An hour later found a pack of four in a restaurant within the local area. The restaurant was nameless, owned and run by the goddess first-class Demeter. The woman was a close, personal friend and relative of Ostara, being a god of the harvest. Her food was legendary on the Yetzirah, and Ostara had used the excuse of a delivery of some of her own produce to strengthen her decision to meet the Greek goddess.
The building was grand and gorgeous, an epitome of Greece architecture. The building was built more as a temple of worship rather than a dining facility, with its sloped roof decorated with carving of beasts and men and the many marble-like pillars shaped as men supporting it with their arms. Rumors had it that Demeter obtained the statues from the Gorgon sisters after Medusa's death; taking the many victims cluttering their living space and giving them new life in her chambers. Upon passing the statue of one man, even Celestine was forced to admit there might be some truth in those rumors. The expression of pain and sorrow exhibited on the statue's face was so real, that just for a moment the god saw him alive, feeling the statue's despair as real as if it were his own.
It certainly ran contrary to the other rumors of Demeter's time as a morbid artist, creating depressing pieces of art to help pass the time after her daughter eloped with the God of the Underworld.
Perhaps Demeter was just that talented.
The building was primarily designed to serve more as an outdoor patio rather than an indoor restaurant, and even seated as they were, Celestine could still feel a warm, gentle breeze filtering through the area, bringing with it the enticing scents of food and mingled mix of deities. Several bags of nothing but children's clothing lay hidden beneath the table, and across from him Celestine watched in amusement as two young girls fought to read the menu. The god himself had already given up on trying to decipher the foods, which consisted of appetizers called Fruit of the Fallen, drinks such as The River Styx, and meals consisting of Tartarus' Earth, Elysium Harvest, Tasty Souls of the Weak and Laborious, Cerberus Tails, Tongues, and Toes, and Hades' Arse. None of the food held any descriptions; however, word of mouth said that the last dish in particular was Demeter's specialty.
Apparently the names were crafted by Persephone and inspired by the land Hades itself. Except for Hades' Arse. That name was all Demeter's. Apparently she was still a little sore over her daughter's love affair and later marriage to the Underworld God.
"What's the 'Tasty Souls of the Weak and Laborious'?" Belldandy asked, directing her attention to her Ostara.
The brunette looked up from her menu, gracing the child with an amused smile. "A soup." She said.
"Is it really made from the souls of the weak and laborious?" Urd chimed in, and Ostara sent the girl a look.
"Will my answer ultimately decide whether you choose to consume the soup or not?" Ostara asked, and Urd stared. The goddess sighed. "Allow me to rephrase my last statement. Urd, do you want to eat the souls of the weak and laborious?"
Celestine didn't bother to hide his snort as the girl actually seemed to consider the question. The youth pursed her lips. "…Will I get in trouble if I say 'yes'?"
The goddess stared at the youth with a raised eyebrow, and Urd grinned sheepishly before hiding herself behind the menu. Belldandy giggled. "I want to try it too!" She cried. "Tasty Souls of the Weak and Laborious, Tasty Souls of the Weak and Laborious!" She chanted in a sing-song voice, and the look of disbelief that crossed Ostara's face was such a change from her more serious self that even Celestine had to bite back a chuckle lest he suffer from the brunette's emerald glare.
Ostara leaned back in her chair with a sigh, shaking her head ruefully. "Of all the…no, no. I've decided already I don't need to know. Belldandy, Urd, if the both of you are so curious as to what the soup consists of, than by all means try it." The goddess scooted her chair back, rising to her feet and looking down at Celestine. "I'll trust you with the orders, Celestine. Order whatever you wish for myself-I've already sampled everything both on the menu and off. I need to speak with Demeter."
Celestine nodded, watching as the goddess departed and approached a woman with silver-streaked, curly black hair and copper skin. Turning back to the children, he found Urd staring intently at him. "Is Cerberus Tails, Tongues, and Toes really made from-"
"Yes." He cut her off quickly. "I take it you want to eat the tail, tongue, and toes of a three-headed snake-hound?"
Urd smiled cheekily, and this time Celestine smirked. "You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"
The silver-haired youth stared at him with an overly-innocent expression, and Celestine shook his head. "If you want it, you can have it, but you're going to eat everything you get whether you like it or not. Understand?"
"Okay." Urd nodded in agreement, and Celestine hailed a waitress. Another woman with the deep, coppery skin and curly black hair of the Greek and Roman gods, she held no sigils on her face, signaling her a lesser spirit, most likely in the employment of Demeter or perhaps Persephone.
"Good Afternoon," She greeted, bowing deeply to the trio and causing the two sisters to stare. "I am called Eurydice, and I'll be your host for the day. Have you decided on your meals?"
The tall god nodded. "Two orders of Elysium Harvest and-"
Urd bounced in her seat. "Celestine! I want to order!"
Belldandy imitated her. "Me too! Me too! Tasty Souls of the Weak and Laborious!"
"And Cerberus! I want Cerberus!"
Celestine sent the waitress a sheepish smile, yet the woman remained unfazed, smiling at the girls and jotting down their orders. "And would you like any appetizers?"
Belldandy and Urd looked at each other, their eyes holding a spark so similar that for a moment the two children really did look like sisters. Then they both leveled those twin gazes at Celestine, and the man found himself staring at a pair of puppies.
The deity didn't stand a chance. "…And one order of the Fruit of the Fallen." He said, resigned. Eurydice scribbled once more down on her notepad with a soft hum, and Belldandy and Urd smiled and giggled.
"Alright, I'll be back shortly with your orders." The woman bowed once more to the trio before departing, and Celestine watched with a raised brow as both children watched her retreating form.
It was Urd who finally broke the question. "…What is she?" She asked, turning back to Celestine with a tilt of the head. Silver brows furrowed together in curiosity. "I've never seen someone like…well…her before."
At her side, Belldandy nodded in agreement. "She's different from other spirits." The youth put in. "It's like…like…" The girl bit her lip, taking a quick glance back at the woman before returning her gaze to Celestine. When the tall man gently urged her on the youth said, "A nymph. She's like a nymph. Only her aura's dark. Like a soul that belongs in the Underworld."
"But?" Celestine challenged, and the girl pursed her lips.
"But…the Underworld is s'posed to be for humans, right?" She asked. "Why would a nymph be cast to the Underworld?"
Celestine leaned back in his chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Well, sometimes there are certain exceptions made to special individuals." He said. "On occasion, even deities are known to descend to the Underworld for a time. The reasons are various; a need for maturity by facing the 'dead self', to seek wisdom from those who've already departed, perhaps even to visit someone who chose the Underworld as his place of rest over the true 'death' a god might know with the destruction of his true body."
"Like Baldr the Bright?"
Celestine winced reflexively at the name yet nodded none the less. "Yes Belldandy, just like Baldr the Bright. But we'll wait until you're more experienced before going into that subject." The death of one of the higher gods in the heavens was still something of an open wound for many deities, and to speak of such things in so open a place was a fool's move.
Urd, listening intently, spoke up once more. "So why her? She's not a deity or a human. There's no reason for her to be in the Underworld, right?"
"It is for a lesson." Ostara approached, baring with her a pale young woman who pulled up a chair from an empty table. The newcomer held a strong resemblance towards the goddess Ostara had been conversing with prior, and as the duo sat the girl shot Urd a smile. "Sometimes there are people who fear age and the maturity and wisdom that come with it. They seek to forever retain their youthfulness and thus act the child because of it. Yet a person cannot properly grow as a person without maturing, and to deny themselves that growth is damaging to the soul."
Urd sent the woman a perturbed look. "So she is part of the Underworld to grow up?" She asked. "That seems kinda…mean."
The stranger giggled, reaching into a pocket of her gown and pulling out a pomegranate. She began to peel it. "Ah, no my dear. Eurydice's death is not for her maturity. The lass is a nymph. It takes centuries for her race to reach maturity. Brining her to Hades for maturity would be like teaching a turtle to sprout wings and fly."
Urd scowled. "Then who's it for?" She whined, earning a glare from Ostara that promptly silenced her.
The stranger didn't seem to notice, reaching across the table and grabbing the small plate that was placed before Ostara. "It is for her spouse." She responded.
"Lackwit Stringplucker." Ostara muttered.
The woman sent the older goddess a half-serious glare before continuing. "You see Orpheus, her husband, is a grand musician. Being a son of Apollo he is a poet with no equal. Yet it comes at a great price to him, for the man is born of a human mother and therefore filled with human weakness. Those…weaknesses have portrayed themselves more and more as the years pass, with no sign of the man seeking to move past that more human aspect of him and ascend to true godhood. It has caused much strife among several deities in particular," The woman sent a pointed look at Ostara. "And so has left us with few options."
The pomegranate peeled, the stranger carefully broke it open with a knife, causing red juice to seep forth like the wounds on a beast. "Those options eventually led us to taking his wife from him, in the hopes that her departure would 'wake him', in a sense." The stranger shook her head, sending thick black curls bouncing across her face. "It did not."
Ostara snorted in disdain. "Had the whole of the heavens weeping with those shoddy lyrics of his." The brunette growled out. "I swear, if there was such a thing as common sense, a god would have invented it and used it to shove that lyre of his right up his-" Abruptly the woman silenced herself, staring at the kids before redirecting her attention to the woman. "I apologize Persephone. It was rude of me to interrupt."
Persephone looked like she was holding back a laugh, and before Urd had a chance to ask where it was that lyre was to be shoved, the goddess continued. "Yes…yes he did, Cousin. He played a song so mournful that the mere sight of it causes my eyes to burn even now. He played for so long that the strings cut through the callouses on his fingers, and when they began to bleed he played even more, numb to his own physical pain and uncaring of those around him. It was so bad that people began to lose themselves to the song, growing so depressed that no fields were plowed, no work was done." She sent a furtive look to Celestine and Ostara. "No battles were fought nor did a man lie down with a woman. It was almost as bad as the time Inanna decided to visit her sister after the death of the Bull of Heaven."
The death goddess looked at Belldandy and Urd and winked. "Now there's a story to ask your mother when you're older."
Ostara cleared her throat loudly, and with a laugh Persephone continued. "Something needed to be done. The world could not exist with such depression in the world. And so my husband gave him a chance."
"At your nagging." Ostara said lightly.
Persephone ignored it. "And allowed Orpheus to try and bring her back."
The woman sighed in frustration. "Yet even that proved to be too great a task for him." The hints of a definite growl arose in her words, and the air seemed to grow cool at the change of emotions. It wasn't until Urd shivered that the woman blinked and withdrew her aura from the surrounding gods. "He failed, and so we took Eurydice back. The problem now was that Orpheus had seen the entrance to Hades."
"In other words, the dolt knew where you lived and began harassing you." Ostara clarified, and this time Persephone nodded in agreement.
"That guy…" Persephone muttered. "That guy…I have no words to describe the horrors he inflicted upon the Gates of Hades." The woman gave an irritated growl. "I've still not fully forgiven him for vandalizing the Gates with magenta dye. And what he did to poor Cerberus!" The woman paused and looked around the table as though forgetting the company she was in. Then the goddess took a deep and calming breath before starting again. "He…forced me to call in a few favors. Needless to say, he's stopped for the moment."
"Dare I ask?" Celestine spoke up, his own curiosity getting the better of him as Persephone returned the plate, pomegranate peeled and in slices, to the center of the table. The death goddess sent the man a furtive smile. "Let's just say that the cult of Dionysus is not a fan of melodramatic melodies."
"Cult of…" The tall man stared at the woman in confusion before letting the topic drop with a shake of his head. Perhaps when there weren't children present he'd seek Persephone out and ask her for further clarification. As it was, the woman's attention was already focusing on Belldandy and Urd.
"Children? The Fruit of the Fallen." The deity swept her hand out to the pomegranates. "Enjoy." Celestine watched on with a raised eyebrow as Urd cautiously took a piece, examining it carefully before looking over to Belldandy and imitating her sisber by removing the seeds with a spoon and consuming them. Violet eyes widened in shock, and the girl's lips puckered at the flavor. "It's sour!" She exclaimed, causing her younger sister to giggle.
Celestine grinned in amusement, looking over to Persephone with a raised brow. "So tell me." He said. "Was it you or Demeter who thought up such creative names for these dishes?"
Persephone laughed and shrugged. "Who do you think?" She retorted. "I had to do something to occupy my time during the seasons I shared with my mother."
Just as the Fruit of the Fallen was little more than a pomegranate, so too were the other dishes similarly named. Ostara's words rang true. The Tasty Souls of the Weak and Laborious being a hearty stew red with fresh tomatoes, beef, onions, garlic, and seasonal vegetables served with a side of bread dabbed in olive oil. In contrast, Elysium Harvest was a dish rich in regional vegetables, wild rice, and venison. Cerberus Tails, Tongues, and Toes were creatively styled to look like the aforementioned limbs, with plump, vibrant cherry tomatoes to make the 'toes', a slice chicken covered in red sauce serving as the 'tongue', and a line of rice neatly compacted around the plate in a 'tail'.
Only some of the scents were familiar to Urd, many of the foods presented being alien dishes Niflheim didn't have. Used to meals primarily made of different types of meats and whatever juices could be gathered safely from hostile, native plant life, the girl's pallet was still adjusting to the foods found in the Heavens. Tomatoes she'd been introduced to a couple of days ago, yet they were the big, red tomatoes that 'Stine cut like apples, and the tiny cherry tomatoes were as delightful in size as they were sweet. The rice, covered in a complementary spicy red sauce that used tomatoes as a stock was almost a taste of home with how it made her mouth tingle, and yet the rice alone was different from anything else she'd ever eaten before. Apparently grains like couscous weren't a staple food in Asgard, and the breads they made were thick and airy and fluffy in comparison the thinner, malleable flatbreads she and Marller used to beg off the kitchen staff.
It made the youth curious. Something she'd grown a love for upon entering the Heavens were the assorted foods that Asgard seemed so rich in, and now the girl greedily eyed the surrounding dishes, nose twitching as she inhaled their foreign scents. Violet eyes grew contemplative, and the youth turned to regard her younger sister. "Hey Belldandy." She said. "I'll give you a tomato if you let me try some of your bread and soup."
The younger girl looked at her sister in curiosity before smiling. "Sure!" She chirped, startling the bronze youth with the ease at which she accepted the bargain. As a demon, Urd was used to bartering with others for just about anything, particularly if the one she was haggling with knew she held a particular interest in the item. For one to so easily to give into any exchange was more than a little off putting.
Belldandy cheerfully broke a slice of bread in half, dipping it in her soup before offering it to Urd. The youth took it, twisting her plate in turn to allow the younger goddess a choice of the remaining tomatoes. The bread itself was warm, regardless of the soup it had been dunked in and as Urd took a bite of it, violet eyes lit up. "This is good!" The youth chirped, before steadily devouring the piece.
Across the table, Persephone paused in her conversation with Ostara, glancing over to the dark child with a small frown. The younger woman turned back to her cousin. "Urd." The coppery woman said, her voice soft and low. "You said she was of the demon-kin?"
Ostara's gaze darkened momentarily before nodding. "Yes." She replied. "She is." The woman never noticed the child in question's sudden attention. "What of it?"
Persephone bit her lip. "Well…" She started. "Do you know about-"
A scream and a clatter of pots and pans drew the attention of everyone in the restaurant to the kitchen area. A man burst out, his skin black to the point of seared and a chef's knife buried to the hilt in his chest. Behind him, doors still swinging, more cutleries emerged to chase him further away. A pan collided with the stranger's head, and the man paused, eyes like steel sweeping the room and its many denizens.
"Get out!" Demeter screamed.
The world seemed to freeze as the many deities within the building stared in shock at the stranger.. No one spoke. No one seemed even to breath as the many occupants stared at the deity with wide eyes. Then a broom handle emerged from the kitchen, born by a rather irate Demeter, and the wood collided with the man's skull. A hollow crack echoed through the restaurant, yet if the man felt it he gave no sign, gray eyes settling on one person in particular and making a bee line for the Persephone.
Persephone herself seemed to be the only one aside from her mother and the stranger not in a state of shock, and with a long-suffering sight the woman rose to her feet. "Dear Husband." She said, and the man came to a stop behind Urd's chair. The youth squirmed uncomfortably beneath him. "Have you forgotten the 'Stay Out Hades' sign Mother placed outside her shop?"
Hades did not so much as blink. Not even when Demeter came up behind him and slashed her make-shift wooden sword at his neck. The broom handle splintered. "You're late." Was all he said. A fork, it's prongs buried in this thick, curly hair, was sticking out of his head at an odd angle.
"What must a mother do to keep such a wretched man away from her daughter?" Demeter cried. The poor woman was ignored.
Persephone rubbed her forehead in irritation. "Honey, I told you I would be a little late this year. The Almighty brought His eldest daughter into His court and I wanted to meet her, remember?"
A corner of Hades' mouth twitched in what might have been a frown. "Have you not met her yet?"
Persephone pointed, and Hades looked down, perhaps noticing Urd for the first time. The deity's gaze was overpowering, it was so intense, and Urd felt a shiver race down her spine. Dead eyes. Dead eyes that had returned to life. Those were the kind of eyes she was staring in to. They were too unnatural. "…There's a knife in your chest." Goetia Nebiros also had eyes like that. The flat, dead eyes of a fish.
Hades' gaze dropped from the youth to the knife handle. "So there is." He said. The man's dead gaze returned to Urd. "Would you be so kind as to remove it for me?"
"Hades!" Persephone snapped.
Something that sounded oddly like a squeak emerged from the youth's throat, yet none the less the girl's hands moved to wrap around the handle. With a mute tug, the blade slid loose, emerging from the Underworld deity's chest black and lumpy. Look Urd! It's Cancer! For whatever reason Marller's voice, inappropriately cheerful and bordering the line of hysteria, sang in her mind.
It reminded her so much of that time with Nebiros. She and Marller had snuck into the room Hild had given him while in her castle. The demon had been working on some kind of potion when the two of them had been discovered. And then of course Marller had panicked and something fell into that pot and there was that Nidhogg-blessed explosion and…
"Zombie!" Urd screamed, and promptly threw the knife at Hades' head, much to the pleasure of Demeter. Fortunately, Urd was not a skilled knife thrower, and rather than having a blade lodged in his head, the wooden handle instead bounced off Hades' forehead. It then proceeded to fall to the ground with a clatter.
"Ow." Hades said flatly.
"Urd!" Ostara shouted.
Yet before the Underworld god or Ostara could comment further Urd was off in a panic, racing out of her chair and around the table before anyone could question what it was the youth was doing.
Celestine was on his feet in an instant, and as the girl raced through a maze of tables, chairs, and patrons the god chased after her, vaulting over tables with the ease of a cat as the tall man fought to catch up with the girl. Shouts and hollers filled the air, yet for girl and man they fell on deaf ears.
"Yggdrasil bless it Urd!" Celestine shouted, catching the child before she could exit the patio and scooping her up in his arms. "What's gotten into you?" He demanded, causing the youth to flinch. "You could have seriously injured Hades. Is throwing a knife at an Underworld entity some demonic way of saying 'Nice to meet you'?"
Urd squirmed in his grip, fighting to escape the man's arms. "No!" She cried. "He's a zombie, 'Stine! A zombie!" Don't you people know how dangerous they are?
"Urd, Hades is not a zombie."
"Lies! You speak lies!"
Cheeks red with embarrassment, Celestine sighed as he brought his squirming, clawing, biting charge back to the table, muttering apologies to the many customers he passed. The look on Ostara's face was murderous. Belldandy was laughing and Persephone was shaking her head. Hades was staring at them both with a raised eyebrow with Demeter behind him, staring at the two of them in open curiosity.
Desperately fighting off wild blows tinted with violet magic, Celestine grimaced. "Sorry about this."
Hades shrugged indifferently. "The child would not be the first to make an attempt at my life." He glanced back at Demeter. "…Just the youngest." The man turned his attention back to Celestine, steel gray eyes falling upon Urd. Looking into the man's eyes, the lass seemed to lose the fight in her and instead fell silent, staring at the Underworld deity with wild violet. "Though I am curious as to your title of 'zombie', Child." The man murmured. "I've come across several entities to have earned such a title, yet I have never before been graced with it myself."
Something that might have been a frown passed across the man's face. "Furthermore, how one so young even knows what such a thing is speaks volumes to me." The man took a step closer, and Urd felt the hair on the back of her neck raise in trepidation. "Tell me, what do you know of such creatures? I'm curious as to your experience with them."
Urd cringed. If not for the secure grip Celestine had around her she'd have crawled on top the deity's head at Hades' approach. "Zombies are reanimated corpses." She said. "Filled with rot and disease and viruses that spread from one person to the next. They live to serve the one who gave them life, but if the summoner is killed they will roam aimlessly and attack anything with hot blood."
Hades nodded. "A very well educated young lady, as well. With the way you threw that knife, it was almost as though you had a prior experience with them."
Urd flushed, suddenly finding herself under the scrutiny of one too many deities. She almost forgot it was the zombie deity who'd asked her the question. "Well it…that is…" The silver-haired youth squirmed self-consciously as her mind recalled that horrendous encounter with Nebiros. "There is a Goetia in Niflheim who can control the legions of the dead." She said finally. "One day…well…something happened that caused the legions to go all crazy and stuff." The girl shuddered against Celestine. "That had not been a fun time."
Hades leaned back, stroking a thick, curly beard in thought. "I seem to recall an incident like that." He said. "A Goetia demon…Nebiros, I believe, had a spell go wrong. Several hundred spirits were stolen from me and taken to Niflheim, and when they finally returned to me, I was informed that the Goetia had been interrupted in a spell that had nothing to do with summoning by a pair of demon children." He eyed Urd carefully. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
Urd stared back. "You're not really a zombie, are you." She accused.
"Zombies are not quite as independent as I am." Hades replied with a nod. "Hard to kill, yes. Zombie, no."
After a great many apologies and helping righten any overturned tables and chairs from the wild dash, the group of four managed to depart. The sun was well past noon by the time they left, and Urd shivered despite the warmth it offered her. She could still feel Hades' gray eyes following her out the building, despite the fact that the deity was not upset with her. Something about that man put her off in ways too similar to Nebiros, who'd always creeped her out even before the zombie incident in Niflheim.
As the sun's rays beat down on her the silver-haired youth grimaced, running a hand through short locks. The world was always so bright after exiting a building, and half the time the lass felt as though Sol or Shammash or whichever deity was in charge of the sun that day was intentionally trying to blind her. This time was no different, and momentarily the youth closed her eyes, fighting against the pounding in her head that slowly accompanied her outdoors.
For once the youth held her peace, knowing that she'd gotten on Ostara's bad side with the whole 'kill a zombie' incident. Best to try and get back into the woman's good graces before doing anything else. The look on the woman's face even now was scary; tight-lipped and stiff with eyes raging in a way that reminded Urd of her own mother's anger.
And so Urd did what any wise child would do. She kept her mouth shut.
The girl was not alone in her silence, either. Belldandy sensed her mother's mood as easily as did Urd, and the little girl wandered quietly next to Urd, certain something was wrong yet lacking the courage to speak.
Ostara looked over to Celestine as they walked. The man's arms were full of nothing but bags from their little shopping spree, and the goddess sighed. "Celestine, give me the bags." She said, and in confusion the younger deity offered them to her, carefully slipping the many packages off his arms and into the fertility goddess'. "There are some errands I need to run per Demeter's request." The brunette explained. "Errands that would not be fitting for a child to attend. I believe this would be an excellent time to see if you can't get some of those lessons you were hoping to pass on to Belldandy and Urd, wouldn't you agree?"
Startled, Celestine stared at the woman, while Urd and Belldandy looked on in curiosity. "Lady Ostara?" He questioned, "Are you certain? I know we discussed their lessons earlier, however I was working under the assumption that those lessons would start later. I hadn't planned on educating either of them so soon.""
The woman tilted her head off to one side in mild curiosity. "Oh?" She asked. "Are you saying you're incapable of spontaneously breaking out into lecture?"
There was nothing teasing in her tone. No humor, no laughter, no mocking tone to scold the man with. Merely a question that seemed all the more biting for its lack of humor or cruelty. It caused the man to wince before shaking his head. "No Ma'am, that wasn't what I was implying." He said. "You just surprised me at the sudden request. I should be able to mentor them both without any difficulty."
Ostara graced the man with an approving smile. "Good." She said simply. "In that case, I'll leave Belldandy in your capable hands." The elder goddess turned to the children, swooping gracefully down to one knee as she looked at her daughter. "Belldandy, I need to run some chores." She explained. "Celestine is going to mentor you and Urd while I'm gone, understand?"
The youth nodded. "Yes Mother."
The woman kissed the child on the head before turning her gaze to Urd. Her eyes narrowed minutely, and the youth felt the anger from before rise fresh from the maternal goddess. "And you." She warned. "You listen to what Celestine has to say and take it to heart. You've caused enough trouble for one day."
A small part of Urd wondered what happened if she challenged the goddess. It was the same piece of her that often convinced the youth to play games that left her fleeing from her mother's rage. Common sense won out in the brief battle of consciousness that followed, and Urd quickly nodded. "Yes Ma'am."
"Good." Ostara repeated, before rising to her feet once more. Bags in hand, the goddess nodded to Celestine. "I'll return for Belldandy before the sun sets. Teach her well." And with that the goddess was off, vanishing into the surrounding crowds of deities as Belldandy waved her off.
A hand came to rest on Urd's shoulder as the youth watched the woman disappear. The youth looked up, finding Celestine's face smiling down at her comfortingly. "Come." He said. "I believe a trip to the park is in order."
The hand on her shoulder shifted away from the bronze child as the deity offered it to the silver-haired youth. Hesitating, Urd finally moved to grasp it, watching as Belldandy followed her example with Celestine's other hand, though lacking any hesitation.
Together, the trio of children and adult moved away from the more urban metropolis of gods and to the more secluded, peaceful areas alive with flora and fauna both native and foreign. Birds sang gaily in the canopy while butterflies and bees took their fill of nectar from flowers. A squirrel angrily chittered at a chipmunk, which quickly scurried to its underground burrow upon the gods' approach. The air was heavy with the perfume of roses and evergreens.
Celestine led the children to a cedar, easing himself down against the tree's trunk with a content sigh. Urd and Belldandy shared a look before following his example, the bronze child resting her weight on an unearthed root while Belldandy sank down next to Celestine.
"I want you both to get into a comfortable sitting position." Celestine said. "What we're about to do will leave you sitting in that position for a while and it's going to be a rather uncomfortable, haphazardly experience if you're continuously squirming about."
Curiosity getting the better of her, Urd shifted to a cross-legged position that mimicked her sister's. "What are we going to do?" Belldandy asked tilting her head to one side in curiosity.
"We're going to perform an exercise meant to discipline the mind." Celestine replied. "Belldandy, when you grow old enough, eventually you'll reach the point where you'll start learning magic. Urd I know already knows a bit from her time with her mother. Regardless, in order to perform any spell, be it as simple as lighting a candle or as complicated as producing hurricanes, the mind needs to be strong and disciplined."
Urd huffed dramatically. "I don't see why I need this now." She ground out. "I've been using my magic for months without any 'discipline'. Why do I gotta learn this stuff?"
Celestine spared the bronze child a raised eyebrow. "Would you mind telling us how you managed to control your magic then, Urd?" He asked. "If there's a different, more effective means of controlling one's magic without discipline, I'm open to hearing it."
The dark child crossed her arms over her chest. "Yeah, of course there's another way!" She cried confidently. "You learn, you fight, you survive and grow stronger!" The youth's grin was vicious, reminding Celestine uncomfortably of her mother.
The man frowned. "And just…who were you fighting during these…learning escapades?"
"Marller of course!" Urd shouted, as though expecting the duo to know exactly who the person in question was. "My best friend! She's as good at magic as I am, but she's really fast, and I have to be faster with my magic if I want to hit her."
Belldandy sent her sister an uncomfortable look. "That sounds…really mean…" She said softly, only for Urd to shake her head.
"Nah." The youth dismissed it with a wave of her hand, "It's not mean at all when she's trying so hard to break your arm or gouge your eyes out or even try and bite your nose off. Because she's not so good with magic, she likes to be more physical instead, so I need to use my own magic to keep her at a distance." The girl laughed, something that sounded disturbingly morbid based on her current thoughts. "Sometimes I'd be able to stress her out enough that I could get her to bite back with magic over her Old Man's moves, and that's when I really got better at magic."
Belldandy let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper, leaning into Celestine's side as though seeking shelter in his body. Celestine's frown deepened as he wrapped a comforting arm around the child. Is this girl related to Aries? How can one so young hold such a cruel gaze in her eyes?
Aloud he said, "Well…that's certainly a different style." He chose his words carefully, disliking the hugry look that had dawned on Urd's face. "However, I don't think suck a method would work with Belldandy or many other deities in the heavens." At least not for the peaceful ones, anyways.
Urd's face fell. "Why not?" She demanded.
"Well, as opposed to Niflheim, not everyone is a threat here." Celestine explained, scratching the back of his head as Urd scowled at him. "There's no reason for such violence here as no one is going to attack you; even the more volatile gods are restricted from attacking another deity in the heavens without heavy restrictions placed upon their person beforehand. Rarely do gods attack other gods, and the few exceptions are usually are unstable somehow or are following orders after such an unstable individual. Besides, do you really want to go and attack your little sister, Urd?"
Urd opened her mouth to respond, then closed it, thoughtfully observing both Belldandy and Celestine.
The mere fact that her immediate answer was not 'no, of course not', was rather disheartening.
The elder god sighed. "You know what, don't answer that question." I don't think I want to know. The man forced a smile onto his face. "As interesting as your…education was in Niflheim, I think it might be better for you to try the way thing work here instead, Urd. After all, you're going to be spending quite a bit of time here in Asgard, so it would do you some good to start adapting to some of the local culture."
Urd stuck out her lip in a pout, obviously displeased by the lack of interest in her methods of training. Yet the lass didn't seem like she was going to lose herself to some sort of demonic bloodrage and start throwing magic at Belldandy and himself either, and so Celestine let it slide. "Now, lets get back to the original method at hand." He started, lifting his arm away from Belldandy and signaling for her to straighten. "Are we all comfortable now?" As Belldandy shifted into a position that did not have her leaning against Celestine, the man continued. "What we're about to do is a simple exercise to help strengthen your concentration. With a stronger focus, it's possible to access the more higher spells that you both will be learning throughout your lives as you grow older; however, in order to achieve that level of power, we need to start with the basics."
Belldandy listened attentively, light-brown brows scrunched together in curiosity. Urd, on the other hand, appeared less than impressed with what Celestine had to say, her expression bored as the youth stared at the god with crossed arms.
Celestine himself paid neither child any mind, falling into the 'lecture mode' that made him such an attractive mentor candidate in the first place. "Now, I want you both to close your eyes. Focus on your breathing; breath in for three seconds…hold for three seconds…and exhale for three seconds." The man nodded in approval, watching as both children, regardless of personal interest, did as ordered. "Yes, that's good. Again." He said. "Inhale…hold…exhale…" The man's words became a mantra, guiding the children's breaths into an easy-to-follow rhythm. After several minutes of acting as their guide, Celestine stopped speaking entirely, and instead merely observed the children, watching for any hiccups in the tempo he'd set for them.
Several minutes passed, and Celestine spoke again. "Now we're going to move into the next phase of the exercise." He said, his voice soft so as not to distract either child. "Keeping the pace you've set for yourself, I want you to visualize a ball of light in your mind. Imagine it engulfing your body, spreading out like a small sun to about a foot away from your skin. This is a representation of your magical aura. Now is where I need you both to really concentrate. Slowly draw all that light back into your body. This will make the aura more concentrated and therefore more powerful for when first you need to call upon it."
Celestine fell silent once more, closing his own eyes and instead opening his magical Third Eye. The world that greeted him was a mass of ultraviolet color schemes, filled with colors both visible and invisible to his physical eyes. Slowly, the man allowed his gaze to adjust, and as he grew used to the intense amount of colors Celestine returned his gaze to his two students.
Belldandy's progress was slow; the man watched as piece by piece, the girl's wild aura slowly shrunk to a tamer rendition. The girl's concentration needed work. Occasionally, a piece of what she drew in suddenly shot forth once more, leaving the child with impression of a little girl bathed in a blue-hot sun rather than the heated glow that was more reminiscent of Celestine's own aura. Practice and repetition would solve that problem. Yet Celestine had to admit he was rather impressed that the little brunette was able to accomplish so much on her first go. His own experience at that age was nowhere near as successful.
The lankly deity the n turned his attention to Urd, frowning as he caught sight of the youth's aura. A violet-hued white, Urd's aura was much more condensed than Belldandy's, something Celestine chalked up to her prior training in Niflheim. Yet even condensed as it was, the magic was still wilder than Belldandy's. Though difficult to see, the raven-haired deity could just make out the web-thin strands of magic that trailed outside the girl's body, sticking to anything near the youth as surely as a spider's thread and mixing with the energy around it. Strangely enough; however, the excess aura seemed to harm nothing it interacted with. Unusual. Highly unusual. Even the most peaceful of gods, when their magic was left unchecked, could do irreversible damage to the world around them with the wild strikes of that person's magic. Yet Urd's magical aura seemed to instead integrate itself with its environment rather than destroy it.
Frowning, Celestine opened his physical eyes once more, closing his Third Eye as the man wracked his brain for any deities that might share such a unique trait. Frigg was one, he recalled; having seen the results of her magical aura first hand. He'd heard Lamashtu, demon-woman though she was, also held such an ability when not cradle robbing. The Almighty was said to have it as well, though with how secretive the deity was Celestine would consider himself lucky to have ever seen such a feat from the god.
Perhaps it was from the Almighty that Urd inherited such an ability. How ironic. Considering who her mother was, Celestine would have thought Belldandy more ample to inherit such a trait rather than Urd.
Summing it up to Fate's attempt at humor, Celestine roused himself from his thoughts, quickly noting that Urd's breath had lost its rhythm and Belldandy's head was nodding off towards sleep. A quick mental calculation showed that nearly thirty minutes had passed since beginning. Inwardly Celestine winced. He'd originally only planned for around fifteen minutes with his young students. Any more was asking too much from a pair of children so young, and the tall god could already see where his workings were failing.
Straightening, Celestine clapped his hands loudly, rousing Belldandy from her near-sleep and startling Urd from her pretend-meditation. "Alright, I do believe you've done enough for one day." He said. "We'll stop for the day and try again tomorrow, okay?"
Two 'okays' met his ears, and Celestine rose to his feet with a grunt. "We still have a couple more hours of daylight ahead of us." He said. "Would you two like to play for a bit before heading back?"
Two pairs of eager eyes and smiling faces met his gaze, and before Celestine could say another word Urd had already grabbed Belldandy and was scampering off through the trees, disappearing from sight.
"Nidhogg bless it, where are you Belldandy?" Urd hissed to herself, slipping through a pair of bushes and around a bench as she sought out her prey. The youth was nowhere in sight, and with no small amount of regret Urd cursed her decision to allow Belldandy to choose what game to play.
Of course Belldandy would play Hide and Seek. It was the one game she knew Urd didn't stand a chance at, and the one game Urd knew Belldandy took a great amount of enjoyment from because of that fact. How could a bubbly little girl so full of energy like Belldandy hide so well? If anything, the girl should have been suppressing giggles from wherever she was hiding. A single giggle would have alerted Urd to her sister's hiding place, and with that Urd would have found her younger sister.
Yet the silence that surrounded her was so quiet it was near-deafening. Stepping out into a patch of sun, the bronze child winced, covering her brow with a hand to ward off the bright rays. Her head was pounding again. It had stopped for a while with food and then that weird meditation-thingy of Celestine's, but playing under the sun once more brought about the familiar throb in her mind. The youth paused, waiting for the drumbeat to lessen in her skull before setting off once more to find her sister.
If she could find Belldandy, then it would be Belldandy's turn to search for her, and Urd could crawl into a thick-branched tree and maybe fall asleep in the shadow of leaves for a while. Doing that might help the pounding in her head go away, as well as the slightly nauseous feeling that was churning in her gut.
Swallowing, the silver-haired youth pushed the sickly feelings away, finding them more an annoyance over anything else. "Stupid kid picking stupid hiding places in the middle of…" Grumbling to herself, the youth trudged on irritably, passing Celestine, who sat relaxing on one of the benches.
The man eyed her as the bronze child approached. "Find her yet?"
Urd scowled. "No." She growled.
The man raised a black brow. "Want a hint?"
Urd stared at him expectantly, and Celestine hurriedly motioned her forward. Frowning, the youth approached, and Celestine leaned down. His face was unusually solemn, and fearing a something far more serious in his words, Urd allowed irritation to drop.
"I'll tell you." He whispered, voice low and soft and forcing Urd to lean closer to the man to hear his words. "However, you will need to do something for me in return."
Immediately the child perked up, any residual effects of her headache forgotten at the possibility of a deal. Even if she was a goddess now, the potential to haggle for anything, be it information or something more physical, was an appealing proposition that she'd learned to love from her time in Niflheim. "What is it?"
If possible, Celestine's face grew more serious. "I need you to tell me something." He whispered, and Urd leaned in so close that their heads near touched. "I need to know…what is the answer to life?" Leaning back, the man relaxed, and the solemn look on his face dawned into a smile. "If you can give me an answer, I'll give you your hint."
And stared. And stared. Then the youth straightened, silver brows furrowing together in thought. Really, it was a question without answer, as such a response varied from one person to another. It was something meant for the one questioned to conduct some inner soul-searching in the hopes of better understanding themselves and what they held of importance in their life. It was not meant to be passed on to a child god not yet even ten.
Urd realized this with all the rational of a seven year old.
Her response, predictably, was both endearing and random.
"Forty-two." The youth confessed, her face as serious as Celestine's own not a minute prior. "The answer to life is forty-two."
Celestine blinked, having expected a great deal of things from a seven-year old's mouth; kittens, puppies, candy, giant monsters destroying cities for her amusement, but certainly not a number. The man blinked. "Oh?" He said. "Is that so?"
Urd nodded her head frivolously. "Yep." She said. "Forty-two. Can I have my hint now?"
"Can you tell me why?"
Urd considered for a moment, rubbing her chin in thought before shaking her head. "Nope, nu-uh. That wasn't part of the deal, 'Stine. You wanted the answer to life, not an exclamation on the answer's meaning."
Celestine raised an eyebrow. "I think you mean 'explanation', Urd, not 'exclamation'."
Yet Urd merely crossed her arms over her chest and sent him a look. "I know what I said." The girl said confidently. "And I gave you my part. Now about that hint…"
The man ruefully shook his head, fighting to hide his smile. "You've got me there, Lady of the Pinecone," he teased, and watched as Urd's cheeks burned in a sudden blush at the title. After the initial shock of discovering who had taken up residence in Celestine's household, Macha had shown her more ruthless side with nicknames. "I can't say where exactly…however I will say she's somewhere in this vicinity." The man waved an arm in a circular motion, indicating the surrounding area.
Urd frowned. "That's…not helpful at all." She muttered."
Celestine smiled. "You get what you pay for." The smile grew larger as the bronze youth growled in frustration before stomping off and disappearing once more behind a couple of trees.
Urd gone, a soft giggle arose beneath the bench Celestine was sitting on, and from beneath it Belldandy emerged. "Urd's not very good at this game, is she?" The youth asked, staring at Celestine with cerulean-eyes.
The deity shook his head. "No Belldandy, she isn't. Even with a hint she can't seem to find you."
The brunette giggled and nodded. "I thought for sure you were gonna tell her where I was!"
"True, but I doubt she'd be able to find you still." He commented off-handedly. "So…" Celestine looked at Belldandy with an amused smile on his face. "Forty-two?" He asked, and the little brunette tilted her head to one side in curiosity.
"You mean you didn't know?" She asked, and with Urd gone and searching for the wayward sister that was at his side, Celestine burst into laughter.
The sun was blaring, she was frustrated, the pounding in her head had returned with full force, and still Belldandy could not be found. At this point, the youth had all but given up on the search for the bratling goddess, forcing herself to admit to the fact that she probably wouldn't be finding her sister in the remaining daylight hours unless Belldandy revealed herself to Urd first. The youth halted, clutching her head with a grimace as the throbbing pounded to the beat of her heart.
Really, right now the only thing she wanted was for her headache to go away. She was tired of feeling so icky. The youth grunted. "Screw it." She muttered. "I'm tired of looking for Belldandy. If she wants to play this game so bad, she can come find me. I'm done for the day." Rubbing her eyes, the youth departed for the trees, intent to find an easily accessible one to climb into and fall asleep within.
The youth didn't even make it to the small tree line before her vision darkened and Urd collapsed.
Yet while there were no deities present to witness the child's collapse into unconsciousness, something did bear witness to the event.
A creature that had departed its normal residence to stretch its legs, it now approached the unconscious child, ambling towards the bronze youth on three wooden legs. It took its time, and where it passed small saplings bloomed in its wake, unconsciously expanding the forest-line it once wandered.
The creature stood tall, draped in so much silver hair that it completely enveloped the creature's body. An impossibly ancient face started down at the girl from a head of bark. Where its eyes should have been instead only layers of sagging 'skin' remained, falling across what may or may not have been eyelids. Examining the child, its head slowly creaked to one side before stooping to a wooden knee at an even slower rate.
A child…a cur-child, by the way the youth's aura was emanating. Obviously divine blood to be within the realms of the gods, and yet...
The creature pulled back, and expression slowly dawning on its face that might have been realization. Ah…so this was the one. Somewhere in the back of its mind it recalled a fuzzy memory of the squirrel passing word of one of Nidhogg's brood coming to the heavens. Had so much time passed already?
Gently it nudged the youth with the cane that acted as its third leg. The response it gained was of a pained moan before the little girl curled into a tight ball at its feet. It frowned, its face groaning and cracking at the effort to express the emotion that came so easily to others. Was the child ill? From a distance the girl had seemed just fine until she allowed sunlight to fall upon her body.
Oh…that's right…it recalled Nidhogg mentioning in its sleep one time of the darkness that was so prevalent in its land. For a demon to go from something so dark to so light was probably unhealthy, much in the way that it was unhealthy for its brethren to be moved from the light and into constant darkness.
For a small eternity the creature stared down at the child. Slowly an idea formed within its ancient mind, and as the creature of vast age that it was, it waited patiently for the idea to take form.
Did not Inanna once hold many a deal with the demonkin? It seemed to recall some memories of the Queen of Heaven working alongside the darker creatures; however it also noted that this was the same hazy memory that recalled ice within Muspelheim and dragons walking freely upon Midgard and living in harmony with the humans that resided there.
Bah, cursed old age. The memory was always the first to go.
Regardless, Inanna was a resourceful deity. If she could not help the youth, chances were high the goddess would know someone who could.
With that in mind, the creature stooped towards the child, body groaning like a swaying tree before scooping the youth up in long, spindly, branch-like arms. Without a second thought it ventured towards the trees once more, where it promptly disappeared with its cargo in tow.
It wouldn't be until fifteen minutes after the creature's disappearance that it dawned on Celestine that something was wrong.
Comments of a Madwoman: Ten points and a worthy mention to whoever can guess the identity of the 'creature' that took Urd.
And yes..zombies…I don't know where I got the idea for that or why Persephone and Hades decided to hijack my story, but apparently they wanted to let everyone know what really happened between Orpheus and the Netherworld. Expect Urd's fear of zombies to make random and violent comebacks throughout the storylines, be it Origins or Angel Biter. Anyways, sorry for the lack of updates. I've been particularly lazy with Origins, however now that this...incident has happened, things should start picking up a bit more. At least if I'm not distracted by other things first...
42: The answer to life since the childhood of deities.