Dire Fates: A Hellblazer/Oh My Goddess! crossover.


                           -*-
     http://www.thekeep.org/~rpm/vertigo/direfates
                           -*-


"Angels have always given me the creeps." 

	-John Constantine to Tim Hunter,
	 "The Books of Magic" 


                           -*-


Demons, in general, are like sheep.  They're ill-tempered,
violent, bloodthirsty, backstabbing sheep, but still sheep.  One
moves, the others will follow. 

At the gates of Hell, a demon horde assembled and waited for
something to happen.  Only a few really knew what was going on,
but passing denizens of Hell were curious as to why so many were
gathered at the gates, and so they joined in waiting as well,
resulting in said horde. 

One demon in particular, a yellow brute with webbed ears, clawed
hands, and a purple cloak, was amused at the scene.  This wasn't
just any demon. 

He had a rank. 

He was a Rhyming Demon.  His name was Etrigan. 

"What an amazing sight to see; 
 Clueless hellspawn surrounding me." 

A nearby demon nudged him.  "Etrigan!  Know you what goes on
here?" 

"Ah, friend Ykz'arth'ull-nf'tng,
 You've recovered from the exorcism, I see. 
 As for purpose of this gathering,
 The First of the Fallen has willed it to be." 

Ykz'arth'ull-nf'tng nodded.  "Yes... and?" 

"Hell and Heaven to war we go,
 The First of the Fallen has made it so." 

"You think so?" 

"Aye, the signs are all correct; 
 The time to strike will rarely be better. 
 The mortal plane is out of balance; 
 The rumor is Heaven's under the weather." 

"Oh.  I see." 

The demons brooded in silence a bit more, until
Ykz'arth'ull-nf'tng spoke once again. 

"Etrigan." 

The rhyming demon raised an eyebrow. 

"Ever get tired of rhyming?" 


                           -*-


                   David Tai & Rod M. 
                       present... 


                       Dire Fates
             A John Constantine: Hellblazer
                    Ah!  My Goddess! 
                        Crossover

          Part 3:  "Rake at the Gates of Heaven" 

                                      
                           -*-


Asgard was the home of the Norse Gods and Goddesses.  One of many
small cities located near Silver City, it held sway to many fine
liquor establishments, carnivals, and other festivities. It was
also home to many fine fountains.  One in particular was located
in a bustling square, shaded by a few oak trees. 

Here, a little Goddess arrived. 

Skuld smiled as she climbed out of the fountain.  It had been
quite some time since she had been here.  She hoped that there
were still some familiar faces. 

"Skuld!" 

Skuld blinked, and turned.  "Who... Idun!" 

A bright perky young goddess ran over and hugged Skuld.  Skuld
smiled, and returned the hug to the Norse Goddess of Eternal
Youth. 

Idun pulled back and beamed.  "It's been a while, Skuld!  How's
everything down on Midgard?" 

Skuld smiled.  "Everything's going great!  How about you?" 

Idun smiled, a smile of pure joy.  "Bragi asked me out!" 

Skuld giggled.  "About time!" 

The two young goddesses were soon lost in animated chatter. 
Before too long, though, another goddess, wise and middle-aged,
came up to her. 

"Welcome home, Skuld.  Have you enjoyed your time on Midgard?",
the middle-aged goddess asked. 

Skuld smiled.  "Laga!"  She was on particularly good terms with
the Goddess of Springs and Wells.  "Yes, it's been a lot of fun!" 
Then she paused.  Laga looked unhappy.  Very unhappy. 

"Skuld, we must talk." 

"Wha... what's wrong?" 

"They've taken Urd." 

"They?  Who?!" 

"The Archangels.  They accused her of scheming to take over
Heaven."

Skuld's frown turned to a scowl.  "She wouldn't do that!" 

"I know, but-" 

"When I get through with those Archangels... tell John to wait
for me!  He should be here soon!  He's the blond man wearing a
trenchcoat!"

"No, Skuld!  Wait!  You can't face them alo-" 

Laga was too late, as Skuld disappeared into the fountain in a
rage.  She'd show those Archangels a thing or two! 


                           -*-


John Constantine was, if nothing else, a well-travelled man. 
He'd crossed the Atlantic by plane, train and even automobile
(although that was one story nobody believed).

Nothing he'd ever put up with before irritated him as much as the
slow drive with Banpei.

"Can't you drive any faster?" 

//No.//

"Cripes." 

Through the wilderness of Japan they drove, until the path became
very foggy and serene.  There was a tingling feeling at the back
of John's mind, signaling the crossing of worlds.

He always wondered if he'd get a chance to see Heaven. 

He was about to find out. 

//We have arrived.//

John blinked. 

"What?" 

//We're in Heaven.//

"A two hour putter about the woods and then suddenly 'poof' we're
here?  Just like that, then?" 

//Yes.//

John looked around.  As the fog began to clear, he could see
majestic cities on the horizon and angels flying in the skies. He
was expecting more, really.  Trumpets, maybe, or a little bit of
a light show. 

He shrugged.  "Anti-climactic, if y'ask me." 

They drove on, through oddly white and ethereal country roads and
woods, until they finally arrived in a fairly small town of
sorts.  There were people here, looking fairly ordinary, milling
about. 

Most of them gave John a rather odd look, which didn't help his
terribly embarrassed mood.

"Oi, just where are we supposed to stop?" 

//To meet Skuld at Asgard, near the realm of Silver City.//

"Not too far from here, issit?" 

//A few minutes more.//

"Good."  Please, he thought, please let no one I know see me in
this contraption.

"John!  Oi!  John, issat you!" 

John winced.  "Oh no." 

With a whoop, a holler, and a leap, Brendan Finn landed neatly
next to the cart, a bottle of brew in hand.  "Haha!  John, ye
dog!  I dunna believe it!"  He began walking alongside the cart,
keeping up with the excruciatingly slow rate that Banpei was
driving. 

John grinned, although a bit weakly.  It was good to see an old
friend again, but the circumstances could've been a lot better. 
"Hey Brendan.  Good to see you." 

"An' wha'n the name o'the allmighty is this wee thing
y'driving?!"

"This little wanker," said John with some annoyance, "was my
ticket in to this joint."

Brendan blinked.  "Surely, boyo, ye coulda found a better way
t'travel."

"It's not my fault.  This was a last-minute arrangement." 

"Ah.  Right then.  Y'know me next question, then." 

"What am I doing here?" 

"At'raight, Johnny.  Unless ye've gone and become a priest before
yer death, or you've suckered the Almighty..." 

"Well, mate, that one's a doozy."  And so, while Banpei puttered
along, John told Brendan of his misadventures with Skuld, Peorth,
Urd, and Mara.  Then he got to the bit about the Yggdrasil, and
finally, his big plan. 

"Y'know, John," said Brendan, "t'was bad enough when ye fucked
around with the man downstairs.  I dunna think s'in yer best
interest to be messin' aboot with _that_."

John grinned.  "Says the bloke who sold his soul to the Devil
so's he could have a better beer." 

"Aye, t'was a good deal too.  After all, I'm up here, aren't I?" 

John elbowed Brendan.  "Thanks to me, you wanker." 

"Ach, lookit the time... gonna be late fer the arse-kickin of the
day." 

"Hm?" 

"Ireland varsus En-ga-lund.  Football, y'know.  Ev'ry all-star
player who's ever lived... except those tha'went t'Hell." 

John nodded.  "Taking off, then?  Not sticking around to see the
final mess?" 

"I know ye, Johnny.  Y'got the Devil's luck.  Whatever 'appens,
ye oughta come outta it fine.  S'the bastards standin' next to ye
that should be worried."

John laughed.  "How very bloody true." 

"Keep in touch, eh?  I want t'knoo how yer crazy scheme pans out. 
Good luck, ye stupid git."  With a wink and a smile, Brendan Finn
disappeared.

"I really hope he doesn't tell the other lads about you," 
grumbled John to Banpei.  "I just know every dead mate I got in
Heaven'll pop up in my dreams to give me grief."

If Banpei was insulted by John's comments, he didn't indicate it,
driving on in silence. 

"Oi, how much longer?" 

//Almost there.//

"Which means another hour of driving, I suppose," said John
sarcastically.  "My bloody lawn mower moves faster." 


                           -*-


Skuld snuck quietly into the antechamber of the Tribunal Court. 
She frowned, and leaned over to listen at the door.  Now what was
going on in there?  She hoped Urd was all right.  Maybe she
should go in... 

A hand came down on her shoulder.  Skuld whirled around to see
Saraquael frowning at her. 

"Little one, you should not be here," Saraquael sighed. 

Skuld frowned.  "My sister's in there, isn't she?" 

Saraquael nodded.  "Yes.  We need to question her.  Please,
return home." 

Skuld hmphed.  She opened the door and stormed right in.  "YOU
LET GO OF MY SISTER RIGHT NOW!" 

The room fell silent as the Archangels turned to stare at the
intruder. 

Urd, seated in a tall chair and surrounded by a cylinder of
light, winced as she saw her younger sister stomp in.  This
little stunt certainly wasn't making her look any better, and the
brat would get in trouble too.  "Aw great...  Get outta here,
Skuld!" 

Skuld raced to her sister's side.  "Urd!"  She punched futilely
at the force field around her elder sister.

Raguel frowned slightly.  "Someone remove her." 

Saraquael came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. 
"Now, little one..."

Skuld shrugged off the hand, and grabbed her mallet, holding it
out in front of her.  "I *DEMAND* that you let my sister out
NOW!"  She gave a warning swing that left a dent in the floor. 

Raguel, who had merely been watching coldly, now showed sparks of
anger.  "You... you dare?!" 

Skuld smiled.  "Yes, I do!" 

She gripped her mallet and prepared for action... 


                           -*-


Far away, John could see the tips of many ivory towers extending
into the clouds above.  More angels could be seen weaving through
and around them.  As they got closer, John could see the base of
the towers, and the beautiful city that stretched around it. 

"Is that Silver City ahead?" 

//Yes.//

"I see.  And Asgard is... where?" 

//On the other side.//

"Ah." 

John's arrival into Asgard was, much like his arrival into
Heaven, anticlimactic.  The only improvement was that the scenery
was better.  Through mighty metal-bound oaken gates they passed. 

The sight that greeted them was, in John's opinion, much akin to
a Norse theme park, only more ethereal.  There were deities of
many shapes and sizes milling about merrily, and there seemed to
be a cow holding up traffic on a side road. 

For a bunch that don't even have worshippers any more, John
thought, they sure were active. 

Aside from a few strange looks, he was pretty much ignored. 

Banpei puttered through the crowds until finally coming to a stop
next to a water fountain.

//We have arrived.//

John looked at the dashboard display skeptically.  "This is it,
then?" 

//Yes.//

"Right, I need to stretch m'legs."  John slowly emerged from the
tiny Banpei-cart and stretched his back, his arms, then shook his
legs a bit.  Meanwhile, the go-cart underwent a complex and quiet
change from vehicle to midget mechanoid, which silently followed
John as he paced around the fountain. 

Something still wasn't right.  Even though he was in Heaven, he
still had a nagging feeling that he was being watched by Mara. 
How that was possible, he didn't know. 

He sighed, sat down, and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. 
"Now, unless any deities 'round here have any objection to me
smoking..." 

He paused. 

"Good." 

He started to take a cigarette out of the pack... 

"Are you John?"  The question caught John entirely by surprise. 
The lack of cigarettes he'd had recently, combined with the lack
of alcohol and fact that he really wasn't expecting anyone jarred
him enough for John to jerk reflexively.  The unfortunate side
effect was that he accidentally tossed his pack of silk cuts into
the fountain. 

He tried not to yell, watching with sad eyes as his cigarettes
sank to the bottom.  It was his last pack, too. 

"Shite.  Friggin' good day this is."  He looked at the woman who
had called for his attention.  "Well, wotcha want?" 

The woman who had distracted John looked around with a bit of
panic.  "Shh!  Don't use her name like that!" 

"Eh?  What'd I say?" 

She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, John
found himself violently spun around and lifted roughly by the
collar of his shirt.  John noted that it was yet another middle
aged woman that was now causing him grief, except that this one
looked a bit pissed. 

The other woman sighed.  "Oh no.  Please, my lady, he did not-" 

"Stay out of this, Laga," growled the woman.  Laga took a step
back and bowed her head, while she turned her attention back to
John.  "How dare you... how DARE you speak in such a manner, here
in THIS domain!" 

Unnoticed by all, Banpei took a few steps back, seemingly
embarrassed by the recent turn of events. 

John blinked.  "What manner?  What're you so friggin' pissed
about?" 

A passing deity looked at the commotion and decided to walk
faster. "Whoops, someone did it again," he said as he made his
escape. 

Her expression darkened.  "My name.  Do not say my name in that
manner." 

He stared at her.  "Lady, I didn't say anyone's friggin' name." 

"You did it again," she said in a low, menacing tone. 

"Lady, what is your bloody problem?" 

Suddenly, the woman grew to about twenty feet high, lifting John
up high above the ground.  "I SHOULD TURN YOU TO ASHES RIGHT NOW,
INSOLENT MORTAL!" 

"And just who the friggin' Hell are you?" he shot back, not
losing his cool for an instant. 

Laga pleaded, "Forgive him, my lady!  He knows not what he says! 
He is a friend of Skuld and here by her invitation!  Please show
leniency!"

The deity's expression darkened even further, despite Laga's
pleading.  Her eyes narrowed into slits and the eyes within
burned with the rage of the Gods. 

"Please, my lady, do not hurt him!" 

"I," she growled to him, "am the wife of Odin, chief of all Norse
Gods.  I am Frigga."  Her eyes grew even colder.  "I am also
known, by far too many mortals, as..."  Her voice dropped to a
whisper.  "Frigg." 

John looked right into her eyes and grinned wickedly.  He knew he
shouldn't say it.  He really tried to resist the urge. 

But hey, he figured, he had a reputation to uphold. 

"So, am I about to get well frigged or what?" 

Laga's jaw dropped.  "Oh my." 

-------S-L-A-P-------

Frigga walked over to the fountain and unceremoniously dumped
John in it, then shrank down to normal size.  She glared at John,
who was sitting in the middle of the fountain.  "Thank your gods
that you're a friend of Skuld's, or I would smite thee so
fiercely that your grandchildren would be reeling!  Remember
this, _mortal_, and show some proper respect next time!"

John climbed out of the fountain, grimacing.  Damn, these Norse
Gods just couldn't take a joke.  He tried to squeeze the water
out of his trousers as Frigga glared at him. 

"So, where is the little sprog?" John asked, as he rubbed his
face and winced.  Good slapper, that Frigga.  Got really frigged
by Frigga.  Yessir. 

At this point, Laga stepped into the conversation.  "She went off
to the domain of the Archangels, to confront them." 

Both Frigga and John were surprised.  "She WHAT?" they both
yelled. 

"They had taken Urd prisoner on the charge that she schemed with
the hellspawn Mara to overthrow Heaven.  I tried to tell Skuld
not to go but she wouldn't wait!  Those Archangels are out of
control, I tell you.  Someone must protest to the Lord of Hosts
about this!" 

John paced around angrily.  Damn damn damn...  He desperately
needed a cigarette at this moment, and fished around his pockets
with frustration. 

So.  A confrontation with the Archangels, eh?  It was something
he wanted to avoid, but seemed inevitable now. 

He smiled as he fished out one somewhat bent, but still dry
cigarette out of a trenchcoat pocket. 

"Must be a sign of good luck."  He nudged Banpei with his foot. 
"Oi, you know where the Archangels hang about?" 

The robot nodded and promptly transformed into a go-cart once
more. 

"YOU are going to rescue her from the Archangels?" asked Frigga
in disbelief. 

"Well, luv, someone's gotta do it."  He sat in the Banpei-cart
once more.  "Onward, shorty." 

As the go-cart prepared to leave, John looked back at Frigga.  He
couldn't resist it... 

"Hey, luv... just wondering... is it true that Thor was a
flasher?" 

John smirked as the goddess began cursing in a most unelegant
manner. 


                           -*-


Urd sighed.  She seemed to be doing that a lot lately.  "Welcome
to the interview, Skuld." 
                   
Seated in a chair similar to Urd's, also surrounded by a cylinder
of light, Skuld sulked. 

"Hey, kid." 

"Yeah, what?" 

"Thanks for trying, sis." 

Despite being held prisoner, stuck in this room in front of a
pack of paranoid Archangels, it was a fairly warm and fuzzy
moment. 

Skuld kept on sulking, although this time with a bit of sadness
tainting it.  She needed a hug. 

"Well, that was touching," said Raguel flatly.  "Now, let us
continue with-" 

Then there was a *scritch* sound. 

Startled, everyone turned towards the sound.  The Archangels held
their breath.  Urd gasped.  Skuld stared, wide-eyed. 

A lone figure emerged from the shadows of the doorway. 

A match, aflame, slowly lifted up to a cigarette.  There was a
puff, then a smile. 

A British-accented voice spoke arrogantly.  "Well... what have we
here?" 

The Archangels felt a chill run down their spines. 

John Constantine had arrived. 

Skuld jumped off her chair.  "John!" 

John nodded at Skuld, and then turned to look at the semicircle
of Archangels. 

No one dared to breathe... except Raguel.  He raised a hand and a
sword of fire formed within it.

"Constantine... how dare you show yourself HERE." 

He strode angrily forward until nose to nose with the mortal. 

"You will leave Heaven and never come back, or else..." 

The threat only seemed to amuse John. 

"Now, now, squire, you don't think I'd dare show up here without
something nasty to spring on you boys, do you?" 

A flicker of worry crossed Raguel's face. 

"You're bluffing." 

John blew smoke in the Archangel's face.  "Try me." 

He walked around Raguel and towards the two Goddesses, the
Archangels getting out of his way. 

Out of his overcoat, John pulled an ancient stone knife, ebony as
night, and tapped on the cylinder that imprisoned Skuld.  With no
fanfare and a slight -whoosh- the cylinder disappeared. 

"Hullo, darlin'.  Miss me?" 

"John!"  The little Goddess hugged John tightly. 

"C'mon, let's get your sister outta here too."  He tapped the
cylinder imprisoning Urd, with the same results. 

John turned his attention to the Archangels once more.  "Now... 
the lady and the kid are with me, and we're walking out of here. 
Right?"  He paused to look each Archangel in the eye.  "Right. 
C'mon, kid." 

John walked past them, the sisters close behind, Skuld picking up
her mallet from where it had been left leaning against a wall. 
As they walked through the doorway, Skuld paused and turned
around. 

"Hey!  Up yours!  Biiiiih!" 

She blew them a raspberry and slammed the door shut. 

All the Archangels stood still, terribly embarrassed at what just
happened... all except Raguel, who was trembling in rage. 

And so he roared, and his voice bellowed through all the Heavens. 

"CONSTANTINE WILL PAY FOR THIS!" 


                           -*-


The trio strode quickly and anxiously away from the lair of the
Archangels, very much relieved to be out of there. 

"Is there a faster way to get out of here?" asked John, looking
at the parked Banpei cart with distaste.  "I got a feeling we
_really_ shouldn't hang about." 

Skuld scampered up to Banpei.  "Hot water."  The cart responded
by handing Skuld a small cup of steaming water. 

"Oh," said John, "this again." 

A second later, Urd, Skuld, a robotic Banpei, and John emerged
from one of the many fountains of Asgard. 

"MUST you use water to travel every time, Skuld?" asked John. 

Skuld nodded. 

John shrugged.  "Well, if that's the way it is." 

Urd looked at Skuld.  "By the way, brat, what was it you said
back there?" 

"Hm?" 

"What you said, to the Archangels?" 

Skuld smiled.  "Oh, that. 'Up yours!'" 

Urd stared at Skuld.  Then she looked up at John.  She grabbed
him by one hand on the now very rumpled collar of his shirt and
jerked his face right up to hers. 

"What have you been teaching my sister?" she hissed. 

"Oi!  Mind the shirt!" sniped John.  "I didn't teach the girl any
language like that!"

Not taking her eyes away from John's, Urd said, "Skuld, take a
walk for a second.  Me and Constantine have to have a talk." 

"No!" 

Urd fixed Skuld with a 'how dare you' sort of look.  "What?!" 

"I'm supposed to stick by John's side until everything's fixed
and we're almost done!" 

A fourth party cut into the conversation unexpectedly.  "I hate
to admit it, Urd, but I'm inclined to agree with the child." 

Urd turned her scowl towards the new entry in the discussion. 
"Stay out of this, Peorth." 

"Now now, Urd, have a little patience," said Peorth with a smile. 
She lazily strolled towards them and seated herself at the edge
of the fountain.  "This is bigger than you or me." 

"I don't like vague answers, Peorth." 

"Could you please let go of my shirt?" asked John. 

Urd shook him briefly but harshly.  "Shut up and stay quiet. 
Peorth, what are you talking about?" 

Peorth eyed John for a moment, appearing as if she were chosing
her next words carefully.  "What can I say, Urd?  A _Stranger_
from on high said so." 

The meaning of Peorth's hint wasn't lost on them.  Urd's
expression went from anger to surprise, while John's turned to
bitter annoyance. 

In Urd's mind, the Stranger was someone to be taken seriously. 
Few knew what the Phantom Stranger really was, and she was one of
the many that didn't.  What everyone did know was that when the
Phantom Stranger gave advice, it usually was best to take it. 

In John's mind, this was more evidence that the Phantom Stranger
was a total wanker.  Where was he now?  John wanted to know.  If
the Stranger knew so bloody much why didn't he get his own hands
dirty?  Nooo, couldn't do that.  Hafta remain all mysterious. 
What to do then?  Send ol' Constantine to do the job.  The
bastard. 

Peorth looked at them.  "Now, I believe you were about to find a
place to hide?  We could return to my apartment and..." she
looked sultrily at Constantine, "_talk_." 

Skuld glared at Peorth and was about to retort, when Urd put a
calming hand on her shoulder.  "Shh, Skuld... not now.  Like it
or not, we'll need to hide.  The Archangels are probably turning
the Heavens inside out looking for us." 

"But back into Silver City?" Skuld frowned. 

Peorth smiled.  "We'll slip past their patrol.  After all,
they've already searched the district where I live.  And they
won't find us.  Follow me."  She walked off, and John, bemused,
paced behind her. 

Skuld and Urd looked at each other, and sighed before they
followed. 


                           -*-


Peorth's domicile was a place one could say definitely belonged
to a woman.  Soft colors dominated the room, with roses and
roselike furniture everywhere. 

"Nice place," said John.  "Got any cigarettes?  I'm out." 

"Now now, Johnny," said Peorth, "I don't need to tell you what a
bad habit that is." 

"Hey, Constantine," said Urd, "what was that knife you used
earlier?" 

"What, this?"  He pulled out the knife once more, waving it
lazily before putting it back in his pocket.  "The knife belonged
to an ancestor of mine, James Constantine.  He used to mess with
angels a quite a bit.  Can't confirm what it is, really, but
rumor has it this knife was used in the first murder of mankind." 

"WHAT?" Urd cried. 

John held up his hands.  "Hey, it was only a rum-" 

Outside, there was a bellow of rage.  Peering out a window, Skuld
saw angels in the sky, each with a fiery sword, and one burning
brighter than all the rest. 

"Cooooooonstaaaaaaantiiiiiiiine!" 

Skuld turned away from the window and took a seat next to John,
much to Urd's dismay.  "You've really got Raguel bloody pissed
off, John." 

Immediately, Urd shot John a venomous look, while Peorth raised
an eyebrow. 

John looked up nervously, then gave Skuld a gentle bap.  "Good
little Goddesses shouldn't talk like that, kid." 

"But you talk like that all the time!" protested Skuld.  Urd's
glare intensified a bit, while Peorth was about ready to laugh. 

"Well yes I do, luv, but I'm the mortal here, not you." 

Skuld oh'ed.  "But you really made Raguel angry."  She paused a
bit.  "Were you really bluffing back there?" 

John raised an eyebrow and smirked.  "Good magicians don't reveal
their tricks." 

The sound of Raguel bellowing John's name once more caused them
all to look out the window for a moment.  Peorth wisely waved a
hand, causing the window to close and turn opaque. 

"Raguel... he who executes the Vengeance of the Lord, right?" 
asked John. 

"Yeah, that's him.  The one whose face you blew smoke in,"
replied Urd, with a frown. 

John pretended not to notice the frown.  "Y'know... I always
wondered.  Were the Archangels always such bloody uptight
bastards?" 

Urd sighed.  "Ever since the fall of Lucifer Morningstar, the
Archangels have been driven.  They were horrified that one among
them would dare lead a rebellion against the Lord, and were more
horrified at what Lucifer became after his fall." 

Peorth nodded, and continued the narrative.  "You see, John,
they're the first children of the Lord.  They have a certain
pride in being so, and one of the things they fear the most is a
fall from grace.  Thus, they seek to stay righteous by being
ever-vigilant, even if it does mean behaving like stormtroopers
at times.  In their eyes, they carry out their Father's will, and
none have told them otherwise." 

Urd continued.  "They've strived for perfection.  They had
thought they achieved it... at least until the fall of Gabriel."
She gave John a nasty look. 

Skuld was clearly puzzled.  "Gabriel?" 

John looked uncomfortable.  Shite, he really didn't want to
disillusion a little girl... 

The fall of Gabriel was just one of those unfortunate things,
really.  Gabriel was, during his tenure on earth, quite a
remarkable snob.  He was also hanging about with the wrong crowd,
as one of his frequent associates was, unknown to him, the head
of a Nazi terrorist group.  Not liking where Gabriel was headed
(and not liking Gabriel, as John bitterly despised snobs), John
set a trap for the Archangel, using a disguised Ellie as bait. 
Gabriel succumbed to temptation, willingly sinned, and thus fell
from grace.  But if John hadn't done that... 

Peorth shot a look at Urd, as she said, "Gabriel's fall showed
the Archangels that even they were not beyond the earthly realms. 
And ever since, they've been edgy." 

Skuld exclaimed, "They've been acting like jerks!" 

"But Gabriel..." Urd began. 

Peorth cut in.  "Gabriel fell because he put himself in that
position.  To designate blame on a mortal is to disavow the steps
Gabriel himself took." 

Urd, fortunately, did not pursue the Gabriel matter further. 

John gave a mental sigh of relief, then thought of something. 

"S'cuse me, but can someone explain to me exactly what the
Yggdrasil does?  From what little lore I can recall, it's the
'World Tree' or something, innit?" 

Urd gave John a _very_ suspicious look, clearly not trusting him
one bit.  Peorth looked startled, then chuckled.  She shared a
look with the other goddesses, then sighed. 

"Very well, John.  When God created everything, He found He could
not run it all by Himself.  Otherwise His vision would be spent
overviewing every little thing in the universe.  And so He
created the Angels.  When He created Man, He found that He could
barely keep up with all the demands, once Paradise was lost.  The
Angels could not keep up with the rapidly changing Earth that
Mankind created.  Gods and Goddesses were born as mankind grew. 
In order to keep up with the large demands that Mankind put on
Earth, He created the Yggdrasil.  And He left it alone to see how
it runs. But the system is too black-and-white, too literal, too
absolute.  To fix it, however, the Creator would have to scrap
everything." 

She cast a look at the goddesses.  Both Urd and Skuld nodded. 

"But He did not want to.  Instead, the Norn sisters were
designated to care for the Yggdrasil, to remove the bugs that
plagued it, and to keep it running." 

"Hold on, luv, why wouldn't He just shut it down and make a new
one?"  John asked. 

"Because to do so is to start Earth anew, John Constantine," Urd
said. 

"Oh.  Shite." 

He thought for a minute, then looked at Urd.  "Who's taking care
of the Yggdrasil while you're on Earth?" 

Urd looked embarrassed.  "We still are.  But someone is supposed
to inform us whenever there is trouble." 

"Ahh."  John pondered a minute, then said, "So basically, a
computer that watches over humanity-" 

Skuld cut in.  "It does other things, too!" 

"- is runnin' without supervision?" 

Urd nodded.  "It basically runs itself.  But if it breaks, we'd
know." 

John rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  "What if someone uses it
improperly?  Would you know?" 

Skuld blinked.  Urd blinked.  Peorth chuckled, as she replied,
"Probably not, unless he or she crashed the system." 

John paused.  He thought for a minute.  If the Yggdrasil
basically could run itself... 

"What's the odds of the Yggdrasil becoming self-aware?" asked
John. 

Peorth shrugged, then looked to the two sisters. 

"Well... we never really thought about all the possibilities,"
admitted Urd.  "We were sort of... busy on Earth." 

"It shouldn't be possible," said Skuld.  "You don't think..." 

John grinned.  Now for the final piece... 

"Well, ladies, let's get to the Yggdrasil.  We just may find our
answers there, eh?" 

The goddesses all nodded in unison. 


                           -*-


Outside, Urd and Skuld looked past a corner, trying to watch out
for the Archangels and Angels that would surely be looking for
them.  Then they motioned for John and Peorth to follow. 
Furtively, they darted, slowly making their way towards the
Yggdrasil. 

At one stop, John managed to whisper to Peorth while Urd and
Skuld were on lookout. 

"By the way, why did you cover up for me back there?" 

Peorth smiled sweetly at him.  "My dear John, this little
adventure has been so much fun.  It'd be a pity to see it end so
soon." 

"That can't be it... why would you involve yourself in this?" 

Peorth gave John a bemused smile.  "Because you mortals are SO
much more interesting.  Good and Evil, all mixed up in one
earthly form.  So much potential for good, so much potential for
evil."  She patted John on the cheek.  "Especially you, John
Constantine." 

And then she giggled.  "And I want to see the look on God's face
when he sees you here, Johnny." 

John blinked.  Somehow, that prospect was... daunting. 


                           -*-


Back at the temple... 

Keiichi sat by Belldandy's bedside, his concern rising.  Urd was
gone.  Skuld was gone.  Belldandy was still unconscious. 

He whispered her name, as if it was a prayer, then stroked her
face gently.  He hated to admit it, but there was nothing he
could do.  And he was so tired... 

Keiichi fell asleep at Belldandy's side, head on the sheets,
curled up in a fetal position. 

A short time later, a blinding beam of light descended through
the ceiling, going right to the mark on Belldandy's face.  Her
eyes flew open, ablaze with azure light and she slowly began to
rise, levitating from the bed. 

The light began to fade, and as it did, Belldandy slowly drifted
down onto the bed once more.  With a great effort she stood up
and took a few deep breaths.  After a moment to focus herself,
Belldandy looked at the still-sleeping Keiichi. 

She sighed wistfully, and smiled, then stroked his face.  Then
she leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek, before she
stood up.  She nearly stumbled.  Merciful Goddesses, she was
still weak... but she had to fight.

For Heaven. 

For Keiichi. 

Belldandy stumbled over to the mirror kept in her room, and
vanished in a flash of luminous light. 


                           -*-


They stood before two massive doors at the end of a long, dimly
lit, very ethereal corridor.  The feeling of power emanating from
behind those doors was tangible. 

"So... this is the Yggdrasil, is it?" asked John, stepping
forward ahead of everyone else.  Peorth and Skuld followed. 

"Yes, we're here," said Urd, keeping a wary eye on the mortal. 

This, thought John, was the tricky part.  What was waiting for
them behind those doors was unknown.  It'd either fold like a
cheap suit or blast him to hell.  The goddesses would either be
insurance against an early demise or a hinderance to his scheme. 

Tricky stuff. 

John took a deep breath and reached forward, grabbing the handles
and swinging the massive doors open. 

What greeted them was a cold, circular chamber lit only by the
lights on many control panels lined along the walls.  Things
scurried into the shadows as John strode into the room. 

And in the corner, shuddering, on the floor, his face covered by
his hands, wings quivering as he cried, was an angel, surrounded
by... were those eight-legged rabbits? 

This, John didn't expect. 

"Bloody Hell..." 

Behind him, Urd peered into the darkness.  "Hey, what the heck?!" 

Skuld cried, "Oh no...!" 

John cursed silently as the goddesses pushed their way into the
room, forcing him to step forward, totally ruining any chance of
making a decent entrance.  There was no way he'd manage to get
alone with the angel now. 

"Bugs!" finished Skuld as she pulled out her mallet and swung at
a nearby eight-legged rabbit bouncing around the room.  It hopped
out of the way, and jumped around merrily, leading Skuld on a mad
chase. 

John blinked.  Those things were BUGS?  Now Heaven was starting
to look more and more like a nuthouse.  No wonder the Archangels
had poker rods up their arses.  Oh well, he'd just have to make
the best of it. 

Urd, along with John, strode immediately to the angel.  John
looked passive while Urd looked furious. 

She towered over the cowering angel, anger burning in her eyes. 
"So... unleashing bugs on the Yggdrasil, eh?  Trying to take over
Heaven, huh?  Scheming with Mara, hm?  Confession is good for the
soul, right?  IT WAS YOU ALL ALONG!  HOW DARE YOU, YOU
HYPOCRITICAL BASTARD!"

The angel winced with each word Urd yelled and continued to sob. 

At the sight of the angel, Peorth's eyes flew open in surprise. 
Skuld paused from her chase to see who was making those pathetic
noises.  She gasped in shock.  "Raphael?" 

This gave John a reason to raise an eyebrow.  Not just an angel,
an Archangel.  Well now, this was definitely unexpected.  A rogue
deity he was expecting.  The possibility of the Yggdrasil
becoming self-aware was a suspicion.  But one of THEM behind all
this? 

Surprise, surprise.  But... 

"S'cuse me, ladies, mind if I had a word with Raphael for a bit?" 

Raphael gave a loud wail and backed away.  Urd glared at John,
then looked at the pathetic wretch.  She looked at Peorth, who
nodded gravely. 

Urd tapped Skuld on the shoulder.  "C'mon, let's see what that
idiot messed up."  Skuld, still looking at the Archangel in
shock, nodded and followed her sister.

"Hey, what's this?"  Skuld looked curiously at several wires that
were extended oddly and met in an odd ring of circuitry and other
Yggdrasil materiel. 

Urd came over and looked the device over.  "Oh... no wonder
Raphael's a wreck.  He tried to do it all, all our duties, all at
the same time, and control as much extra as he could.  If he
wasn't an Archangel, he'd be the mental equivalent of a turnip by
now." 

"But why did he do this?  Why didn't he just call us?" asked
Skuld, as she suddenly spun around and slammed her mallet down on
a bug.  It screamed and faded out of existence, as Skuld put her
mallet away and began to examine the system.  She waved her hand
and a mini-Skuld popped up on her hand, which waved hello and
bounced into the core of the Yggdrasil. 

"I dunno, kid," replied Urd, "but I figure we'll find out once
Constantine's through with him." 


                           -*-


John sauntered over to Raphael, inwardly grinning.  It made sense
now.  Raphael, the Archangel set over humanity.  With the
caretakers of the Yggdrasil gone, it seemed, he would think
himself the proper caretaker of the Ultimate Computer.

He took a seat on the floor next to Raphael and dug for a
cigarette.  Then he remembered he didn't have any more. 

Drat.  Oh well... 

It seemed to have gotten a tad warm suddenly.  That didn't seem
to be right.  John frowned, looked around, then dismissed that
feeling as just more paranoia as he removed his overcoat and laid
it down on a panel surface of the Yggdrasil. 

"Well now, Raphael, what nasty business were you up to here, hm?" 

Raphael sniffled a bit, then tried to sit upright and properly. 
John handed him a handkerchief, and the Archangel proceeded to
wipe away the tears. 

"I tried... I really tried to make it better, you know," said
Raphael.  "It wasn't right, what was happening below.  But the
more I tried, the more these..." he indicated the bugs, "_THINGS_
popped up.  And everything got worse and worse."  He grabbed John
firmly by the now extremely rumpled collar of his shirt.  "But it
wasn't entirely because of the bugs, nooo.  It's YOU people! 
It's MOSTLY YOU PEOPLE!  Do you people realize what you're doing
to each other?!?!"

"Mind the shirt, mate, please." 

"Our Father gave you life!  He gave you an entire PLANET!  And
what do you do?  You ruin EVERYTHING and find NEW and TERRIBLE
ways to crush each other's souls to Hell!  You wage wars over
silly little trivia like land that hasn't been holy for THOUSANDS
of years and CHEAPER GAS!  You turn away as children starve to
death!  You walk away from those far less fortunate than you,
asking for just a little help!  You swindle and preach and kill
in the name of a God whose rules you knowingly break every day!
You rape your sons and daughters!  You butcher your fathers and
mothers!  You take the gift of life and turn it into a curse!" 

John felt like he was being preached to.  He really hated it when
that happened.  He really wished he had a cigarette.  "Are you
finished yet?" 

"No!  You idiots, you over-evolved apes!  I tried to make it
better!  I did!  But every time I gave you people a boon, you
turned around and made it a damnation!"  He looked upwards, tears
streaming from his eyes.  "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" 

If he weren't an Archangel, and if John weren't stuck in the
middle of Heaven, he would have punched Raphael at this point. 
Instead, he did some shirt collar grabbing of his own.  Well, he
at least grabbed Raphael by the shoulders, since there wasn't any
collar to hold.  "Yeah?  You're in deep now, sunshine.  You
messed about with the Yggdrasil and you KNOW that you shouldn't
mess about with it.  You think your brothers are gonna take this
kindly?  Cos I think they'll kick your arse downstairs faster
than they tossed out Lucifer!" 

The Archangel sighed.  "I... no."  He calmed down, took a deep
breath, then stood tall and proud once more.  "I am an Archangel. 
Mine is to carry out the will of our Lord and that is what I have
done and will continue to do.  My brothers will surely agree with
what I've done."  He bowed his head solemnly, as if in deep
thought. 

John frowned.  "You really think so, don't you?  You don't
understand.  It's over.  You've caused too much of a mess for
your brothers to forgive and it's clear you couldn't handle it to
begin with.  Face it, you're done." 

Raphael nodded. 

Peorth frowned.  "What I don't understand is, why didn't you ask
for help?  If you were having troubles..." 

Raphael looked up.  "I did.  I called for help a short while
ago." 

Suddenly, a nearby curved, reflective panel shone with an inner
light.  All eyes were drawn to the light, as Raphael smiled an
arrogant smile. 

"And she has come." 

A female figure stepped out of the light. 

Brown hair trailed after her as the goddess entered the room. 
She halted, and spoke in a quiet, but determined voice. 

"John Constantine.  I cannot allow you to interfere.  To let you
meddle with the Yggdrasil means that all contracts will then
end...  and I cannot, will not, forgive anyone who stands between
my Keiichi and I!"

Belldandy had arrived. 


                           -*-


"Belldandy!" Skuld exclaimed.  She ran towards her, and hugged
her tightly.  Belldandy returned the hug, but kept her eyes on
John. 

"Skuld.  Step out of the way," Belldandy whispered, as she took
in the scene.  This mortal, this John Constantine, appeared to
have placed Raphael in a bad position and somehow tricked her
sisters into helping him.  The Yggdrasil told her, it showed her
what would happen should Constantine halt Raphael.  She would
loose Keiichi.  He could not be allowed to proceed any further. 

Urd stepped in Belldandy's way.  "Belldandy, what's going on? 
What are you talking about?" 

"He'll take Keiichi away from me if we don't stop him," said
Belldandy firmly. 

"Belldandy, I know I haven't given you much reason to trust me in
the past," said Peorth, "but trust me.  Raphael's in the wrong
here." 

Urd nodded.  "Please, Belldandy, she's right." 

Belldandy frowned.  Maybe her sisters were right... but if
Raphael was right, and the mortal John Constantine were to meddle
with the Yggdrasil, then... her contract with Keiichi could be
voided.  And she could not... 

God, what was she to do?  Believe Raphael, or her sisters? 

John approached her.  "Look, luv, I know you don't know me,
but..." 

And then suddenly and unexpectedly, all Hell broke loose in
Heaven.


                           -*-


With Belldandy arriving and demanding that Constantine be
stopped, everyone's attention was drawn away from the little
corner of the room that John had put his trenchcoat down in.  It
suddenly stood upright, gaining a life of its own.  A moment
later, the form of Mara, the demoness, appeared within it. 

Her arrival was sensed by the divinities in the room immediately. 

"You!" yelled Urd.  Skuld reached for her backpack, intending to
toss a few horseshoes at her.  Everyone else was utterly
surprised. 

Mara would have gloated, or at least made a fairly moderate
exposition of the situation had she the time.  Time, however, was
currently a luxury, and her reason to gloat had been taken away
from her anyway.  This wasn't her victory, it was His. 

Quickly, she pulled out a disc and slammed it into a nearby slot
before anyone could stop her.  A second later, Mara was slammed
against the wall by Urd, who kept a grip on her neck.

"What have you done?!" yelled Urd.  "Skuld!  Get that disc out!" 

"I can't!  It's stuck!" replied Skuld frantically, now fumbling
around with the slot.

"Sorry about this, Urd," mumbled Mara.  "I had no choice." 

First the lights flickered.  Then there was a blue glow around
the room, as the lights cut out, and backups went on... 

"The security systems...?" Skuld dashed over to a board and typed
away.  Urd kept a tight grip on Mara, as Raphael walked over
quickly and watched Skuld's progress. 

"They're shutting down!" Skuld cried. 

"Activate the backups!  Quickly!" Raphael cried. 

"I'm trying, I'm trying!  They're not coming back up!" Skuld
screamed hysterically. 

"What the heck did you do, Mara?" John shouted. 

Mara sighed.  "It's a virus." 

"My God."  Peorth muttered. 

All of the bugs that had been running around the Yggdrasil
suddenly vanished.  The lights in the room died entirely, leaving
everyone in the dark.  There was a spark, a hiss, then the
ominous smell of brimstone.  Then the lights came roaring back
on, this time in shades of blood red.  A dark figure stood in
front of the Yggdrasil, his back to them. 

The goddesses gasped.  Raphael turned pale.  Mara tore free from
Urd's grip and vanished, as the figure turned towards them. 

The First of the Fallen grinned maliciously. 

"Well... hello.  Surprised to see Me?" 

And the First of the Fallen threw his head back and laughed,
louder and louder until the laughter echoed back from the
polished walls with almost painful intensity.

What John said at that moment summed up the prevalent mood in the
room.

"Oh, shite." 


                           -*-


The Archangel Raphael was the first to react.  Summoning a
flaming sword, he charged for the First of the Fallen.

Urd, Peorth, and Belldandy began chanting. 

Skuld gaped, completely at a loss. 

The First raised an hand.  A force shield formed, around the core
of the Yggdrasil, with the First of the Fallen inside.

Raphael's flaming sword clashed with the shield, sending sparks
of fire flying.  The Goddesses' energy beams bounced off.  The
First laughed even more, and then turned to face John
Constantine.

"I think we need some privacy, don't you?" said the Devil
gleefully.

For once in his life, John Constantine was frozen in fear. 

"What?  Nothing to say?  I guess you agree then, hm?"  The First
of the Fallen turned to face Raphael, who couldn't help but step
back in fear. 

"Raphael... you always were a snivelling little brat."  With a
wave of his hand, a blast of wind hit Raphael, reducing him to a
blur, then dissolving into nothing. 

Skuld shrieked, "You killed him!" 

"No, I just threw him out of the room," replied the First of the
Fallen, "just like what I'm about to do to you."  He made another
sweep of his arm and the goddesses found themselves struck by the
same turbulent force that struck Raphael.  For a moment, the four
goddesses were reduced to screaming blurs, then vanished. 

He gestured once more, an idle flick of the wrist, and the doors
of the Yggdrasil slammed shut. 

The First of the Fallen clapped his hands together, sighed a
happy content little sigh, then turned to a very nervous and
stunned John, crossed his arms and smiled.  "Well now, John. 
Looks like it's just you and Me."

Finally gathering his wits, John managed to find his voice again. 
"Oi.  You didn't have to go to all this trouble for me." 

"Oh, but I insist." 

The First of the Fallen snapped his fingers. 

Suddenly, John was on an upside-down cross.  The abrupt feeling
of being turned upside-down and with nails cutting through your
hands and feet was far from pleasing.

"Aaagh!  Shite!  Aw Christ!  Aaaw!" 

"No use calling Him now," said the Devil. 

"Fuck you, asshole!  Aaagh!" 

"Forgive me if I indulge Myself at this moment," said the Devil,
standing over John.  "It's not often I get to gloat." 

"I got a *owshitthishurts* choice?" 

"No... not really.  So just stay right there and bleed.  I'll do
the talking." 

"Suit y'self. *ow*" 

A throne made of human remains formed from the floor as The First
of the Fallen seated himself. 
              
"Ah... now where to begin?  It all started when a little demoness
named Mara had a sit-down one day and thought about the situation
she was currently tangled in.  You see, she was currently the
arch-foe of a trio of goddesses, namely Urd, Belldandy, and
Skuld.  By now, you realize WHAT those three goddesses are. 
Mara, and for some unfathomable reason nobody else, realized what
that meant.  Fate, such as it is, was being uncontrolled, since
the three were taking a holiday in Japan.  All she needed to do
was get to the Yggdrasil and seize control.  And how would she
get in?  Well, that's what you're for.  You are, after all, a
rider of synchronicity.  Once you're a part of something, you see
it through to the end whether you like it or not.  The moment
Mara gave you that first nudge, you were bound to come here, and
she'd be right behind you.  It was a clever little plan indeed." 

The First of the Fallen laughed long and hard.  John twitched
uncontrollably.  Being crucified was bad enough.  Being subjected
to terribly cliched villianous exposition didn't help matters.

"And that," the First said, leaning back comfortably, "is where I
came in.  I overheard Mara's plan, you see, and was a bit
impressed... and I admit, a bit embarrassed I didn't see it
Myself.  But Mara's plan was so very disappointing in its scope. 
You see, she was going to extract some revenge on the three
sisters of Fate, make a little noise, that sort of thing.  She
even had thoughts of elevating her rank a bit and shaking up
things a little in Heaven." 

A large pool of John's blood was forming on the floor.  He
desperately hoped that this was all just a bad dream, and he'd
wake up.  At this point, seeing the Phantom Stranger's face would
be a good thing.

The Devil stood up once more and walked over to a panel, idly
pressing a few buttons.  "Mmm, yes, a nice little plan, but it
had potential for so much more.  So that's where I stepped in and
took over things.  Instead of a little noise here and there and
some petty revenge... well... why not... bring Hell to Heaven? 
Even now, my legions are amassing, storming the Gates of Heaven,
as the security systems falter and fail.  Even as we speak,
Constantine, My virus is bending HIS system to MY will. In a
matter of minutes, it will be ME on the throne." 


                           -*-


At the outer fringes of Heaven, history was in the making. 

Right at its border, just behind the gates of Heaven a horde of
demons were standing there, staring and amazed at what was going
on.

The gates were open. 

They _knew_ what they were supposed to do, rush in and smite some
arse, but they _really_ didn't expect to get this far.  The major
demons of hell talked about storming Heaven all the time,
especially the first two dozen of the Fallen, but nobody had
actually done it. 

Until now. 

And they were doing it.... well... about to do it. 

This, they all thought, was too good to be true. 

It had to be a trap. 

"Gout," grumbled Ykz'arth'ull-nf'tng, "you go first." 

"I?  PsHaW.  bRoThEr YkZ'aRtH'uLl-Nf'TnG, yOu FiRsT." 

Etrigan grumbled and snorted.  Flames shot from his nostrils. 

"Fools!  Idiots!  You snivelling lot! 
 Step forward quick, else I'll turn thee to snot!" 

"If YoU'Re So BrAvE, yOu Go FiRsT!" 

Etrigan narrowed his eyes and frowned.  Then he picked Gout up by
the horns and flung him across the gates. 

"IiIiIiIiEeEeEeEeEeEeee..... Eh... ErM." 

Much to his relief, Gout didn't explode into fire when he hit the
holy ground of Heaven.  Nor did he shrivel up, or get turned to
stone.  Gout was one healthy demon. 

Etrigan grinned toothily. 

"Brother demons, as you can plainly see,
 There's no trap here set for thee." 

The demons all looked somewhat embarrased. 

"Now gather the pitchforks and let us storm the gates! 
 March forward to battle, final victory awaits!" 

With a wild battle cry, the hordes of hell stampeded across the
gates at blazing speed and into the vast fields of Heaven,
towards the center. 

Silver City awaited them. 


                           -*-


John fidgeted uncomfortably, but at least managed to stop
groaning in pain.  It sounded grotesque, but he was beginning to
get used to the feel of nails through his palms and feet.  He was
also trying to not roll his eyes at the First's soliloquy.  Why
was it that every devil, demon, or angel felt the need to share
their oh-so-wonderful plans? 

"Oh, you might be wondering how Mara managed to get in here," 
said the First of the Fallen.  "Did you know that among her many
talents is the ability to possess non-living items?  You know,
like rocks, compact discs, or even the inside lining of a shabby
and worn trenchcoat." 

John groaned.  Earlier small events made sense now, like the
constant feeling of being watched, and especially that gust of
wind that flapped his coat about right before he and Banpei drove
off to Heaven. 

She was with him every step of the way. 

"And once she was in, she tossed in a program that would break
down the barriers of Heaven just enough for Me to break through. 
I'll be checking on the progress of the virus now.  Wouldn't do
if it weren't finished properly, now, would it?" 

The First turned away to examine the Yggdrasil.  John breathed a
sigh of relief.  He was sure the Devil was going to start tearing
him apart piece by piece, and wanted to put that fate off as soon
as possible. 

*John!  John, are you okay?!*

Constantine blinked.  Despite being in pain, he was lucid enough
to know a telepathic link when he felt one. 

*It's me, Skuld!* She sounded frantic.  He idly wondered if she'd
ever seen anyone nailed to a cross before. 

John slowly looked around... and spied a mini-Skuld.  He blinked. 

*I'm okay.  Now get outta here, kid, y'can't handle him!*

*Hold on, please?  Distract him, keep him talking, but we need
time to fix the Yggdrasil!  I'll be back!*

*I know you will, kid.*

The mini-Skuld seemed to linger a moment, shock and sadness on
her face as she looked at John's crucified, bloody form. 

*Go on,* thought John.  *Get outta here.  I beat'im before, I'll
do it again kid.  You'll see.  Now get outta here.*

*Please John, be careful.*

With a final wave, the mini-Skuld vanished. 

John groaned, as fresh pain shot up his arms. 

Alone... with the Devil. 


                           -*-


Meanwhile, in a nearby room on some terminals, the three sisters
of Fate were typing on terminals at a frantic pace.  Peorth stood
at the doorway, keeping an eye out for dangers. 

"Good Lord, he's tearing down the barriers between Heaven and
Hell," said Urd. 

"I can't get in, he's locked me out!" cried Belldandy in alarm. 

"Same here," said Urd.  "Skuld?" 

"I can't get in either!" shouted Skuld.  "What are we going to
do?  We've got to do something!"  She shuddered.  "And John's in
terrible danger!" 

"These stupid terminals!  We need something unattached to the
network, that could still affect..." Urd muttered. 

Skuld blinked.  "Wait!  My computer down there... it's still
hooked to the Yggdrasil!  It's got an independent CPU so maybe I
can get time to send some anti-virus programs!" 

Urd smiled.  "Perfect.  Now we need to get to Earth.  Time to get
help to distract the demons so that we can get down there." 

Urd started to chant a summoning spell, intending to bring forth
her angel to aid in the battle, when Peorth stopped her.  "No! 
Gorgeous Rose, World of Elegance, Holy Bell, and other angels...
they're busy trying to drive the Demons from Heaven!  We cannot
summon our angels, not now!" 

Urd frowned.  "Then what?" 

Peorth gave her a steely glare.  "We fight ourselves."  She
looked at Skuld.  "Quick, get to your computer!" 

Belldandy put a hand to Skuld's shoulder.  "I will come with
you." 

Skuld nodded. 

"All right, let's get moving!" Urd shouted, as she flew down the
corridor.  Peorth followed quickly. 

Belldandy looked at Skuld, and nodded quiet encouragement. 

Skuld gulped. 

This was going to be very very hard. 


                           -*-


Distract the First of the Fallen... distract the First of the
Fallen.  How the bloody Hell was he supposed to do that?  He was
pinned down, literally, and the knife that he'd brought was in
the jacket across the room. 

Well, he thought frantically, what've I got left?  Harsh
language? 

Aw, sod it.  Why not? 

"Oi!  Arsehole!  Get over here!" 

"All in due time, Constantine." 

"What, busy wanking yourself?" 

"You're in no position to talk." 

"I've been in position to fuck you over a couple of times, you
bloody piece of shite." 

The First of the Fallen narrowed his eyes.  He would take only so
much verbal abuse.  "You know, Constantine, you do have a point. 
You have this annoying knack for pulling something out from your
ass at the last minute when nobody's looking." 

The Devil cracked his knuckles.  At the same time, his
fingernails extended to wicked proportions. 

"I'm not going to take My eyes off you this time... and I've been
waiting for this for a long time." 

Oh... oh shite.  This, thought John, had better be worth it. 


                           -*-


On the borders of Heaven, the forces of good and evil met.  Fiery
swords and blades of ebony night clashed as angels, devils,
demons, and deities began to do battle. 

"A bit early for Ragnarok, isn't it?" asked Thor as he hammered
several demons. 

"Hey, you getting soft in your old age?" teased Njord, Norse god
of the wind, seas, and fire. 

Not too far away, Raguel scowled.  The Norse folk never did show
proper decorum, and now was no time for levity.  With a ferocity
unmatched by any in Heaven, Raguel and his fiery sword cut
through the ranks of Hell that dared to cross the barrier between
the realms. 

This, thought Raguel, was surely Constantine's fault! 


                           -*-


"Quick, onee-sama!  Skuld exclaimed, as she emerged from a small
mirror in her room, dragging Belldandy after her. 

Skuld smiled, confidence returning as she sat down at her
computer.  Surely, she could... 

She blinked, as a 8-legged bug suddenly manifested on top of her
monitor.  It didn't seem like the regular bug.  Its eyes glowed
red, and it was...  foaming at the mouth? 

"AIEEEEEEEEEEEE!" 

Belldandy was quick to react, firing a beam at the bug, which
disintegrated.  She looked at Skuld.  "Hurry!  Whatever the virus
in the Yggdrasil is doing up there, these bugs are getting
meaner!" 

Rabid bugs.  Skuld nodded.  Time to get serious. 

She got down to serious typing. 


                           -*-


"...fifteen..." 

-CRACK-

"AAAAGH!" 

"...sixteen..." 

-CRACK-

"AUUUGH!" 

"Tsk, so much noise," said the First of the Fallen calmly.  "You
do realize, we've quite a few more ribs to go.  Now... 
seventeen..." 

-CRACK-

"AAGH!" 


                           -*-


Belldandy fired a beam at a hopping bug.  It bounced out of the
way, and waggled its ears at her, red eyes glaring at her. 
Belldandy frowned, as she picked up Skuld's mallet.  She bapped
the bug delicately, and sighed as the bug crumbled to
nonexistence.  Then she gasped in horror. 

More bugs were starting to appear with alacrity in Skuld's room. 


                           -*-


"Getting dizzy, Constantine?" 

His vision was a helter skelter of blurs and overlapped images,
up and down, left and right, making his stomach knot. 

"Considering that I've ripped your eyeballs out and you're still
able to see through them, you should be.  Here, let Me show you." 

John's vision whirled for a moment, until two images, almost
mirrors of each other, came into focus: a torn eyeball held in a
bloody hand. 

"Now... I'm not usually one to want an audience, but this moment
is just too good to enjoy alone, Constantine.  Therefore, I'm
going to put your eyes on that thing over there." 

His vision whirled once again, coming to a stop at a structure of
bones, bound together by sinew and skin.  With shock, John
realized that the structure was made of HIS substance, HIS ribs,
HIS sinews.  It seemed exceptionally well-made too, a tripod that
supported a frame designed to hold two small round objects in
place atop it.  Almost like opera glasses mounted on a stand... 
Oh no.  No. 

"I set your eyes in _here_," said the Devil, as he attached
John's eyeballs into the apparatus.  "And you can see yourself. 
Interesting effect, isn't it?" 

In his shocked and dazed state, John marveled at how much of his
body wasn't there anymore. 

Another part wondered why he wasn't dead yet. 


                           -*-


Peorth and Urd flew down the corridors, back towards the
Yggdrasil. 

Suddenly, they skidded to a stop.  A large horde of demons faced
them. 

Peorth looked at Urd, who nodded. 

Together, they flew at the demons. 


                           -*-


"Ah, your friends are on their way back here, it seems,"  the
First said, as he slowly dug his hands into John's intestines and
pulled them out.  John watched with an almost detached
fascination.  Such long worms... 

"Too bad for them," said the First, as he tugged, and a large
unidentifiable organ popped out.  "It's all over but the
shouting." 

"AIEEEEEEEEEE!" 

"Thank you." 


                           -*-


Skuld frantically typed.  Gods, the virus was spreading rapidly,
changing and adapting to everything...


                           -*-


The First of the Fallen idly examined a pulsating mass of red
flesh.  "Whoever said you were a heartless bastard was entirely
wrong, Constantine.  It's right here, see?"  And he held the
beating heart, splurting out blood, in front of John's eyes. 

John tried to scream, but only managed a wet, sickly gurgle,
choking on the blood rushing down his throat. 

"Of course," said the Devil thoughtfully, "now that I've got it
here I guess you ARE a heartless bastard." 


                           -*-


Peorth put a hand to a demon's chest.  Light gathered around her
hand, and then she sent it flying into a wall. 

She smiled grimly, and then turned... 

Another demon was upon her almost at once. 


                           -*-


"Say, you were always quite the heavy drinker, weren't you?" 

The First of the Fallen casually ripped out John's liver, held it
over his mouth, and squeezed.  Blood dripped down and into his
mouth. 

"Mmm, yes, I can taste the alcohol.  I see you've been at the
pubs very recently.  A very good one.  You must take Me there
some time." 


                           -*-


Keiichi screamed as rabid bugs began crawling into his room,
their eyes glowing an eerie red.  He never thought eight-legged
rabbits could possibly look so savage. 

Belldandy heard him, and her heart turned cold. 

"Keiichi!" 

She dropped Skuld's mallet and concentrated... 

A bright light filled the room. 


                           -*-


"Oh, by the way, you may feel a real painful sensation somewhere
in the region of your tackhole.  For your information, I've
decided to give you bowel cancer too."

John gurgled helplessly, trembling from the intense pain. 

"And in case you're wondering why you're not dead yet... well... 
I have total control here.  You will remain alive, quivering in
pieces, until sundown, and then in the morning, I will bring you
back alive, and I will torture you anew.  If I smash your skull
open, tear your brains out and stuff them in your mouth, you'll
still be feeling every moment.  In fact, let Me do that now..." 

-CRACK-


                           -*-


Urd muttered briefly, a quick spell, and threw her arms out.  A
bright energy ball enveloped several demons, and then contracted,
vanishing into nothingness.  She breathed a sigh of relief
mingled with exhaustion. 

"Behind you!" Peorth shouted. 

Urd spun around... 


                           -*-


The First of the Fallen held John's face in his hand,
contemplating it like an artist would view his finished
sculpture.

"Physical torture is all well and nice," he said, "but it can
maim a soul only so far.  To know true and complete torment is to
be crushed in spirit as well as flesh."  He slowly pressed a
long, sharp fingernail into the side of John's head, cutting
through skin, bones, and brain matter.  "Now, let's review the... 
aheh... best of John Constantine, shall we?" 


                           -*-


Sweat trickled down Skuld's face.  If she only could adapt the
anti-virus program to change as the virus changed... 

And if her eyes wasn't still blinking from Belldandy's sweeping
the room clean of bugs. 

Skuld wiped her forehead.  Almost... 

NO! 

Damn, she needed Belldandy... but Belldandy was gone to rescue
that idiotic Keiichi.

She rubbed her eyes.  Oh, pleasepleaseplease! 

Then she slapped her head.  Waiiiit.  If she sent a worm after
the virus... 

And Skuld resumed her work, typing franatically. 


                           -*-


A sudden slap to the face sent John's senses reeling.  He
stumbled, helplessly, disoriented from the blow.  His memory was
scrambled entirely.  Where was he?  What happened?  How'd he get
here?

Why did everything look so big? 

A shadow engulfed him.  John looked up, then froze in fear. 

He was home again.  He was six years old and home again. 

"Yah fuggin' lill shit!  I wish ye were DEAD!" 

And Father was drunk. 

-SLAP- -CRACK-


                           -*-


Raguel smiled grimly.  It looked like the end of all that is. 
Demons were overwhelming the forces of Heaven. 

But if Raguel survived this, he vowed, he would be the Avenging
Angel, the righteous vengeance of destruction. 

The Wrath of God, revisited on Hell. 

And on John Constantine. 


                           -*-


He was in Hell. 

In his mind, John was reeling in confusion.  He tried to move, to
talk, to run, but found himself unable to do anything.  He turned
his head, looking around, and yet it wasn't him that was doing
it.  He was a human puppet acting through a play that seemed
vaguely familiar. 

He felt the invisible strings turn his head around and force his
mouth into a smug, confident smile, even though he wanted to
scream. 

*No!  Not again!  No!*

"Take my hand," he heard his voice say.  "Trust me." 

*No!  Don't!  Not again!  NOT AGAIN!*

An innocent little girl named Astra looked into John's eyes, then
placed her hand in his. 

John's head turned forward again, looking at the gaping maw of
Hell and the endless rows of nightmarish teeth lining it. 

John's mind, meanwhile, was screaming, knowing what was going to
happen next.  Because it had already happened to him.  And there
was nothing John could do to stop the sequence... 

They were going to run through the gates of Hell.  John would
make it, while Astra... the gates of Hell would clamp down on her
arm and pull her back into damnation. 

*Stop!  Stop!  Goddammit, no!*

And then his body took the first step... 


                           -*-


Peorth and Urd were surrounded by salivating demons and devils. 

"We're in trouble," Urd muttered. 

Peorth smiled grimly.  "It was nice knowing you." 

And then the demons converged on them. 


                           -*-


It was an endless parade, a pageant of pain, a marionette show of
disgrace.  John relived the darkest moments of his life over and
over. 

Mother dead, because she was pregnant with him. 

Astra condemned, because of him. 

Father sent to hell, because of him. 

Friends dead, because of him. 

Lovers dead, because of him. 

*Feeling a little... down?* asked the First of the Fallen. 

*I...*

*You what?  Hm?*

*I want to die... please...*

*Well, John.  You'll get no such mercy from Me.  We're only
getting started.*

John's soul twisted and withered, the will to fight drained
entirely.  Hopelessness and despair reigned over his soul. 

John Constantine was damned. 

*Remember, Constantine... that's only the briefest taste of what
you shall have.*

No. No. No. 

*As much pleasure as this has been, I must remind you... you are
still alive.  Your body lives.  By My will.*

Oh God, no. 

*God turned His back on you.  There is no salvation.  There is no
hope.  There is only Me.  When you are granted, by My will, that
final death...  you will be damned to Hell... forever.*

No. 

And John's mind fled in horror. 

*Leaving, John?  Ah, we can't have that...*


                           -*-


'Pleasepleasepleaseplease hurry!' Skuld thought frantically, as
she watched the progress... 

YESSSSS! GOT IT! 


                           -*-


Suddenly, the Yggdrasil turned dark once more.  The First of the
Fallen scowled, his eyes burning red in the darkness. 

"What?  No... impossible... what have they done?" 

The lights blinked on and off, and finally turned back on all the
way, this time in an ethereal white.  The Devil roared in anger
and slammed his fist into a control panel.  It bounced off, not
even making a dent. 

"NOOOO!" 

The First of the Fallen suddenly was lifted in the air, rigid and
upright, roaring in anger as his body began burning bright azure. 
He was soon reduced to an angry pulsing light, then vanished
entirely. 

Within the control panel, a mini-Skuld suddenly appeared in front
of the Yggdrasil, smiling happily. 

"John!  John!  We did it!  We..." 

And then she saw what was left of him. 

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" 


                           -*-


Belldandy was in the hallway, hugging Keiichi close to her, when
there was a great shriek.  They looked at each other, and ran
into Skuld's room. 

Inside, Skuld was kneeling on the floor, shrieking and sobbing. 
Belldandy was immediately at her sister's side, cradling Skuld in
her arms. 

"Skuld?  It's all right... the bugs are gone." 

"Onee-sama!" Skuld sobbed.  She covered her mouth and struggled
with her stomach for control.  Belldandy held her gently and
tried to soothe her, but had no success as Skuld broke down into
loud sobs, trembling, hands covering her face, and tears
streaming down. 

Belldandy sighed.  What could have caused this? 


                           -*-


Urd and Peorth approached the doors to the Yggdrasil, worn,
tired, but triumphant. 

"Well, that was close," said Urd, taking a moment to lean against
the wall. 

Peorth did likewise, but with an uneven grin.  "Fun, though,
wasn't it?" 

"Heh, you're crazy.  C'mon, let's see the mess that bastard left
behind." 

Peorth frowned.  "You don't suppose the First of the Fallen is
still in there, do you?" 

"Mmm... no.  I don't sense him, and he's just got too much power
to hide himself if he was this close to us.  C'mon." 

The two goddesses rose once more, entered the room, and froze in
their tracks. 

The room was red, entirely red.  Except it was no longer due to
the lighting.  Constantine's blood stained every wall.  Red
chunks of flesh were strewn everywhere, and the bones were strewn
across the room.  The only thing that was recognizable was his
face.... or, rather, the half of it that was still intact. 

Peorth gasped.  Urd turned away and closed her eyes. 

There was a long silence. 

Finally, Urd spoke. 

"May God have mercy on his soul." 

Peorth stepped closer to the largest chunk, a mess of spine and
torn muscle drenched in blood. 

It twitched. 

Peorth's eyes widened in surprise.  "May He, indeed.  John's
still alive." 


                           -*-


No pain. 

At last.  No pain. 

He remembered pain, a flicker of a nightmare from somewhere long
ago.  A life.  Someone else's life.  Surely not his. 

Not anymore. 

Just peace. 

Quiet. 

Finally. 

Free. 

Forever. 


                           -*-


Peorth and Urd looked at each other.  "Do you think we could...?" 

Urd frowned.  "I'm not sure.  We never tried anything this...
extreme before." 

Peorth sighed.  "This is bad.  Maybe if we gather all the parts
up..." 

"Yeah." 

Urd slowly began the grisly work of gathering the bits of John
Constantine scattered about the floor.  A moment later, she shot
an irritated glare at Peorth. 

"Hey, I could use a little help here." 


                           -*-


The two goddesses looked down at the reassembled body of John
Constantine. 

Actually, that was an exaggeration. 

It wasn't so much reassembled as it was piled into a stack. 

Most of it, anyway.  There were still countless bits and pieces
everywhere, and there was no way they could get his blood back in
his body. 

Not without magic. 

"Ever tried anything like this?" asked Urd. 

"No, not really," replied Peorth.  "This is definitely going to
be tough." 

Urd nodded.  "Oh, definitely.  Come on, let's get started." 

The two stood at opposite sides of the pile that once was John
Constantine, with their eyes closed and arms stretched outward. 

In perfect synchronicity, they raised their arms up and looked to
the sky, chanting as one. 

   "Blood remembers bone,
    The bonds of flesh hold firm,
    Blood of Adam, Flesh of Eve,
    Torn asunder by the Devil's hand,
    Once again gather in human shape!" 

Slowly, quiveringly, every part of John Constantine, whether
solid or fluid, drew close to the main body, and gathered in
place.  Even the blood on the walls flowed and splashed and
sploshed, gathering at the center of John's body. 

The goddesses looked at the result and frowned. 

Instead of a pile of flesh, they now had a human jigsaw puzzle,
jagged bloody lines everywhere. 

Urd sighed.  Peorth shuddered. 

John's ear fell off. 

Peorth looked at Urd.  "We're going to need a bigger healing
spell." 

"We need Belldandy or Skuld."  Urd seemed distracted for a
moment, then looked to the door.  "My sisters should be
arriving... soon... uh-oh."

Peorth lifted an eyebrow.  "Uh-oh?" 

"If Skuld sees John like this..." 

"Oh dear." 

"A sheet, blanket, something!" 

"Ah, here!  Catch!" 

Peorth tossed John's trenchcoat to Urd, who used it to cover his
remains just as the door opened... 


                           -*-


Belldandy looked in quietly.  At the sight of the covered body,
she gasped.  Skuld entered the room, _very_ reluctantly, behind
Belldandy, clinging to her sister. 

"Oh my," was all Belldandy could say.  Urd shook her head, as she
watched Skuld. 

Skuld was trembling, both in fear and in shock.  Belldandy
immediately turned, and hugged Skuld. 

Urd sighed.  "Sis, I think we need your help here." 

Belldandy frowned.  Raphael had warned her that if the mortal
Constantine were allowed to access the Yggdrasil, there would be
dire consequences, but... 

But she could not allow the mortal to die, could she? 

Belldandy nodded, released Skuld, and walked to join her sister
and Peorth, forming a triangle around the remains of John
Constantine. 

Skuld watched quietly, tears in her eyes, as the other goddesses
began to glow, their chanting rising in volume. 

   "Memory of flesh, blood and bone,
    Return the unity of thy form,
    Knit, merge, flow into one,
    Return once more the form of man!" 

Bones knitted, flesh healed and sealed.  Peorth cautiously lifted
the trenchcoat, to examine the body, and then pulled it off.  The
jigsaw puzzle of flesh once again looked like a man. 

"Oh my." said Urd. 

Belldandy blushed. 

Skuld turned red. 

Peorth blinked, then looked down.  "Oops." 

She quickly put the trenchcoat back over the naked man. 

"John?"  Skuld took a tentative step forward and then ran over
and kneeled down next to the body.  She touched John's face
carefully.  "John?  Wake up, John."  She shook him gently, then
frantically as John remained still.  "John?  John?!  Please wake
up!"  She turned to her sisters, panic in her eyes.  "Why isn't
he waking up?!" 

Urd put a hand on his forehead and closed her eyes,
concentrating.  The mark on her forehead glowed briefly, then she
opened her eyes once more. 

"He's... gone," she said. 

Peorth stared at Urd, stunned.  "He's dead?" 

Urd shook her head.  "No... he's alive, but his soul isn't in the
body.  It's more like he doesn't want to come back.  The poor
guy, he was probably trying to escape any way he could when the
First of the Fallen was... well..."

There was an awkward, terrible moment of silence, as Skuld put
her head down and cried on John's chest.  Urd gave the other
goddesses a helpless look. 

"Isn't there anything we can do?" asked Peorth. 

"Well... someone's going to have to reach out to him.  We can
still use the body to reach his soul, but we might have a hard
time convincing him to return..." 

"I'll go."  Belldandy said. 

Peorth looked startled.  "But..." 

Belldandy sighed.  "Even if he were to tear asunder the Heavens,
I can't just stand by and-" 

"No." 

Everyone blinked, as Skuld spoke again.  She looked up from
John's body with a look of determination. 

"I'll go." 


                           -*-


In darkness, he floated adrift, content with oblivion. 

Then he felt it, a presence in the void. 

Nervously, he tried to flee from it, fearing the pain would
return. 

It called to him, a gentle voice.  He hesitated a moment,
listening to the words. 

*John, come back!*

John?  Who was John?  Was he John? 

*John, it's me, Skuld!*

John.  Yes.  He was John. 

*It's time to come home, John, please?*

Home?  With Fath-...  No.  No pain.  Didn't want pain. 

*John, please!  Come back!*

Liked it here.  No pain here. 

*Come back!  Please?*

Don't want to. 

*No more pain.*

No more pain? 

*No.*

He looked around in the dark void, not sure of what he was
searching for. 

*Please, John!  Come back!*

There was a light.  Why didn't he see that before?  Odd.  Slowly,
he began to drift towards it.  As he did, his cognitive senses
came back to him as well as his memories.  The good times... with
his sister Cheryl and his niece Gemma... out with Chas at a game
of football... Christmas with the Lord of the Dance... sitting on
the beach drinking with Brendan, while another sunset fell over
Ireland... 

And then the bad memories hit. 

He stopped, staring suspiciously at the distant light. 

*John?*

No... it was peaceful here.  After so many years of pain and
regrets, he had found the peace he was always in search of. 

*Please, John?  We need you.  Please?*

Aw bugger.  Work's never done. 

*Let me take you home, please, John?*

Despite being a non-corporeal form, John managed to sigh.  If he
was visible, though, one would see a bit of a smirk on his face. 
He felt a warmth around him and knew it was Skuld, helping to
guide him back. 

*Go to the light, eh?  How very bloody typical.  Heh.*


                           -*-


"She's been gone quite a while," said Belldandy. 

Peorth, Urd, and Belldandy were watching Skuld, whose forehead
mark was glowing, kneel over John, eyes closed in concentration. 

"You think she's okay?" asked Urd. 

Belldandy nodded.  "I can't help but worry, though." 

Peorth smiled.  "I think she'll be fine." 

Suddenly, Skuld blinked, and her forehead mark ceased to glow. 
She smiled. 

Seconds later, John blinked awake. 

"How're you feeling, John?" Peorth asked. 

John stretched.  "For a man who was bits and pieces a moment ago,
not bad." 

He sat up, then blinked.  "It's kinda drafty in here." 

Skuld and Belldandy blushed again. 


                           -*-


After some hastily conjured trousers and a shirt, John was able
to stand up and look around, although he was still groggy, and
Skuld had to help him put on his trenchcoat. 

John looked down at Skuld as he leaned on her for support.  "You
did it, eh, luv?" 

Skuld beamed proudly. 

"Good girl," John smiled. 

Peorth ahemed.  "That's all well and good, but... what about the
Yggdrasil?" 

John turned to Skuld.  "Well, now... let's see about fixing it. 
How does that bloody thing work?  Do you just push a few buttons
and tell it to do something or what?" 

"Oh, let me show you!" 

Skuld let go of John, who stumbled a bit before being caught by
Belldandy.  Peorth was at John's side quickly, and took over
supporting him, as Belldandy joined Urd and Skuld in turning to
the Yggdrasil and going over the control panels. 

In seconds, lights blinked rapidly, as the Norn sisters got to
work. 

Skuld turned her head to John as she typed rapidly.  "See, the
Yggdrasil works like this..." 

Suddenly, the doors to the Yggdrasil burst open.  Raguel strode
into the room, followed by the rest of the Archangels.  Raphael
was among them, looking as nervous as could be. 

"CONSTAAAANTIIINE!" Raguel bellowed, as he stormed purposefully
towards John.  He thrust his flaming sword at Constantine, as the
other Archangels surrounded the goddesses. 

"You... you've defiled the sanctity of the Heavens,
Constantine...  you and your Norse goddesses!  Together, you've
managed to turn the Heavens themselves upside down.  If ever a
mortal deserved the flaming blazes of Hell, it would be YOU, John
Constantine!  To tamper with the Yggdrasil...!"  And he jerked up
the sword and pointed it at John's face, eyes ablaze in righteous
rage. 

Unfazed, John crossed his arms and traded harsh glares with the
Archangel.  Things, in his view, were just dandy.  After all, he
had a plan.  "And... this is justice to you, I suppose?" 

Raguel stopped in his tracks, clearly taken by surprise at the
cowering that John wasn't doing.  That just was not right.  He
pointed his flaming sword, and mortals cowered.  That's the way
it usually worked.  Meanwhile, the goddesses were staring at the
confrontation with much surprise.  It seemed, somehow, that John
had things under control, though none of them could really say
why. 

"Of course this is justice!" roared Raguel.  "Unapproved
tampering of the Yggdrasil is forbidden!" 

Now would have been a good time to blow smoke in Raguel's face,
but, much to his chagrin, John didn't have a cigarette available. 
Instead, he settled for rolling his eyes up.  "Oh please.  You're
hardly one to talk about justice." 

"What?  You dare-" 

"Yeah I dare," said Constantine with scorn.  "I bet you'd turn
the other way if it was anyone else." 

"I am the Wrath of God!" bellowed Raguel.  "I exact His vengeance
unto all, be they demons or deities!" 

John grinned as he cast a look at Raphael, who fidgeted
uncomfortably.  "Even, say, Archangels?" 

"Yes!" 

Raguel was fiery with anger.  Raphael was edging away nervously. 
John's smile became a little vicious. 

"Well, now, Raggy, I think you should know-" 

Raphael quickly stepped forward and cut in.  "Raguel, would you
please let me talk to the mortal?"

Raguel turned towards Raphael, eyes blazing.  "_What?_" 

Raphael looked down.  "I mean... ah... I am the overseer of
humanity.. and... ah... this falls into my domain... somewhat...
er.. and... I believe I can get to the bottom of the truth. 
Allow me some time to talk to Constantine."

Raguel gave Raphael an uncertain and skeptical look, then nodded. 
"Very well." 

"Er... alone." 

"What?" all the other Archangels spoke in chorus.  John grinned. 
Oh, he definitely had Raphael by the bollocks. 

Raguel, at this point, looked very unhappy.  "Very well, Raphael. 
As you like." 

No sooner had Raguel spoken the words than Raphael and John
vanished from sight.  Raguel nodded to the other Archangels and
they filed out of the room, leaving the goddesses alone in the
Yggdrasil and wondering what was to happen next. 

Peorth sighed.  "Now what?" 

Skuld piped up.  "We've got to fix the Yggdrasil." 

"Oh.  Then I should be going. Ta-ta!"  And Peorth vanished. 

Belldandy began to tidy up and get to work, as Skuld turned her
attention to the Yggdrasil. 

Urd put her hands behind her head.  "Typical.  The men leave us
to do the clean-up." 


                           -*-


They were surrounded by nothing. 

To the left, a vast expanse of nothing, and to the right, a
claustrophobic mess of nothing.  Nothing spiraled below them for
infinity and nothing was drifting by above them. 

"Lemme guess," said John dryly.  "Limbo." 

Raphael, looking somewhat defeated, sighed and nodded. 

John rubbed his chin and hmmed.  "Y'know, looking back on all
this, I still don't see why the bloody Phantom Stranger figured
me to be necessary.  It's put me in a nice spot, yes, but I think
the whole bloody situation would've resolved itself without me." 

Raphael shrugged. 

"My sentiments exactly," John grumbled. 

"What... what do you intend to do?" asked Raphael. 

"Well now," said John merrily, clasping his hands together,
"surely you know what kind of a situation you're in, hm?" 

Raphael closed his eyes and bowed his head low.  "Yes," he said
quietly, "I know." 

"And you KNOW what I could do if I wanted to." 

"Please... I don't want to fall.  Please." 

"Don't worry.  I have plans for you." 

"That doesn't help my state of mind." 

John laughed.  "No, considering my track record, I suppose it
wouldn't, eh?  Oh, you'll owe me, Raphael, and owe me big. 
You're mine now, but I think you'll agree it's better than the
alternative, hm?" 

"But Raguel and the others..." 

"Oh, don't worry," said John in a mock-soothing manner, "your old
pal John has a plan, and it won't even involve any lies." 

Raphael looked at John doubtfully. 

"What?" asked John.  "You don't believe me?" 

"I was just wondering how..." 

"Heh, easy.  S'called judicious editing, old son.  For example, I
would be telling the truth if I said that the demoness Mara had
arranged it so that Skuld and I had thought something was wrong
with the Yggdrasil, thus forcing us to take action..."


                           -*-


"... and the two had come to Yggdrasil believing it corrupted,
when actually Mara was using them to gain entry.  She, in turn,
caused the system to fault in such a way as to grant entry to the
First of the Fallen.  So as you see, my brothers, they were
merely the pawns of others."  Raphael nervously smiled at his
fellow Archangels in the Tribunal Courtroom, hoping that the
others would not question the story further.  Technically, he WAS
telling the truth.  He was, as John instructed, just leaving out
a few details.

There was a moment of silence. 

Most of the Archangels seemed blank in their response, neither
eagerly accepting nor disbelieving Raphael's story. 

Raguel, however, was frowning.  It was known that he was looking
forward to smiting Constantine.  "This is the truth, Raphael?" 

The Archangel nodded, trying to stay calm. 

"And in your opinion, the matter is closed?" asked Raguel,
gritting his teeth. 

Raphael nodded again. 

There was another moment of silence.  Raguel seemed to be
growling ever so slightly. 

"Very well," said Raguel. 

Raphael inwardly sighed in relief, and the Archangels all
departed to other destinations and obligations.  Soon, the room
was empty, save one brooding, irritated archangel. 

"One day, Constantine will slip.  And when he does, I'll be
there," the Archangel Raguel, the Vengeance of the Lord, swore. 


                           -*-


Skuld worked alone in the Yggdrasil, looking over the system to
make sure all was well and in place.  Belldandy and Urd had done
their jobs, rebuilding what had been torn asunder, and had
departed for earth once more. 

The littlest goddess found that work was just the thing to
distract her troubled mind.  A part of her was feeling guilty for
what happened to John.  With the whirlwind of events that
happened after his resurrection, she hadn't had a chance talk to
him at all yet. 

Lines of code flickered past at inhuman speed.  Skuld looked at
it all, numbly noting that all was well.  Another part of her,
however, still had her mind on other things.  She sighed. 

"John, where are you?" 

"Right here, luv.  What's up?" 

"EEEEK!"  Skuld jumped straight up in shock and nearly malleted
John, who was clearly amused at Skuld's reaction.  She pouted and
harmlessly bapped his arm while John grinned and laughed a bit. 

"Where have you been?!" she demanded to know. 

John shrugged.  "Oh, me'n Raphael just had a bit of a talk.  No
big deal." 

"So you're not in trouble with the Archangels?" 

"Raguel might be a bit miffed for a while, but otherwise I think
I'm in the clear.  Besides, Raphael left me in your care." 

"Oh."  Skuld paused, not sure what to say next, twiddling her
thumbs and looking at the floor.  "Um... John... I..." 

"Hey, something bothering you kid?" 

"I'm... I'm sorry about... um..." 

"Oh.  Hey, chin up, luv.  I'm all right now, aren't I? 
Everything came out well in the end, didn't it?"

Skuld nodded, still looking at the ground.  A hint of a tear
appeared in the corner of an eye and she sniffled. 

"And besides, I've had worse," said John nonchalantly.  He lifted
Skuld's chin up and looked her in the eye, smiling.  "The good
guys won, evil has been defeated, and all is well.  So
everything's fine, see?"

She smiled, though her eyes still looked sad, and nodded. 

"So hey, give us a hug.  *OOF*" 

She hugged him tightly, sobbing into his trenchcoat while he held
her and occasionally patted her on the back. 


                           -*-


A little later, after Skuld had finished crying, she and John sat
behind the console of the mighty Yggdrasil.  Skuld was once again
looking things over.  She sat back and sighed. 

Something was bothering Skuld. 

-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-

It wasn't the chore of inspecting code. 

-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-

It wasn't even the lingering memory of John's mauled remains. 

-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-

She spun around to face John.  "STOP IT!" 

He smiled apologetically and ceased tapping the floor with his
foot.  "Sorry, luv. I'm just a bit edgy without me cigarettes." 

"Oh.  Is that why?"  She typed something briefly in the Yggdrasil
console, which promptly spat out something small and white.  She
then took that... 

*WHAP*

"Oi!" 

... and slapped it on John's forehead. 

"What's this bloody thing?" he demanded to know, rubbing the
circular object stuck on his forehead.

"Nicotine patch," said Skuld.  "It's much healthier than smoking,
you know." 

"Nicotine patch?!"  John pulled it off immediately as if it were
a leech.  "Bollocks.  Frig this." 

Skuld gave him a disapproving note, to which he reacted with a
sigh and a lazy wave of his hand.  "Yeah yeah, I know, shouldn't
say frig." 

Skuld went back to inspecting the Yggdrasil for defects, while
John idly sat by once more. 

-tap-tap-tap-

*AHEM*

"Fine, I'll put the bloody patch on." 

He hated to admit it, but he did feel better, if only a little. 

"Say... Skuld..." 

"Hm?" 

"I was wondering if you could do yer uncle John a bit of a
favor." 

Skuld blinked.  "Favor?" 

"Well, you never know when some big mess with the Yggdrasil might
pop up again," said John with much concern.  "I just thought it
would be nice if you could make a few changes here and there." 

"Changes?" 

"Well, first of all, if you could... oh... I dunno... maybe make
a back door into this place just for me?" 

"I dunno..." 

"C'mon, luv," said John, "surely you can let me have that favor." 

"Well... maybe... okay, I guess." 

John grinned.  "While we're on the topic of changes, there's a
few other little things you might want to consider..." 

"Oh?" 

"I mean, they're just ideas... you don't have to..." 

"Oh, I want to hear them," said Skuld enthusiastically. 

"Really?" 

Skuld nodded. 

John grinned. 

"I think," he said, "this is the start of a beautiful
friendship." 


-= end part 3 =-