"Ma'am, I have the latest reports from Ur-Zababa."
The woman looked up from where her attention lay focused on a map, turning to regard the speaker. "Go on." The goddess urged, walking around the wooden table to better hear what her younger companion had to say.
The speaker, a young, black-haired woman with dark, tan skin, hesitated for a moment before speaking. "The King is afraid, Ma'am. The dream you sent him had its intended effect; however, now it seems the man is plotting young Sargon's death."
The goddess moaned, running a hand through hair so light it could pass for white. "That idiot." She hissed. "How hard is it to understand the message 'leave Sargon alone or you will die'?" The woman growled in irritation. "I mean, come on! Sargon is his freaking cup bearer for crying out loud! One that I happen to favor yes, but a cup bearer none the less!"
The woman's companion regarded her with a raised black eyebrow. "Well m'lady, you did fill his dreams with images of him drowning at your hands if he so much as laid a finger on Sargon. Kind of easy for the poor mortal to get the wrong impression with the image of his death at the hands of his own goddess haunting his sleep."
The light-haired goddess scowled, crossing dark, tan arms over her chest. "I never asked you, Ninshubur."
Ninshubur smiled, white teeth bright against her dark skin. "No, but you'll listen to me anyways, Lady Inanna. Ur-Zababa is currently sending Sargon off to Lugal-Zage-Si of Uruk. He bears with him a tablet requesting that the Uruk king slay Sargon."
Inanna pinched the bridge of her nose. "And of course my dear, primitive, trusting little cup bearer can't read, him not being a scribe…."
"And so I recommend you warn Sargon against whatever would-be assassin comes after him."
Inanna sighed. "Divine intervention." She muttered. "I hate divine intervention. There's so much paperwork that needs to be filled out and then you have the mortals who half the time don't understand what you're trying to say…" The goddess threw her hands into the air. "At this rate, I might as well make Sargon the new king of Assyria and have him go out conquering other lands!" She complained. "At least then the whole 'divine intervention' crap would be worth the amount of shit I'd need to go through."
Ninshubur smiled in amusement. "I don't know…" She drawled. "Kind of sounds like fun, if you ask me. Besides, I know how much you love a good war. You get so much more worship from the kids down below; everyone praising your name, giving you sacrifices, spreading death and inspiring all those adorable young soldiers to visit your priestesses for-"
Inanna silenced her with a deathly glare.
The room fell into an awkward silence, one that caused Ninshubur to dance anxiously. Then Inanna smirked. "You know what? Fine. Let's do it." The woman turned and walked out of the study, leaving a gaping Ninshubur behind her. "It's been a while since we had any wars of such epic proportions! Let's let my little cup bearer conquer all of Sumeria and Assyria. It'll be fun!" She snapped, heading into the common room.
Ninshubur watched the white-haired woman's retreating form nervously. "I was joking!" She cried, racing after the goddess. "By the Heavens Inanna, you don't need to take everything I say to heart. It was only-"
Abruptly the woman fell silent, stiffening as a foreign presence washed over her. The dark woman narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Lady Inanna, did you…?"
In front of her Inanna nodded, one hand brushing the fabric of her dress down her leg. Gently outlined beneath the material was an ornate dagger "I feel it." She said solemnly. "I feel it. There's a demon in my Huluppu Tree." Blue eyes, so bright they seemed to glow, narrowed in irritation. "If I find one of my sister's 'pets' in my tree I'll…" The tan woman refused to finish the thought, instead growling as Inanna marched off towards the origin of the presence.
Together the two women moved outside, where the presence of 'demon' grew stronger and more identifiable. Inanna's frown deepened as something familiar joined the presence before vanishing. "An avatar?" She muttered. "What is the avatar of my Huluppu tree doing? I know that creature is aware of the dangers of demons. It should know better than to approach such a creature." Feeling an uncomfortable lump settle in her chest, Inanna increased her pace, causing Ninshubur to break into a light trot.
"Do you think the Anzu or the Lilith has returned?" Ninshubur asked worriedly. "Old Gilgamesh has long since passed on to Irkalla. Without him around is it possible one of the two have decided to return to the tree?"
Inanna grit her teeth. "Oh, it's possible. But if they think that his passing makes my tree free game, they've got another thing coming. I was a foolish girl when last they inhabited my tree; however, the woman who meets them now is one who has tasted death itself. Piss on Gilgamesh. I'll drive them out myself."
Inanna's 'Huluppu Tree' was one of the largest trees within the heavens. An ancient Ash, it had been planted on a leyline, making it one of the largest power sources in Beri'ah. As such its trunk had been converted into an administrative hub, the various gods and goddesses taking advantage of its magical attributes in order to monitor the lower planes and the lesser deities that inhabited them.
Due to its age and magical properties, it had also become a popular habitation. Various gods holding a minimum of a first-class, basic license had transformed the upper branches into a residents, the oldest of which being Inanna herself. Having nurtured the Huluppu Tree since it was a sapling, the goddess had grown fond of the tree, becoming a pseudo-guardian for it and ensuring it remained healthy.
Once upon a time demons had not been as uncommon in the heavens as they were in the present. Back then the occasional demon would grow wise and realize such a power conduit made an excellent nesting ground. Oftentimes an infestation would soon follow and Inanna was forced to seek aid in sending the demons back to Niflheim.
Yet heroes were not as common as they once were. Hoping such wasn't the case today, Inanna paused on one of the enormous branches of the tree; large enough for five men to walk side by side and still avoid the edge. Long ago one of the more architectural gods had installed a floating rail set to block the edges and prevent any mishaps, and now Inanna looked over its railing. "Feels like it's coming from below." She said.
"Towards the lower trunk?" Ninshubur responded hastily. "But that's where the tree's SCIF is located! We need to alert the Valkyries responsible for that area before it takes them by surprise."
Yet Inanna shook her head. "No…no, that won't be necessary I think." She said. "The presence indicates only one demon; a weak one at that. I seriously doubt it's a threat to any inter-dimensional secrets." The goddess made a face. "I don't even think it's a threat to some of our lower ranking deities. It feels kind of…puny." The white haired woman shrugged. "Either that, or it's this huge overwhelming presence made puny due to the distance separating us from it."
Ninshubur sent her a flat look. "In which case it's a threat."
Inanna bit her lip. "I'm going to check it out." She said after a moment's thought. "Big or small, there aren't many demons that can go up against the Queen of Heaven. I want to know what it is and why it's here." And why my tree's avatar was with it. The woman looked over her shoulder, tossing a short braid of white out of the way. "You coming? I may need your assistance if things turn sour."
Ninshubur scowled. "Lady Inanna, if this is anything like that time you decided to visit your mourning, hormonally-imbalanced sister-"
"She was pregnant!"
"And mourning the death of her husband! Which you caused!"
"Come on, Ninshubur, she let me go unharmed!"
"Lady Ereshkigal left your dead body suspended from a hook for three days!" Ninshubur snapped. "I was forced to appeal to your family for help, many of which wanted nothing to do with you! If not for Master Enki, you'd still be dead in the Irkalla."
"Yep." Inanna agreed, making her way to an elevator that had been placed at the end of the branch they were on. "I instructed you on what to do if something happened to me and you followed my orders perfectly." She smiled back at the darker woman. "You've always been there to watch my back. Don't tell me this is going to be the one time you leave me hanging, Ninshubur."
The woman frowned. "That's a bad joke, Lady Inanna."
Ninshubur shook her head. "Forget it." She grumbled, following the older goddess onto the elevator. "Just don't let yourself get killed this time, okay?" She asked. "I don't know how many times a couple of sympathetic, dirty nail pixies will work on the Queen of Irkalla."
Inanna laughed, wrapping an arm around Ninshubur's bare shoulders. "Only if you don't let me die." She replied with a smirk.
Urd awoke with a headache.
One that pounded with the beat of her heart and caused her whole body to throb in agony. With a moan the child curled into a tight ball, hand groping for the blankets that would let her block out the light and bury her in blissful darkness. Yet Urd was unsuccessful in finding the warm covers, forcing a whine from the youth. Miserably the girl flung an arm across her eyes, providing a momentary relief as the miserable godling slowly grew more cognoscente.
The ground was cold and hard; Urd's first clue that she was not in the bed she so wished to be in. That alone caused an alarm bell to ring within her mind, and violet eyes snapped open. Eyes still shielded against the light of the sun with one arm, the youth felt around with her free hand. Something soft, cold, and spongy replaced the sheets the silver-haired child so hoped for. The air smelled heavily of evergreens; a sharp, strong scent that made the child nauseous. With the scent came the more standardized sounds of birds singing in tree tops, and the girl grimaced.
"…Does this mean I'm still playing with Belldandy?" Urd grumbled irritably. "But I don't want to play anymore! I just want to go home." She moaned.
Allowing her arm to fall off her face the silver-haired youth rolled onto her stomach, slowly pushing herself up to her hands and knees. Black stars blossomed across her vision nauseatingly and Urd was struck with a wave of dizziness. The child froze, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths through clenched teeth, fighting the lightheadedness and nausea back with all her might. I've got this. This isn't so bad. I've been through worse. It's not near as bad as Nidhogg's venom. She could almost hear the serpent's voice in the back of her mind, watching her as the child had once squirmed against Yggdrasil's trunk.
"Let it pass, Little One." The serpent had advised. "Let it pass…"
Taking the past advice to heart, Urd sucked in one breath after another, waiting as slowly the symptoms began to abate until only the pounding in her skull remained. Biting her lip Urd opened her eyes once more, staring down at the grass and dead leaves beneath her hands. "I'm really, really starting to dislike forests." She muttered. This stuff never happened back home. Why is it happening to me here?
Raising her head Urd looked around. The girl found herself at the base of what had to be one of the largest trees she'd ever come across. It was almost as large as Yggdrassil's trunk in Nidhogg's realm. The only difference was the absent mist that made the tree's trunk look like it stretched on for eternity. This one almost had the same illusion; however if Urd squinted she could just make out the ends of the tree in one direction.
As she'd half-expected the girl was in a forest; however, it was a foreign one, different from the little park Celestine had taken her to. The trees loomed tall and proud above her head, making the ones from the park look like young saplings in comparison. Glowing, pastel-colored platforms emerged from some of the trees' trunks and further up towards the branches Urd could make out large, spherical habitats. The constructs reminded her of where Celestine had led her upon first arriving in the heavens. Yet that had only been one tree; the area surrounding it had been more commercial and showing signs of residents. This place seemed more…wild.
Leaning back onto her knees the youth frowned. "Did I sleepwalk?" She wondered aloud, running a dark hand through silver locks. The answer seemed a fairly obvious 'no', which did little to put her mind at ease. So how did I get here? Standing caused her head to spin and for a moment Urd feared she might feint. Clutching her head the girl grit her teeth, waiting for the world to settle once more.
A frustrated growl wormed its way out of the bronze child's throat. "I want to go home!" She cried desperately. "Belldandy? 'Stine? Where are you guys?" The youth called, knowing already her cries were for naught; wherever Urd was, she could almost guarantee the others weren't around. They wouldn't have left her alone and unconscious in a strange forest.
Clutching her head with a soft whine Urd began to roam, uncertain of where she was going and uncaring as well. She only wanted to go home. "Bet if Marller was here I'd find my way back." She muttered softly. "Marller could find her way out of a labyrinth if she wanted." Grumbling to herself, the youth wandered around the trunk of the tree, using its ever-expanding base as a crutch to lean against. The platforms in the tree's branches suggested cohabitation with the tree itself and if Urd followed the trunk for long enough eventually she'd come across an entrance to the tree. From there brought the probability of other gods and goddesses, one of which might be able to help her get back to Celestine.
The youth kept her head bowed, carefully watching her feet as she hid her face from the sun. It was going to be a miserable walk to the tree's entrance with the way her head was pounding. She didn't like the way her body felt so weak either. It was making the girl worry. What in Nidhogg's fangs was wrong with her?
A dirty gown entered her sights. Too bemused to realize what it was Urd was staring at, the youth came to a halt, staring at it for several long moments in confusion. Slowly her muddled mind began to recognize what she was staring at and Urd followed the dress up. Silver hair, as white as the linings of clouds, covered the garment like a shawl. Its owner leaned heavily on an old, gnarled wooden staff, the wood the same color and texture as the hand old, weathered hand that held it. The arm it was connected to disappeared under a mass of dirty cloth and cascading hair, and as Urd followed it up she came across a face so wrinkled with age it barely looked human. The flesh hung in brown folds and wrinkles down its face, leaving Urd with only a guess as to where the entity's eyes were. Liver spots looked more like the knots of an old tree with how they almost seemed to protrude, and twigs and leaves hung from its head in a bird's nest of a crown.
Somehow it must have seen Urd's gaze, despite the child incapable of spotting any eyes herself. The entity smiled at her, revealing toothless black gums. Urd stared at the stranger, stupefied to the point where she momentarily forgot her own ailment. The elder stared back, making no attempts to scold the youth for staring so heavily at her-him…it? The person was so ancient and the garments so loose that it was impossible for Urd to even guess at the elder's gender.
"Ah…hello." Urd said hesitantly, eyeing the entity wearily. Was it a god? The youth couldn't make out any distinguishing sigils to mark it for any ranked deity.
The elder made a slow motion that might have been taking for a nod. Urd frowned, clutching her head with a wince. "Umm…could you…tell me where I am?"
The elder inclined his or her head yet did not speak a word, instead turning away from Urd and wandering beneath the arch of an abnormally large root. The silver haired girl followed with a frown, trailing after the ancient being like a diminutive shadow. The root was almost as large as the one within Nidhogg's realm; larger than three med resting atop their shoulders and seeming to stretch on for miles before disappearing into the earth. The root was green with moss, and as the youth walked beneath its arch she could see where the moss hung like hair. Little white flowers looked almost as though they were braided through the long, green strands, giving off a scent that strangely enough reminded her of Belldandy.
On the other side of the root the elder had come to a halt, sitting down to rest on an old cobblestone next to an equally old well. Sitting made the stranger seem even more ancient than when they stood, resting most of his or her weight on the wooden staff as the ancient looked at Urd.
At least Urd was pretty sure the elder was looking at her. Either that or they'd fallen asleep.
The youth ran a hand through her hair with a grimace. Damn it all, her head hurt too much for her to care. With a sight the girl approached the elder only for the stranger to lift an arm with a groan. It sounded more like a bending tree trunk than anything human would have made, yet Urd was feeling too icky to bother questioning it.
The being stiffly gestured to the well it rested beside. Curiosity getting the better of her, Urd approached it, peering over the side and into a black tunnel that exploded into a white star. Silver brows furrowed together in confusion and the youth stared harder, trying to readjust her gaze to focus on what it was she was looking at. What sort of well held a white bottom?
Something long and black suddenly slithered across the bottom. Urd's breath caught in her throat and the youth fell back with a start. "Nidhogg?" She squeaked, staring at the well with large violet eyes before turning her gaze to the elder. "Was that Nidhogg?"
The stranger merely smiled its toothless smile again, and rather than try and decipher what it meant Urd leaped to her feet once more, peering into the hole with a mixture of fear and excitement. The serpent was gone again, yet for once in her life Urd decided to wait to see if it would come back. After a long while of white, the youth's patience was rewarded with the large snake once more slithering across the well bottom , looking more like a worm rather than the monstrous beast it truly was.
Urd stared at the creature in amazement. "So then the white must be Nidhogg's mist." She reasoned. "It's almost like I'm looking through a telescope or something, peering into Nidhogg's realm from really far away." But if this well was showing Nidhogg's realm…The youth slowly looked up towards the elder, her pain momentarily forgotten. "Yggdrasil." She said. "This…this tree is Yggdrasil, isn't it?"
The elder smiled.
And with it, so too did Urd. "I-I'm at Yggdrasil." She stammered. The youth could hear her heart echo within her head, throbbing in tune to her headache. "But when did I…" The girl pressed a hand to her skull, feeling giddy, nauseous, and confused all at once. "I…I…" Urd grimaced as the nausea won over the giddiness. "…I need to sit down." She finished quietly, leaning heavily against the cobblestone well before finally sliding to the earth. The lass closed her eyes and inhaled, trying once more to rid herself of whatever sickness had overtaken her.
The elder approached silently, and Urd felt something rough rest against her shoulder. With a frown Urd opened one violet eye. Peeking to her shoulder, she found a wrinkled old hand resting there, causing the girl to stare at it in confusion. After several long moments of silence, Urd finally followed it up, meeting the elder's wrinkled face with furrowed brows. "Who are you?" She finally asked.
Yet the old being said nothing. Merely smiled down at Urd before offering the girl a rope with the elder's free hand. The child stared at the cord in confusion before taking it. It was connected to a bucket hanging from the wooden pillar on top of the well. Urd hadn't noticed it upon first approaching the well. Now she stared at it all in uncertainty, wondering what to do.
The elder straightened, seeming to tower over the child like the tree the well rested beside. With a gnarled hand, the stranger unlatched the coil or rope entwined around the arching pillar, sending the bucket that dangled from the end of the rope plummeting into the cobblestone maw. The rope and container seemed to fall for a small eternity before finally hitting something within the well. What visible rope remained slackened and swayed aimlessly in one direction after the next.
The elder sent a look back at Urd once more, motioning for the girl to pull on the rope. Perplexed, the silver-haired youth did as instructed. Her efforts were weak, however. Suffering an unknown illness and haunted by the persistent migraine throbbing within her skull, the girl had been robbed of whatever strength she had. The elder frowned before assisting the child, lending its own strength to the godling and yanking the rope back as well. Where once the cord had been pulled taunt by a child, now the twine began to move to the duo's whims, slowly pulling the bucket up once more.
Yet even with the combined efforts of the bent elder and sickly child, their progress was slow. Minutes passed by in hours, and it was a long eternity before the bucket finally arose from the well mouth once more. Wrapping a chunk of rope around an arm, the elder looked back at Urd, nodding to the dangling wooden pale.
Releasing her end of the rope, Urd approached the well once more, carefully leaning over and grabbing the edge of the bucket. Her fingers hit icy water that spilled off the tilted side, causing the youth to grimace. While her memories of her time with Nidhogg were vague, Urd was pretty sure the water had been much warmer than whatever the well had brought up. Regardless, the girl dragged the dangling container to the cobblestone ledge, letting it rest there as she looked back at the elder.
The ancient being released the rope before slowly approaching the youth. Moving away from the bucket, Urd watched as the elder dipped both hands into the pale, only to emerge cupped and filled with water. The being drank the water, and to Urd it almost appeared as though new life sprang throughout the stranger's body. The hardened, dark skin seemed to lighten before her very eyes, and the wrinkles and hanging flesh that plagued its body seemed to soften and fade somewhat.
The elder dipped its hands back into the water several times, repeating the motions and seeming to take centuries off its body with each sip. When the being had taken its fill of the water, what was once an ancient being had instead changed into a grandfatherly-like figure, wrinkled yet identifiable. Where one the flesh sagged upon its eye's, now it stared at Urd with burrowing, black pits like two holes in a tree. The skin was textured like bark, smoothed and golden-brown with age and wear. The hair was still immensely long, yet now seemed to resemble the long strands of moss that hung from the root of the large tree the duo resided next to. It gestured to Urd with long, thin, twig-like fingers, clearly offering the child what remained of the water.
After a moment's hesitation, wary of the being's strange transformation, Urd did as beckoned, imitating the elder's movements and dipping her hands into the pale. The water that remained chilled her to the bone, the water within as clear and shining as liquid crystals. The youth sipped at the water, gasping at the chilled taste. Having lived in a realm where water was rare, Urd had never tasted spring water before. What she had tasted was bland and tasteless; the result of countless processing and filtering from the water demons and occasional Jotun who cared for the water treatment facilities in Niflheim. Even the water in the heavens had tasted different from this. While more abundant, the water still lacked the sharp, clear taste of the well water.
"Did Nidhogg's water always taste like this?" The youth asked aloud, momentarily forgetting herself as she drunk her fill.
The elder smiled and shrugged. It has always tasted as such to me. A quiet voice whispered in her mind. As one who's visited the Serpent, I'm sure you could tell such thing far better than I, Child.
Urd jumped, wheeling to face the elder with wide violet eyes. Startled, the youth accidently bumped into the bucket and before anyone could think to act the pale was falling once more into the well. "You speak!?" Urd cried in alarm.
The elder smiled, revealing wooden teeth. Yes. It said. I apologize, Young One. It's been long since I've had a fair share of water. The entity looked up towards the heavens. The sky was blocked by tree branches. Since the gods began controlling the weather, my trunk has run low on water. Now the only time it rains is when the gods so wish. The entity shook its head in disdain.
Urd stared. "Trunk?" She asked. "Why can I hear you in my head, Grandfather? You speak like Nidhogg's avatar…" The youth trailed off, staring at the being in silence. "You…you're Yggdrasil, aren't you?" She asked in awe.
Urd deflated. "Oh."
I'm Yggdrasil's avatar.
Urd stared. Had she been the same child of five months prior, dwelling within the demonic realm of Niflheim, the youth would have exploded or perhaps assaulted the avatar. Yet that was before Nidhogg. That was before Urd had been assigned a task by the main regulator of demonic power within Niflheim. Urd had grown since then, and so the lass said only one thing in response to the tree's avatar.
Besides, Urd felt a little better after drinking some of that water. She didn't want it to come back after throwing some stupid temper-tantrum.
The youth tilted her head to one side in curiosity. "I've been trying to find you for a while now, did you know that?"
The avatar inclined its head. Nidhogg informed me that it had sent one of its own my way. The entity revealed. Yet our perception of time is poor, Child. 'A little while' for creatures such as ourselves could mean anywhere from a day to a century.
Urd frowned. "So it took you that long to find me then?" She asked, trying to make sense of the conversation.
The avatar shook its head. No. It said. I had no knowledge that you'd even arrived until I'd found you through sheer coincidence. It grinned at her, revealing its wooden teeth. They were as brown as the avatars skin, but at least the resembled a human's jaw rather than the pointed teeth in Nidhogg's mouth. I'd actually forgotten you were coming until I stumbled upon your sleeping form.
The girl's frown deepened. "So you were the one who brought me here then." The child accused, finding the tree-avatar inclining its head in agreement. "How far am I from where you found me?"
A good couple trunks-widths, if I'm to guess. The avatar responded, pointing a gnarled finger to Yggdrasil's true form.
Urd swallowed. Yggdrasil's trunk was huge. It with how it seemed to stretch on for miles, Urd could already guess she'd come a long way from the park Belldandy and Celestine were at. 'Stine's gonna be pissed. Bah, screw 'Stine. She'd finally found Yggdrasil. That was more important than some god's wrath. The youth nodded to herself in thought. "Okay…" She mumbled. "So you brought me here to give you water, just as Nidhogg instructed me, right?"
The avatar shook its head. I brought you here because you were ill. Lady Inanna resides around here and I believed she might be of help.
"Who?" Urd inquired. "And I'm not sick! Why do I need to see this 'Nanna' person?"
Nanna is the moon god-or Baldr's spouse, depending on who you are speaking of. Yggdrasil replied. And if you are not sick, then why did I see you fall when your body was touched by sunlight? The elder shook its head. What if it were to happen again? I cannot rely on someone who might perish in the presence of sun deities. The avatar stared at the youth with its nerve-wracking black-pit eyes. And if I cannot rely on you, Nidhogg will need to send someone else.
The words struck a chord in Urd, causing the youth to stiffen. For a long time neither child nor tree spoke. Finally Urd broke her gaze away from the avatar, looking down at the ground. The youth bit her lip. I didn't come here because I wanted to. She thought. I came here because Nidhogg directed it. It was payment for what I learned in the Mist. I can't go back without repaying my end of the deal…Urd closed her eyes with a sigh, running a hand through her hair uneasily. "Fine." She muttered. "I'll meet this Inanna person if it makes you happy. But only 'cause I don't think Nidhogg will send anyone else up here. There aren't a lot of Curs in Niflheim with holy blood in 'em, after all."
Yggdrasil smiled, nodding its head in approval. Good.
Urd opened her eyes, staring back up at the tree person once more. "So where is this Inanna persona, anyways?" She demanded with a huff. "I kind of need to know if I'm gonna see him, right?"
Do not fret, Young One. Yggdrasil replied. 'She' will be on her way here shortly. It almost sounded as though there was laughter in the elder's voice. I am certain that if you wait here, the Queen of Heaven will be with you shortly.
"Queen of Heaven?"
Yggdrasil nodded but offered no explanation beyond that. You will be in good hands soon. It stated. So it is time for me to depart. I have my own duties to attend to that do not involve overseeing my own water bearer. The avatar bowed slowly to the youth, and despite herself Urd found herself returning it, stooping habitually into the demon's kneel rather than the god's bow Celestine had been trying to install in her over the past week.
When Urd looked up from where her head was bowed, the avatar was gone.
The youth looked around in confusion, wondering where the elderly avatar could have wandered away to so quickly. Yet the girl could see little if any signs of the avatar's passing, and so with a grimace Urd moved to stand once more. "Water bearer, huh?" She muttered aloud. "Doesn't sound as important as Nidhogg made it out to be. I sound like a freaken' cupbearer, for crying out loud!" The youth ran a hand through her hair with a huff, feeling a mixture of confusion, irritation, and awe from her experience with the avatar.
At least her head had stopped pounding for the moment. The water seemed to have done her some good, even if it was cold enough to make her teeth hurt. "Guess I should find this Inanna lady than." The girl mumbled to herself. A quick look around revealed no obvious trails aside from the one that led her to the well, and so with a sigh Urd began to follow it back. It was possible that she might have missed something on her way towards the well in her weakened state, so maybe backtracking would lead her towards some gods or a previously unseen trail.
Rubbing an arm uncomfortably, the silver-haired girl headed back the way she came, passing under the ever-towering root and pausing as the sound of voices met her ears. Blinking violet eyes, the youth looked around. Yet for all she could hear the voices far off, Urd could make out nothing of their owners. Bright brows furrowed together in confusion as Urd frowned. "Who's…" The godling trailed off, trying to distinguish the direction of the voices and failing miserably. It sounded as if the voices were coming from all around her.
Urd suppressed a shudder. Disembodied voices reminded her too much of Nidhogg's realm. Too much of the strangers she'd met in the mist; familiar ones who watched her with alien eyes and unfamiliar ones who spoke her name. Those ones she'd hoped to escape at least in part by coming to the Heavens.
"Well, it seems we've found out demon, Ninshubur!" A voice cried out around her.
Demon? A shadow fell across the bronze child's form and with a start Urd turned and looked up
The sun was blinding.
Immediately the child looked away, eyes squeezing shut as Urd sought to rid herself of the brilliant light that temporarily blinded her. Yet behind closed eyelids came the illuminated afterimage of a form; a person, and with it came an unexpected knot of unease. I'm not supposed to be seen as a demon anymore.
Another voice, deeper than its companion's, rang out. "Seems a little small for what we sensed so far up, wouldn't you say, M'lady?"
Wild laughter graced Urd's ears and the child rubbed her eyes, hoping to rid herself of the fading spots in her vision. "Demons come in all shapes and sizes, my friend." Urd thought she saw something land before the large root, but she couldn't make out what it was. "Let's see what type of demon this one is."
There was an underlying threat to the tone that sent the silver-haired youth on edge. Through spot-riddled vision Urd watched as someone approached her, causing the girl to step back warily. "One that's gonna get you if you come any closer." Small sparks of magic danced across Urd's hand in warning. "I'm not afraid of any god, let alone you."
The person paused in her step, and Urd could dimly make out a white head of hair tilting itself to an angle. "Is that so?" She asked. "Then by all means, let's see what you've got, little demon-child."
"Lady Inanna…" Someone sighed. "She's only a child."
Inanna? Is this the person I was supposed to find?
"Child or not, she's brave enough to challenge the Queen of Heaven." Urd could hear the smile in the woman's voice. "And anyone brave enough to go against the Queen of Heaven deserves their chance."
I don't get it. My sigils are blue, not red anymore. Why does she see me as a demon? The spots were slowly clearing from Urd's eyes, and the youth could make out a shock of pinned white hair and tan skin. She almost looks like Mo-
"WHORE!" Urd screamed with such ferocity it scared her. Immediately the youth clamped her hands over her mouth, violet eyes wide with shock and horror. Cheeks burning, the girl stumbled away from the woman, so horrified by her sudden outburst that Urd forgot her initial challenge to the goddess.
Eyes clearing, the child could make out the surprised blue eyes of the woman. "I'm sorry!" Urd blurted. "I don't even know why I…why I…" What possessed me?
Before her the woman, Inanna judging from her voice, began to laugh. "Ah! I see you're a stranger to me then!" The goddess proclaimed, further baffling the girl before her.
"W-what?" Urd gaped in bafflement. Even her own mother would have reacted violently to such an insult, and yet here was this goddess standing there and laughing like it was no big deal!
Another woman, one with deep black skin and short curly hair approached. She sent Urd a doubtful stare, looking the child up and down before biting her lip. "Lady Inanna…this child is no demon." The dark woman narrowed brown eyes at the youth before coming to kneel before Urd. Urd took a startled step back. "I..." The woman blinked, dark eyes widening. "Oh…so that is why…"
Inanna peaked over her companion's shoulder, staring down at Urd in curiosity. Urd, for her part, didn't dare move. These people were weird, even for her. "What's why?" Urd demanded urgently, feeling her heart flutter nervously in her chest.
"You're the Almighty's daughter, aren't you?"
"So you're cursed?" Urd took a sip of her tea, mindful of the heat emanating from the cup. The girl scrunched her nose up in displeasure at the taste. Regardless of the heat, the tea tasted too bitter for her. For a moment she almost considered reaching for the honey Inanna seemed to have in such bountiful amounts, but then recalled that it was bee vomit and quickly took another sip from her cup.
Across the table from her, the woman in question added another spoonful of honey to her cup. "Yes." Inanna said, waving her hand idly. "Really, it's nothing big, just a minor thing a relative of mine placed on my head in my younger days. Said it was to keep me humble."
Silver brows furrowed together in confusion. "By having everyone you meet scream 'whore' in your face?" Urd inquired, confusion growing as the goddess in question snickered.
Next to her Ninshubur leaned back with a sigh. "Lady Inanna is rather…fickle when it comes to her lovers." She explained.
Inanna nodded in agreement. "I was not the kindest of women to the men who caught my interest in my younger years, either." The woman smirked. "I won't go into any details but…let's just say a certain someone grew tired of my antics and sought a way to end my frivolous antics."
Urd stared at the white-haired woman blankly. "I don't think I get it."
Innana merely laughed.
"The curse was to serve as a warning to those Lady Inanna met." Ninshubur explained. "That they may know her and not be lured into any so-called 'traps' that she might set up. Unfortunately…"
Inanna giggled. "My dear Cousin's curse backfired. For those who knew of me within the cities on the Assiah or here in the heavens, oh it worked like a charm. However for those who knew nothing of me or my past, to suddenly scream the word 'whore' in my face had them all scrambling to make amends to me. The gods were abashed that they had insulted a fellow deity in such a manner. The little mortals down below ashamed that they had called a woman who was a stranger to them by such a title. All in all, I've found it quite an amusing curse over the years."
The tan goddess cackled and even the solemn Ninshubur cracked a smile. "Oh, the faces people make, the reactions…it doesn't matter if it's a beggar or a king, demon or god. Their reactions are priceless." The woman smiled widely. "On top of that, you find that your memory is the first to go as you grow older, Urd. I've found the curse useful in identifying people I've met versus new faces, such as yours. At least this way I can fake knowing who is who until my forgetful mind can recall who I am speaking to."
Urd stared into her tea cup with a grimace. "I don't know…even my own mother would get angry at someone calling her a whore."
Urd nodded eagerly. "Yeah. She likes to laugh off a lot of things that people do to her or call her, but something like that…" The youth shook her head. "Mom would flip."
"That's right; your mother is a demon, isn't she?" Ninshubur asked. "That's why I think we might have mistaken you for a demon at first; the aura you emanate is still more demonic than it is divine."
Inanna frowned, sending Urd a curious gaze. "Have you been adapting well?" She asked.
Urd hesitated for a moment before recalling her conversation with Yggdrasil. Slowly the youth shook her head. "I…don't really know." She said. "The light here is really bright. It makes my head hurt and my eyes burn sometimes. Other times I feel real sick and weak, like I've got a fever or something."
"It is no easy feat for one so young to shift from the darkness and to the light." The woman drummed her fingers atop the wooden table. "I have worked with demons in the past. Several times I've found that demons are more adept at certain tasks than their holy counterparts, yet I've also learned that one must be watchful of the demonkin when they are employed." The goddess smiled widely, catching Urd's startled glance. "For all their capabilities, they are not as…predisposed to the light Shammash brings as are their divine counterparts.
The Queen of Heaven leaned over the table, catching Urd's violet eyes with her own bright blue. "Tell me Urd, are you still suffering from these ailments?"
Urd bit her lip before nodding, and Inanna rose from her table with a smile. "Then I believe I know what needs to be done. Finish your tea and wait here with Ninshubur, Child."
With that the goddess was up and off, leaving Urd alone with Ninshubur. The girl looked up at the older goddess. "Did Inanna really work with other demons?"
Ninshubur raised a black brow. "You doubt her word?"
Immediately Urd shook her head. "No, no it's not that. It's just…" The girl looked into her cup, swirling the liquid within lightly. "I've never heard of a deity employing a demon's help before." She said. "And where I used to live in back in Niflheim…I heard all sorts of stuff that was going on back there.
Ninshubur shrugged. "It's probably due to your living in Niflheim that you're unaware of it." She said. "The gods don't employ demons that reside within Niflheim. They're much to proud and dangerous for deities to work with. Only under the most dire of circumstances will either side come to work together or for one another."
"There are demons that choose to reside in other worlds, Lass." Ninshubur explained. "Surely you've heard of the Annunaki. Perhaps of the demon Apep?"
Urd scowled. "Yeah, those are Underworld demons." She said. "They work to keep the dead in line, and as a result they don't interact with Niflheimian demons."
Ninshubur nodded. "Lady Inanna is a woman not unfamiliar with the Underworlds. She has kin there who run one of the realms, and they often employ demons to bring back any angry spirits that return to the Assiah. Thanks to a past incident, Lady Inanna came to work rather closely with several of these demons on a specific mission." The goddess downed the last of her tea and motioned for Urd to do the same. "It was because of that mission that Lady Inanna came to learn so much about them and their kin, for in order to complete her mission those demons needed to be whole."
"Found it!" Inanna's voice rang out from another room and a moment later the goddess peeked her head around a corner. "Urd, do you still have that headache?"
The girl rubbed her forehead. "A little."
"Good. Here, catch." Wheeling around the corner, the goddess tossed a small vial towards the youth. Urd caught it easily before proceeding to examine it. "A potion?" The vial was small, little more than a mouthful if Urd had to guess, the contents a bright lime-green.
"Yes." Inanna replied. "Only drink about half the contents; that potion was made more for a full-grown demon over someone half their size."
Nodding, Urd stared at the potion warily as she popped the cork off. The youth took a small sip and gagged at the taste, near-dropping the potion in favor of searching for something to help rid herself of the taste. The tea was gone, unfortunately, and without thinking Urd grabbed the honey, shoving a spoonful of the viscous material into her mouth. The youth twitched. "I think I'm gonna be sick." She muttered around the spoon.
Inanna laughed. "Nonsense. My potions have never had an adverse reaction in their consumers."
"That's because you've never sampled your own wears, Lady Inanna." Ninshubur retorted before looking at Urd. The dark woman wrapped her hand around the spoon handle and gently pulled it out of Urd's mouth. "You don't need to worry too much, Hon. For all her potions taste dreadfully, they all work with little to no side-affects. By the time the taste is gone, you'll feel ripe as rain once more."
A silver brow twitched as Urd allowed the contents of the honey to slide down her throat. The youth paled. She'd just eaten bee vomit! "And how long does that normally last?"
Ninshubur shrugged. "Depends on what you use to wash it down with, I suppose." The goddess twirled the spoon in her fingers idly. "Though honey isn't a bad choice."
"Bee vomit…" Urd muttered, running a hand through her hair. "I think I…Can I go lay down somewhere? I-I need to…" The youth trailed off, causing Inanna and Ninshubur to look at one another.
Ninshubur finally sighed. "If you wish," she said, standing and offering a hand to Urd. "You can rest in my bed until you feel better."
Barely registering the offered hand, Urd took it and allowed the older goddess to guide her from the table. "And I still gotta find 'Stine too." She muttered, clutching Ninshubur's hand weakly.
The dark woman lead the youth into another room, gently picking Urd up despite her protests and depositing her on the bed. "Is this 'Stine' your guardian?"
Urd nodded, looking a little green. "He's my sister's mentor. Cel'stine or something."
"We'll see if we can't get in contact with him." Ninshubur rose from the bed. "Feel free to join us whenever you feel up to it, Lass." She said softly. "Lady Inanna may have terrible tasting potions, but she does it out of the goodness of her heart. This place is open to you for as long as you want it to be."
Urd nodded weakly, choosing to stare at the ceiling as the youth tried desperately to think of anything other than the nausea that had arisen upon her realizing what she'd just consumed.
Inanna examined the honey carefully, trying to figure out what had caused such a negative reaction in the child. "Honey usually works fine with the potions. It's sweet enough to take away the bite of the potion's taste, plus it has extra antioxidants to boost the effects. Why did she react so violently to it?"
"I think she just might not like honey." Ninshubur's voice rose up behind her, and Inanna deposited the honey on the table once more. She turned to look at her comrade, motioning the goddess to continue. "I heard her mention something about 'bee vomit' when she started to turn green."
Inanna stared at the goddess in surprise. "I suppose that would do it." She said idly, looking back at the honey once more before directing her full attention to Ninshubur. "I'd probably turn a little green too if I thought I was eating insect vomit."
Shrugging the goddess took a seat in Urd's previous chair, motioning for Ninshubur to have a seat as well. "So she is That Man's daughter." Inanna murmured. "I must say, she looks nothing like her father."
Ninshubur picked up the spoon once more, renewing her toying with the utensil. "She holds a great resemblance to you, Lady Inanna. When I first laid eyes on her I mistook her for your daughter."
Inanna frowned. "Don't be silly, Ninshubur." She mumbled. "You know the only children I've ever born were male. I've never had a blood daughter before." The goddess pursed her lips. "No…we both know who it is she resembles."
Ninshubur nodded, a slight frown tugging at the corner of her mouth. "Yet still, Lady Inanna…if the girl really does take after her mother as much as the rumors say…even you must admit the resemblance is eerie."
Inanna ran a hand through her hair, yanking a silver strand and bringing it before her face. "I do." She admitted. "It is more than eerie to hear comparisons between the Daimakaicho Hild and the Queen of Heaven, yet to see actual evidence…" The goddess shook her head.
"That cousin of yours who knew her so well claimed she was one of Odin's before the god was brought down." Ninshubur pointed out. "It could merely be a coincidence."
"A coincidence or perhaps Urd takes more after her ancestors than any of us realize." Inanna said with a sigh. "Tiamat was said to hold hair of such a shade."
"Which is why you are said to hold it as well, as you are a direct descendent of her, as is the Almighty." Ninshubur reasoned. "Which in turn would make Urd a descendent as well."
Inanna closed her eyes and shook her head. "Yet that does not explain the Daimakaicho Hild." She whispered angrily. "The whole matter is-"
Inanna sent her companion a look. "Confusing." She corrected.
Ninshubur nodded. "We'll have plenty of time to dwell on such thing later." She said, changing the subject. "Urd informed me that she lost her guardian before we found her."
"Which now makes me wonder what she was doing around my Huluppu tree to begin with." Inanna growled in frustration. "Did she give you a name? Children aren't supposed to be so close to Yggdrasil. Its well is directly connected to Nidhogg, and if a child was to find it and fall in…"
The goddess trailed off, sending a pointed glance to Ninshubur. "Well, let's be happy it didn't come to that this time." The darker goddess said. "The guardian's name is 'Cel'Stine', apparently. The deity is her sister's mentor."
A lazy smile worked its way onto Inanna's face, a hint of mischief dancing within her blue eyes. "Well I suppose we'll just have to give this man a call, won't we?"
Comments of a Madwoman: Thanks to everyone who took up the challenge in trying to identify who Yggdrasil was. You guys were close, better luck next time!
Also, to anyone who's read my other fanfic, Scapegoat; I've recently decided to make a fic-run with it in regards to Azazel. For those of you interested, look me up in fictionpress. I've got the same penname, so it shouldn't be too hard to find me. Hope you guys enjoyed the chappie!