there was no magic within the cell that could produce any rainclouds.
What the hell where the Underworld Deities thinking? Didn't they know who Keiichi was? Didn't they know what he meant to Belldandy? The couldn't take his soul away! Not yet, not when they still had a chance at freedom!
Mara placed her head to his chest once more, and Skuld sat panting, watching as red eyes closed in concentration only to fling open once more. The blonde froze, gaze tilting down to Keiichi, before shutting her eyes once more, brows furrowed and a scowl on her face as though seeking to block out the rest of the world.
The youth stared with bated breath, squirming uncomfortably as she waited for some signal to begin again. When a minute passed of nothing but silence, the raven-haired youth dared to speak. "Mara? Is Keiichi...is he..."
The demon's eyes snapped open, and a violent snarl escaped her throat. "Idiot!" She roared, and it wasn't until the woman rose and began pounding her good hand against Keiichi's chest that Skuld realized the words weren't directed towards her. "I never said you could amašu!" The woman screamed, howling words Skuld recognized and many more she didn't, all the while beating on the mortal's chest as though he'd become her new punching bag.
The sudden violence was frightening to behold until Skuld caught the look of sheer desperation in the woman's eyes.
Then it became utterly terrifying.
The woman shifted, rising to her knees and throwing a leg over Keiichi's body. Straddling his torso, the demon rested her weight on his stomach. Mara bared her teeth down at the man in rage, the desperate look in her eyes never leaving the blonde's heated gaze.
Sensing something about to happen, Skuld roused from her stupor. "Mara, what are you doing!?" She screamed, reaching out to grab Mara's arm only for the limb to be torn from her grip. A blur collided with her face, and Skuld's cheek blossomed into an angry red from where the blond struck her. Stunned, the youth fell to her rump, clutching her burning cheek as she stared at the demon in bafflement. "Mara-Keiichi is...what are you-"
A beastly snarl, so similar to the one Mara had portrayed to Loa and his men in the room from before, erupted from her throat, and Skuld froze. The look on the woman's face was more anamalistic than human. It almost looked as thought Mara was going to turn those fangs on her.
"Sssstop..." The demon hissed, panting as the red-eyed demon glared at the youth. "Back. Stay. Back." A deep warning growl reverberated in the woman's throat, and against her own wishes Skuld quickly did as ordered, dark eyes wide in a mixture of fear and worry over not only Keiichi, but Mara's new temperament as well.
"Mara, what's wrong with you?" The youth demanded, pressing herself up against a wall as she eyed the demon with trepidation.
Mara shook her head, another growl emanating from her chest. "Back." She repeated. "I Danger." She pressed her good hand against her chest, and for the first time Skuld took note of how the nails on the woman's hand were elongate and pointed, curling into hooks that snagged the cloth of her shirt. The Norn stared, concern rising in her chest over what could have instigated such a drastic change as to alter the demon's hand.
For a long moment neither conscious occupants spoke. Nothing but the sound of Mara's labored breathing and Skuld's soft pants filled the cell. Finally, after a small eternity, Skuld gathered her courage. "...What are you going to do to Keiichi?"
Mara closed her eyes, the only source of light in the cell. When she opened them once more, Skuld thought she could almost make out the slit pupils of the demon's eyes. "I bring back." She said simply.
The woman's breath came faster then, and Skuld watched in horror as what could only be magic slowly began to condense around the demon's body. "Mara, stop-what are you doing!? Don't you know what-"
The girl was cut off by a scream from Mara as electricity suddenly struck. White-hot bolts of plasma danced across the blonde's body, arching off her and onto Keiichi's still form as well. The demon's body spasmed sickeningly, and the magic around Mara's body vanished as the fanged woman lost consciousness. The electricity vanished as suddenly as it appeared, and despite herself Skuld scrambled towards the duo as Mara's body collapsed on top of Keiichi's. "Mara!"
The youth raced to check the demon's pulse, placing a two finger's against the fallen demon's neck. It wasn't until she felt a pulse that Skuld allowed herself to release the breath she'd been holding. Relief flooded her being, and the young Norn sagged beside her two cell mates. Easing herself into a sitting position beside the demon and mortal, Skuld ran a hand through her hair. "What the hell were you thinking!?" The youth demanded. Her body was trembling. "How is electrifying yourself going to help Keiichi, huh?" She demanded. "Are you trying to kill yourself, you big idiot?" Despair took root in the little Norn's chest, making it hard to breath. Two small fists collided with the unconscious Mara's back. "Don't leave me here alone!"
"Now Lass, that's no way to talk in your current situation. If you lose hope now, you'll never survive to see the sun again." A voice, hauntingly familiar, arose in the darkness.
Skuld froze, and her hands slowly fell from her face, head tilting to observe the bleachers above her. "No...please no...it can't be..."
Three pairs of eyes; gold, red, and blue, stared down at her. The Red Crow tilted its head to one side in curiosity, and next to it the Black Crow fluttered its wings restlessly. "Speaking of which," it commented, "Why is a god child locked in one of our cells with a demon and a mortal, anyways?"
A cold, dark chill raced down Skuld's spine. This can't be happening...They were killed...I watched the Daimakaicho tear The Black Crow apart!
But...if the Black Crow is here, alive...then wouldn't that mean-
Outside her cell, a mass of shadows began to growl.
"G-grandpa?" Keiichi Morisato stared in disbelief at the man before him, wondering, hoping, praying his eyes were deceiving him. Yet though he blinked, though he rubbed his eyes, the man before him did not change in appearance nor vanish into oblivion.
Hotaru-No-Suke looked as young as ever. Perhaps a few years older than when Keiichi Morisato had last seen him in a photo with a hotel girl, yet far from the older, white-haired man that was his father. The man smiled. "It's nice to finally meet you, Keiichi." He said. "It feels like I've been waiting an eternity to see a direct relative of mine, yet you've surprised me in being outlived by Little Tanako." The man sighed regretfully. "It is always a sad day when a parent outlasts their child."
The words shocked Keiichi, and the young man stared at his elder in horror. "What are you talking about?" He demanded. I'm not dead!"
"Oh?" Hotaru tilted his head to one side. "Then why are you so close to the borderlands of Yomi, Young One?"
"How would I know?" Keiichi blurted. "You must be mistaken though." He insisted. "Belldandy is waiting for me. I can't leave her waiting by dying."
Hotaru nodded. "Ah, yes...the Gaigin woman." The man scratched his cheek in a manner that immediately reminded Keiichi of his mother. "Unfortunately the Gaigin isn't coming."
The young man tensed. "You don't know that."
His elder released a sharp bark of laughter. "Don't know what? That your woman is not human? That she has the power to destroy worlds is she so wished?" The older man's eyes narrowed. "Or that despite her strength and power, your Belldandy holds no authority in the realms of the dead?" The man sighed, regarding Keiichi as though he was a young, ignorant child. "She can't reach you here Keiichi, nor does her position as a goddess have so much sway that she can come mosey on down here and take you away to Never Never Land."
Keiichi grit his teeth, hands curling into fists. "So then why are you here?" He asked. "If I'm as dead as you claim, what's the point of you coming here?"
"'The point' is that you're different from everyone else, Keiichi." The man growled. "Those touched by the hands of the divine-or the damned-are rare cases. They require special treatment, and my employer decided I'd be best suited to bringing you to Yomi."
Hotaru nodded. "Yes. The dead, as you'll come to learn, are divided amongst the Underworld rulers. They act in the place of Kings and Emperors, Presidents and Tyrants, and beneath them are the spirits who act as my employer." The man ran a hand through his hair. "It's not easy keeping track of so many deceased souls. The Underworlds work on the same rules as the Overworlds, be they the Assiah itself, the Heavens, or even the Hells."
"But you-having been Touched, are an anomaly. No one is sure where someone like you belongs, despite the fact that you're still human. From what I know, you go someplace not even the Underworld Guardians can touch you; however, because your woman wasn't around for you upon your death, I was sent to retrieve you. The normal Gate doesn't appear to those who've been touched as it did me, and none of the Guardians want to risk loosing your soul by wandering aimlessly without guidance."
Keiichi frowned. "So this is all for my safety?" He asked. "Then what happens if I'm with you in the Underworld and Belldandy comes to retrieve me? What happens then? Am I to believe your 'employer' is going to simply let me go?"
Hotaru shook his head. "Nope." He replied. "If you go to the Underworld, you stay in the Underworld. Unless your woman has some connections with any of the Underworld deities, your soul will belong in Yomi with its ancestors."
The youth rubbed his chin in thought. "So what happens if I just decide to stay here?" He asked. "Not wandering around, not exploring, not going with you; just staying right here, in this very spot until Belldandy comes." The young man looked around, finding a relatively large boulder near and moving to sit on top of it. "If I promise to stay right here on this rock, will you return to Yomi without me?"
Hotaru raised a dark brow before shaking his head. "Kids these days." He muttered. In a louder voice he said, "It's not going to happen, Keiichi." The older soul waved his arm around him. "Look around you. What do you see?"
The land was filled with a gentle mist that seemed to cling to Keiichi's feet; moist and cold, it chilled him to the bone despite the pants he wore. Above his head a blue-violet night sky rested, speckled with dots of light that Keiichi originally took for stars but now was uncertain of. A streak of light that might have been a shooting star descended across the horizon, and grimly Keiichi wondered if he'd gain a wish from spotting it.
Around him nothing but rocks and boulders rested, sleeping for an eternity on loose gravel that ground beneath his feet with every step. He could see no grass or weeds, no trees or bushes or even bodies of water. Nothing but a landscape made of rock.
"You're in the Borderlands between your human body and the various Underworld realms." Hotaru continued. "Nothing living exists here, but a whole lot of things that aren't make up the denizens of this wasteland." The man stared at Keiichi with critical brown eyes. "Sure I could leave you." He said. "I could leave you and return empty handed to my commander, make up some excuse that your woman came right as I was about to take you away and leave you here to do whatever you want."
"But shit doesn't work that way, Morisato. I leave you here, the creatures that live in these gaps between realms; these lost, wandering souls who never had a Gate to guide 'em or a guide to watch over them, will start to realize that someone else is in their territory. And believe me Boy, they don't take too kindly to trespassers in their territory."
"So the question now is," The man approached Keiichi, and grimly the younger man refused to move, meeting Hotaru's gaze squarely. "Are you willing to risk those beasts for a goddess that might not come?"
"Yes." For a man like Keiichi, the answer was obvious, and the young man stood his ground even as a flash of anger passed across his grandfather's face. "Yes." He repeated. "If it's for Belldandy, I'll wait an eternity for her. I don't care about any spirits that might dwell here. I don't care about what might come looking for me if I refuse to leave this rock." The man smiled, dark eyes determined. "Belldandy will come for me. I don't need anyone else trying to convince me otherwise."
Hotaru pulled back with a sneer on his face. "You're a damned fool, Morisato." He spat. "Which is why I'm going to take you back with me whether you like it or not. That woman your so stubbornly waiting for is precisely why you're in this situation in the first place. Or have you forgotten the many demons that tore apart your life?
"And have you forgotten the women you left behind?" Keiichi countered aggressively. "I love Belldandy, and that may have caused some chaos in my life because of who and what she is, but I'll take my loyalty to the woman I love over the betrayal that I've seen in you." The youth leaned in close to his elder, his voice low. "At least I keep my promises to the women who love me so much. Can you say the same about Grandma, who never took another husband when you left her alone and pregnant? About that hotel girl you promised to give a ride around the lake with? Or have you been blinded by your pride and honor to have forgotten just how you died, Old Man?"
Hotaru froze, the expressions on his face melting into carefully set stone. "You'd best watch your mouth, Boy." He warned. "You're touching dangerous waters now, and I won't be held responsible for anything you instigate me into."
"Then stop trying to insult Belldandy." Keiichi said in turn. "I love her, and even though she's stronger than me by far, I won't have anyone disrespecting her when she's not around to defend herself." The man's eyes' narrowed. "Especially when it's right to my face."
For a long time the two men did nothing but stare at each other in challenge, each daring the other to make the first move. Then, slowly, a smile dawned on Hotaru's face. The man chuckled, catching Keiichi off guard. "It seems you're not as spineless as I originally thought." He mumbled. "Yet courage alone is not enough, Keiichi. Not here. Not in the world you want to return to. In the world your woman is in, power is the only thing respected." The man smirked. "So tell me this, Son of my daughter: Do you have the strength to back up that courage?"
Keiichi remained silent, his gaze never leaving Hotaru's matching brown eyes. The elder nodded. "I see." He murmured, before launching a fist at Keiichi's head. Instincts honed long ago from lessons with his father suddenly awoke, and Keiichi jerked back before the fist could connect. Unfortunately, the man lost his balance on the rock at the same time and Keiichi ungracefully tumbled off his perch, landing in the gravel with a grunt.
"What the hell are you doing?" Keiichi cried. "I don't want to-" Catching a flash of movement, immediately Keiichi rolled, Hotaru's boot, narrowly missing his body by inches. The man scrambled to his feet, and throughout it all Hotaru continued his assault relentlessly.
"Come!" The departed spirit demanded. "Show me your strength! The power you will use to protect the one you cherish most! You believe yourself strong enough to survive in this wasteland alone? Then defeat me and prove that the creatures here will not stand against you!"
Alert now, the young man actively deflected a blow to his stomach. "My strength?" He inquired. "How is fighting you supposed to show you my strength? I don't want to fight you!"
"Well it's a damned shame you can't always get what you want now, isn't it?" Hotaru countered, thrusting an angled low kick at Keiichi's left knee. The youth twisted back and to the side, causing his blow to fall short of its intended target and graze his outer leg instead. The Elder advanced. "You're not going to want to fight the creatures that reside here either, I can tell you that right now, but they're not going to give you any options different from mine."
Grimacing, Keiichi backed away from his opponent warily. "You leave that for me to decide." He said. "If there's a way I can avoid getting too violent, I'll take it." The man moved into Hotaru's guard as the man advanced with a left punch, right punch, high kick combination, letting the spirit's thigh collide weakly with his hip before finally countering with several blows of his own.
Most of them Hotaru managed to parry, yet Keiichi managed to get one good, solid blow in before dancing away. He received a strong kick in his side in consequence; however, causing the young man to hiss in pain.
Across from him Hotaru scowled. "What is this?" He demanded. "Did Keima really raise such a weak son? Or has living around so many inhumanly powerful women destroyed your pride as a man?"
Keiichi smirked. "Well there was that one time I grew breasts..." He commented snidely, watching as his grandfather bristled at the mention of the past incident. "And even the one male demon I knew ended up turning into a girly pussy...cat. But I left my pride at home when my eight year-old baby sister continuously beat the shit out of me doing the same thing we're doing now." Backing up, the youth laughed. "There's only so much of a daily ass-whupping you can take before you finally hang your pride up in the closet."
Hotaru snorted, circling to the left and forcing Keiichi to do the same, the two men watching for any signs of an incoming attack. "Pitiful." He rumbled. "It's a man's duty to protect the women in his life. If he can't do anything as simple as that, he might as well hang up his suit and sword for an apron and pan and spend the rest of his days in the kitchen."
"Nah. If that happened everyone would end up choosing starvation over hunger; I'm a terrible cook. Have you ever met anyone who could burn water?" Keiichi quipped up. "Besides, Belldandy enjoys cooking with all her heart. Who am I to take that joy away from her? Not to mention she's an incredible chef; she could make a deep-fried dog turd delicious."
For a brief moment Keiichi gained the distinct pleasure of watching Hotaru pale at the imagery that was no doubt running rampant through his grandfather's mind. The man shook his head. Isn't it frustrating though?" The old spirit countered. "Constantly being saved by the same people who initially put your life in danger? Forced to walk on glass between the normalcy of your life and the life that is constantly brought into their world?" The man suddenly lunched forward, and caught off guard at the abrupt attack not even Keiichi's reflexes managed to save him.
The fist connected with his solar plexus,and Keiichi crumbled to the ground, wheezing as he fought for breath. Hotaru approached, digging his fingers into Keiichi's hair and pulling his head up to meet the spirit's eyes. "When you are always the one needing to be saved, what strength do you have to protect the ones saving you in turn?"
The man was too busy nursing his body to attempt to shake Hotaru's hand off his head. It took several minutes before Keiichi managed to answer him. "Course its frustrating." He rasped, meeting his grandfather's gaze with near identical brown eyes. "Every time...every time shit happens I'm terrified that I'll lose her...that this will be what ends us...that I can only watch as fate tries to separate us again and again and that I can do nothing but watch from the sidelines as she fights..." Slowly a smirk wormed its way across Keiichi's face. "But even still...I manage to find a way to help. So long as there's at least something I can do...even if its the smallest task in the world...if it will help ensure Belldandy stays safe, that she wins, that she comes back, I won't hesitate to do it."
The young man laughed. "I don't care what it is; lending my body to an angel, lending my body to a devil...even sacrificing myself to ensure she lives. It doesn't matter how frustrating things get. I'll still find a way to help make sure she wins." A hand moved to wrap around Hotaru's wrist. "There's more to it than just physical strength." He snapped, moving to his knees before slowly pushing himself to his feet. "You don't understand that."
"Belldandy is my strength. She is my reason to live. She holds my heart in one hand and my faith in the other; she isn't just my love, Grandfather. Belldandy is my goddess and so long as she holds my love and faith, I need to stay alive. If only for her sake." The grip on Hotaru's wrist tightened, and Keiichi twisted beneath it, freeing himself from the spirit and staggering away. "I don't need to fight so long as I have my goddess, so long as I can stand freely by Belldandy's side." The young man's eyes grew hard and determined as Keiichi dropped into a new stance. "But if your so desperate to take me away from her than I'll gladly fight you and all the Underworld!"
A smile, hungry and twisted, slithered across Hotaru's face. "Well it's about damned time you started taking this seriously." He hissed.
And with a roar, the departed spirit of Hotaru-No-Suke struck.
As two men fought desperately for a victory that would change the fate of one individual, above their heads a shooting star collided with a previously unknown body of water.
A Dead Lake, its waters were thick, black and viscous, pulling its latest victim further into its depths like a pit of tar. Terror filled the creature as ice filled its veins, and desperation clouded its thoughts as the new denizen fought its way to the surface. Yet the water was too thick, its depths to black; what was down became up, up became down, and regardless of its labors it quickly grew fatigued. Its lungs burned in desperate need of air and its body grew painfully numb as an evil chill settled in its bones.
Its body was dying, it knew, and should the body die it too would end up dead as well. The form it once chose for the land was vastly inferior to its new environment, and if it didn't change its body to better adapt to the new climate, it didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of surviving.
Instinct, old and primordial, consumed its consciousness, giving its body no option but to respond in turn. Its flesh melted away, consumed by the deep waters, and in its place fur and scale sprouted. Webbing thickened in-between digits that thickened into paws. Fire emerged in its chest, devouring the chill in its bones. A new sense of direction emerged in its mind, and where once was panic instead something else too residence. That same something guided the newborn creature to the surface, breaking through and filling depleted lungs with fresh air.
The creature tread water, searching for the nearest shoreline before promptly making its way towards it. Steam arose from its head as fire within its core devoured the moisture, and by the time the water grew shallow its head was dry, the rest of its body following suit as it pulled itself from the inky water.
The sand hissed and cracked beneath its feet as it moved farther from the shoreline, and in its wake a trail of glass remained to mark the creature's existence. Far enough to ensure the water would be unable to grasp it once more, the creature sat panting, allowing its body to dry and grow hot once more. It observed its new surroundings with disinterest.
Large, pointed ears ending in black tufts of fur swiveled from side to side. Somewhere to the west it heard the familiar sounds of battle, while east came the low moans of prey. To that sound the creature turned its attention, its stomach complaining and reminding it of the meals it had missed since...since...
Why was it hungry again?
Images of bars rose in its mind, reminding it of the Deathly One. Only the smells and sounds that came with it spoke of a different experience not anywhere near as terrifying. Some of the scents reminded it of the Not-Real One, which was also bad, but more still reminded it of the Snake-Cur that it considered a friend. The beast laid its ears across its head, growling in confusion. The thoughts were of the Other Half, the One that now slept within. They were disturbing thoughts, and somewhere in the back of its mind it almost grasped the reason behind them.
This land...it was here for a reason, was that it? The beast sneezed. It couldn't recall. Such thoughts were for the Other Half, not itself, and if the Other Half was sleeping now, then it must have meant that there was no need for the Other Half to be awake.
No need for thought.
No need for rational.
Just a need for itself and the strength and instinct it had on hand.
Just a beast whose original purpose was lost; forgotten in the sleeping mind that sheltered it.
The creature inhaled deeply, smelling dust and fire, blackwater and rotting things. And something else. Something agonizingly familiar to the point where it felt like whimpering at the mere scent of it.
Yet its Other Half did not stir at the scent nor did it rouse to let it know what the scent belonged to. The beast buried its snout in its paws, hoping to rid itself of the smell. Half the land reeked of it, like a dead fish some canine had decided to roll in before racing off to mark its territory. A disgusting stench, one that smelled of human smog and poison vainly covered by the scent of flowers and pines.
True, it was preferable over the other half of the land, which smelled like rot and disease, but only just. If given the option, it would have preferred to have no sense of smell at all, or to at least have a blunted, dead nose like that of its Other Half.
Its Other Half...its Other Half had brought them both here, so it knew it was here for a reason...but what!?
The creature groaned in irritation as nothing but a dreamless fog came to mind, spoiled with the taste and bite of electricity. It shook its head, surrendering what it could recall in favor of the hunger pains of its stomach. Perhaps it would recall more if there was food in its stomach.
Shaking its coat and spraying soot everywhere, the creature rose to its feet. Food was a wonderful idea and with its Other Half asleep it could hunt to its heart's content. The creature headed east at an easy trot, moving away from the scent of sickeningly familiar human scents and off towards the scent of rot and disease. It had been seven hundred years since it had a chance to spread its legs, and just as waking from a long sleep of recovery it felt marvelous to stretch its legs once more.
Growing more comfortable in its trot, it spread out its strides, moving faster before stepping into a full out sprint. The air, cold as it was, felt refreshing against its ever-hot body, blowing the ever-constant layer of soot off its back and leaving a line of ash to follow the glass footprints it left as its trail. Off to its right something large and mighty rose with a deep groan, and immediately the creature veered towards it, smelling rot with a minimum trail of disease rising from its body.
Perhaps it was once human. Now it was only a spirit, putrid, its body falling apart from letting its astral body go to waste wandering for decades in the wasteland. The ghoul bellowed at it as the beast approached and the creature responded with a burst of flame, setting the monstrosity alight. The rotting spirit shrieked in pain as flames hotter than hellfire scorched its body, charring the ghoul into a black crust in seconds.
The ghoul collapsed in on itself, smoke rising from its black remains. The creature approached it at an easy trot, coming to a halt in front of the smoldering corpse and sniffing it in curiosity. Deciding the still-glowing embers of residue flames had thoroughly cooked the lost spirit, the beast reached over and promptly began devouring the blackened corpse.
Fire and flame burned out any disease the ghoul once carried, roasted away any rot so that even the most putrid flesh was edible. And it was a creature of flames after all; a Child of Muspellheim. And like the fire within its chest, it would consume anything the flames licked and found appetizing.
The food wasn't much; merely a snack in the wake of a fast several days in length. The ghoul only further reminded it of the food it was lacking; however, it managed to lighten the heavy pounding of forgetfulness in its mind.
It was searching for a human. The one who was the source of the human pollution stench and flowery scents. The Other Half wanted the human. A growl rumbled in its throat at the thought of nearing one who held such an unnatural reek. What would have possessed its Other Half to want to go after something like that?
My Human...the sleepy voice of its Other Half mumbled in the back of its mind. With it came the fuzzy image of a small man with dark hair and dark eyes. Its ears perked forward in interest. So that was it then? The human belonged to it? An emotion that might have been irritation if the creature recognized such things filled its chest, feeding the fire within its body. What had its human done to get stuck in a dead land like this? It was going to need to show the mortal who was boss once it found the person again!
Sniffing at the black scorch mark that once held a ghoul one last time the beast turned off towards the direction of human scents. The images of its prey in its mind and the scent of humanity on its nose, the beast barreled off in run, bounding away towards its original goal.
Its travel was swift, like a bushfire spreading across dead and yellowed brush in the middle of summer. Though the landscape did not change, the creature was aware of a certain shift in the territories it ventured through. It passed the black water that once sought to drown its flames, and with it came the sickening feel of colliding head-first into a barrier of spiderwebs. The sensation was over as soon as it began, yet nonetheless the beast slowed to a stop with a light pant. Tawny short fur stood erect and on edge from the 'wrongness' feeling of passing the barrier into the human's territory, and self-consciously it began to groom itself in an effort to rid itself of the feeling deep beneath its fur.
The feeling slowly faded and once more its golden brown coat eased down against its body. No longer hindered by the odd sensation, the beast trotted off once more. The scents of humanity were more concentrated now, effectively burying the scent the creature had been following towards its human. In its place, the sounds of shouts and grunts instead filled the air. Ears perked up in interest, the creature trotted off in the direction of the new trail, slipping through crevices in boulders and walking far around the puddles of memory that reflected foreign scenes and alien scents.
Eventually it came across its prey. There were two of them; two humans, two males, both with dark hair like the one in its mind, attacking each other without pause. One seemed to be on the defense, evading and blocking the blows of the other
in a complicated dance. And while the man rarely countered any of the attacks, the other took full advantage of it, forcing his opponent back without giving the man any chance to recuperate.
It was obvious who was winning, and a small part of the beast wondered if the more aggressive of the two humans was the one it sought.
There were going to be difficulties if he wasn't. The creature could no more distinguish the two men than an unobservant human could differentiate between a pair of territorial tigers.
The younger of the two managed to flip his opponent over his shoulder, temporarily pinning the older man to the ground before the human assaulted the youth's legs. The human released the man and retreated, the older entity rolling to his feet in the gravel and circling each other cautiously. The young one struck first, sending the elder on the defense. A flash of feet, a whirl of fists and a wild dance around each other sent the elder to his knees.
Yet the young one didn't advance on his fallen opponent.
The creature tilted its head to one side in curiosity, wondering what the two humans were doing. A fight over territory? But no humans should even be in this dead land, let alone fighting over it. A female? The beast flicked its ears. That seemed more probable. Humans were like most other animals in regards to finding mates; they just hid their more animalistic tendencies under pretty clothes and non-physical forms of power.
It's Other Half knew that, though the information came unwillingly. Yet the consequences of the information came in the form of questions. Questions it couldn't answer and didn't understand. Questions it left for its Other Half to answer yet who even now remained sleeping. Why were there two humans when there should have been only one? Why were they fighting at all? How was it supposed to bring one back if two were hanging around the land that formed the human's soul?
It shook its head, banishing the questions from its mind. None of the questions would be answered while the Other Half slept. At the very least it could investigate the two humans rather than simply observe them from its vantage point. Sneezing, its coat twitching, the beast moved to approach the younger human. Its nose twitched as it caught the man's scent, finding it identical to the land it traversed.
So here was the spirit residing within the soul. The one it was meant to bring back to its Other Half. The beast leaned against the back of his legs, stumbling when the human started at its sudden contact and twirled to look at it. The beast sat, staring at the human expectantly. Its human stared back, mouth agap in what its Other Half called 'surprise'. The creature tilted its head to one side in curiosity, wondering what it had done to cause such a reaction.
Rising, it approached the human once more, pausing when the human in turn backed up a step. What was its human doing?
Behind him, the other human was howling something. Its human responded it turn, waving its hand back at the human in a manner it didn't understand. The human's voice then fell into a soft coo before slowly bending to one knee, rubbing a pair of fingers out towards it and clucking gently.
Curiosity getting the better of it, the beast approached, sniffing at the offered fingers before rubbing against them, marking the human as 'mine'. The digits shifted slightly, scratching its chin. It closed its eyes in bliss, leaning into the fingers and sliding its head down for the fingers to reach those hard-to-reach areas behind the ears. A deep, rumbling purr began to reverberate throughout its entire body and it sat, content with the scratching it was getting.
The other hand moved to lightly pet its head in a manner similar to its favorite demon, which was also nice up until the hand started to slide down towards its back. Red eyes snapped open and lightly truffed ears went back. The purring stopped, and it pulled away before the hand could move further down its back. It glared at its human in warning, watching as the man pulled his hands back with a start.
'Not the back.' It would have said if it could speak. 'Back is bad. Not near shoulders.'
Yet it could not speak and humans as a race were terrible at interpreting body language. Instead it stuttered some mindless chatter at it before saying one word.
One word that its favored demon called it.
One word that it knew by heart.
One word that its Other Half responded to.
Comments of a Madwoman: In regards to Mara and Skuld's actions with Keiichi: Remember, Mara has limited communication abilities that often fail her when she gets emotional. She's only got one usable arm as well, which makes regular CPR rather difficult without the needed aid of Skuld, who most likely has no idea what Mara was attempting to do until the last minute.
Hotaru-No-Suke isn't trying to be an ass; most of it is the time period he grew up in. He may look like Keiichi, but their personalities are distinctly different.
Also, Keiichi's spirit is a bit of a troll. Who would have thought?