Errata: This isn't a rework of my earlier story, per se, but it is a related work. I wanted to keep what worked and remove what didn't, and this is the result. Hopefully this is an improvement.
Of Mortals and Monsters
Mara was angry. It was certainly an emotion which had plagued her for most of her time on Earth. Humans annoyed her to no end, and the entire realm just felt dirty. Of all the creatures in the various realms of existence, mankind was the most similar to the Gods and the Demons. According to Hild, they might someday ascend to a level of existence quite similar to the divine beings. Mara winced at the thought of humans running around with cosmic powers. That was enough to scare even a First-class Demon.
And that explained her annoyance. Humans could be as sanctimonious and self-righteous as any God, and five minutes later stab someone in the back as efficiently as a Demon. They were unpredictable, prone to rash decisions, and meddling with powers they couldn't even comprehend. But worst of all, they were so incredibly stupid.
Her current mission certainly spoke to that. Now that things had gone back to normal in the Underworld, she was back the same task that dogged her since she had been unsealed. After they had passed their love test, Keiichi and Belldandy were back to their usual wondrous happiness. And it made Mara sick. If she was going to repair her reputation in Hell, this never-ending stream of joy had to be cutoff at the source.
Contrary to popular belief, Demons did understand happiness, and they could even feed off it when it was generated by their own actions, and not those of Heaven. But, whatever else they might be, Demons were cynics. They were realists. Happiness of the type Belldandy and Keiichi shared could only be delusional, no matter what some fancy test from Heaven said. And hadn't the test been administered by Belldandy's mother? How fair and equitable could it have really been?
So Mara stepped into the portal, and moments later found herself back on the streets of Nekomi. It was the last place on Earth she really wanted to be, but things had to be done. A fraction of Hild's power remained in this realm, sealed within the body of a child, and it was in that form that the Daimakaicho chose to greet her.
"Mara!" Hild smiled. "I'm glad you're back!"
"Hild-sama." Mara began. "It wasn't like you gave me a choice. Eternity as a piece of furniture in your throne room, or come back here."
"Oh, it's not like that at all." Hild said. The look of demonic wisdom on the face of child somehow unnerved Mara. What's worse, Hild knew that and enjoyed Mara's discomfort. It was one of the Daimakaicho's favorite things to do, unnerving subordinates. "I just like to keep you on your toes."
Mara knew a lie when she heard one, but Hild was the Daimakaicho and Mara was not. That was the order of the universe. And, whatever else Mara might have been inclined to do, she had never betrayed Hild, not even after the usurpation. Granted, it was more out of fear than deep-seated loyalty. No, she thought, that's not true. I really am loyal to her. Despite her sadistic ways, Hild had a way of inspiring loyalty and love, and she knew how to turn those into weapons. There was no shame in being played by a master.
"Hadn't you given up on those two?" Mara asked.
"Well, I'd still like to split them apart. That's hardly a secret." Hild put her finger to her tiny lips. "But that's not why I called you back here."
Mara didn't say anything. Hild would theatrically play this out, she always did have an affinity for the dramatic. It was another one of those subtle ways that she messed with people's minds. Hild was a master of manipulation, and that was actually a far more potent weapon than many of her powers were.
"We're getting Urd back, Mara."
"Why the sudden change? I thought we were leaving her alone." Mara said.
"Seeing Anzasu brought it all back. I really hate that woman. We demons are at least honest about our dishonesty." Hild said. "They hide behind their self-righteousness, but underneath it, they are the same as us. Just without the stones to admit it."
"You still love him, don't you?" Mara thought out loud. Then, she realized her mistake. It was common knowledge that Hild and Kami had been an item in the past. But most demons dismissed this as Hild playing Kami to the advantage of the demon realm. Very few knew the truth. Hild had loved that man, and probably still did.
"Watch your tongue." Violet eyes narrowed and tension filled the air. "Urd thinks she's doing good, playing for the team with justice and light on their side. There is no justice to be found in Heaven. We just need to show her."
"Agreed." Mara nodded. "But what can we do about it?"
"Funny you should ask." Hild smiled, and Mara knew she should have kept her mouth shut. "You are going to infiltrate the temple. And I am going to provide Urd a temptation even she can't resist."
"Isn't this against your contract with Him?" Mara wondered. "I mean, he said that you had to give Urd to Him if..."
"The contract said I had to give Urd up if she used Goddess magic first. It didn't say anything about not trying to win her back." Hild stuck out her tongue and stuck her hands on her hips. "And I don't really care what He thinks anyway."
"Yes, Hild-sama." Mara bowed her head. "I don't know how I'm going to infiltrate the temple, though. I've never been able to do much before."
"Oh, that's easy!" The child smiled up at Mara, and once again, chills traveled down her spin. She's just loving this, she thought, isn't she?
"Somehow, I have a feeling I'm not going to like it..." Mara mused.
"You're going to knock on the front door." Hild said.
"Okay, now I know I've lost it. Did you say I'm going to knock on the front door?" Mara asked, incredulous.
"Yep!" The child was grinning from ear to ear. "Let's continue this conversation over at the bar." With a flick of her wrist, they appeared a few streets down in front of a small dive bar.
"You're too young... they won't let you in." Mara pointed out.
"Drat! I could use a drink..." Hild's disappointment was evident on that child-like face. "Well go get me a bottle of sake then."
It was at times like this that Mara really hated her job. A First-class demon was stuck fetching liquor for a child-avatar of the Daimakaicho. It was demeaning and insulting, and that was probably why Hild had ordered her to do it.
But, Mara obeyed, walking into the corner store next to the bar, grabbing a bottle of sake and walking out the door with it.
"Hey! You didn't pay for that!" The irate store owner screamed at her.
"Don't talk to me, mortal. I will rend your soul in two, I will curse your children and plague your nightmares for all time." Her sigil glowed bright red on her forehead and shadowy energy cascaded around her as pent-up anger threatened to be released.
"Uh... forget it." The shopkeeper managed, staggering back into the store fearfully.
"Tsk tsk, Mara. You really need to learn to control that temper!" Hild smiled and her tiny little hands reached for the sake. "Sake!" She took a long pull from the bottle. Some of the liquid leaked around the edges and she wiped it off her chin theatrically. She then leaned up on her tip-toes, and kissed Mara's cheek.
"Thanks, Mara! You always spoil me!" Hild's little arms were around Mara's waist in a tight hug, and whatever anger Mara had for the Daimakaicho suddenly vanished with an upwelling of maternal instinct. Knowing that Hild was manipulating her feelings, and being able to do anything about it, were two entirely different things, Mara realized.
Before the frightened shopkeeper could call the authorities, Hild snapped her fingers, and they were just down the street from the temple.
"So, here we are!" Hild said. "Now, here's what you are going to do. You're going to march right up those steps, knock on the door, and apologize for everything you've ever done to them."
"I'm going to what?"
"Yes. Oh, they won't believe you, especially my daughter." Hild smiled wistfully at the thought of Urd. "They will test you. But you tell them that I'm grateful for their help, and that I'm sending you as a servant for them, to make up for all the past wrongs. Also tell them that if you fail at your mission, I am going to turn you into a nice new couch for my throne room's antechamber."
"Are you really going to do that?" Mara asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Well, I don't know." The child rubbed her chin as if in deep thought. "But do this, and you don't have to worry about it, right?"
"What do I do once I'm in?" Mara wondered.
"Be good. Don't do anything bad, manipulative or anything else like that. I'll contact you when the time comes, with further instructions." The child took another pull from the sake bottle before letting out a petite, feminine belch. "Excuse me!"
Mara looked down the street for a moment, pondering how she would even get past the robot guard Skuld had constructed, or even get close enough to talk to the Goddesses and their mortal plaything without getting sealed first. This was definitely not as easy as Hild made it out to be.
She turned to ask the child avatar another question, but Hild was gone, leaving only the empty sake bottle on the sidewalk. Mara frowned, she knew she was about to walk into a world of hurt. Steeling herself for the task at hand, she began to walk toward the temple.
Things had quieted down in the temple since their return from the underworld, and for that Keiichi was most grateful. Life with three Goddesses around was definitely interesting and exciting, but he could do without threats to the existence of the universe, or life-and-death struggles in the underworld. Yet if that was the price of his relationship with Belldandy, he would pay it tenfold.
There was turmoil in his mind now, at the revelation that his feelings had been manipulated by Heaven for so long. But it made sense on the face of it. Relationships between Gods, Demons and Men had been forbidden except in cases of extremely powerful love. The System Force wanted to keep Belldandy and himself together, and it knew about the rule. And thus, his desires had been repressed to keep the relationship stuck just below the threshold that would have required The Test.
That was in the past now, though.
Yet even so, he had trouble taking that last step in their relationship. If only because things had been a certain way for so long that it was difficult to get out of that lock-step.
The phone rang, interrupting his thoughts.
"Keiichi Morisato." He said.
"Ah, good. Coming right over." A deep, masculine voice said. There was a time when Keiichi might have wondered about that, but after living with Goddesses for so long, he just turned around and watched as an unfamiliar God appeared in the room. He was incredibly tall, dressed in an expensive business suit, with a small "K" embroidered on the breast pocket. His eyes were a bright blue, and his hair was a shimmering silver that flowed around him.
A soft light seemed to emanate from him, and his markings were hauntingly familiar somehow. They reminded him of the changed markings Belldandy had worn when her powers were unsealed. A 4-pointed star was on his forehead, and it glowed a bright blue-white.
"Keiichi." The God said, extending his hand in greeting. Keiichi took it, unsure what to do. "I am Kami. Or, at least this is a part of me."
"K..K... KAMI?!" Keiichi fell to his knees suddenly. What else was one supposed to do when confronted with the creator of the universe?
"Oh, stop that. Do you really think me so arrogant as to create mankind just so I could see them bowing to me?" Kami's voice was stern, but kindly. It had an undeniable presence to it, too.
"Sir I..." Keiichi managed to come to his feet. "About the wish and all I should probably explain that..."
"There is nothing to explain, son. You made a true wish. You didn't know it at the time, of course, but Belldandy was who your heart desired. I would not have allowed it if I did not suspect the same about her. My daughter is happy, and as long as she continues to be happy, then you have nothing to fear from me." Kami's voice was level, but there was a hint of warning in it too.
Keiichi understood that unspoken warning. If he did something to make Belldandy unhappy, things would not go so well for him, that was certain. Somehow, though, he worked up the nerve to ask the question that had burned on his mind.
"Yes, about that." Kami replied to Keiichi's unvoiced thought. "Your desires were sealed because of a problem I still haven't solved. It is possible for Gods, Demons and Humans to love one another. Believe me, I know from personal experience. But it isn't always wise for them to."
"It's been a long time since I've been down here." Kami mused. "The last time I was here, Julius Caesar was causing that ruckus in Egypt. There's a lot of potential in Mankind, you know. You don't give yourselves enough credit. Especially you, Keiichi." The God adjusted his tie slightly, and brushed his suit.
"I don't understand." Keiichi admitted, fidgeting nervously. I am in the presence of the Almighty One!
"I've never really cared for that name. Almighty One sounds remarkably self-serving, wouldn't you say?" Kami explained. "Anyway, I came down here to give you the explanation in person. For my daughter, I could do no less. I would not have this be an issue in your relationship."
Keiichi nodded simply in reply, still somewhat awed by Kami's presence.
"You see, we found that love between the realms can create... shall we say... a conflict of interest. It becomes difficult to tell if it is love, or politics, or some combination of the two, that motivates the relationship. A human might want to be immortal, for example, which we generally don't allow. And we'll get to more on that later. Or a demon may want ways in which to manipulate Heaven. What makes it worse is that, even with those things, the two can still truly love each other on top of it. So the Judgement Gate was created, to ensure that the love is strong, and there aren't more sinister motivations behind it." Kami explained. "So your desire was locked, that you might remain together and forge that relationship, which you might otherwise have been prevented from having."
"Did everyone know about it the whole time?" Keiichi asked. He wasn't trying to be rude, but he couldn't help but be disturbed by another being forcibly toying with his mind.
"No. Belldandy knew, but the Judgement Gate is a secret, Keiichi. Otherwise, there would be those who tried to circumvent it. Your mind was touched as little as possible, in fact you have a natural shyness around women that made it absurdly easy to do this, without otherwise affecting you." Kami smiled amicably for a moment, before his expressionless look came back to him.
"I love Belldandy." Keiichi said, firmly. "I've never had any other motivation except for wanting to be with her. I'd stay with her any way I could. The only thing I question, sometimes, is whether a human like me can really be worthy of a Goddess like your daughter, sir."
"I'll give you a little secret. The Gods envy humanity. Eternity is a very lonely place, son. You see how much fun Urd and Skuld have down here, right? For them, this place is new and exciting." The divine being pointed out.
"Anyway, this isn't the only reason I came down here." Kami looked at his watch, an arcane device with a multitude of dials and displays written in the divine language. Keiichi was mesmerized by the sight of it, the watch was so small, and yet it seemed as if it were a vision into eternity. Impossible amounts of data floated around its face, gears turning and clock-hands shifting. A sudden chime sounded. "Ah, just in time. Hello, daughters."
Belldandy nearly dropped the grocery bags she was holding, and fell to her knees without a word. Urd simply stood, her expression frozen in a state of shock. And for a moment, Keiichi wondered if this informality Kami seemed to be extending to him might have been some kind of test. But it was Skuld who broke the image of Kami as the great Almighty One forever.
Skuld ran to her father, arms outstretched, completely disregarding her dislike of being seen as a little girl.
"Daddy!" A wide grin appeared on her face, and joyful tears threatened to well up with her eyes. No sooner had he taken one step toward her did her arms wrap around his waist in a tight hug. "I've missed you so much!"
His arms wrapped around his daughter, and his form glowed brightly with energy. Keiichi could barely make out his features anymore. After a long moment, Skuld reluctantly broke the hug, a confused look on her face.
"You left me here all alone with HER! And you didn't even visit." Skuld pointed to Urd, who still remained mute. Her expression shifted to one of anger.
"You know my schedule." Kami explained, retreating from Skuld's burning gaze. "And you have Bell to look out for you..."
"I had her, until Keiichi came." She huffed, but it was a reluctant protest. Skuld had mostly made her peace with the relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy.
"That's not a nice thing to say, Skuld." Kami's stern expression returned.
"I know." Skuld admitted. "I'm sorry. I just haven't seen you for so long!"
"Belldandy, rise. No need to be so formal here." Kami extended his hand, and Belldandy got to her feet, smiling lovingly at her father. Keiichi noted how differently each sister reacted to the presence of their father. Did they even see the same man?
Urd finally overcame her silence, curiosity worming its way across her bronzed features. "Why did you come down, father?"
Another chime sounded from the wristwatch, and the glowing sigils within shifted into another pattern. "A few reasons. I was explaining to Keiichi about the Judgement Gate which, I remind all of you is highly confidential! And I have a wedding present to deliver, as well."
"Wedding..?" Keiichi wondered out loud.
"Well, things work a little differently in Heaven, son. You went through that gate with my daughter, and that is no small thing. As far as Heaven is concerned, you're married. Now, if you want to do some kind of Earth ceremony here, that is between the two of you." Kami smiled at this, before catching himself again.
"Oneesama..." Skuld whispered.
"Yes, Skuld, that means you need to be nice to Keiichi. I'll be watching." Kami waved a finger at his daughter, and she glowered for a moment.
An egg floated down from the ceiling, appearing out of thin air at Kami's whim. "This is my wedding gift to the both of you. Open your hand, son." Kami instructed, and the egg floated into Keiichi's waiting hands.
"Father... thank you so much!" Belldandy whispered in amazement, before a smile overtook her. Keiichi knew he was missing something important. Tears of happiness began to form, and she threw her arms around her father in a manner not entirely different from what Skuld had just done. For a moment, Belldandy was a child again, brimming with happiness.
"Do you know what that is, son?" Kami asked. Keiichi nodded, he had seen an Angel's egg before, but had no idea what he was supposed to do with one.
The watch chimed again, and the sigils shifted into a new pattern. They began to blink ominously.
"Well, it is time to go. Keiichi, we'll meet again in a few hundred years." The divine being flashed and vanished into the air, residual energy cascading around all of them.
"Bell? What does this mean?" Keiichi turned to her and was nearly overcome by the force of Belldandy's embrace. She had never been so forward, but he went with it, wrapping his arms protectively around her, feeling the warmth of her skin against his own.
"Idiot." Urd said, but she was smiling despite her words. "He gave you an angel and said he'd see you in a few hundred years. Figure it out."
"Oh." He said rather dryly, for the weight of the gift he had just been given. "I didn't even get to say thanks..."
"Yes," Belldandy agreed. "Father just gave us an eternity together." She smiled happily, and for a moment Keiichi was overcome with gratitude and love. But darker thoughts soon intruded. Immortality had a steep price, he knew.