I originally published this under the name Anduril at Anime Addventures, with the only changes being a few corrections in spelling, punctuation and the occasional word choice. If you like the beginning of my story but think I've gone off the rails, or have your own ideas for a great branch-off, or think I'm taking too long to update and want to continue the story yourself, come to Anime Addventures and join in the fun!
I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima, and certainly not anything owned by Warner Bros.
One year later:
So shaken was Raven by the sense of Akane's presence from their brief joining that only the sudden coolness of her palm warned her that the half a soul that they had had to spend long minutes coaxing into her hands was gone, and her eyes dropped just in time to see the Seed vanish into the baby Akane's chest. At that instant Belldandy and her angel added their own wordless thread to the music of Time, a ribbon of sound that seemed to wrap itself around Urd's foundation of all that had gone before and lifted to mix with Skuld's endless possibilities, binding the two together into a harmonious whole — and Raven found herself falling forward, settling downward, the baby looming larger and larger until it seemed to encompass all that was.
And everything went white.
Raven opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling of her bedroom. The long nightmare was finally over, with the end of Ranma's life for the second time — sort of. She just wished she could feel the relief better. But that hadn't been an option for months, not since the night that her mind had finally shattered under the strain of the constant fear of the assault that each night's sleep might bring, and of the forced pleasure and humiliation from the all too frequent times that it did. That fracturing had left her disassociated from her emotional connections, barely able to feel her love for her family and the joy of happy memories, leaving her alone with the anger and hatred she'd inherited from her second "father" raging at her core.
Those emotional connections had been her shield from that anger and hatred. She'd tried to rebuild her fractured mind, but the best she had managed was to temporarily unite her broken emotions and lock away her inheritance — keeping that inheritance locked away took up too much of her ... focus, for lack of a better word, for any union to be permanent. And without a permanent unity any chance those bindings had of resisting Trigon when he finally called had vanished.
That night she had failed, and doomed the world. Saotome Ranma had finally lost when it really counted.
Enough, Raven, you know what Grandfather told you about that. It won't be that bad, the souls of everyone on Midgard ... Earth ... that dies will return to Asgard or Niflheim for a time, and then to sleep until Trigon moves on and the Earth eventually recovers the ability to bear life. It isn't even the first time something like that has happened, more or less.
That was what Kami-sama had told her, and it had helped — had made it somewhat easier to find the calm she needed to once more master her inheritance. But it hadn't done much for the guilt that gnawed at her, and her Grandfather has flatly forbade her to even think about suicide. She'd considered ignoring him, but in the end had had decided he must know what he was doing.
Sighing, she dragged herself out of her bed and into the bathroom for a hasty, efficient shower before pulling on the uniform that Peorth had insisted on designing (not without several demands from the mothers that she make it less risqué). She looked herself over in the mirror — a black leotard with sleeves covering her arms and the back of her hands, a dark blue hooded cape with a circular gold-set garnet clasp, other gold-set garnets on the backs of her hands and making up the links of a belt, and dark blue ankle boots and wrist bracers. Peorth had said that if Raven was determined to be a fool, at least she could look the part.
Deciding that she looked well enough, Raven turned from the mirror to her personal com console, pushed a button for a preprogrammed message for Skuld, then picked up her spear-pointed, twin-engined racing 'broom' from where it rested against the wall. "Come on, Gluhende Herz, it's time." For a moment she half-expected the 'broom' to somehow wake up from its year-long 'sleep' to ask for one more ride, but however sentient it might be it still came with an 'off' switch it couldn't override.
Her bleary-eyed mothers looked up from their seats around the table when she walked into the kitchen, and Mara lifted the cover off the stasis unit in the center of the table and slid a plate with Raven's usual meat-heavy breakfast over to her seat, still hot.
Raven paused for a moment to shield herself as best she could from the onslaught of guilt-laden love and concern from the three women, then leaned Gluhende Herz against the wall and sat down, making sure the hood of her cape hid her face from view. "It's over," she said quietly, and began to eat. She ignored the spike of relief and concern mixed together, waiting for yet more protests to her plans, such as they were. But none came, so instead she ignored the growing tension and gave them a quick overview of what she had remembered that night — Ranma's opportunity to slaughter those that had put her on the Wall, and her meeting with Akane and her sisters.
Just as she was finishing breakfast the visitor chime sounded — perfect timing, of course, only to be expected for the Norn of the Future. The four rose to their feet, and Raven hesitated as she considered just leaving. But her mothers deserved better than that, and she took a deep breath, stepped away from the table, pulled back her hood and spread her arms, and fought to keep from flinching and pulling away as her mothers pulled her into a group hug. She was wearing clothes, and her mothers weren't Rothgan.
"Remember, you may be leaving but we aren't going anywhere," Mara whispered. "You can always come home again." Raven didn't respond, simply squeezing harder as Lind and Urd murmured their agreement.
The chime sounded again. The mothers reluctantly let go, and Raven gave them a faint smile — the best she could manage, as she fought to keep from shaking from the emotional overload she'd just been through even with the detachment her fractured mind gave her. "I'll let you know where to send my stuff when I have a place," she said, pulled her hood back up, picked up Gluhende Herz, and strode from the room.
Mara, Lind and Urd watched from the doorway until Skuld and their daughter vanished from sight into the light woods that surrounded their home, then went back inside and made their way back to the kitchen.
Once there, Mara opened the fridge while the other two sat back down to what was left of their breakfast. A moment later she joined them, handing out chilled cans before opening her own favorite beer.
"Uh, Mara, this isn't my ambrosia," Lind pointed out, looking askance at the can of Urd's sake that the demon had placed in front of her.
"No, it isn't," Mara agreed. "For once, you're drinking something stronger than that Asgardian Kool-Aid you favor." She glared at her co-mother until Lind opened the can and hesitantly took a gulp and made a face. It's a start, Mara thought, then gulped down her own can, rose to clear off the table, and grabbed more cans from the fridge.
Lind suspiciously eyed the additional cans — they were all beer and sake, somehow Mara had left out her bottles of ambrosia again. "You wouldn't be trying to get me drunk, would you?" she demanded. She tried another gulp of the sake and grimaced again.
"Why would we be doing that," Mara asked, putting on an air of innocence as she handed a can to Urd.
"Because you think I've been bottling everything up too long, that I need to 'relax'," Lind replied. She eyed the can in her hand and tried a sip this time.
Mara sighed as she opened another can of her beer. "Yes, I suppose I was rather blatant, wasn't I? I usually try to be more subtle than that, but you were ignoring my hints. You do need to relax, Lind, or you're going to break as ... as surely as our baby." Her voice quavered at the last bit, and she hastily took several gulps of her beer.
Lind finally looked up at her co-mother. "You could be right," she agreed, as two slow tears tracked down her cheeks.
Instantly Mara was up out of her chair and around the table, pulling Lind up into a tight hug, Urd right behind her embracing both co-mothers together.
Lind didn't wail or break down sobbing, she simply tightened her own embrace around Mara and listened to her soft sympathetic murmuring as a steady stream of tears soaked the demon's shoulder.
Finally the flow of tears slowed to a stop, and Lind let go of the Valkyrie as the huddle broke apart. "Thank you," she whispered as Mara handed her a tissue with which to wipe her cheeks. "Thank you," she repeated more loudly, including Urd this time. She dropped the tissue into the trash receptacle. Ignoring the tiny flash of light as the tissue disintegrated, she asked, "So, when are you to going to tell me what you two've been discussing when you didn't think I would notice? Did you guess Kami-sama was going to order us to give Raven her head and set up a fallback?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that," Mara quickly asserted, then paused as she realized that Urd had gone stiff. She turned to her friend with benefits (not that there had been any 'benefits' over the past year, and emotionally they were shading over into 'lover' territory). "Urd, you didn't!" she exclaimed.
Urd chuckled nervously. "Well ... maybe? I might have suggested to Skuld that we could use some way of tracking Raven..." Her voice trailed off as she glanced sideways out of the corner of her eye at the purple-haired Valkyrie.
Lind gazed sternly back for a long moment, then stunned the other two by breaking into a broad grin. "Wonderful! We'll have to see if she managed to come up with anything. But if it wasn't about Raven, what were you two were conspiring about?"
Urd and Mara exchanged glances, Mara cocking an eyebrow. Urd sighed. "You deserve better than to hear about this through gossip, and I suppose there's no time like the present. Let's go pay a visit to Kami-sama."
"Kami-sama will see you now," Hildir announced from where he sat behind his desk.
Urd rose to her feet and paused for a moment as she fought to steady herself enough to walk. Come on, it's been a year since you made your decision! She berated herself. And if you've guessed right about Mother and Father, he'll have already heard all about it, anyway. It was nothing she hadn't told herself numerous times over the past year, but that didn't help settle the butterflies in her stomach at all.
Mara laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Come on, this should be easy!" she said, tone deliberately light. "You told off Hild when you were the next thing to a kid, this can't be harder than that!"
"Right, well, I was protected then by my invincible ignorance," Urd retorted. She glanced sideways at an obviously worried Lind and took a deep breath. "Let's do it," she said, and strode through the door to her Father's office with the other two on her heels.
Behind them, Hildir waited until the door closed, then brought up his desk com and typed in a code. As soon as the call was answered, he said, "Skuld, Kami-sama needs to see you immediately." A few moments later he'd finished the call and typed in another code. "Belldandy, sorry to bother you, but your Father needs to see you right away."
"You know, this is a really stupid idea, just heading for Earth and seeing what happens. It's not much better than running away in the middle of the night."
Raven glared up at the raven-haired young woman with hollow teardrop 'tattoos' on her forehead and cheeks, dressed in a T-shirt and oil-stained pocketed overalls. "Yes, Skuld, I am quite aware of your opinion, you've expressed it often enough," she ground out before turning back to watch the tree-lined, tiled path they were walking along. The destruction Raven had wreaked when she'd lost control a year before was long since undone, and she'd decided to walk and take in the scenery rather than simply fly.
"So why are you doing it?" Skuld asked.
Raven tried to ignore the question, but paused when she realized that Skuld was no longer beside her. She looked back to find the youngest Norn standing several yards back, a stern expression on her face she had to have picked up from watching her older sister scold her children.
"Give me an answer if you want my help," Skuld insisted.
Raven tensed at the determination the goddess was radiating. "You can't stop me," she growled, black light coruscating around her fists and along the racing 'broom' she held.
"Did I say I'd try? No, just that I wouldn't help," Skuld said tartly. More softly, she added, "I won't tell anyone if you want, I promise, but I need to know."
After a long moment Raven sighed and relaxed. "All right, but no spreading it around." Waving for Skuld to catch up, she turned to resume walking. When Skuld was once again walking beside her, she asked, "Did you know that way back when my mothers realized that I was reacting to their emotions to the point it was interfering with learning to control my inheritance, they came up with ... buffers, I guess you could call them, talismans that muted the emotions they radiated?"
"They aren't talismans, they're devices," Skuld replied. "I made them."
"Oh. I should have known." Raven considered the new information for a moment, then shrugged. "You never updated them. As I grew older the strength of my empathy increased, at this point they're useless."
"Stupid!" Skuld slapped her forehead. "Idiot! Why didn't I think of that?" Glancing down at the shorter mortal, she asked, "Why didn't you tell us?"
Raven barked a laugh. "Yeah, right, like any kid with brains is going to admit something like that. Can you imagine the edge knowing just what my mothers were feeling gave me when it came to getting what I wanted?"
A split-second's thought had Skuld giggling. "Yeah, I could have used that," she agreed. "But what does that have to do with you leaving?"
"For the past year, Momma Mara's been crying every day and trying to hide it, Mama Lind's been refusing to let herself cry, and Mama Urd's been drowning her pain by getting as angry as I ever did on the Wall. What do you think it's been like for me to live in the middle of all that? And Grandmother's even worse. I'm just glad she's restricted herself to vidcalls since her last visit; that was a nightmare." Raven shuddered as she remembered the vortex of fear-fed self-loathing Hild's calm exterior had hidden. It had taken everything she'd had not to add to it by bolting from the room. Still, she was glad she'd insisted on Hild coming to visit, the Daimakaicho had been in better shape when she'd left. She was just glad that Hild had agreed with her suggestion (or at least pretended to) that the mothers would be less than happy to see her around for awhile.
Skuld blanched as she tried to imagine what it had been like for Raven. "That's terrible! But why didn't you say anything? You —" She managed to choke back the rest of the thought: — might not have broke.
Raven waited for a moment for Skuld to continue, then quietly said, "I am not telling the women that raised me, the first adults to really love me, that their love is hurting me. And neither are you."
Skuld hesitated, but finally shrugged. "I did promise, your secret is safe with me. But if you are determined to leave your mothers wondering where they went wrong, why didn't you take Belldandy up on her offer of a place to stay? She'd be glad to have you, the emotional atmosphere would be a lot more congenial, and your mothers would be happier."
"No!" Raven practically hissed. "No, you're —" — better off without me. "No."
Skuld suppressed a wince at the undertone to Raven's voice and glanced sideways at her companion. She doubted Raven realized just how much she was revealing, at least to someone that had kinda-sorta grown up with her. She opened her mouth to argue the point, but finally said nothing. It wasn't like she could say anything that hadn't already been said, after all, and she had Kami-sama's marching orders from the meeting he'd called several nights before, after Raven had fallen asleep, for her loved ones — except Hild, of course. His orders to let Raven have her way hadn't sat well (Skuld had thought for a moment that Belldandy, of all people, was going to get into a shouting match with her Father). But everyone had finally agreed that Raven's experiences for the last part of Ranma's life and death wouldn't lend themselves very well to acceptance of adults overriding her decisions. And they hadn't had much leeway to disagree when he'd asked them to trust him. What were they supposed to say, no? No, Skuld's ability to interfere had been pretty much eliminated by Raven's intransigence and her Father's orders.
Well, almost, she thought, as their destination came into view around a bend in the path — the tiled circle that marked the location of the gate to Earth. The gate's reprogrammable nature made it more energy-intensive and easier for Niflheim to interfere with, but it was also much more convenient. Besides, its limited and unpredictable use was a fine protection from Niflheim playing with it. Raven had been planning on letting it pick an Earth destination at random, but — "Let me pick the destination," the young goddess said as they approached the gate.
Raven glared up at her suspiciously. "Where?" she demanded.
"Jump City," Skuld replied instantly as she stepped over to the control panel, unlocked it and brought up the virtual keyboard.
"Never heard of it, why there?"
Skuld shrugged. "It's a city on the west coast of the United States, and I don't know why there." At Raven's disbelieving look, she added, "Hey, I'm the Norn of the Future, I get hunches."
Raven rolled her eyes, but finally nodded. "Fine," she said. "Oh, wait, I almost forgot." When Skuld glanced over at her, she held out her racing 'broom'. "I remembered how envious you were when Hild gave me Gluhende Herz, and thought you'd be the best person for it to go to when ..." She left the thought unfinished, and added sternly, "But no taking it apart to see how it works, and no waking it up until it's over."
"Aw, you're no fun." Skuld pouted, grinning inside at the faint chuckle she'd managed to wring out of her companion. "Oh, all right, I'll hold onto it for you until you're ready to take it back."
"Yeah, right," Raven snorted. "Let's get this over with."
"Not yet, I've got something for you, too." Skuld reached into one of her pockets and pulled out a tiny box, opening it to reveal a diamond-shaped blood-red gem sparkling in the morning light. "It's called a bindi, you wear it on your forehead just above the bridge of your nose," she said to Raven's questioning look. "It's an Indian tradition, symbolizing the union of male and female energies. It's perfect for you. Don't worry about it falling off, I've taken care of that."
Raven hesitated for a moment, giving Skuld a long searching look — the young goddess felt entirely too ... well, predatory. But it was Skuld, and in the end Raven smiled faintly and swept back her hood. "Go ahead, put it on. And thank you," she whispered.
"Hey, no problem, it completes your, ah ..." costume "... uniform," Skuld said cheerily as she picked the gem up out of the box. She ignored the way Raven tensed up as she carefully centered the bindi before pressing it against the smaller girl's forehead right below her widow's peak, letting the tiniest spark of her power leap from the tip of her forefinger to the gem as she pulled her hand back. And thank you for accepting my little tracker.
She turned back to the virtual keyboard still floating above the gate's control console and quickly typed away for a few seconds, until a glowing circle made up of variously shaded white fractals unfolded into existence twenty feet off the ground. "There you go, a one-way trip to Jump City, USA."
Raven tensed for a moment, then relaxed when Skuld made no move to give her a farewell hug. She pulled her hood up and floated up level with the gate, hovered for a moment as she took a deep breath, then dove through the fractal-patterned plane and was gone.
For long minutes Skuld stared up at the glowing, shifting patterns of the gate before she pulled a palm-sized device out of another pocket, hit a button and waited impatiently as the virtual screen sprang into existence ... waited ... waited ... and grinned triumphantly as a line of text sprang scrolled across the screen. "Dimensional positioning system tracking ... Jump City coordinates right ... signal strong ... everything's green." Not that I can actually do anything except watch, whatever happens. Sobering, she finally turned back to the console with a sigh. "Father knows what he's doing. He does," she murmured. "He always has before, and he does now." But for the first time, she was finding it really, really hard to take his direct instructions on simple faith. Especially since her expedited studies (thanks to her expedited maturation) had included a lot of history, and her Father's chosen surrogates didn't always succeed, or survive, sometimes neither — all of them freely chose to accept their roles, and she had no doubt that her Father cared for each and every one of them, but that didn't stop him from using them up when the situation called for it. She'd eventually been able to accept the necessity on an intellectual level, but with Raven there was nothing 'intellectual' about it — it had gotten very, very personal.
A few quick seconds of typing and the gate slowly folded into itself and was gone. Skuld shut down the virtual keyboard and relocked the console (necessary to keep any children playing in the area from doing something spectacularly stupid), and was walking away when the console's communicator chimed ... with the particular pattern than meant the call was for her. Turning around, Skuld checked the caller ID and her eyebrows rose as she recognized the name of Kami-sama's personal secretary. Praying that he wasn't going to tell her that her Father wanted her to stop Raven after all, she instantly hit the 'accept' button. "Hildir, what's up?" she asked.
"Skuld, Kami-sama needs to see you immediately," Hildir said.
Skuld's eyebrows rose further at his formal tone. "I'll be right there."
Mara looked curiously around the office of what had until recently been her worst enemy (officially, at least, demonic good manners called for pretending they were all on the same side until the opportunity presented itself to stick the knife in). She was surprised at how cozy it was, with Kami-sama seated in a recliner away from his desk, across from a couch, all by a crackling fireplace — she'd been expecting something more along the lines of Hild's office, with its sense of elegantly understated raw power.
Behind her, Lind and Urd exchanged glances. Both of them had been in the office multiple times, and every time it had been different. But this time, except for the couch being curved so that two of them would be sitting across from each other and long enough for three instead of two, the room was exactly like when they had been offered the assignment of raising Raven. Neither of the two knew what to make of that.
Kami-sama rose as they approached, and Urd eyed the kimono he was wearing. There was a message in that as well, she was sure. When they came within the proper range he bowed, and the three women bowed back, more deeply. As they straightened he waved them toward the couch, refreshments again on the end tables. The co-mothers sat down, Mara in her usual spot between Lind and Urd.
"So, our Kitling is off to seek her own place in the world," he said. "I take it that Skuld successfully planted her surveillance?" He glanced around at the co-mothers' suddenly blank faces. "Of course I knew," he said. "Her tracker is a marvel of miniaturization, but it contains some very unique components that she had to requisition from Stores. It wasn't hard to realize just what she needed them for. So has she?"
"I ..." Urd broke off and cleared her throat. "I don't know. She was going to plant it while sending Raven to Earth, and we came here as soon as they left."
"Very well, we shall find out when she arrives." Kami-sama turned toward his recliner. "Before you begin there's something I have for you," he said, reaching down out of sight behind his chair, then straightening with a sheathed katana in his hand. The three women exchanged confused glances, then turned back as he stepped over and offered the katana to Lind. "The Saotome Family blade," he said solemnly as she accepted it. "Raven claimed it when she killed Genma, and used it in her fights with the others. She promised to return it to her mother if Nodoka did a better job of raising her newest child. Raven isn't divine so she isn't locked into keeping her promise, but I thought that it would be a good promise for her to keep, when the time comes."
"Of course, I will inform Raven that we have it when she lets us know where she is staying," Lind said.
"Excellent." Kami-sama returned to his seat and took a sip of his own drink. "Now, I suppose Urd and Mara have something to tell me."
The two named exchanged glances as Lind turned to look at them, then Urd took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes, we do," she said. "Mara has decided that she would be happier if she switched sides."
Lind bounced to her feet and shouted "Yes!"
Even as her normally stoic co-mother pumped a fist in the air, Urd added, "And so will I."
Lind froze, fist still in the air, then turned to stare at the goddess/demon. "What! ?" she shouted.
"It's not as bad as it sounds!" Urd insisted hastily, waving her hands in warding gestures. "Mother offered me command of her Furies!"
Lind's face went blank, and after a moment she slowly sank back down into her place on the couch across from Urd. "Command of the Furies," she repeated.
Urd nodded vigorously.
Lind stared at the demon/goddess for long moments, before sighing. Voice soft, she asked, "Do you really want a shot at Genma and Rothgan that badly?"
Urd's eyes fell. "Genma is beyond my reach," she replied just as softly. "He accepted his guilt and moved on just a few months before Raven remembered what he did to her. Rothgan, on the other hand ..." She looked back up, eyes burning with anger. "Mother can't just let me at him, but she has a revolt building. While she hasn't said so outright, I think he's one of the conspirators."
"Even if you are right, what about after the revolt is put down? What then?"
Urd shrugged. "Genma and Rothgan may be the ones that offended against my own, but they are hardly alone."
"I see," Lind mused. "And as a Fury you'll be limited to reaping the souls of the self-condemned and keeping Hild's underlings in line, not involved with the seductions, bargainings or punishment details."
Urd nodded again, though more sedately this time. "That's right," she agreed.
It was Lind's turn to shrug. "That's not so bad, then."
Mara and Urd's jaws dropped in shock.
Lind deepened that shock by actually smiling. "What, you expected me to go into a rant about how Urd's been manipulated by Hild into betraying everything she's supposed to stand for just for petty revenge? There's nothing 'petty' about the revenge Furies are after. The truth is that the Valkyrie and Furies have a lot of respect for each other. Oh, sure, we think they're revenge-driven fanatics all too willing to shoot first and ask questions later and carpet-bomb their targets when they do, while they think we're emotionally stunted rules-lawyering nitpickers with — how did you so crudely phrase it, Urd, those years ago when you read me the riot act? — with sticks up our asses, that keep getting in their way." Lind's smile broadened when Urd's blush turned her face a bright scarlet. "But we respect each other's fighting abilities, we Valkyrie have no problem at all with what happens to Furies' targets when they get it right, and we share the same low opinions of demons, present company excepted."
"Interesting. You say all of the Valkyrie feel that way?"
The three women froze, then their heads whipped around as Lind turned pale as a ghost — they'd been so caught up in their family drama that they'd managed to forget that Kami-sama was sitting in his recliner and listening to every word. The purple-haired Valkyrie stammered, forced herself to stop, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them again and nodded. "Pretty much, yes."
"Good," Kami-sama replied, then chuckled at the sighs of relief from his three guests before smiling approvingly at Lind. "While we have to always keep watch to prevent them from excesses, the Furies do good work both in culling humanity of some of its worst and so protecting the rest, and in the restraint they impose on Hild's demons. I am happy that my Fist has not forgotten that.
"But Daughter, this course comes with a heavy price," he continued soberly as he switched his focus to Urd. She felt the singing tension at her core ease at the lack of condemnation or disappointment in his eyes, only loving concern. "The Valkyries will be almost the only ones that make that distinction between the Furies and the rest of Hild's people. There is Mara, here, and your sisters will love you whatever you do. Peorth will most likely follow Lind's lead in this. Beyond that, I doubt you will have more than a handful of friends left in Asgard — the rest will feel that you have betrayed them and all that they believe in, and react accordingly. I cannot correct their misapprehension without risking fatally undercutting the Furies' position in Niflheim, and those that take your side will not be helped by the rumors that have circulated respecting your assignment as Raven's mother and how it relates to your performance of your assignment overseeing Akane before that. Are you prepared to so thoroughly abandon all that you have built in your time with us?"
Urd nodded. I am," she replied, voice steady. But her hand had sought out Mara's and the demon was fighting not to wince as the strength of her sometime lover's grip revealed the effort it took for her to control her mix of pain, anger and confusion. Rumors? What rumors? I haven't heard — She shook off the thought — she'd obviously been even more out of the loop since becoming a mother than she'd thought, but she had more important things to focus on right now.
"And World of Elegance?" Kami-sama asked. "You would take your angel into Hell with you?"
"No." Now Mara did wince, as Urd's hand tightened even further. "I know I can't keep my Domain as Norn of the Past, can you give it to Mara?"
Kami-sama nodded instantly. "Not only can I, she is the best available choice. Her close relationship with you will make it easier for your sisters to accept her — to trust her — as deeply as they need to than anyone else in Asgard."
"Good," Urd said over Mara's surprised protest, "Mara doesn't have a Familiar, so I thought I would pass World of Elegance on to her as well, ask them to look after each other for me."
Glancing over at her childhood friend, she added, "I know I'm dumping a lot on you, but someone has to take over the Domain, and I want it to be you. Lind's the only other one that would really understand the circumstances, and she already has a career that she loves. And ..." She paused to clear the lump in her throat. "And there's especially no one else that I would ask to look after World of Elegance for me."
Mara smiled tremulously, eyes shining with unshed tears. "Of course, I'll look after World of Elegance for you. And I suppose while I'm at it I can't go too far wrong as Norn of the Past with your sisters to look after me." Then she leaned over, kissed Urd on the cheek, and whispered, "Could you ease up on my hand?"
"Oops, sorry." Urd blushed and instantly let go, only for Mara to reclaim her hand.
"Holding my hand is sweet, just not so ... ah, enthusiastically," Mara said with a grin, and what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle from Lind. The demon sobered as she looked over at Kami-sama. "I would be happy to fill Urd's responsibilities as best I am able."
"Are you certain?" Kami-sama asked. "You do remember that you will not have the protection of the doublet system for a time — we will have to break your link with the system so that any demons that attack you will not also be targeting whichever god you are currently linked to, and new links cannot be forged until the next time we have enough children to provide a true random element. That temporary lack of protection will make you an especially attractive target."
Mara nodded. "Urd already pointed that out to me, but she didn't need to. I'd remembered."
For a long moment he simply sat and looked at her, a searching gaze that seemed to pierce through to the very bottom of her soul, then nodded when she managed to force her eyes to stay level with his. "Very well," he finally said, "then there is no time like the present. Hild?"
The three co-mothers stiffened as the presence of the Daimakaicho of Niflheim washed over them, then whirled in their seats to look behind them to find the star-marked blonde rising to her feet from a recliner in what had been an empty corner.
Her usual threat-edged perkiness was absent, her cheeks wet with tears, and they scrambled to their feet as she strode around the couch to embrace her ex-husband. "Thank you," she murmured, just loud enough for the others to hear.
Urd and Mara exchanged glances, then looked over at Lind staring wide-eyed at the sight. "I'll pay up later," Mara muttered.
"Take your time, you're going to be busy," Urd replied. "Just be glad you rejected the first bet I offered. What clued you in?"
"She was off a bit when she spoke to me, the last time you got drunk and dropped in on her. Just enough to make me wonder, a little."
"And why didn't either of you mention this to me?" Lind murmured, so intent on the embracing pair that she'd believed to be mortal enemies that she missed Urd's sudden stiffness at the reference to the worst day of their long lives.
"I didn't think you'd believe it," Urd replied. "I wasn't sure I believed it, myself."
Then Hild again shocked the co-mothers by breaking her hold on her ex-husband to turn and embrace her daughter. "I was so afraid that you would back out at the last minute, thank you!" Hild whispered. "Welcome home!"
Urd hesitantly returned the embrace, stunned speechless by the tremors she could feel running through her mother's body.
"Lind, Mara." At the mention of their names the demon and Valkyrie looked away from the mother and daughter over at Kami-sama. "Hild and I would prefer it if you didn't mention our collusion to anyone."
"Of course, Sir," Lind instantly replied. "I would prefer that my friends and shield sisters and brothers think that I'm sane."
Mara nodded her head vigorously. "Absolutely," she agreed. "But what about Urd's sisters?"
"That will not be a problem," he replied. He stepped over to the still embracing pair and laid a hand on Hild's shoulder. "Hild-chan, we need to start."
Hild took a deep breath, then reluctantly let go of her daughter and stepped back. "Right," she said, voice firm. "You and I can handle the initial steps to make Mara one of yours and break her connection to the doublet system, but we'll need Belldandy and Skuld for transferring over Urd's domain."
Kami-sama actually grinned, and said in a raised voice, "Hildir?"
There was no response, but a few moments later a door appeared in the wall where the co-mothers had entered earlier, and the other two Norns stepped into the room.
As they approached, an apparently furious Skuld striding ahead, Hild quirked an eyebrow at her ex. "After all these millennia, you still like to play the know-all show off," she said with a sigh. Even as he chuckled, Skuld marched right up to the Daimakaicho and shook a finger in her face. "You big meanie!" the youngest Norn scolded in as childish a tone as she could manage, "why didn't you tell us?"
Hild stared wide-eyed at the young goddess in oil-stained overalls, then broke into peals of laughter — pure laughter, untinged by mockery, that had everyone else in the room joining in. When the levity finally died down, Hild asked, "Did you manage to put a tracker on Raven?"
Skuld tensed, glanced sideways at Kami-sama, then gusted a light sigh of relief when he smiled. "Yes, I did," she enthused, "right in the middle of her forehead!" She pulled her Personal Data Assistant out of one of the pockets of her overalls, set it to hover in the air in front of her, hit the button that brought up the virtual keyboard and screen, and typed rapidly. Within seconds a hologram sprang up showing Raven walking down a city street, her dark blue cape pulled closed around her with its hood up to shield her face from both the sun and the stares from the people around her. "It's keyed to her empathy and emotional state," she said, and followed up with a stream of technical jargon that had the demon and other goddesses instantly lost.
Urd gently slapped the back of her head. "Speak a language we can understand!" she insisted even as she failed to suppress her smile. It was good to know that some things never changed.
Skuld blushed. "Oops, sorry," she muttered, then tried again with a sidelong glance at her older sister. "Okay, to dumb it down for the numbskulls, what I said is that we'll be able to track her anywhere on Earth or any of its ancillary dimensions like Niflheim and Asgard, Dreamland, the Faerie Realms, wherever; and we'll receive alerts any time her emotions or the emotions of those around her spike. Mostly, anyway; it'll filter out embarrassment, attraction, disgust, that kind of thing — just ping us for anger, panic, fear, emotions like that." She definitely wasn't going to mention her automated recording loop, and the way it would stop looping when Raven's embarrassment spiked to preserve a record — just in case Raven needed some ... ah, encouragement later. "I sent links to everyone's personal sites while Bell and I were watching what was going on in here, waiting for our cue."
With her last words her cheerful geek mode drained away. She shut down her PDA and put it back in its pocket, and turned to her sister. "Urd, are you really sure about this?"
Urd, finding herself suddenly too choked up to speak, simply nodded.
The youngest Norn stepped over and embraced her half-sister. "We're gonna miss you," she whispered.
Urd reflected that it was certainly turning out to be a banner day for hugs as she returned the embrace, uncaring of possible oil stains on her own (in her opinion) stylishly sexy outfit. "Easy, Squirt, I'll still be your sister, and we'll still see each other," she assured her. "So long as Raven lives, I'll be living with Lind and Mara where we have been — we told our baby we'd still be there if she needed us."
"But even if she beats the Devourer that'll only be a few decades, a century at most. And even before then, it won't be the same."
"No, it won't, but that's life — nothing stays the same forever, even for us."
Urd looked up at her middle sister, and Belldandy nodded her agreement, her own eyes bright with unshed tears. "Urd is right, Skuld," she said softly, "and we need to get started. I need to be home in a few hours for when the children get out of school."
Urd felt Skuld's nod against her shoulder, then the raven-haired goddess reluctantly released her. "Right, let's do it."
Mara staggered as the light faded, and Hild and Kami-sama let go of her hands and stepped away. Before Urd could step forward to steady her, the former demon steadied herself, then spun in place with her arms stretched out wide, the previously red elongated slashes and double-triangles on her forehead and cheeks now glowing blue. "This is incredible!" she caroled. "I feel light as a feather."
"It's the lack of anger that all demons carry everywhere with them — though most that bother to think about it consider it to be a source of strength, not a burden," Hild said, smiling at the antics of her now-former lackey.
"Urd, why didn't they offer this to you?" Mara asked.
"It was suggested, I refused," Urd said.
"Yes, I remember the official complaint that little incident resulted in," Kami-sama commented. "The language you used on your unfortunate tutor went well beyond intemperate into purely demonic."
Urd blushed. "I was new, still learning!" she protested.
"Yes, and you learned very well, only with a different tutor. Several different tutors now that I think on it, you chased away a few," Kami-sama teased to accompanying chuckles and giggles.
Urd's blush turned fiery. "I am what I am, if they couldn't deal with it, then they could take their arrogant smirky attitudes and —" She broke off, and the chuckles and giggles turned into laughter as her blush actually darkened even further to almost purple. She finally shrugged with a wry grin.
A gently smiling Kami-sama waited until the laughter died away, then said, "Urd, it's your turn."
As a new, intricate ceremonial pattern flared to silver life around her and Mara, and Hild and Kami-sama took positions on opposite sides of the outer circle, Urd took a deep breath and turned to her sisters. "Bell? Skuld?"
Her sisters instantly sobered. Bell walked over to join Mara and Urd, but Skuld paused long enough to hand her PDA to Lind. She pointed at two glowing buttons out of the multitude that covered its top side. "The first one activates the view function for Raven's tracker, the second turns off the emotions spike alert I mentioned. Do not push any of the other buttons." When Lind nodded, she joined Mara and her sisters, Mara and Urd gripping each other's hands and Belldandy with her hands on their shoulders.
As soon as Skuld placed her own hands on Mara and Urd's shoulders, Kami-sama and Hild raised their arms and the light of the pattern centered around the four seemed to solidify into glowing walls reaching to the ceiling. First Urd, then Belldandy and finally Skuld lifted their voices in wordless chorus and the room seemed to fill with the glory and pain of all that had gone into the rise of the ugly-beautiful-terrible-magnificent human race, and all the dire, glorious possibilities that lay before it.
For long minutes Mara listened, until she felt compelled to add her own soaring thread to the timeless song, weaving among the other threads to wrap itself around and merge with Urd's deep foundational base until they were indistinguishable, their combined volume almost drowning out the other two voices.
With that merger Urd slowly lowered the volume of her own voice, and with the diminishing sound she felt her connection to the length and breadth of history — the solid foundation that had given a young demon-raised hybrid the calming strength she'd needed to give her divine side free rein — fade and finally vanish with her ended song as if it had never been. Even as the soaring tripartite song of life continued without her, she lifted Mara's hands to join them with her sisters' hands on her shoulders, then let go and stepped away from the three Norns into a world that suddenly seemed infinitely smaller than it had only a little while before.
With Urd's separation, the Norns reversed the beginning of their song — first Skuld, then Belldandy, and finally Mara bringing each thread of their song to an end. In the ringing silence the walls of light sank into the glowing pattern surrounding them. Then the pattern vanished, and it was over.
For a long minute everyone in the room stood in place in awe of the music of the Norns in their full glory, even Skuld and Belldandy stunned at the impact of the rare full joining. Lind was frozen in place, tears streaming down her face and Skuld's PDA in her hand dangling forgotten at her side. Mara stared into empty space, overwhelmed by her new connection to the whole of humanity's past. And Urd was struggling to accept the massive hole in her soul.
Finally, Hild shook herself out of her daze, glanced over at Kami-sama, and nodded toward Mara. He nodded and walked over to his new Norn and placed a hand on her forehead. After a moment, she drew in a shuddering breath and her wide eyes focused on his face. "Easy," he murmured, "I know it is a lot to take in all at once. The block I just placed will fade as you adjust." Mara jerked a nod, then looked over with concern at Urd.
As Kami-sama took care of his newest goddess, Hild stepped over beside Urd, lifting a hand to gently grip her daughter's shoulder. "It's been so long since I had heard the Norns' full lifesong in all its glory that I'd forgotten what I was asking you to give up. I'm sorry."
Urd reached up to place a hand on her mother's as she smiled reassuringly at her lover now looking at her. (Yes, she decided, she and Mara were well past the 'friends with benefits' stage.) "Don't be," she said. "I knew what I was giving up, and I didn't do it for you — I did it for Raven, and all those like her." Sucking in a deep breath, she continued, "And we aren't quite done, there's still World of Elegance to take care of. Mara, are you ready?"
Mara opened her mouth to ask once more if Urd was sure, paused as she took in her lover's tight, determined expression, and finally agreed with a simple nod.
Unlike the transfer of Domain they had just performed, transferring an Angel was deceptively simple. Urd focused on the other life dwelling at the core of her being, stepped over to Mara and with one finger tilted her head up for a gentle kiss, visualized that life shifting from her core through their lips into Mara — and instantly realized something was wrong. It hadn't worked. She stepped back, confused. "Wh-what? Why ... ?"
"Why didn't it work?" her Father said. She looked over to find him smiling. "You forgot something, Urd, to check if World of Elegance was willing to be transferred — your angels may exist to serve you, but they are not automatons. They have wills of their own, that can be as strong as any goddess. Usually, that will is in accordance with their gods and goddesses, but not always."
Urd stared at her Father for a moment, then focused inward. World of Elegance? Instantly, her Angel sprang forth, unique among Angels with her hair raven-dark on one side and platinum blonde on the other, the feathered wings extending from the back of her shoulders split to match her hair, and swirls of black running along her arms and down her back and sides, circling her torso before vanishing into the twisting ribbons of light and power that connected her to her mistress. She twisted around and looked down to face Urd, face stern and arms crossed.
"World of Elegance, please, you have to accept Mara," Urd begged. "She'll love you as much as I do, and she needs help."
World of Elegance shook her head.
"But I'll be bringing my demonic side to the fore. If you stay with me, you'll Sleep. If you go with Mara, we'll at least be able to see each other sometimes."
Again, World of Elegance shook her head, and stretched out one wing — the one covered by black feathers. Uncrossing her arms, she ran her hands along the black swirls running along the surface of her otherwise unblemished skin.
Oh, right, World of Elegance shares my nature, Urd thought. "Okay, so you wouldn't Sleep, but what I'm going to be involved in ... what I'm going to do ... it's going to get ugly, I don't want you to have to be a part of it!"
World of Elegance finally smiled, then leaned down to add another hug to Urd's total for the day. After a minute she pushed herself back to arm's length, looked Urd in the eye, and still smiling, gently shook her head once again.
Kami-sama spoke from where he'd been watching the exchange. "You might as well give up, Urd. People that love you won't always do what you want because they love you, and her will is as strong as yours."
Urd sighed, shoulders slumping, then finally returned her Angel's smile with one of pure relief. "I'd be happier for your sake if you chose to accept Mara," she told her, "but I won't pretend that having you with me won't be a comfort."
World of Elegance's smile broadened, then she let go of Urd's shoulders, leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead, and spun around to once more withdraw into her mistress.
Urd pressed her hand to the bare flesh of her chest between her breasts, left bare by the typical plunging — not to say plummeting — neckline of her dress. Closing her eyes for a moment, she luxuriated in the sense of her Angel inside. Her link with all of human history might be gone, but her center wouldn't be left completely empty.
Opening her eyes again, she looked around, focused for a moment on Skuld — or more particularly the pocket into which her little sister was slipping the PDA she'd just reclaimed from Lind — then again on her parents and asked, "Are we done here? Because, no offense but with my and Mara's crash training starting tomorrow —" she cocked an eyebrow at Hild and especially Kami-sama "— I'd like to get our links set up to Skuld's bug and then spend the rest of the day with my co-mothers."
Her parents exchanged glances. Hild spoke up first. "I'd arranged with Urd to start her training as soon as Raven finished remembering the last of her previous life, but that was before we learned of Raven's plans, such as they were."
Kami-sama nodded his agreement. "And while Mara will need to be brought up to speed on her new Domain and the details on the role it plays as quickly as possible, a few days — or even weeks — shouldn't make that much of a difference." Turning back to Mara and Urd, he said, "You two keep an eye on your daughter until she's settled, then begin your training — all three of you. Lind, I'll pass the word that you're off the schedule." At the relieved looks the three sent him, he added, "None of you will be able to focus on anything else until she's safe anyway, not for long. You three jointly decide when you're ready to come back to work."
Urd stepped over to kiss him on the cheek, and had just turned to her co-mothers when an electronic tone sounded from Skuld's pocket. Instantly, her PDA was out of her pocket, the virtual keyboard and screen were out, and she was typing furiously.
"Whoa, something serious is going on," she said, eyes fixed on the charts and reports. "Spikes of fear and anger, frustration, concern, excitement ... not Raven, that's what she's picking up. She's concerned and ... excited? What's going on?"
"Well, Squirt, why don't we look and find out?" Urd commented dryly.
Skuld blushed. "Oh, right, got too focused on the data..." She touched a blinking button, and the holographic display she'd demonstrated earlier sprang up to show Raven standing in an alley peeking around the corner, the light dimmed to that of a nighttime city. Skuld frowned. "Nothing there to cause all the fuss..." She typed for a few seconds, and the display shifted to the middle of the room, expanded, and the point of view shifted in the direction that Raven was looking, lifted, and rotated to look down.
"Whoa, who are the extras?" Urd asked.
Lind frowned. "I don't recognize the girl tearing up the city, the green-skinned boy or the husky mechanical, but the black and yellow cape is Robin, Batman's sidekick. But I don't see his mentor anywhere."
Mara elbowed the Valkyrie in the side, though her gaze remained fixed on the display. "And who's Batman?" she asked.
"Vigilante, the best in the world — the drive of a Fury and the heart of a Valkyrie," Lind replied. "Skuld, why did you send Raven to Gotham City?"
"I didn't, I sent her to Jump City, on the west coast of the U.S.," the youngest Norn replied. After a few quick seconds of typing, she added, "And she's still there."
Lind's frown deepened. "Okay, so Robin's far from home and apparently alone. I wonder what hap —"
She fell silent as their daughter abruptly abandoned her bystander role.
Dawn, the following morning:
On the tiny island where the alien thugs that had come hunting their escaped slave, the alien princess Starfire, had planted the immense holographic projector with which they'd threatened the city, Raven stood watching the early morning light flood across Jump City as the sun rose over the hills to the east. The sunrise was only slightly dimmed by the smoke from the fires sparked by their fight first with Starfire and then with the slavers.
It had been quite a night — a night like Raven had never known but Ranma had; full of misunderstandings, uneasy alliances, massive property damage, and the thrill of combat that she hadn't known in over fifteen years even if it was as faded ... unfocused ... as the rest of her emotions. For a time she had even been able to forget that she was going to destroy the entire world and kill everyone that lived on it. She wondered yet again what her Grandfather was thinking, insisting that she not be killed, or kill herself.
"Please, do I look ... nice?"
Raven turned at the sound of Starfire's voice. The fiery-haired, orange-skinned warrior princess's tone now sounded soft, gentle ... what Raven thought was probably her more natural tone rather than the rage and frustration had filled her voice when she had crash-landed in the city — that she had used to hide her bone-deep fear and despair. A fear and despair that had now faded into an uncertain hope. She had removed the armor she had been wearing, except for a neckguard and bracers around her forearms, and was now dressed in purple boots reaching up to mid-thigh, and a purple sleeveless top and miniskirt that left her midriff bare.
Behind Raven the boys instantly agreed that Starfire did indeed look 'nice', not to say drop dead kissably gorgeous. Raven was surprised to realize that she was adding her own hint of lust to the emotional atmosphere, mixing with Robin's, the half-man/half-machine Black teenager Cyborg's and the small, green-skinned, shapeshifting Beast Boy's. Not that Robin wasn't an attractive hunk, and didn't that still feel odd? (An image of Rothgan's seemingly-diseased, sweat-shiny, tentacled bulk looming over her, the feel of the tentacles he used for arms crawling over her naked, muck-encrusted body flashed into her mind, causing her breath to hitch for a moment before she thrust the memory away — the one good thing about her broken mind was that ignoring those ugly flashbacks had become much easier.)
When she was again aware of the world around her, Robin was speaking. "When you first suggested we team up, I said I work alone now," he was telling Beast Boy. "I think I've changed my mind. How would you all like to join me in a new team? Our own miniature Justice League right here in Jump City." His eyes swept across the other teens. They perhaps paused for a split-second on Raven and Starfire — not enough to be really noticeable, but his emotions might as well have been shouting. He's actually worried about us, giving up his new lone wolf status for us, Raven thought. That's rather sweet.
"Yeah? Nice idea, but where we gonna stay?" the bulky Cyborg asked (though muscular where he wasn't machine; not bouncing, undulating fat like Rothgan). "The Justice League has its base and planes and everything, and we've got what, the local pizza parlor?"
"Hey, dude, what's wrong with a pizza parlor?" Beast Boy demanded. "Vegetarian and tofu pizza is cool!"
Everyone stared at the shapeshifter for a moment, before Robin said, "Money won't be an issue, I ... have connections. I should be able to get us a place to stay while our headquarters is being built — right on this island, I think, close enough for easy access to the city while isolated enough to keep down the property damage and risk to innocent bystanders when enemies come calling. So who's with me?"
Starfire was the first to speak up. "I would be delighted to take part in such a marvelous adventure!" she enthused, eyes fixed on Robin ... and the orange of her cheeks turning slightly darker.
Robin's cheeks went a little pink as well, and he hastily looked at the others.
"Sure, I'm in!" Beast Boy almost shouted.
Cyborg shrugged. "Why not? Not like I have anything else to do, now."
Raven had turned away and was just gathering her energies for the flight to the mainland, when Robin asked, "And what about you, Raven?"
She paused. It was tempting, but ... "I'd better not," she said finally, voice barely audible. "If you knew what I was, you wouldn't want me around."
"I know enough," Robin instantly disagreed. "I know you involved yourself in a fight that wasn't yours, just because others needed help. I would be proud to fight beside you."
"Please, friend Raven, join us," Starfire added. "I would like to have a female friend in this new world."
Cyborg and Beast Boy added their own encouragement, but by then Raven wasn't listening, her thoughts turned inward. Sure, they'd learn what she was sooner or later and she'd be on her own again, but in the meantime ... she'd actually had fun that night, and while it wouldn't make any difference a few years down the line they'd saved lives — given people that much longer to enjoy life before the end. And after the emotional hell she'd been immersed in for the past year and the uneasiness of everyone that had noticed her as she'd walked about the city, Starfire's sweet uncertainty (definitely not the berserker she'd pretended to be at first), Robin's calm certitude, Beast Boy's perky cheerfulness, even Cyborg's mixture of anger, despair and hope were soothing to her soul. And it would make my mothers happy.
Finally, almost reluctantly, she turned back around. "All right, I'm in ... for now."
Wow, it's actually finally done, and was that a long chapter, at least for me — my longest yet. And yeah, I know I skipped the whole fight between the nascent Teen Titans and the Gordanian slavers. I'm kinda two minds about that. On the one hand, there's the jump past the whole action sequence, and this way-too-long "epilogue" has been all drama/no action. On the other hand the action is a bit of a sideshow, since the major themes of the epilogue have been how Urd ends up where she does and how Raven ends up with the personality of the Raven of the Teen Titans, and since this is the Raven of the Teen Titans it would essentially be a novelization of the cartoon. Originally I was going to have the story end where Raven involves herself in the first fight with Starfire, but some of the reviews at made clear not everyone has seen Teen Titans at all or read the comics, and I decided that not skipping to the end of the origin episode might leave them confused. And it gave me a chance to tweak a few things about the origin episode that I thought made it clear that it was the pilot episode and they changed a few things when they decided to shelve it till fifth season.
For the transference of Urd's Domain, the OMG! manga doesn't really make it clear how the Norns ended up the Norns, at least not so's I remember it. But what is fairly clear is that, however much Fujishima is dipping into Norse myth for inspiration, this is not a polytheistic setup, and areas of expertise are the result of inclination and training, not birth as is typical in polytheisms. For example, Lind is a Valkyrie through personality, desire and training. In the latest OMG! book published (in the US, anyway, vol. 41), it was revealed that Belldandy, of all people, has successfully completed the training to be a Valkyrie even if the chances of her ever actually being one are slim to nil. So for the Norns, I'm going with the idea that each is an assigned Domain, like being a Valkyrie, but requires a very high level of trust among the three, which is why in this case the three ended up being sisters. But they don't have to be.
For the episode title, I'd actually come up with a number of song titles to use: "The Pearl" by Emmylou Harris, "Serenity" by Godsmack, "You Learn" by Alanis Morissette, "Streets of Philadelphia" or "We Take Care of Our Own" by Bruce Springsteen, "Health to the Company" by Blackmore's Night, but in the end I settled on "Rocky Ground" from Bruce Springsteen's latest album. A number of videos are available on YouTube, though my favorite is the one uploaded by theilster.
A bit of bad news: I'm coming up on my summer vacation, and I have some co-workers taking theirs ahead of me. I'll try to have another chapter up before I head out (the next for "DarkAngel and Cherub"), but I make no promises. Which means my next episode may not be until the end of June or even early July.
Also, the sheer length of time it's taken me to finish this story has me rethinking my plans for the future. At this point, I'm going to run through my stories twice, and decide at that point if I'm going to focus on "DarkAngel and Cherub" until it's finished or run through my stories a few more times. For my future plans for "The Raven," after giving it all due consideration I decided that the sequel will deal with Trigon's arrival. Sure, for Raven it'll mostly be a novelization of the three-parter cartoons, but it'll also include what's going on with Asgard and Niflheim while all that's going on, and what Kami-sama is actually up to. I updated my poll on what my next story is going to be to match, I hope the four that voted for the original sequel to "The Raven" still agree. I still intend to get to Raven looking up Akane, but it's been pushed back a story arc. Also, while I'm marking this story "Complete" for now, when I do get around to the sequel I'm thinking of simply adding it to this story, and not starting a new story until the second sequel.
And thanks for all the great reviews!
Paver83: If I had planned for this "epilogue" to be this long from the beginning, it would be two stories. But I didn't, and if I yank the chapters and set them up as a second story now the chapters will lose their link with the reviews. I may modify the chapter titles with a "Pt. II" or something similar, though. And yes, Belldandy's reference to Akane as "her" could be indicative of her current sex, or simply because her sisters knew her as female. ^_~
Skywiseskychan: Yeah, as I said in I think my first author's note, I don't really think the afterlife works like this. I was simply playing around with how you could have a cooperative heaven and hell without actually modifying explicit OMG! canon, mixed in with reincarnation. One thing that a lot of people don't realize is that our modern mainstream conception of Satan/Lucifer/whatever being the one in charge of Hell is actually fairly recent, historically speaking. Go back far enough, and Satan becomes the one in charge of this world, with Hell being under God's control. Certainly that's the portrayal in Dante's Inferno, where Satan is bound in chains in Hell's lowest level. And you're right, I don't actually show anyone changing and moving on from Hell, though I do mention it a few times. That never became a real focus because Ranma ended up taking a different path.
Also, you're right again about the usual portrayal of the maiden, mother and crone and how that played out in OMG! (though the maiden is usually older than Skuld is in OMG!). But in the manga, you also have Skuld maturing and learning, so it works for the introduction of the three sister but not so well for the manga as a whole.