"You scarcely exist. You're a dream of a ghost of a memory of someone who, one suspects, never existed in the first place. Your death will hardly be a real death." -The Erinyes, Greek Goddesses of Vengeance, "The Sandman: The Kindly Ones" -*- "Urd? Skuld? Anybody?" It was a dream, thought Belldandy. It had to be a dream. Everything was clouded in an ethereal haze, giving the world a surrealistic quality. Her footsteps echoed through the temple grounds, reverberating through the forest around them. "Keiichi?" Again, the echo of her voice was the only reply in the empty house. A moment's feeling, intuition, a small voice at the back of her mind, something on the subliminal scale whispered for her to leave the house, leave it behind, and go to the temple. She moved, though it all felt unreal, like an out of body experience, walking slowly and carefully towards the building at the center of the grounds. From within came a soft and unearthly light, and it evoked fear in her heart. Within the barren building was a tall mirror covered by a huge white cloth. She did not know how she knew that it was a mirror, it just seemed to be something that was obvious. 'Look and see', whispered something in her mind. "No," she replied in a hoarse voice. The whispers intensified. 'Look and See!' "No." Her hand reached out for the cloth. "No... stop... I don't want to..." 'LOOK AND SEE!' She pulled the cloth away. "Stop... I don't..." The whispers seemed strangely satisfied. 'Too late.' The cloth slid away, revealing the mirror underneath and a blinding light that tore her soul apart... -*- "CLEAN UP!" The faceless, nameless workers of the Dreaming went about disassembling the scene quickly. Mervyn, their supervisor, watched over all and checked off items on a list. "Lessee.... full dream, check. Lifestyle revelation, check. All props accounted for... hrm." He paused to look at two workers as they moved the mirror. "Hey! Careful with that! That's loaned material! Da boss is gonna have a fit if we break it!" He eyed the workers warily for a moment more as they hauled the item away, then resumed flipping through his clipboard. "Right, lessee, what's next... aw shit. A John Constantine nightmare? Cripes. I hate those." -*- Keiichi stood outside the temple, frowning, rubbing at his weary eyes. Days and nights of worry tended to do that to a person. It had been a few days since Belldandy lost her godhood, and already the strain was showing on her. She walked around like a zombie, moving from task to task as though that were all she lived for. She had finally returned to school, but was listless, so much that people had kept stopping Keiichi to ask if something was wrong with her. He had no answer for them. Often at nights, he'd find Belldandy pacing the hallways, and when he asked what she was doing, she'd reply in a dull, toneless voice that she was cleaning up. She was a ghost in her own home, and it frightened him. He suspected she was trying to avoid sleep. He knew that when she slept, nightmares and dreams plagued her, for he could hear her screaming from her room as she awoke. He wished he could help. But every time he had come to Belldandy, she told him to leave her alone, telling him in no uncertain terms that he couldn't help. But he could have been there. For her. Why didn't she see it? Sighing, Keiichi turned to see if Belldandy was there to say goodbye to. She wasn't. That seemed to be the norm these days. And where, he wondered, were her sisters? Why weren't they helping her? With a parting frown at the temple, Keiichi started walking away... -*- [Yggdrasil: 112th branch diagnostic complete.] [1392 irregularities fixed.] [48 files restored.] Urd sighed and pushed her chair away from the terminal. Long, seemingly endless hours of checking on the infinite files of the Yggdrasil system had taken its toll on her. "All done with 1 through 112," she droned. "Can I take my break now?" A cold, commanding voice replied. "Check branches 113 to 324 first." "But-" "Check branches 113 to 324 first," repeated the voice, firm authority accenting it. "Then take your break." Urd scowled at her new supervisor. "Fine, fine." She didn't like this situation, not at all. Urd wondered if Belldandy would have made the decision had she known of its consequences. A few feet away from Urd's station, Skuld worked on her own terminal. She seemed less enthusiastic about her task than she usually was. "I really hate her," grumbled Skuld, eyeing their new overseer. "I know, I know," whispered Urd in reply, "but it's a mandate backed by the Yggdrasil, and no powers that be have stepped forth to say otherwise." Skuld rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I know, I know. Urd, how long is Belldandy going to be away?" Urd shrugged. "I dunno, kid. As long as the system approves it, I guess. Until then, we'll just have to accept her in Bell's place, okay?" "Bugger this crap," muttered Skuld. "Watch the language, kid," said Urd. "You been hanging around with Constantine again?" The youngest goddess frowned. "I haven't had time, not since this bloody shi-" "AHEM." "Er... stuff." Urd gave her sister a quick noogie to the head. "Been hanging around Constantine TOO much." "Hey!" The two settled into their work. "I wonder... I wonder how Bell is doing," mumbled Skuld. "She'll... Bell will be okay. She's stronger than you think." -*- *squeaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueak* Muttering to herself in exasperation, Belldandy rubbed away at a stubborn little spot on the kitchen counter. There. All gone. She looked around her kitchen wearily. Well. There certainly wasn't anything left to do. Her homework was done. The dishes were washed and put away. The laundry had been washed and dried and folded. She had finished her shopping. She had dusted and mopped and polished all over the temple. She had even washed the windows. Bringing a hand to her brow, Belldandy wiped away sweat. There were certain inconveniences about being mortal. Sweat, for example, was one of them. Goddesses don't really sweat. It wasn't necessary and it seemed rather untidy. After experiencing it personally, she had confirmed her belief. It was, indeed, tremendously messy. She sighed. It was time to take a bath. -*- It was perhaps the only true pleasure she had as a mortal, reclining in the large tub, letting the heat calm her nerves. Belldandy closed her eyes, settling into the hot soothing water, tense muscles slowly relaxing. She could almost feel her skin melting into the water. If she leaned back long enough, she could almost hear her sister... "Belldandy...?" Belldandy sighed, trying to ignore the voice. It was silly, really. A figment of her imagination. She closed her eyes. "Belldandy? Belldandy, please, listen!" She blinked, startling, sending water flying from the tub. No, no... she was NOT going to fall asleep! Not after all those bad dreams she'd been having lately. Still, the call of the water was almost seductive... NO! Quickly, Belldandy scrambled out of the water, grabbing a towel, and fled from the room. -*- Skuld stomped angrily around the room, yelling, "BUGGER! BUGGERBUGGERBUGGER! BLOODY FRIGGIN' BUGGERIN' HELL!" So CLOSE! She had almost managed to contact Belldandy, gotten away from her duties just long enough, but... grr... "BUGGER! BLAST! DAMN! FELC-" "_Ahem_." Uh oh. Busted. She turned around, very slowly, a nervous smile on her face. "Ah-heh heh, hi there." "You know you're forbidden to talk to her." "She's my sister!" raged Skuld. "Belldandy is no longer your concern." "That's bloody friggin' bollocks!" "And it seems you've been badly influenced by Mr. Constantine as well." "Wha-" "Clean up your language. And until your behavior improves, I don't want to see you near that man." "WHAT?! No friggin' way!" "I'm sorry, but it's for the best. And don't say Frig." Skuld fumed, gritted her teeth, opened her mouth to say something, then shut it and turned away. She took one mighty stomp away, paused, turned around, and lifted a defiant middle finger. "Up yours!" With the last word now in, she stomped away feeling mildly better. She hadn't a clue what it meant, but it seemed to be the thing to do when one was mad at someone else. At least, that's how it seemed to be used by John. And she felt better afterward too. Skuld hesitated for a brief moment, thinking over what she'd said. "I'm gonna hafta apologize to Frigga later," she muttered. Behind her, the mysterious figure shook her head, her shoulders almost slumping. She looked up, sighing. "Why do they make my task so much harder?" There was no answer from above. -*- Clad in jeans and a simple sweater, Belldandy knelt on the temple floor, sipping a cup of Darjeeling tea. She would drink Darjeeling regularly, especially after classes; the hot tea, her favorite, was soothing for her nerves. Today, though, it did little for her. She looked out at the courtyard through the sliding doors. Everything seemed so bleary to her eyes. Or was it the lack of sleep? She'd had so precious little recently. Wait. Why was the world getting dark? No. Those were her eyelids. Belldandy blinked hard, trying to keep her eyes open. This wasn't working. Her world kept fading to black every couple of seconds. Mustn't... sleep. No... she... couldn't... -*- It was, finally, a good day for Belldandy. Her energy, her focus, her drive, it had all returned to her. Everything was as it should have been. Even her sisters, Urd and Skuld, came by for a visit! It was _such_ a wonderful day, with all their friends coming over to visit with music and dancing and so much fun... And now, at last, with the moon shining above and a lone raven flying by, she was alone with her Keiichi. He sat at the front porch, staring at the stars as she emerged from the house. For a moment she simply stood there and gazed lovingly at him. "What?! You sure about this?" "Hey, I'm just the messenger." Belldandy blinked. Where did those voices come from? There seemed to be nobody here but her and Keiichi. Oh well, she probably left the television on. With a mischievous giggle, she snuck up from behind and wrapped her arms around him. Slowly, Keiichi turned around and gazed at her with rows of smiling sharp teeth... "[K-Keiichi?]" "[Something wrong?]" he asked, puzzled. The teeth in his his eyes seemed to smile at her casually. "[Ah... ah...]" "HOLD IT! CUT! STOP THE ACTION!" Coming out of seemingly nowhere, a pumpkin-headed man stepped into the dream, cigar in its mouth and clipboard in its arm. On its shoulder a raven was perched. Keiichi seemed irritated. "We're in the middle of something, you know." "Don't matter," said the pumpkinhead. "Someone screwed up in bureaucracy. She ain't supposed to have no nightmare tonight." "No?" "Nope. See?" The pumpkinhead handed the clipboard to Keiichi, who read it carefully then shrugged. "Waste of my time," grumbled Keiichi. It was at about this time that Belldandy finally found her voice. "Um... hello?" "Oh, hey there," said the pumpkinheaded man. "Sorry." "W-what's..." Belldandy stared in shock as her Keiichi morphed into a tall albino man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans, and still with the grotesque gaping maws where the eyes should have been. "What's happening... to..." she stuttered. The pumpkinhead paused and turned towards Belldandy. "You're..." He checked his clipboard. "Belldandy, formerly of the... whoa, the Norns?" "I... I guess so." "We, ah, sorta set up the wrong dream for ya, ma'am. Sorry 'bout that." "If we can't even get dreams right, how are we going to make men afraid of nightmares?" grumbled the strange man as he put on sunglasses. "Jeez, Corinthian, go take five or somethin'. Anyway, ma'am, I... ma'am?" the pumpkinhead said, looking at Belldandy. Belldandy, however, wasn't paying attention. "Dream?" Belldandy thought about it for a moment, then felt a rush of hope. Of course! The Dreaming! If somehow she could talk with Dream of the Endless, he could help her discover exactly what had happened to her. "Would it be possible for me to see the lord of this realm?" she asked hopefully. "Nope, sorry," said the raven. "The boss is kinda busy right now, family business." "Awright, guys!" yelled the pumpkinhead. "Clean up!" Belldandy watched with fascination as faceless minions emerged from nowhere and quickly disassembled her dream, leaving them in a rather non-descript green pasture. "When will he be available?" asked Belldandy. "Don't think he'll be around for a while, lady," said the raven. "But if you need help, I guess you could ask E-" -*- "[-elldandy? Belldandy?]" Keiichi frowned, lightly shaking Belldandy's shoulder. Though he hated to wake her, with as precious little sleep as she had had, he had company. He looked over at his sister. Megumi frowned, concern on her face. "[Keiichi, maybe we shouldn't wake her up...]" Belldandy sat up, wearily rubbing her eyes. "[Mmm... Keiichi?]" "[Belldandy, how are you feeling?]" The former goddess yawned, eyes barely open, and stretched. "[A little... *yawn* tired... why?]" "[You've been asleep a whole day,]" said Keiichi, a worried frown on his face. "[We couldn't wake you up until now.]" Belldandy's groggy expression gave way to one of surprise. "[All... day?]" Brother and sister nodded. "[Maybe we should have a doctor look at you again?]" asked Keiichi. Belldandy smiled warmly, putting a hand to Keiichi's cheek. "[Don't be silly. I'm fine, really.]" The two of them still watched her, unconvinced. Belldandy sighed and slowly stood up. "[See? I'm fine. I guess I should start preparing breakfast now.]" "[Um... Dinner, actually.]" "[Dinner?]" asked Belldandy. "[Oh my.]" As she turned to look out the window, Megumi gave Keiichi a swift elbow. "[Don't worry about dinner,]" said Megumi. "[I bought us some take-out, my treat.]" "[Oh, you shouldn't have.]" "[Hey, I figure it was time for me to treat you guys for a change,]" said Megumi. "[C'mon, let's eat.]" "[I'll be there in a moment,]" said Belldandy. "[I'll just change into something else first.]" "[You're _sure_ you're okay?]" asked Keiichi. "[I'm fine,]" she replied warmly, kissing him on the cheek afterwards. "[Thank you for worrying about me. Now go.]" The Morisato siblings departed, although a bit reluctantly. Once they were out of sight, Belldandy leaned against the wall and took a few very deep breaths. In the haze of her mind, the flickering remains of a dream danced in her head, slipping out of her memory like sand. Something about... pumpkins? Ravens? Was it important? She wasn't sure. -*- "Whoop, there she went," said Matthew. "Who was she again?" "Belldandy, formerly of the Norns, sez this," replied Mervyn, pointing to the clipboard. "Formerly?" asked Matthew. Mervyn shrugged. "Hey, don't ask me, I only work here." "The Norns... ain't they the Viking equivalent of the Fates?" "I guess so," said Mervyn. "So... if she ain't with them any more... doesn't that lead to a cosmic imbalance or something?" "Nah. I heard they got themselves a replacement goddess. Someone with lotsa experience. Everything's fine. At least, I hope so. Last thing we need is another three-as-one goddess type runnin' amuck here." -*- Maybe, thought Belldandy, it wasn't such a good idea to go to class. Though Keiichi had told her to go on while he talked to his friends... it didn't feel right to go without her beloved. "[And if we change the flow to...]" There was a mantra fading in and out of her head. It went like this: Stay awake, have to stay awake. "[... pressure equals half of...]" The world faded to black for a moment, then snapped back into existence. Belldandy's head jerked upright suddenly, causing her classmates to glance at her with a little confusion. A wave of numbness flowed through her again, bringing with it another rush of darkness. "[...very unsafe to operate if...]" Must stay awake... awake... ah... oh... my... -*- It is said a lifetime can pass before your eyes in a heartbeat. Therefore, an hour can pass in the blink of an eye. As Belldandy's head snapped back up, she discovered this fact. "[Oh.. oh no!]" The classroom was empty, very empty. Shame and embarrassment settled in on her soul, quickly crushing any optimism she may have had for the day. With a shuffling sort of step, she left the classroom, then the building, and finally took a seat by the water fountain. She sighed and looked at the reflection of herself, a pale shade of her former self. She felt devoid, lacking any energy, any vibrancy. Her beauty was gone, all gone, replaced by this tired mortal shell. How could Keiichi love her still? She smiled quietly. Keiichi, such a good man. That's why she loved him. She hoped he would arrive soon. It was starting to feel so cold... -*- "[MOOOOOOORRRIIIISAATOOOOOOO!!!]" Keiichi gulped, looking into Tamiya's big ugly face. Funny, how you could see right down Tamiya's throat when his mouth was wide open, yelling like that. "[Yes, sempai?]" Keiichi wished frevently that he hadn't told the Auto Club that Belldandy had been sick most mornings. He was missing... no, he HAD missed class fending off questions. He should have known better than to talk with his friends, because right now, they were thinking... "[HOW COULD YOU GET BELLDANDY PREGNANT?!]" "[I didn't... I swear... I... can't... breathe...]" Keiichi managed to choke out in a strangled voice. His feet dangled well off the ground, frantically moving in mid-air as he sought footing. "[Keiichi?]" a light sweet, though urgent, voice called. "[HASEGAWA-SAN!]" Tamiya bellowed. Sora Hasegawa, one of Keiichi's friends, blinked as she leaned against the door. She was panting hard. "[Keiichi? It's Belldandy. She...]" Feeling a cold sensation seize his heart, Keiichi managed to shake himself free of Tamiya's grasp. In a flash, he was out the door. -*- There was a large crowd surrounding the fountain. Keiichi had to push his way through the crowd, following after Sora, who, for once, was not being polite, bulldozing aside anyone in her way. His heart ran cold when he saw Belldandy's prone body in Megumi's lap. Megumi looked up at her brother, tears in her eyes. "[Keiichi? She's... she's... I don't know, she's unconscious, and I can't wake her up!]" No. No. Keiichi stood in stunned silence, as ambulance noises roared about him. -*- Thick, humid fog flowed all around Belldandy, obscuring her vision so much that she could barely see her feet. She stumbled around, feeling entirely disoriented. "Hello, Belldandy." The voice. It seemed familiar, somehow, though not in a comforting way. "W-who's there?" The voice sighed. "Perhaps the fog was a bit over the top," it muttered. With a gust of wind, the fog cleared away, revealing an old, unkempt graveyard. She stood on a dirt path winding through the graveyard, one that split in two a fair distance away. On the horizon, the moon rose between twin hills, each crowned by old, sinister houses. And atop a nearby gravestone, a demoness was perched. Not just any demoness, either. This was a humanoid demoness, with long, flowing blond hair and black leather attire. She and Belldandy had some history together. "Mara?" asked Belldandy, clearly surprised. "What are you doing here? What's happening?" "Well, as far as what's happening, we're in the Dreaming," said Mara, hopping off the tombstone. She leaned against it lazily and gave a slight frown. "Ask yourself, Belldandy, why do gods and goddesses come here? To the Dreaming?" "I... oh no." Cold realization washed over Belldandy, chilling her to the bone. "No, I can't be." The Dreaming, she realized, was the place where all forgotten deities go. Right before they die. "That's right, Bell," said Mara sadly. "This is it, the final goodbye." "No..." "No, really, think about it," said Mara. "You've been growing more and more tired. Some days it's been a real struggle just to get by. You've spent more and more time asleep, trying to draw on enough power to stay afloat. But it's useless. You're powerless, cut off from the touch of God." Belldandy slowly sank to her knees, covering her face with her hands, quietly sobbing. The expression on Mara's face flickered briefly to an expression of somber sadness, perhaps even guilt, but was replaced quickly by a slightly warm, though slightly artificial, smile. Kneeling next to Belldandy, she put an arm around her and squeezed slightly. "Hey, now, it doesn't have to end this way." "It... it doesn't?" asked Belldandy, turning towards the demoness. Mara nodded. "There IS a way out." "What is it? Please, tell me!" The grin on Mara's lips increased. "Well, you've fallen halfway. C'mon, Belldandy, let's go all the way." Belldandy's eyes widened and she stood up immediately, putting a little distance between them. "No, I couldn't!" Mara rose and leaned casually on another tombstone. "It's not such a bad occupation, you know. You just do the opposite of what you were doing before, that's all." "It wouldn't be right," replied Belldandy with conviction. "I won't do it." "Right?" said Mara with a sarcastic laugh. "At a time like this, with your spirit fading to nothing, you're worried about what's right? With Heaven forsaking you and lady Death approaching, you still worry about what's right?" "I won't work for the Fallen," said Belldandy quietly. "Ever." Mara swept her hand to the side, creating a shimmering portal. Belldandy gasped as she saw herself, unconscious, in a hospital bed, a red-eyed Keiichi at her side. "Even as your beloved Keiichi cries out for you, his warm hand holding desperately to your deathly cold one, even now you concern yourself with what's right?" With another sweep of her arm, the image faded away. Belldandy felt tears well up again and a knot form in her throat. Her voice had left her, driven away by the realization of what she was about to lose. "Come on, Belldandy," said Mara softly. "For Keiichi." The former goddess closed her eyes and stood in silence, deep in thought. Mara idly ran a finger over the gravestone she had leaned against. "No. I won't do it." Mara lifted an eyebrow. "Not even for Keiichi?" Belldandy turned away and began to walk down the path. Mara opened her mouth to say more, but hesitated and also turned away. She shook her head sadly, took one more glance at the departing goddess, and disappeared. -*- Mara's words still stung her heart, but with each step Belldandy found herself feeling just a little better. Well, "better" wasn't quite the word. "Not quite as miserable" described the situation better. One problem at a time, she told herself. She had to find Dream of the Endless, to see if perhaps he would aid her. It was a distant hope, he owed her no favors, but it was the only hope she had. She hoped she was on the right path. Only because it seemed to be the only path around, she followed where it led. Away from the graveyard and over some hills it led, until finally it became a fork in the road. She looked to the path at the right, then the left. To either side a hill, and on either hill a house. Each house looked equally as menacing: ancient, built of aging wood, and the very image of a haunted mansion. Which to chose? The right, or the left? After staring at the houses a moment more, she saw a light at a window, and headed towards it. The wood of the porch creeked eerily as she ascended its steps, making her wonder if the place would fall apart at her touch. Cautiously, she knocked on the door. Within the house, muffled voices could be heard. "Get the door, lard-ass." "O-okay." The door opened slowly, its ancient hinges creaking and groaning. A squat, portly, black-bearded man in a suit opened the door. "Ah, hello," said Belldandy. "O-oh, huh-huh-hi thuh-thuh-there," the man stuttered. "Wuh-wuh-won't you cuh-come i-in? Juh-join us fuh-for tea." "Who's at the door, chunky?!" yelled a voice from within the house. "A duh-duh-dreamer, Cuh-cain!" A tall, lean, bespectacled ginger-haired fellow with a long silky beard, also clad in a suit, appeared. "Ah, madame, welcome to the House of Mystery," he said, bowing slightly and with a smile. "You've arrived just in time for tea. Won't you come in?" She nodded, being overwhelmed with a odd, inexplicable feeling. The two gentlemen led her through a corridor to a dark and shadowy room, illuminated only by a few oil lamps and a crackling fireplace. The furniture was ornate, in an old world sort of way, and smelled of tobacco, wine, and days gone by. A raven was perched atop one of the sofas. "Hiya," it said. Belldandy looked at the bird curiously. It seemed familiar. "Excuse me," she asked. "Have we met?" "I think so," said the raven. "Oh, wait, yeah, we did meet. A few dreams ago, I think. You had the botched nightmare." "The botched...?" "The dream with the Cor... the guy who had teeth for eyes?" "Oh! Oh, that." "Have a seat, madame," said the tall one. "Allow me to introduce ourselves. I am Cain, the obese wonder here is my brother Abel, and our avian companion here is Matthew." Abel waved. "Huh-hi." "Nice t'meet ya again," said Matthew. "Cuh-cuh-creme? Suh-sugar?" asked Abel. "Oh, yes please," said Belldandy. "Help yourself to the sandwiches," said Cain, indicating a plate of finger sandwiches. "Thank you." Belldandy took a sandwich and nibbled daintily on it. It was a ham sandwich, with a bit of lettuce, a large chunk of cheddar, and it was delicious. Abel handed Belldandy a teacup, from which she sipped carefully. "I-is the tuh-tea okay?" Abel asked. "Oh yes, it's very good," said Belldandy. "So, miss..." "Belldandy of the Norns," said Belldandy, pausing a moment afterward with a fret and a sigh. "Formerly of the Norns." Cain clasped his hands together and smiled. "Right, well then, now that introductions are out of the way, let's get down to business." She blinked with confusion. "Um, business?" "Right, my dear," said Cain. "At this moment you've a choice. From me, you may hear a mystery." With much less enthusiasm, he added, "Or you can hear a secret from Abel over there." "Oh, I see." She looked between the two brothers carefully, then asked, "Would it be possible for me to see the Dream Lord instead?" Cain frowned slightly, a bit put off by the request. "That... isn't usually the way things go." "Sorry, but the boss still ain't available," said Matthew. "Yes, yes, quite unavailable," interrupted Cain quickly. "So, as I was saying, a mystery? Or a secret?" Belldandy fidgeted nervously. "Well, it's just that I need to know why..." "Mm-hm?" said Cain. "Why is this happening to me?" asked Belldandy. "Er, what?" asked Cain. "Beg pardon?" "Why am I dying?" she said, frustration shaking her voice. "Why am I not a Goddess any more? Why has this been done to me?" "Oh, er, well..." Cain frowned. "To be honest, that would be a mystery to us, a secret for someone else to tell." "Muh-maybe E-eve cuh-can help?" asked Abel, looking to the raven. "Won't hurt asking, I suppose," said Matthew with a shrug. "Hey, lady? I know someone that might have some insight into the situation." -*- There was a pub. This was, at first glance, a rather ordinary London pub. It was built of dark and finely polished wood, softly lit, giving the place a cozy feel. On second glance, a person might notice the patrons were a little odd. A faerie's wings flittered here and there. A large individual with an odd Nordic accent and a hammer dwelled by the bar sometimes. And on certain days, one could even see the occasional angel or devil. This was the pub of the being known as the Lord of the Dance, sanctuary for those needing a break from their roles in the supernatural scheme of things. And this is where Mara, Demoness First Class, had taken to coming on a weekly basis, usually with company in a nice, quiet booth in the back. Although on this day the company was a little late. Ah, thought the slightly tipsy Mara, I see. In the end good will lose because evil isn't late for appointments. "Hey." Mara looked up. "S'bout time, Urd." "Sorry I'm late," said the goddess, taking a seat, careful not to spill her own drink. "Taskmistress from heck kept me working overtime." "Ah, I see," said Mara. "Well, aren't you all cheery today," observed Urd. "Botched 'nother job, Urd," said Mara. "My superiors won't be happy about it." "Oh well, that's the way it goes," replied Urd. "You win some, you lose some." "It might interest you to know," said Mara, "that I have spoken with Belldandy." Urd raised an eyebrow. "Really? Hey, you didn't-" Mara waved a hand around. "Nonono, I didn't try to attack her or anything. We just talked." "Oh." "She's not doing so well, y'know?" Urd frowned. "No?" Mara shook her head. "Mm-mm. She's not doing well at all." "Of course she's not doing well at all! She's mortal!" "Yes. A mortal." Mara paused. "The girl's in a hospital. In a coma." She took a sip of her beer before continuing. "Her soul's already set adrift in the Dreaming. And you know what _that_ means." "Oh no!" Urd exclaimed, jumping up from her stool. She started towards the TV, then stopped in her tracks, looking at Mara suspiciously. "Mara... why let me know? I mean, you'd know I would have gone..." "I don't suppose you'd buy that I was bored?" "Not really, no." The demoness smirked. "Well then, I was bored. Hmph. It's just not the same without you guys to mess around with." "Yeah, right." And Urd departed into the television in a bright glowing haze. Mara leaned back and drank, thinking to herself. Messing around. Just another demonly thing to do. Didn't have anything to do with their childhood together. Nope. Not at all. -*- Deep in the heart of the Dreaming... Belldandy walked quietly down a path, following the path of a raven. "C'mon, sister, don't look so down." "My name is Belldandy." "Whatever. Look, Bell, Eve's got a lot of knowledge. I mean, you know all about her, doncha?" Belldandy kept walking, politely listening to Matthew. "Yeah, maybe she's the one who was tossed out of Eden n' all that for eatin' the Apple of Knowledge, but... Aw, hell, sister, she's Eve, okay?" They travelled on a bit further before Matthew added, "And besides, death ain't always the end." Belldandy stopped, and looked at Matthew. "No?" she asked, curious. "Take me, for example. I wasn't always a raven, y'know. Used t'be a man once. Then I died, one thing led to another, and now I'm the raven for the Dream Lord. Funny how life works, huh?" Belldandy thought it over for a moment. "Do you think there's a chance I'll come back?" she asked. "Well, er, I dunno, Bell," said Matthew. "But who knows? Maybe it's already happened and we just don't know about it." After a few more minutes of travel, they finally came upon a modest cave, nestled amongst trees and rocks. "Yooooooooo hooooooo! Eve! Anybody home?" A mild voice answered from within the cave. "I can hear you perfectly well, Matthew." Matthew flew into the cave. Momentarily, he came back out, perched on the shoulder of a matronly woman with black hair streaked by grey. "Hello, Belldandy," Eve said. -*- Belldandy knelt quietly down on a large rock, her legs tucked under her. Eve seated herself on another boulder, brushing a stray strand of raven-black hair back from her face. "So, Belldandy, what brings you here?" Quietly, slowly, Belldandy told her tale. About how she was a mortal one day, with her sisters gone. About her lack of energy these days, about how she had come to the Dreaming. Eve listened quietly, hands clasped in her lap, Matthew perched on her shoulder. At last, when Belldandy had completed her tale, Eve sighed. "I wish I could help you, Belldandy." Belldandy frowned, leaning forward. "But you're as old as mankind itself. Don't you know anything, ANYTHING that can help?" Eve put a finger to her chin, thinking. When she spoke, it was with a solemn, low tone. "Some say that gods and goddesses were created out of need. Man was alone. Alone... in a world that he understood nothing of." Eve stood up, and began to pace slowly around the area. "As generations passed, mankind's innate need to explain the inner workings... and unfairness... of the universe led them to create stories. Gods and Goddesses were born from men's dreams, from that rationale that everything must have an logical explanation." Eve turned to look at Belldandy, a small smile on her lips. "Even if the explanation is Magic. "Some gods were born to explain the sun, and how it crossed the sky. Some goddesses were born to explain the changing of the seasons. And some were born to explain the mystery that is Fate... "As mankind grew and evolved, some gods died and returned to the dreams from which they came. New gods were born. Others adapted and became different gods..." Belldandy quietly whispered, "The Reconfiguration." Eve inclined her head affirmatively. Matthew cawed. "But what about why Bell's here? Can't she undergo that Reconfiguration or whatever it is?" Belldandy looked at Eve with hope. "I have already been through it many times, though I remember little of previous incarnations. Can't I do it again?" Eve looked away quietly. "I'm afraid not." She looked back at Belldandy with sorrow and pity. "Have you woken up recently?" Belldandy frowned. "No." "Gods and Goddesses do dream, but... sometimes they give themselves willingly over to the dreams... and go Beyond." Matthew looked at Eve. "So what does that mean?" Eve regarded Belldandy forlornly. "She may have returned to the Dreaming... "... to die." -*- Streaking through the realities like a blazing comet, Urd rushed toward the realm of dreams, praying it wasn't too late. She didn't know what she'd do when she got there, she didn't know what could be done, but Urd was never one to stand by and do nothing. The continuous blur of lights around her suddenly halted, her motion through the worlds brought to a jarring halt in the empty void of Limbo. And not of her own choice. "Hey! What the-" "Where are you going, Urd?" asked a gentle, yet firm voice. "Let me go!" Urd yelled. "You're going to see her, yes? I thought I made it clear we would no longer interfere in her life." "She's dying, damn you! In the Dreaming and fading away!" "Dying?" asked the other, puzzled. "That's right! Dying! It wasn't supposed to be this way!" "I see." There was a brief pause, as if possibilities were being considered, options being weighed. "I will see her." Urd looked quite astonished. "You'll do it?" "Yes." "Let's go, then!" "You will stay here." "What?!" Urd tried to leave Limbo, but found herself trapped within the dimension. "Hey! Wait a minute!" With the whisper of the wind, a bright and shining entity streaked forth, blazing a trail to the realm of Dream. -*- "C'mon, cheer up, kid. Maybe Eve's wrong." Belldandy kept walking down the path away from Eve's cave, silent in her despair. Matthew, never one to leave a pretty girl in dire straits, tried to think of another way to help. "Hey, wait a minute Bell, there's one more person we can ask! Lucien!" Belldandy didn't seem terribly encouraged. "Who?" "Lucien, the guy that runs the library down at the palace. He knows a lot of stuff. And hey, who knows, we might find something helpful in the books." Across the dreamscape they traveled once more, passing sights and dreams of endless varieties. The greatest hopes of mankind, as well as its darkest, its most beautiful deeds, and most sickening perversions, all took place in the dreams around them in a surreal forever show, until at last they reached the palace of the Dream King. The guardians of the castle blocked their way. The wyvern, gryphon, and the hippogriff loomed over the stairs leading to the doors of the Castle. "Hello, Matthew. Are you here for Dream?" the gryphon inquired. "No, I'm here cuz I'm takin' someone to the Library," Matthew said, perching on Belldandy's shoulder. "Who is she?" the hippogriff asked, eyeing Belldandy cautiously. Belldandy cautiously replied, "I am Belldandy. I... I hoped to speak with the Lord Shaper... but..." "Our lord is busy. However, the Library is open to all. Stay to your path, and it will take you there," the wyvern said. Matthew turned his head towards Belldandy. "Let's go." Belldandy nodded her thanks, and walked into the Castle of Dream. They made their way through majestic halls and narrow corridors, past faeries and figments, until at last they arrived at a wooden door. The sign on it read: "The Library of Dreams The Management cannot be held responsible for anything lost or found within. Signed Lucien Chief Librarian" Belldandy looked quietly at Matthew, who nodded his head. She opened the door, and they entered the Library. Endless rows and columns of books were stacked here, stretching skyward with spiraling staircases and to the horizon through countless archways. "Hey Lucien! Where are ya?" Matthew cawed. A thin calm voice answered in the distance. "Over here, Matthew." "C'mon, this way." And Matthew glided through the air towards the voice, Belldandy following morosely. What greeted Belldandy's eyes when they arrived was a thin tall gaunt man with large horn-rimmed glasses with thinning brown hair. She froze, hesistant. The man bowed to Belldandy gracefully. "Good day, madam, how may I help you?" "... excuse me... um..." Belldandy stammered, looking down at her feet. After a few awkward moments, Matthew took over, and quietly explained. "Look, Lucien, she's not here to check out a book. Well, she's here to look at a book, yeah, but she's not here in the Dreaming to check out a book. She's here to... well, she's stoppin' here on her way to... uh... Beyond." Lucien put a hand up to his mouth. "Oh dear." Belldandy looked back up. "We thought m-maybe one of the books...?" Lucien frowned, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm... there might be a few. Come, I will assist you in your search." And he strode down the aisle. Belldandy followed, Matthew perched on her shoulder, as Lucien prattled while he walked down the aisles, commenting on tales never written while examining the numerous rows of books. "... the works of Dr. Susan Calvin are a bit dry, unemotional, but perhaps you might want to consider Dr. Seldon's writings on the science of... ah!" Lucien stopped in front of a row, and pulled out a thin book. "Perhaps you might want to use that," Lucien said, indicating a table nearby, as he handed Belldandy the book. Belldandy took the book, and headed towards the table without a word. Matthew exchanged glances with Lucien, and then cawed. "Kid, I'll be with Lucien. Come get me when you're done, willya?" Belldandy nodded wordlessly, as Matthew flew off her shoulder. Lucien bowed once, and retreated, Matthew following him, but Belldandy did not notice. She ran her hand down the spine of the book, frowning, before turning to the front, to look at the title: MORTAL FATES -*- The waiting room was packed, as friends, and some not many would consider her friends, awaited news of what ailed Belldandy. Within a silent room, the silence disturbed only by the steady beep of a vital signs monitor, Keiichi kept vigil over his beloved. He never liked hospitals. They were sterile, cold, unfeeling places. Nurses bustled by here and there, clinical, robotic in their motions. But he was stuck, sitting by Belldandy's side, holding her hand, trying to be there for her. After all the times she was there for him, there was absolutely no way he was leaving her side now. Even after hours waiting in the hospital for a response, watching doctors come and go, examining her. The doctors and nurses that came and went were nothing more than phantoms, whispering words he didn't care to hear. "I'm sorry, son..." "She's slipped into a coma..." "Not sure why..." "All we can do is wait..." Their words didn't matter. They didn't matter. He took her hand in his, and he held on the belief that no matter what, she would come back to him. No matter what, he believed. -*- Belldandy stared at the book, utterly astonished at the pages she had opened to. Here was her thoughts, here was a part of her LIFE on Earth, in a book for all to read! Part of her was shocked and angered as she turned the page, reliving the beginning of her slide into death. Another part of her was scared. If the book truly followed the events of her life... She skipped through most of the book, cutting to the end. Blank pages. She frowned. Belldandy flipped back a few pages and read... Belldandy flipped back a few pages and read... A chill ran down her spine, seeing her actions placed into words. A chill ran down her spine, seeing her actions placed into words. As the words slowly appeared on the page, she closed the book and pushed it away. It felt wrong, unnatural, to read her own story. It felt like a taint on the soul. Belldandy stood, deciding to go in search of Matthew and Lucien, when a slight breeze caressed her face. She felt a pull, an urge, a whisper of something in the wind that lifted her from her feet and led her through the endless corridors. Silently, serenely, she stepped out from the library and through the hallways of the keep once more. Through corridors and passageways she walked, until coming upon the entrance of a long hallway. She peered within and gasped. Lining the passage were mirrors, countless varieties and sizes of mirrors, each slightly lit with a life of its own. 'Look and see' whispered a voice in her head, as cool and distant as the stars. Belldandy put a hand to her mouth in shock. She recognized the voice. It was her own. Trembling, her breath ragged and knees weak, she entered the hall of mirrors. She nearly jumped back in surprise, as the mirrors suddenly shone, nearly blinding her as she raised an arm over her eyes. The lights slowly faded, down to a tolerable level. Belldandy looked around once more and gaped in wonder. Surrounding her, in every mirror, were the infinite lives of Belldandy. Mother, lover, teacher, leader, Goddess, Demoness, healer, destroyer, images of worlds only dreamed of and worlds never thought of held within each mirror and moving slowly. Filled with wonder, she continued down the hallway and looked into each one, her mind amazed beyond words. One mirror caused her heart to soar, as she saw one image of her, clad in a bridal gown, kissed tenderly by a tuxedo-clad Keiichi, as confetti and rice slowly fell all around them. In the background all their friends were cheering, Keiichi's family, their friends from Nekomi Tech, and even Mara. Everyone was so very happy. She reached out to touch the image, slowly, carefully, fearing that the vision would fade to nothing. A hair's breadth before touching it, she drew her arm away. Somehow, she knew it wasn't right to touch the image. With longing in her heart, she turned away and continued her journey. She continued onward, until she came to the end of the hallway. Marking its end was a single, majestic, shining mirror, its surface nearly blinding with light. Within, through the blinding glare, she could see herself, as she once was. The Goddess. Her hair flowed around her, supported by a silent wind, and her eyes ablaze with the raw power of creation. Belldandy watched in amazement, before moving closer. It was then that she realized that the mirror was mimicking her actions. She frowned, it frowned. She tilted her head, it tilted its head. "What is wrong?" the other's voice asked, so much like Belldandy's own, as her doppleganger looked upon her with a soft smile and indifferent eyes. "I am dying," she replied sadly. "I am dying and I don't understand. It hardly seems fair." "Life is not supposed to be fair. It simply is." "Why have I been cast from Heaven? I was once a Goddess, and attended to my duties well. Was the love of a mortal so wrong?" Her other's expression changed to that of concern. "You don't seem to understand, Belldandy. You were never a Goddess." "What?" asked Belldandy, startled at the answer the other's voice gave her. "You seem to have a misplaced belief in your identity," her other's voice echoed to her softly. "No," Belldandy said with a shaking voice. "I am Belldandy of the Norns, Goddess First Class, caretaker of the Yggdrasil, and-" "Your name is Belldandy," the other's voice interrupted, in a soft yet detached tone, "and all you are is a mortal. You were a mortal, and you will die a mortal." "Who are you?!" Belldandy screamed. The mirror rippled as the image in the mirror began moving slowly towards Belldandy. Its surface rippled, as if made of water, as the goddess within emerged. "I am Necessity..." Slender refined hands reached for the sides of the mirror frame, and took hold, allowing a well-formed body to step out on delicately slippered feet. "I am the weaver of the destiny of men..." The other reached back with a hand to send her tresses flowing in the air as she smiled, a smile that seemed to be warm, yet felt empty. "I am the Goddess of the Here and Now..." Pale clear blue eyes opened to regard Belldandy dispassionately. "I am Verthandi of the Norns." -= end part 2=- "I saw it in the mirror, I saw it in my face That I'm no longer needed, anyone can take my place I saw it in the mirror when I look into my eyes" - Abba, "I Saw It In The Mirror"