"So you're really leaving."
Urd, unusually dressed for once in simple (if tight) jeans and a T-shirt, looked from where she and a similarly dressed Mara were packing the last of her potions supplies to find her apparently early-teenaged, raven-haired sister standing in the doorway. (Not being exhausted the previous day, the Norn of the Past's childhood friend had already moved into their new home in a pocket dimension attached to both Asgard and Midgard. She had volunteered to help Urd pack, muttering something about avoiding babysitting duty as long as possible.)
"Yeah, duty calls," Urd replied nonchalantly. "Looks like you'll get the TV to yourself instead of always losing it to me."
"As if," Skuld retorted, smirking ... though her chin was trembling suspiciously.
Urd glanced over at the tanned, blonde demon, and decided she could trust Mara to handle the last few bottles without breaking them; she'd already taken care of the really important items herself, anyway. Walking past her sister, she ordered, "Come here, Squirt." She suppressed a sigh when Skuld just followed along without yelling at her for the disparaging label - Skuld really was taking her leaving badly.
The platinum blonde goddess led her younger sister into her own room, thenturned to face her. "Okay, Skuld, I know just what your second thought was when you heard I was leaving," she said, and Skuld stiffened at her older sister's serious tone. "With me out of the way, you'll have a clear shot at breaking up Bell and Keiichi."The young goddess scowled even as she blushed, but before she could say anything Urd overrode her. "It's not happening. First, I've already had a talk with Keiichi and if anything will /finally/get that boy - that young man - to get off his butt and set a date it's the possible end of the world.
"/Second/,"she continued over Skuld's angry growl, "I've /also/had a talk with Peorth, and she's promised to keep an eye on you. She may not be around as much as I was, but I suspect her response to any stunts you pull will be even more embarrassing than mine."
"But that's not fair!" Skuld burst out, pouting.
Urd laughed. " 'Fair' has nothing to do with it, kiddo," she retorted."That pair belongs together for as long as Keiichi's lifespan allows, and by now you're the only one that doesn't accept it."
"Thank you for your concern, but I believe Keiichi and I can take care of our own relationship."
The two goddesses whirled to find their smiling sister standing in the doorway, the gray-skinned, raven-haired form of little Raven in her arms. She continued,"Besides, I already spoke with him about it before you two got up this morning, and he said he'd find out what days next month would be best for his family and friends to attend our wedding."
The other two Norns stared, gaping. Finally, Urd burst out, "Then why didn't he say anything when I talked to him? !"
"Did you give him a chance? Or did you simply give him thinly veiled orders?" Belldandy shook her head disapprovingly when her older sister blushed, then started gently bouncing Raven when the baby started to fuss. "Come along, sisters, it's time to go. Mara is finished packing, and we need to take the limiters off Raven as soon as possible."
"Right," Urd agreed. She glanced down to find her little sister trying to put on a nonchalant expression ... but the chin quiver was back."Hey, kiddo, remember how I said breaking up Bell and Keiichi was the second thought you had?" When Skuld nodded suspiciously, she ruffled the young goddess's hair. "I'm going to miss having you around, too."
"Yeah, right, like I'm gonna ... gonnam-m-miss ..." The raven-haired child-goddess threw her arms around her eldest sister and buried her face against Urd's T-shirt.
Urd sighed and circled her arms around her sister's shoulder. Sorry, kid, but life is change, as much for us as for mortals. "Of course you won't," she murmured. The two stood there for several minutes before Urdreluctantly broke the embrace. "Come on, Sprout, we're keeping Belldandy waiting." Skuld's older sisters carefully ignored as she scrubbed at wet cheeks and the two joined their sister, Urd glancing around pensively as Belldandy led them toward the gate.
Three years later:
"But mommy, I'm tired! I wanna go park!"
"I know, Kitling," Lind replied from the cushion where she sat across from her daughter, looking up from the smooth crystal she held in her cupped hands. "We will. You just need to finish the practice first. You almost had it. Let's try again, and as soon as you do it we'll go."
Raven pouted but finally gave Momma Lind the smile that always made her 'glow' even brighter and said, "Okay."
The dusky-skinned three-year-old tucked her legs across each other as her Momma Lind had shown her and closed her eyes, and this time Momma Lind began murmuring. The quiet one of her three mommies was talking about snow fields, clear meadows, quiet ponds, and other stuff Raven didn't really understand, but she let the sound of her mommy's words wash over her as she tried to think of nothing.
At first, memories of her day so far with Momma Lind interfered - playing with her crayons and coloring book while Momma Lind danced with her long stick, sitting in her lap while her mommy read to her out of a picture book, running to catch a ball her mommy would roll out and kick it back - but now she was in the long quiet time that she hated where her mommy didn't want her to nap, but didn't want her to do anything. And it had been a long day, and she was feeling a little drowsy, and the stream of meaningless words from her mommy washed over her, and she could feel her mommy's love reaching out to surround her and she sank into it like a warm blanket....
As Raven closed her eyes, Lind looked back down at the scan crystal in her hands and the shape of their little girl floating in its clear depths. She fought to stay calm, to keep away her frustration as she watched the dark tendrils of energy radiate out in all directions from the rotating form, undulating as if carried by a breeze, reaching out to caress everything in the room - which wasn't much: Lind herself (though never quite connecting with the Valkyrie, repelled by her own divine essence), the crystal in her hands, a few pillows, and the bare walls. The power Raven had inherited with her demonic half, connecting to the world around her - and the conduits of her anger.
Up until that day Raven had shown no progress at all at keeping her emotions in check, keeping them from mixing with the power exploring her surroundings, but today something seemed to have clicked and time after time the darkness in the tendrils visible in the crystal had faded, sometimes to only a faint tinge. But every time Raven would almost reach complete clarity, she would lose concentration - complain about being bored, ask when they were going to the park, whine about wanting to see her friends, or (the last few times) doze off. And she was so close!
Maybe she needs some motivation, the Valkyrie thought, a reminder of the places we can take her if she can control herself. She started talking of the beauties of Earth that Raven would see, her attention drifting as she daydreamed of their little raven-haired, dusky-skinned bundle of joy building sandcastles on a sparkling beach, playing hide-and seek with her mothers in a green forest silent except for birdsong and laughter, a snowball fight on a foothill of a majestic mountain.
As Lind described all her favorite vacation spots in loving detail, she fought to keep her eagerness in check as again in her crystal the darkness permeating Raven's power faded, more ... more ... Then the undulating ribbons flashed white, aclear pure glow racing down their length to light up the crystal, and Lind bounced to her feet and pumped a fist in the air. "Yes! You did it!" she shouted as she grabbed up Raven and swung her around, laughing.
Raven was confused. One moment she had been drifting, mesmerized by her mother's voice, practically asleep, and the next she was swept up from where she sat, whirling in a circle with her Momma Lind laughing like the little girl had never heard her laugh before, blazing with happy love.
Then the moment was over, Raven was back on the floor (and a little dizzy), and Momma Lind was back to her usual quiet calm - except that she felt kinda like Momma Urd did when Momma Mara whispered in her ear. Momma Lind was turning a little red like MommaUrd did, too.
Raven started giggling.
Though Momma Lind felt even more like Momma Urd (and her face was getting redder, too), all she said was, "You did very well, Kitling, we're done for the day. Let's go to the park."
Urd looked up from her seat at the table when Mara stepped into the kitchen. The goddess/demon had an open can of sake in one hand, several unopened cans in front of her and a scattering of empty cans across the table's surface. "You're home early," she said.
The tanned platinum blonde demon's eyebrows rose at the sight, then she shrugged and walked over to open the fridge and grab a can of her favorite beer. "No point in hanging around in Niflheimafter work," she said, opening the can and taking a long swig. "They're all assholes, anyway."
Urd's gaze sharpened at the comment. As formerly one of Asgard'stop systems administrators, she had some idea of how important fun time together could be for teambuilding - though in the case of Niflheimit was probably more about keeping an eye on the competition and watching out for knives in the back. But after a moment, she let it go. Her business, andHild's - she does work for the opposition, after all, however much fun it's been to have her around without worrying about clashing agendas. "Watch your language even when Raven's not around," she warned, "or you're bound to slip up when she is around."
Mara rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mother," she replied, and plopped down in another seat at the table. "So what are you doing here? I thought you'd be in your laboratory working on orders."
"I'm waiting for Lind to get back from the park with Raven," Urdsaid shortly, lifting her can to take a gulp.
"I see."Mara glanced over the empty cans and suppressed a sigh. This had been building for years, ever since Raven had moved beyond a sometimes smiling, sometimes cranky cute blob of flesh that inhaled food through one end and expelled the resulting waste products out the other to take on more of her own personality. The resulting cheerful, helpful (at least Raven thought so), creative baby girl/had/ to be all Ranma - any personality Raven might have inherited through the shard of Trigon's soul didn't bear thinking about, though it might come through a little in her occasional brief but intense flashes of anger (fortunately, the trio's budget for replacing what their daughter destroyed during those episodes was unlimited, and the three had been only slightly battered before they learned the warning signs). Belldandy believed that was just the natural anger of any child, expressed through more power than any child should have, though Mara had her doubts.
But that's not what's bothering Urd, is it? No, Urd's problem is Lind. Though it might beLind's problem. "If I'm early, Lind's late, isn't she?" the demon asked. "I'd have thought she'd be back from the park hours ago." Oops, wrong question to ask, she thought as Urd's expression darkened.
She was trying to think of something to say to short-circuit the impending explosion when they heard the chime signaling someone arriving at the front gate, followed by the sound of the front door opening and closing. A few moments later Lind appeared in the doorway, the dusky-skinned child in her arms with her head on the Valkyrie's shoulder, the velvet choker and wrist bands the child wore stained with sweat. The sleeping Raven started to shift in Lind's arms, making a fussing sound under what Mara assumed had to be an onslaught of the tension that instantly filled the room.
Mara leaped to her feet and hastened around the table to the newcomers. "Here, let me have her, I'll get the limiters off and put her to bed. Her bath can wait until morning for once." She carefully shifted the sleeping child to her own embrace,then frowned at - to her skilled sight - a visibly relieved Lind. "What were you thinking, taking her to the park this late? It's too early, she's going to wake up and be up half the night, then stumble through the day tomorrow."
Lind shrugged, though a faint blush tinged her cheeks. "I promised her that she could go to the park once she accomplished today's lesson. It took her much longer than I expected, but eventually her performance was satisfactory."
Mara's frown deepened. "Yes, but -" She broke off as Raven shifted in her arms. "We'll finish this after I get Raven settled." She turned and hurried from the room.
Behind her, a tense silence filled the kitchen as Urd finished off her can and Lind opened the fridge for a bottle of her own beverage of choice (a local ambrosia - nonintoxicating of course, even on detached duty, as a Valkyrie Lind always considered herself on call). Urd waited until Lind as taken her first sip from her bottle, then asked, "So when are you going to take that stick out of your ass?"
Lind's mouthful sprayed across the room. "What? !" she shouted, wiping at her mouth.
Urd gulped down the last of her can and slammed it down on the table. "You heard me.'Eventually her performance was satisfactory', was that what you told Raven when she finally measured up to your standards?"
Lind carefully put her bottle down on the counter beside the fridge and crossed her arms. "I was chosen for this assignment by Kami-sama to train Raven in meditation and teach her to control her powers, and that is what I am doing."
"What Kami-sama chose you for was to be one of Raven's /mothers/, not her /drill instructer/!"Urd retorted. "She's a mortal child, not one of your Valkyrie trainees -"
"Half/-mortal,"Lind broke in, "and she /has to learn to control her demonic inheritance or Midgard dies!"
"And do you think it's going to be your meditation techniques that are going to do that? Or will it be her love for us and that sheer determination not to lose whatever the cost that that bastard of a father somehow taught him along with her sense of honor? But she isn't going to have either if you push her till she breaks while barely acknowledging she exists outside of training and your turn to take her to the park. Why don't you try treating her like a daughter instead of arecruit and -"
"Urd, Lind, enough!"
The two goddesses had been so caught up in their confrontation that neither had noticed Mara's return. Nor had a demon finding herself living on the outskirts of Asgard spoken with so much steel in her voice in the three years they'd been rooming together. For a moment Lind and Urd were shocked into silence, and Mara hurried to take advantage of the pause in the argument.
"I could hear you two all the way down the hall. I suppose we could use the emotional backlash from the clashing egos to wake Raven up and keep her that way until her usual bedtime," she continued, then smiled briefly as the other two blushed and looked down at the table. "Better."
Turning to her occasional lover, she said, "Urd, you're forgetting that Raven's an empath, she knows/how Lind feels about her, how much she loves her, the same way she knows how much /you love her. Different people show how they feel in different ways, but from the way Raven acts you know how Lind feels about her. Raven gets plenty of touchy-feely mothering from you and me."
Urd opened her mouth, but paused at Mara's stern look and finally nodded, shamefaced.
"Good for you/,Urd!" Mara enthused in the same tone she used with Raven when playing her learning games. Her startled friend laughed, and Mara grinned before putting on a mock-stern look and shaking a finger at her. "But look at all those empty sake cans! You /know you aren't supposed to drink like that at home. Now clean up your mess and either finish the job somewhere else or sleep it off. I really suggest you don't trying filling any of your potions orders right now even if you can still walk in a straight line."
Blushing again even more furiously than before, Urd hastily rose and grabbed the nearby trash receptacle. She swept the empty cans from the table into it to vanish in dim flashes of light, put the receptacle back and said, "I'll be in my room catching up on some magazine subscriptions." Then she strode through the doorway and was gone.
The other two watched her go, and Lind relaxed only to stiffen at Mara's next words: "Urd's right, you know. You're pushing too hard."
Unlike Urd, Mara's tone had been calm, reasonable, and Lind forced herself to ignore that they were coming from a demon. It wasn't like Mara had actually done anything since they'd moved in together to merit her distrust-except for seducing Urd, of course. Not that she had to work hard at it, she though sourly, knowing even as she did that she wasn't being precisely fair - the two were old friends, after all. But the fact that Mara was a demon simply didn't sit well with the Valkyrie (once and future Valkyrie, it felt like sometimes, with her boring patrols and side assignment as atrainer) however much she had reluctantly come to like Hild'scheery underling. Their business, not yours, she reminded herself yet again as she took another swig from her bottle.
"We have only a handful of years before Trigon activates his 'portal'," she said. "We need to get Raven as ready as we can if this is going to work."
"Actually, we have a double handful of years; if Raven isn't ready by the time she remembers Ranma's death I doubt she ever will be - which is why you're pushing too hard, we'll lose years if Raven breaks under the strain. And even if she can recover, how fragile will that make her when she remembers the Wall?"
Lind opened her mouth, paused, then finally shrugged slightly, rebuttal unsaid. "I will consider your words," she said instead.
Mara kept her triumphant grin off her face - another successful seduction. Urd/ may style herself a goddess of love, but /I'mthe professional. "That's all I ask," she said, opening the fridge for another can of beer.
Three years later:
Urd paused momentarily at the sound of someone clearing her throat, thenresumed carefully pouring the last of the powdered asphrodelinto the cauldron. She was at the final stage, and this rush order had jumped to the head of the list for her growing home business. She carefully stirred the mixture six times counterclockwise, then stepped back as a puff of smoke burst up to form a tiny mushroom-shaped cloud. Hastily grabbing up a pair of hot pads, she removed the cauldron from its burner and set it on a stand to cool, then finally turned to the door to find Mara leaning against the frame. The platinum blonde demon/goddess lifted one eyebrow."You're back early," she said in the English they had decided would be their'home' language. It was currently the unofficial world language of Earth, and Raven had been picking up Japanese a bit from the dreams reliving her earliest memories as Ranma.
Mara grimaced, unconsciously hugging herself. "That particular parliamentarian proved to be unusually corruptible. It didn't take anything more than a little push."
Urd kept her own expression of distaste off her face, as she thought of just what that'little push' entailed - she knew which bed she was going to be spending the night in, that of her 'friend with benefits'. At least Mother seems to be easing Mara out of the really/ ugly stuff,/ Urdthought. How did she put it? 'A happy temptress is a productive temptress', and Mara hasn't been enjoying her work for a while, now. It still felt odd for the demon/goddess hybrid to acknowledge her relationship to Hild, but after one of 'Grandma's' infrequent visits Raven had asked why Urd didn't call her 'Mom'. The little half-demon had been cutely serious when she had ordered her Mama Urd to start when she didn't have a reason she was willing to share, though the little girl had been willing to settle for 'Mother'instead.
"/Anyway/,"Mara continued, straightening, "Raven's meditation time with Lind is almost over, and I wanted to make sure you hadn't forgotten that it's your turn to take her to the park."
"I only did that the once," Urd groused as she put a lid on the cauldron.
Mara smirked. "Right, and at least three times that was because I reminded you."
"Well, this isn't one of them. See? Potion preparation complete, all that's needed is for it to cool off and settle for the rest of the afternoon, and I still have ... five minutes." She glanced over at the diamond-tattooed demon and suppressed afrown - Mara was still looking a little haunted, that assignment must have been worse than usual. But the last time she had mentioned anything about her friend's work out loud, Mara had gotten all huffy.... "Would you care to join us?" she asked nonchalantly.
Mara brightened at the unexpected offer - the weekly park time, watching Raven play with the littlest gods and goddesses followed by eating out together, had come to be treasured by all three of her adopted mothers as alone time with their joint ward. "I suppose I can work it into my busy schedule," she replied, shrugging."Are you going to ask Lind as well?"
"No point, she has patrol duty as soon as she's finished with Raven." Mara's question had /not/been a surprise, not anymore - though in the early days of clashing egos and worldviews in enforced company, the fact that the demon had turned out to be the compromiser that kept Lind and Urd balanced /had/been a surprise.
Urd set acountdown timer and ushered Mara out of her laboratory before turning to lock the heavily reinforced door. Having Raven's out-of-control power knock in the previous more normal door - and devastate pretty much everything inside the room - once had been enough. "Let's collect the limiters and Raven and be on our way."
Raven hugged her little stuffed angel Shadowlight, with one white wing and one black like Mama Urd's angel (a gift from Auntie Bell and Uncle Keiichi). She smiled as Mama Mara turned out the light and closed the door behind her, leaving only a dim nightlight bobbing above the small demon/human hybrid's bed. The day had been one of the bestest ever! Mama Lind had actually said she was getting pretty good at keeping herself calm and controlling her powers, and her best friend Glaedir had been at the park when she'd arrived with both Mama Urd and Mama Mara (she ignored how much she hated how the limiters made her feel sluggish and heavy, at least she got to play with other kids), and the dinner afterward had been her favorite meal at her favorite eatery.
And now she would get to go to sleep and dream about being the little boy that her mothers insisted was actually her. Not that she was sure she believed it, however much the dreams felt like memories - she was a girl/after all, and Ranma seemed a little stupid and didn't read books at all. Ranma couldn't /feel people the same way she could, either.
And the funny man that was the boy's father would be in the dreams, too. Raven frowned- her mothers didn't like that man at all, she could feel it whenever she mentioned him to them, but she thought he was funny anyway.
Yawning, she watched the bobbing and weaving nightlight as her eyelids grew heavy. As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered what weird game Genma would come up with tonight.
The first shriek yanked Urd out of a satiated doze and had her rolling out of Mara's bed before she was really aware of what she'd heard. She was fully awake for the second shriek, though - Raven, heard through the spell that performed the same function as mortal baby monitors. Ignoring her robe, she rushed out the door and down the hall, an equally naked Mara right behind her even as a nightgowned Lind joined them from her own bedroom.
Urd threw open the door to their daughter's bedroom and stepped into complete chaos. Raven was writhing on her bed, tangling herself up in her sheets while the room tore itself apart around - tiny chairs and table, toy chest, clothes drawer, all hammered apart and toys, clothes and pieces of the shattered furniture hurling around the room. Even the bed glowed with Raven's signature black light as it lifted off the ground and began to shake, and their little girl was bleeding from where chunks of wood had hit her.
Even as Urd waved a hand to deflect several more chunks away from astill-shrieking Raven, Mara stepped around her and reached toward the girl only to be jerked to a halt by Lind grabbing her arm. She whirled on the Valkyrie to find her watching the toys and furniture shards whirling about the room.
"No, this has to be the Cat Fist training - memory, not dream," Lind said as she knocked another piece of debris away from the bed. "If you wake her up early, she'll be right back in that pit the next time she goes to sleep. Keep the bed stable, protect her from what she's throwing around, keep her asleep, and wait it out."
Mara froze for a split-second, then snarled in frustration as she turned back around to Raven. She placed her hands on the still-shaking bed now at waist level, and a glow spread from her palms to spread out and around the bed, chasing away the blackness. The bed slowing sank,the shaking easing off. Once it was back on the floor she sat down on it and gently pulled the rhythmically shrieking child into her lap, pinning her arms to her side. Urd and Lind stepped over beside them, one on each side facing outward as Lind's two one-winged angels, Spear Mint and Cool Mint, and Urd's black- and-white-winged World of Elegance manifested, the angels' faces grim as they also began to fend off debris.
"That monster threw Ranma into the pit eight times, right?" Lind asked as she grabbedShadowlight out of the air and tucked the stuffed angel down the front of her nightgown before knocking away a piece of dresser.
"Right," Urd replied, voice shaking.
Long hours later, the breathy hiss that was all that was left of Raven's screaming eased away and Urd and Lind slumped in relief as the shattered and torn furniture, toys and clothes settled to the floor for the last time. If they had been human, they would have been literally soaked in sweat. As it was, Urd felt the thirst for sake - lots of sake - like a near-overwhelming need burning at her core. And it was going to be long hours before she got enough to matter.
She and Lind turned to face the bed, to find an equally weary Mara still holding their little girl. Raven had relaxed from her taut-muscled writhing and was now shifting and making a sound that would probably be catlike if her throat hadn't been long stripped raw. The two goddesses sat on the bed, each taking one of Raven's hands as their angels leaned over the dusky child and began singing asoft, wordless lullaby. Raven finally went limp.
Urd whispered,"Keep her asleep a little longer. I'll be right back." She withdrew areluctant World of Elegance back into her core, and rose to hurry from the room as fast as her exhaustion allowed.
A few minutes later she was back, now wearing her robe, with Mara's robe over one shoulder and a bottle and a cup in her hands.
Glancing around the trashed room, she opened the bottle and poured half a glass of apurplish, smoky liquid before setting the bottle on the floor. "Here," she said, sitting on the bed and handing the cup to Mara as World of Elegance again sprang out from her back and rejoined the other angels' lullaby. "Wake up Raven and get her to drink this. Lind, grab a shoulder."
"What is it?" Mara asked, holding the cup gingerly - not that she thought Urd would give their child anything harmful, but she'd been on the receiving end of a number of Urd's potions over the years, with not always predictable results.
"Muscle relaxant and a painkiller, a powerful one," Urdreplied. "After all that, every muscle Raven has is going to hurt, and I don't want to think what her throat is going to feel like. By the time this wears off, we'll have had time to get her to a healer."
Mara jerked a nod, and as Lind and Urd gripped Raven's shoulders and upper arms, the diamond-tattooed demon sent a tiny pulse of power washing through the girl. The angels shifted their song to one of comfort, helpless concern on their faces.
Raven jerked as her eyes flew open, every muscle tightened, and her mouth fell open in an almost silent shriek.
"Easy Kitling, we have you," Lind assured her as she and Urd tightened their grip on the writhing girl.
"Hurts!" Raven hissed.
"We know,"Mara said as she held the cup to Raven's lips. "Here, drink this, it'll make the pain go away."
Raven eagerly gulped down the cup's contents, and within minutes went limp as her eyes sagged mostly closed.
Her three mothers sighed in relief. Urd used the hem of her robe to wipe away the spillage from each corner of Raven's mouth as she clasped one open hand. Lind pulled Shadowlight out from between her breasts and tucked it under Raven's other arm then stroked her raven-dark hair with a hand that shook slightly.
"All right, plans for the rest of the day," Urd finally said."Neither of you are going to work, I already called those that need to know. Belldandy will be here as soon Peorthgets to the temple to babysit, and while she takes Raven to Brynhildrto check for any problems beyond sore muscles, some scrapes and a stripped throat, we are going to get some rest. Once Belldandybrings Raven home and my potion wears off, we'll spend the rest of the day -and however many more days it takes - with Raven until she's recovered." The chime signaling an arrival at the front gate sounded. "That would be Belldandy." Urd reached up to pull Mara's robe off her shoulder and held it out to her occasional lover."Here, give Raven to Lind and put on your robe."
half an hour later:
Hild sighed with relief when a stud on her desk started flashing, indicating her latest secretary wanted to talk to her (/needed/ to talk to her, rather - none of them ever wanted to talk to her, even when they started to guess the truth just before she reassigned them). While the penalties for mistreatment of damned souls beyond their allotted sentence were severe, demons were mostly arather sadistic lot. And while there was some (fading) entertainment value in catching them in their conspiracies to both hide their excesses and to replace her, the hunt for those inevitable conspiracies was unremitting; she could use a break. Besides, thinking about Urd's call that morning reporting that Mara wouldn't be reporting for her latest assignment was making concentration difficult.
She assumed her usual slightly disturbing cheerful smile and pressed the 'accept' button. Aview window opened in the air over her desk in front of the ones she'd been using to review the various department performance figures, showing the face of her current secretary (this one male, and didn't she have fun flirting with /them/- it added a whole new level of torment to their punishment). "Yes?" she asked, in her perky voice with an undertone that promised pain if the interruption wasn't important.
"Hild-sama, Urd is here," he said quickly. "She says it has to do with your granddaughter."
Hild had no problem controlling her expression, she'd already been prepared by Mara's emergency rescheduling. "Send her in, send her in! I always have time for family," she bubbled. Maybe she would be lucky and the next time Urd dropped by he would send her daughter straight through. Though that wasn't likely - whatever issues sent souls to Niflheim, incompetence wasn't one of them, not for those she picked as her secretaries. It was supposed to be their Hell, not hers.
The door to her mother's office swung open, and Urd strode through. The young-seeming perky, tanned platinum blonde glanced over as the door closed behind her, her eyes widening slightly. "You look like hell," she said.
"Ha ha." Urd dropped into one of the seats in front of the desk.
"The Cat Fist?"
Hild waited for a moment, then sighed. "Raven?" she asked in a weary tone.
Urd blushed. She knew Hild acted differently when she visited, theDaimakaicho actually seemed to care for her adopted daughter, but ... "I don't know. She's drugged for pain and Belldandy'staken her to a healer while Lind and Mara rest. Physically, she should be fine, sore muscles and a stripped throat, a few scrapes, but nothing that can't be healed easily enough. Mentally ... don't expect Mara to be showing up for work for a few weeks, our daughter needs her."
"Not aproblem," Hild said airily. "Certainly Raven is more important than the scutwork she's been doing."
Silence fell again, Hild contemplating her daughter as Urd looked down at her hands. Finally, Hildasked, "Urd, why are you here?" When her daughter looked up, she continued, "You could have told me the little you have with asimple call, you look like you should be resting with Lind and Mara, and you /hate/my little visits. So why did you come to tell me in person?"
Voice almost a whisper, Urd asked, "Do you still have the ones that were on Raven's little list?"
Hild's eyes widened, then she leaned back in her seat and contemplated the bronzed platinum blonde with a sardonic smile. "Ah. So that's what this is all about. Xian Pu and Mu Tse have received their punishments and accepted their lessons and moved on, though that cute little piglet's still around somewhere. He still gets lost, but his wanderings are restricted to Niflheim now, with its wide variety of punishments - the added random element is a nice touch. But they aren't the ones you are really interested in, are they?"
Urd shook her head, still looking down at her hands.
Hild chuckled."So ... yes, Genma is still here. In fact, it seems he's going to be here for along time; he simply will not accept responsibility for what he did to his son."
"Good," Urd ground out. Hild waited again, until finally Urd asked, "What did you do to him?"
Hild's grin was much harsher than her usual cheerful smile. "I hung him up on a wall and made him available to anyone that wanted to ... make use of him."
"'Make use of him'? How?"
Hild shrugged."Punching bag, sex toy, hare for their hounds, appetizer, whatever. He was quite popular in the beginning, but he's been spending most of his time hanging in his niche lately." She paused a long moment, then asked, "Would you like to see him?"
After amoment, Urd straightened in her seat and took a deep breath. "Yes. Yes, I would."
"You had but to ask." Straightening in her own seat, Hild brought up her virtual keyboard and her fingers flew across its surface for a few moments. Her light smile turned impish. "It looks like you're in for a treat, Guzrothhas decided his pets haven't been getting enough action lately. How appropriate, considering what Raven just went through. Guzroth is my Master of Hounds," she added, swiveling her seat to the side to look up toward a wall.
Her daughter swiveled her own seat to follow her mother's gaze, and her eyes widened as alarge virtual screen sprang into existence to show the stocky, muscular form that Genma had had when his 'daughter' had beheaded him with his own Family blade. He was running through a dank, dark, mist-shrouded forest - the trees deciduous, but ... ragged-looking, dark green leaves dripping with condensation. Tendrils of mist twisted through the vegetation, and all around were loud, eager howls of pursuing canines. Urdsmiled - Genma's desperation was almost tangible.
Then from between two trees a dark form flowed out in front of him, a waist-high wolf-shape so black it seemed to be a hole in the world that swallowed what light there was, except for two eyes that glowed a fiery red. The former martial artist leaped over the sudden obstruction, tucked into a roll, killed his forward momentum and kicked up to catch the hell hound he'd just avoided as its leap carried it over him. It slammed up and sideways into a tree trunk with an impact that shook down leaves. Leaping to his feet, Genma spun to kick away a second hound that bounded out of the mist, caught a third by the throat to smash it to the ground - and the fourth slammed into his side, knocking him off his feet. A moment later, he was buried under more hell hounds coming from all sides. For a moment his screams could be heard ripping out from the pile, and then that pile came apart - each hound tearing free its own piece of its prey to carry away with it.
As the screen blanked Hild glanced sideways out of the corner of her eye at her daughter just in time to catch sight of a grin before Urd's face shifted into a more neutral expression. The demon/goddess swiveled back around to face her mother and asked, "What happens to him now?"
Hild shrugged."He can't die ... again ... so eventually he'll reconstitute back in his niche until someone else wants to play - and he'll continue to feel what happened to him until he reforms." She paused for a moment - her daughter was enjoying the news a little too much. Don't let it go to your head, Little One, asteady diet isn't good for you at all. "You'd better get home and get some rest, Raven's going to need you when your sister brings her home."
Urd shook herself free from her happy thoughts and nodded. "You're right." She rose to her feet and strode toward the door, then paused. Without turning around, she said, "You know, it isn't going to be all that many years before Raven remembers the Wall - and that you left her to hang there for a year before taking her down and offering her a job."
"I know." Hild's voice was flat, her usual air of insouciance absent.
"Come visit this afternoon. Raven needs all her favorite people around her right now."
Urd silently nodded, then strode through the door and was gone.
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