I do not own the Ah! Megami sama / Oh! My Goddess series
In the deepest, darkest corner of Niflheim's underground, right beneath the shadow of the Infernal Dragon's bound form, a demoness bided her time the best way she knew: watch TV while enjoying a refreshing mojito. It didn't even matter that the beach umbrella she set up beside her recliner was utterly pointless in the subterranean den of the Dragon; nothing was going to interrupt this moment or relaxation, not even the unholy groans coming from across the massive chamber, that accompanied the angry sounds of someone violently sweeping the floor with a sizeable broom.
"Will you pipe down already? I'm trying to watch TV here!" shouted Nidhogg-Hild over her shoulder, at the Dragon's other avatar who was relegated to sweeping duty under the orders of his 'little sister' as she so affectionately called herself. "It's not my fault you never cleaned up this pigsty, and you had billions of years to do it, too! Now, gimme a break, will you?"
"What of our promise?" rebuked the other avatar, briefly looking over in the demoness' direction.
"The deal with Loki? Well, didn't he end up backstabbing us? I haven't made a final decision on what to do about his wish, but he's no longer a priority." chuckled Nidhogg-Hild, while she leisurely searched through the channel list of her TV until Hild's face came into view. "Ah, they finally started didn't they? About time, too! I was getting so bored watching soap operas."
"It's still hours before they wrap things up over there. Go grab a broom and give me a hand over here."
Silence filled the Chamber as Nidhogg-Hild craned her neck to shoot her counterpart a glare that would've killed lesser immortals, but apparently the other avatar was utterly unaffected by it. If nothing else, he looked somewhat bored, until he decided that enough was enough and cleaned up the rest of the Chamber by snapping his fingers. And to spite his little sister, he snapped his fingers once more, this time changing the channel on her TV.
"Hey! Who gave you the right to do that?!" demanded the furious demoness, while she watched her counterpart materialize an enormous beach chair for him to sit beside her. "Don't ignore me while I'm talking to you!"
"I am who eternally ponders. That you should know all too well. Oh, and since I finished early, I get to watch TV, too."
"Fine, have it your way," said Nidhgogg-Child through clenched teeth, before she turned her attention to her mojito… only to pause when Asgard's Mystic Containment facility came into view. "Ah… I see now. Are we busting her out so soon?"
"Mhm… Ever since they put Loki and his pet wolf into quarantine for coming into contact with you, things are too orderly in that place. Might as well show them what a one thousandth of your current form can do when she's not holding back. It was interesting enough to try dealing with them on their own level, but it's time we show them what you're truly capable of."
"So, the kiddy gloves are off?"
"Thank you all for coming to our presentation of Whirlwind's vision of future automotive. With an electric engine that's powered by a cell that uses hydrazine to release hydrogen as a more convenient way of containing it. Unlike traditional hydrogen cells that require highly pressurized containers, this method only requires the special pellets to be combined with pure water to release hydrogen, which is simple and quite convenient when the time comes for refueling."
Outside of racing, dealing with crowds wasn't Keiichi's forte, so to handle a presentation of all things was an absolutely terrifying experience. He knew that something was up when Odal decided to check one particular stall at the last possible moment before the Whirlwind's presentation, but at the very least he was sure that Chihiro would've stepped in to take over. Unfortunately, his boss was currently dealing with his unruly senpai, who apparently thought it was a great idea to put up their cheesy posters all over the expo. Thankfully, the organizers were kind enough to dismiss Tamiya and Otaki's stunt, as they aren't actual employees of Whirlwind, which allowed them to go along with their presentation as planned, even though Chihiro was busy chasing those motorheads around the whole complex.
To complicate matters even further, Skuld has also gone missing, as she followed Odal and Laguz around the expo, although in all honesty it would've made them look bad to have someone as young as her to handle this presentation. At least, his wife and her grandmother stuck around to offer their moral support, even if he'd personally prefer the latter to not wear that race queen outfit. Sure, she did look pretty nice in it, and even lengthened the skirt at Keiichi's request, since he wasn't all that comfortable with that outfit's original design. Still, much to his chagrin the additional eye candy did wonders to increase the size of their audience, something that at least gave them a chance of getting some attention, given that they were among the small fish in a pond dominated by the large automotive companies.
On the bright side, Belldandy chose not to wear such an attire, but instead put on a racing uniform similar to the one she wore during her broom race with Hild. Although this time around she matched the bike's blue, white and dark gray theme. Next to her stood Frigg, holding an umbrella that sported the Whirlwind logo, in a similar fashion to actual race queens during photoshoots before a race, while on either side in front of the bike were the twins, each dressed in a similar outfit to Frigg, mirroring the other's pose with such uncanny precision that was a sight to behold just by itself.
'You know, despite their antics these girls hardly know us and are still willing to help. I guess, they're goddesses alright, even if they can be a handful at times.' Letting out a sigh of relief the moment he finished the presentation, Keiichi was glad that the worst part was finally over. Considering that most of the press was after the big names in the industry, it was unlikely for him to attend any interviews, but at the very least they managed to get people to hear about what they had to offer. Hopefully this would eventually boost their shop's popularity and showcase what they could do if they tried, since either way they had no means of mass producing this bike. After all, even the big companies rarely put concept designs in full production, but instead use them for showcasing new technologies that might end up in a commercial vehicle sometime down the line. In Whirlwind's case though, the best they could get is a much needed boost in sales, and hopefully some high profile customers.
"Nice job, dear," came Belldandy's voice as soon as the presentation was over, although she didn't move from her spot since their audience had yet to fully disperse, and there were still people taking her photos. "I'm glad we attracted so many people. And you did hold your ground with such confidence too!"
"I'm not so sure about the confidence part, but at least we did get a sizable audience," replied Keiichi, although he shot a sideways glance over to the guys who were still taking photos of his wife and Frigg. Although given how low some of them were aiming their cameras it gave him the impression that the latter's choice of panties were more important to them than the bike itself. Not that it was better if they paid more attention to Belldandy, let alone the twins who were in fact minors by Celestial terms. "I just wish that they weren't here for totally unrelated reasons."
It took Belldandy some time to realize what her husband was referring to, although thankfully by then the audience started to disperse, since another presentation was about to start elsewhere in the expo. At least, that seemed to help Keiichi relax a bit, and for that she was actually glad. Although, as soon as the majority of the bystanders left the scene, it became apparent that a certain trio has been hiding for quite some time now. "Oh look over there, Keiichi! It's Skuld and the others!"
Following his wife's gaze, Keiichi immediately spotted Skuld, Odal and Laguz in the distance, who even had the gall to wave back at him. It was as if they had completely forgotten how they put him through all this trouble, although part of him realized why that may had been the case. So, when they started heading in their direction, Keiichi shot them a triumphant smile, followed by a victory sign. "We did it!"
"See? It wasn't that hard, now was it?" replied Odal with a smile so similar to his mother's that it perfectly showcased just which side of the family he took after. Then again… his intentions could be very different from Belldandy's at times, and right now he did actually display that aspect of his personality, especially given how eager he was minutes ago to excuse himself out of this whole ordeal. "As much as I'd love to help, I think you did a better job representing your work."
"But… you made most of the parts for the power cell," objected Keiichi, only to watch his son point in the direction of the next presentation.
"Do you think the guy over there built that car on his own? Even entire companies outsource parts of their projects to other manufacturers, and it's not like they don't have skilled engineers. You can't do everything on your own in this world, especially when you put money and man hours into account. Sure, I helped you a bit, but at the end this is by no means a fair competition. What counts is that you've done a great job by representing Whirlwind, and hopefully that'll help everyone else involved in it."
Finding no reason to object, especially when Belldandy seemed to agree to the sentiment, Keiichi simply dropped the subject, and hoped to change the topic into something a bit more cheerful. "Say, what were you three up to? Don't tell me you've been waiting over there all this time."
"Actually, we went to check some of the other concept vehicles. And while at it, we also grabbed something to nibble on," replied Odal, before turning to Laguz who suddenly blushed at the mention of the snacks she so eagerly devoured.
"Ah, yes… I don't often get a chance to try the local snacks, so I thought it was a great opportunity to sample a few of them," nervously replied the Goddess of the Lake, only for Skuld to start sniggering at that response.
"You ate three packages of rice puffs in less time than it took us to go through half our first!" laughed Skuld, until Odal decided to remind his aunt of her own eating habits.
"You're no better with ice-cream, though."
"Hey! Who do you think you're talking to, mister I ate more than either of them! Even if you were slower, the fact remains!" shot Skuld back to her unruly nephew, before she turned to Laguz for support. "Am I right, or what?"
"Well… as much as I don't like arguments, you shouldn't comment about girls' eating habits, Odal-kun. As a married god, it's important to be careful with your comments when it comes to such topics." Though reluctant to go for a low blow, the sheepish expression on Odal's face the moment she brought up his wife, left Laguz with a triumphant smirk that Skuld so happily imitated.
"Now, now… don't fight," Belldandy casually said while she unmounted the bike and proceeded to unzip her racing suit all the way to her lips. Of course, she was wearing a t-shirt underneath, but seeing Keiichi's eyes bulge out for a moment made her smile just like the others did while they were teasing Odal. In fact, she wasn't even planning to pull something like that off, as she could've sworn that Keiichi knew about the t-shirt… although perhaps he had forgotten due to the stress he went through during that presentation. "Is there something wrong, dear?"
"Perhaps worried about something?" asked Frigg when Keiichi's initial attempts at coming up with an intelligent reply. Still, she merely laughed at the whole thing, and gestured for the twins who had been observing the whole scene with great interest to follow her. "Alright girls, let's go change into something more comfortable," adding in a much lower voice for Eir and Saga to hear. "We can't use magic in front of everyone, remember?"
"Yes, Frigg-sama!" promptly replied both sisters, with them making a beeline after the elder goddess as she headed to the changing rooms.
"Actually, I think I might as well go to-" started Belldandy, only to pause when she spotted Chihiro in the distance, and judging by the looks of it she wasn't happy; at all. "Chihiro-san? Did something happen?"
"Those two logheads happened! Heh… for their size, they sure run fast. Anyway, I'm not going to spend the rest of the day looking for them," replied the business woman as she stopped for a moment to catch her breath. Chasing after Tamiya and Otaki took way longer than initially anticipated, so by the time she returned, the whole thing was over. At least, on her way back she did hear a few compliments by individuals who attended the presentation, which not only acted as a nice consolation, but also made her proud of how far Keiichi has progressed on his own. "By the way! Nice job, Morisato-kun!"
"Thanks, Chihiro-san! For a moment I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but the others were pretty supportive, so I somehow managed to pull it off," cheerfully replied Keiich, especially as he needed the distraction to step on Odal's foot, when the latter nearly spoke when he heard his -or rather their- last name. While Chihiro was fully aware of Odal's presence, they definitely never provided her with a full explanation of his nature and origins. As a result, it would've been a disaster if his boss suddenly found out that the other man wasn't just some 'distant relative of Belldandy' but actually his child with her from another timeline, that somehow found his way on this one.
"Still you did all the talking," countered Chihiro, and then momentarily paused. In her mind, Keiichi was already good enough to seek a job in a much bigger bike shop than hers, or even better apply for a position in a large company, which definitely has its downsides when it comes to one's freedom, but on the other hand pays way more than anything she could offer him. "You know, Morisato-kun… perhaps it's time for you to start looking for a better job. Not that I've got any problems having you work for me, but as a married man you might want the extra income. Plus, I really think you can make a name for yourself in no time if you get involved in a big project, just like some of the others here."
The suggestion initially surprised Keiichi, since in all seriousness he had a lot more things in his mind over the last couple of weeks to even consider his engineering career. Then again, becoming a god did have that effect on him, and even eliminated a lot of his previous concerns in life, although he now had other goals to achieve. And because of that, he actually wanted to spend as much time on Earth, doing what he loved the most as well as give his family the chance to have more memories of this place, before they inevitably returned to Asgard. Unfortunately for him, this wasn't a reply he could offer to Chihiro, as it contained too much sensitive information, so once more he had to resort to partial lies to cover up for all the bizarreness in his life. Just as he was to open his mouth, Belldandy beat him to it, and offered her own reply, that initially caused Keiichi to freak out, given that his darling wife was far too honest, even by the standards of a first class goddess.
"I'm pretty sure he'd make a name for himself, although… I don't think that would really satisfy him, to be honest," thoughtfully replied the Norn in her husband's place. And when the latter turned to stare at her in surprise, she simply smiled back at him, before she turned her attention to Chihiro once again. "Keiichi loves to carve his own path, and none of the big shops or companies will let him do that. Besides, it feels way better to work alongside friends, and make memories together, rather than some impersonal corporation. Right, Chihiro-san?"
"Heh… when you put it like that, I guess you do have a point." Letting out a sigh as she remembered just how much of a formidable opponent Belldandy could be in an argument, Chihiro was at least happy that she worked for her, rather than any of their competitors. There was something undeniably compelling about the way she approached even the most simple of subjects, which together with her gentle personality made her a force to be reckoned in any negotiation. On top of it, she and Keiichi knew each other so well, that there was no doubt that he shared his wife's thoughts on the subject. And as such, Chihiro found no reason to carry on with her case, since once those two made up their minds, it was next to impossible to make them reconsider. Still, she felt that keeping them as her employees with such a low wage was next to a crime, so after some thought she decided that the time has come to reward their hard efforts. "Then, how about we do something different?" Chihiro carried on after a slight pause, which immediately caught everyone's attention; especially Keiichi's. "You guys have been working hard for me for all this time, so I think a raise is in due."
"Wait, you mean an actual raise?" asked the astonished Keiichi, much to his lady boss' great annoyance, even if everyone here knew her stingy side.
"Are you implying something, Morisato-kun?" demanded Chihiro in a dangerously low tone, to which Keiichi could only answer by emphatically shaking his head.
"No, not at all!" squeaked the mechanic in question, and immediately turned to Belldandy for support.
That seemed to do the trick, as the middle Norn wasted no time catching up with what was expected of her, and thus smiled even more cheerfully than before. "Thank you, Chihiro-san! If it wasn't for you, Keiichi would've never gotten a chance to prove his skills, thanks to… that little mishap about his second foreign language class."
"That was ridiculous alright," laughed Chihiro, much to Keiichi's chagrin. "Still, I can't believe it's already been so long since that happened. TIme sure flies…"
'You have no idea,' mused Keiichi, who wasn't even a mortal anymore. Although in a way, thinking about those says reminded him of just how much things have changed, and thus the importance of making the best of his current lifestyle. "In all seriousness, I'm really glad we're still working at Whirlwind. As Bell said before, it feels great to work alongside friends."
"Alright you two! Enough with all this mushy stuff!" announced their boss, just to save face from getting too emotional herself. "Let's go grab something to celebrate your 10% raise, even if we have to come back here to keep an eye out for our bike."
"Hey, we can do that for you! Just wait here, and we'll bring snacks and drinks in no time!" volunteered Skuld, with Laguz offering an emphatic nod, all while totally missing Keiichi's crestfallen look.
'Only 10%? I should've known better…' In all honesty, Keiichi thought that getting a substantial raise from Chihiro was too good to be true. Although he couldn't hold it against her either, given the budgetary restrictions that came with working at a small bike shop. 'Wait a second… I think we forgot something.' Looking over at their bike, he suddenly realized that they never made any decisions as to what they were planning to do with it once the expo was over. "By the way… Chihiro-san, Have you found any buyers for our bike?"
"Don't worry Morisato-kun, I'm sure that after this presentation we'll have no problem selling it at an auction. It's not everyday you can buy something this unique, so collectors won't miss the opportunity to grab it at a fair price. Of course, given its uniqueness, I'm sure we'll make a fair amount of money nevertheless."
In a strangely convenient twist of fate, Keiichi spotted none other than Sayoko across the expo's hall, and even more interesting was the way she seemed to be checking on them. Of course, given her personality she was trying to make it look like an accidental encounter, rather than have to admit that she came here specifically to check on them. After all, there were other booths on her path, and she hasn't stopped to see what was on display there, which left Keiichi with the impression that she wasn't all that interested in the expo in general. 'On the bright side, she's no longer after Bell for some silly reason like that Campus Queen thing she had going on for years. Besides, we're no longer hanging around NIT all that much, so fewer and fewer students even know about Bell, let alone the fact that she's the Campus Queen. On top of that, Sayoko knows about our nature, and she hasn't done anything to mess up with our lives.' Knowing that the Mishima heiress was no longer bad news for them, Keiichi was about to actually call her name out, only for his wife to beat him to the punch by doing exactly that.
"Sayoko!" Waving a hand in her direction, Belldandy's face lit up when the other woman noticed her, and cracked a smile as she casually approached them. "It's nice to see you again! Did you know we were here?"
"Not really, I was simply checking this event in my father's place, since he's one of the sponsors. However, he had an urgent meeting to attend, so I volunteered to come here instead of him. And I didn't really have the time to check every little detail of the event before I arrived, which is why I'm happy to find out you're taking part in it." It went without saying that this was mostly a lie, and for a moment Sayoko realized that perhaps this wouldn't work on a goddess. To her relief, Belldandy showed no sign of suspecting her motives, and merely smiled back at her as if everything was perfectly fine.
"Ah, I see. In that case, I hope you do like our bike. We all did our best to put this together, although I'll have to admit that most of it fell on Keiichi and Odal's shoulders," said Belldandy, before she realized her folly when Sayoko's gaze turned to her son's direction. Worse yet, she was incapable of lying, so the only thing she could do to cover up for Odal was to sadly rely on Keiichi, even though she hated having to do this to him.
To the Norn's relief Frigg arrived back from the changing rooms just in time to offer a diversion, given that their relationship was easier to explain from a certain point of view -at least as long as Chihiro wasn't present. On top of that, Eir and Saga were enough of a distraction on their own, being twins and all. All three of them were now dressed in local outfits of their choice, with Frigg going for a cozy, dark blue ribbed sweater, a black form fitting pencil skirt, as well as matching high heels. Additionally, she wore a faux mink coat over her dress, giving her the guise of a rich woman of Sayoko's caliber; an image that was further established by the generous amount of jewelry that adorned her outfit, even though all of them were in fact limiters. Meanwhile, the twins were dressed in identical blue cocktail dresses that barely reached their black high thighs, as well as blue pumps that gave them a rather luxurious and formal appeal that seemed quite fitting as they framed Frigg.
"A friend of Belldandy's I presume?" asked the elder goddess while she sized up Sayoko, who immediately became self conscious of her posture in the presence of what she assumed to be a high ranking goddess. Although she feigned ignorance, Frigg had a suspicion that this was the rich woman that Ansuz inadvertently introduced her to the immortal world, although for once she wasn't going to complain about it. In some ways it was nice for at least a few humans to know about her granddaughters' true nature -and Keiichi for that matter- since that could let them have a healthier social life. Being able to talk about their daily lives without all the necessary lies would be therapeutic for them; Belldandy especially, since she was incapable of lying herself.
"Yes, I'm Mishima Sayoko. It's a pleasure to meet you…" trailed Sayoko off, before she accidentally insulted this goddess by making assumptions that clearly don't apply in the immortal world. After all, she has already seen what Belldandy's mother and uncles look like, and none of them appeared nearly as old as she would expect them to be. And given the similarities between this goddess and Belldandy, she was almost sure that this was yet another one of her relatives; and to a certain degree she also suspected that the same was true about that god who stood by Skuld. In fact, that one resembled Belldandy way more than this goddess, but for the time being she had to wait for a chance to talk to him as well.
"The pleasure is all mine. You may call me Frigg," said the elder goddess, followed by something that was quite literally heard only inside of Sayoko's head. 'I'm goddess first class, unlimited, Frigg to be more precise. High seat member of the Goddess Collective Council, and former Second in Command of the Celestial realms. Also, Belldandy's paternal grandmother, as well as Skuld's and Urd's, of course.' No sooner she finished with her introduction, Figg grinned in delight from seeing all color drain from that mortal's face, which was pretty much the same reaction she got whenever she put one of her fellow Council members in their place. Now, she wasn't exactly trying to bully her granddaughter's rival - at least according to what she heard of the woman - but at the same time she felt that it would've been interesting to see how Sayoko would react if she knew of her social status. Unfortunately for Frigg, an intense feeling of disapproval coming from Belldandy alerted her that this aggressive introduction wasn't entirely appreciated, so she decided to play nice for the time being. "Actually, how about I treat you to a cup of tea? I've seen a pretty good shop on our way here."
"Oh, I'd love to," happily replied Sayoko, once she pulled herself together. 'This goddess paralized me just like that. There's no mistaking it, she's no joke!' Not missing a beat, Sayoko turned to Belldandy who visibly relaxed when she saw her grandmother back off, and considering that it was in her best interest to have her tag along, she tried to invite her as well. "In fact, why don't you and Keiichi join us? Since you're done here, how about you take a break?"
"I'd love to, but-" Belldandy looked over at Keiichi who seemed equally conflicted at accepting the offer, but then Odal nodded at both of them alongside Skuld and Laguz who have just returned with the snacks they promised earlier on. "Very well," she said after a short pause as she turned her attention back to Sayoko. "I believe we can use a break now. It's been a long day, and besides we haven't seen you for quite some time."
"It's been decided then!" cheerfully announced Sayoko, even though she realized that shouldn't have sounded this excited, but it was a bit too late for correcting that now. Though she has all but given up on allusions of defeating this woman - or rather, goddess - she still found learning more about her and the world she came from fascinating. At the very least it would be a nice change of pace to her otherwise monotonous routine; and perhaps find out what happened to scare off that scumbag of a cousin of hers to end up falling down the stairs. 'He mentioned something about a scary Belldandy, but I doubt it's her style to pull off a stunt like that. Hm… perhaps it was this Frigg character behind it. She's also a brunette, and has a nice figure. I wouldn't be surprised if Toshiyuki mistook her for Belldandy, since he must've been staring at her boobs the whole time. What an utter fool…'
The mighty sneeze echoed across the almost empty walls of the Tariki Hongan temple, scaring the birds resting by the perimeter wall, as well as the two synthetics who were left behind to guard the place. Nevertheless, the demoness who just emerged through the bathroom's mirror rubbed her nose, and looked around in her search for any signs of the others' presence, only to come face to face with a dark haired teenage gynoid who came rushing through the door. "Ah, Siegel! Great timing, I was wondering where everyone went. I just picked up this outfit for today's event, so I wanted to see if I could get here in time to join them."
Seigel's jaw almost dropped in sheer disbelief at the sight of that slingshot bikini, Verthandi somehow thought it was legally permissible to wear in public. Thankfully enough, they were currently in a bathroom, and she just barely managed to slam the door shut with her foot, before Banpei got a chance to register that image in his memory banks. 'He's already a perv as he is, there's no need to give him more ideas. Speaking of which… I might as well put some censorship bars in my memory records, before Skuld-sama inspects me during routine maintenance. I can't let her see… um… whatever this is even called.' The gynoid's eyes scanned Verthandi's barely concealed body, as the bikini she was currently wearing only counted as an article of clothing in name alone. And for whatever reason, the demoness seemed to stare back at her in oblivious wonder, almost as if she was totally unaware of her state of undress. "I'm afraid you're a bit too late for that. Skuld-sama and the others have already quite some time ago, so by now I believe that the event could be mostly over. At least, as far as the presentation is concerned, which… makes your getup unnecessary. Although, you might still have time to get over there and-"
"Nah, I give up already." Letting out a heavy sigh as she shook her head for extra emphasis, Verthandi dissolved her race queen attire - much to Sigel's dismay - and immediately replaced it with a simple white blouse and a pair of washed out blue jeans. "This really isn't my day. Not only we didn't manage to find Thrivaldi, but now I lost the opportunity to have some fun, too." Just as she was about to walk out of the bathroom, the demoness paused and gave Sigel a good look. "Say… you've been upgraded, correct?"
"Y-Yes, Skuld-sama rebuilt my body with much better specs than my old one. Plus, I'm now having a more grown up look that's comparable to a teenager." The initial awkwardness of having Verthandi in front of her face disappeared as soon as she started to talk about her mistress' work, which also brought up a proud smile on her lips.
"Then why don't you let me show you a few things to properly thank her, hm?" cheekily replied Verthandi, before she leaned forward to whisper at her. "Like making homemade ice cream?"
"Eh? You're going to do this for me?" asked the surprised gynoid, as she wasn't nearly as familiar with Verthandi as some of the others, so she assumed that she wouldn't be interested to pay much attention to her. Besides, there were times she felt almost invisible in the house, given that most of the residents tended to ignore her or otherwise interact little with her.
"Sure, why not? Don't tell me that just because I'm a demoness I cannot help others! That's just silly!" Taking her by the hand, Verthandi led the gynoid out of the bathroom and towards the kitchen, leaving a very confused Banpei stare at their retreating forms, before he too followed after them.
Out of all the times Urd has visited her father, this was the first that it wasn't due to one of her misdeeds, but rather for the sake of being congratulated. Apparently returning home with Sanngrid and Celestin proved more than enough to call that operation a partial success, even though the Norn felt otherwise. "You wait here," she suddenly blurted as she looked over her shoulder at the traitorous Valkyrie who still carried Celestin's disembodied form on her person. As per protocol during an emergency, Mara stayed behind, in Gate's room together with Gunnar, so at the very least she didn't have to worry about them getting harassed by any more friends Sanngrid may still have among the Valkyries' ranks. Besides, if half of what she now knows about Gunnar is true, then she's got a much more serious reason to keep the techno-organic being out of any potential fights.
"If you say so," replied Sanngrid in indifference, and promptly stopped next to the Daitenkaicho's door. Having nothing better to do, the former Valkyrie crossed her arms and casually leaned against the doorframe, until a familiar figure turned around the corner as soon as Urd entered the office. "You!"
"Greetings to you as well, Sanngrid," calmly replied Freya, despite the sheer animosity behind her once subordinate's words. "I see you have safely returned to us. I know you won't accept a word I say, but I'm honestly happy to see that you're doing fine."
"Do I look fine?! I'm nothing more than a glorified prisoner, you bimbo!" shouted Sanngrid when she momentarily lost control of herself, given that she was never good at dealing with her commander. Still, seeing Freya of all goddesses give her such a stern glare, made her pause and almost blink in surprise from the sudden change in her demeanour.
"Out of all things that could've happened to you for being a traitor, imprisonment is by far the best case scenario. But, I neither came here to give you a lecture nor to make fun of you. I hope to be able to spare you that fate of your friend over there." Shooting a pointed stare at Celestin's emblem-like disembodied form that was still stuck at the base of Sanngrid's neck, Freya gave her some time for her words to sink in before carrying on, much to her subordinate's disbelief. "I'm well aware of your dislike of demons, but in the end it was a half goddess who saved you from taking a dark path. And while I too know all too well that you don't think highly of me for petty reasons, that changes nothing of the fact that you're one of mine."
An awkward silence followed Freya's statement, as Sanngrid found herself staring at the blonde goddess in sheer disbelief. Out of all the things she could've told to a branded traitor like her, this certainly wasn't part of it; in fact, she would've never shown this much compassion to someone who didn't deserve it. 'First it's the half goddess I insulted who offered to help me, and now it's Freya. Has the whole world gone crazy, or is it just me? Perhaps Celestin is right after all, and I'm at fault here; always have been.' Seeing that Freya was about to knock the Daitenkaicho's door, Sanngrid realized that could actually be the last chance to apologise, and so she did. "Wait, Freya!" Coming to a halt when the other goddess cast her a curious gaze, Sanngrid swallowed her pride and let out a deep breath, before bowing her head in the most respectful gesture she offered to her superior until this point. "Thank you; for everything."
"The pleasure is all mine, although… let's not get ahead of ourselves. Even if I wish to give you another chance, it's not entirely up to me, and the nature of your offense is really problematic for any Valkyrie. At best, I hope we'll manage to get you into some other line of work," added the war goddess as calmly as possible, given that the last thing she wanted to do is raise her expectations, only for reality to hit even harder later on. Privately, Freya was fully aware that there was no similar case where the offending party got away with a slap on the wrist, even if their prior record was as spotless as Sanngrid's. Perhaps it would've been better if they had pressured her on taking a different assignment way before the stress got to her, and that's why she felt personally responsible for the outcome; hence the reason behind her presence here. "I suppose, there's nothing more we can do than wait, and see how things turn out."
"Yes, although it's been some time since Urd went into Tyr-sama's office, so I guess they're busy talking about the whole incident. Plus, Ansuz-sama is in there, too."
As matter-of-fact as that reply has been, Freya did raise an eyebrow at Sanngrid's choice of words when she referred to the Norn of the past. Calling her by name, and not some derogatory term was indeed a huge improvement, which likely reflected her current attitude towards her benefactor. This at least gave her a glimmer of hope that her wayward Valkyrie wasn't a total waste of time, but a goddess who could be salvaged with the proper handling. "In that case, it's better to not interrupt them. Want to have some tea in the meantime? I'd rather have some mead with you, but it's probably for the best not to, right before such an important meeting."
"Huh?... Oh, um… Sure I'd love to," replied Sanngrid who in all seriousness wasn't expecting a tea party today, and especially not with Freya of all goddesses. 'Then again, why the heck not? I've been through some strange things as of late, so this won't be by far the weirdest thing I've done.'
Inside the office a rather haggard Urd finally felt a wave of relief now that she's done with her report, yet in all fairness it wasn't exactly the excruciating length of that debriefing that mentally exhausted her to this degree; it was her father. Having been accustomed to getting an earful for her past misdeeds, Urd felt utterly embarrassed to get praised for her supposed success, even if she personally didn't really think it was such a big deal. In fact, the mission's been partially a failure, so to celebrate over getting Sanngrid and Celestin back was… a bit of an exaggeration in her mind.
"Come to think of it, I've never seen you outright possess anyone in the past," mused Tyr, after one of his most skillful displays of beating around the bush; so much so, that Ansuz had to restrain herself from laughing out when he brought up the subject. "It's nice to see that you're discovering more methods of overcoming hardships," he continued as casually as he could, despite being able to hear his wife's head winglets flap from how hard she shook in her effort to keep her sniggering down.
"Thanks, but I really don't think it's such a big deal. All I needed was to get as few people involved as I could, and possessing a few of those human mercenaries was the best way to do that." As dismissive as she sounded, Urd felt peeved to no end that her father chose this moment to try to pull off the whole 'proud daddy' routine. Not only did Tyr have little to no experience doing that, but given all her prior interactions with him - where she was more or less scolded for one thing or another - it left her with a feeling of awkwardness that she had no idea how to handle. To say nothing of the possibility of ending up blushing in front of both of them, which would provide Ansuz the perfect teasing material for quite some time in the near future. "Anyhow… that still leaves us with those two to deal with. Or should I say, Sanngrid, since Celestin is more or less disembodied already."
"Ah, yes… the traitor," sighed Tyr, as soon as he heard that Valkyrie's name. Even before Urd arrived with that goddess in tow, he and Ansuz have been discussing what to do about that problematic individual;, yet failed to reach a definitive conclusion. Under any other circumstances having her sealed would've been more than a sufficient punishment, but things were kind of strange right now. "As you know, her offense is rather grave for a Valkyrie. Normally, she's bound for imprisonment, although the fact that we're dealing with Fafnir and a couple of his remaining followers complicates things."
"How so?" asked Urd, which prompted Ansuz to carry on with the explanation.
"If we get ourselves involved, it'll prompt more demons to feel sympathetic towards their old Daimakaicho. This goes twice for the former members of Infernal nobility, who despite their lost status, they still hope that one day things might change… and this could be the best opportunity."
The Norn offered a slow nod, and thoughtfully scratched her chin as she considered the overall situation, only to realize that her parents were absolutely right. If Asgard took a very active role in demonic affairs, this could make her mother look bad in her subordinates' eyes, and it didn't help that Angrboda was impersonating her mother during the latter's absence. "Let me guess," she said after a long pause, "you're planning to give her a chance to redeem herself by helping us? Because right now, she can be considered as a rogue goddess, and since we already have Odal…" Coming to a stop when she noticed the surprise in her parents' eyes, Urd almost did a double take from the realization that instead of guessing their intentions, she made a suggestion that they haven't themselves thought.
Sure enough, that was exactly what Tyr confirmed after an awkward pause he needed to snap out of his reverie, and even cleared his throat before he accidentally asked her who she is and what she's done to Urd. "I was actually going to suggest handing her sealed form to the demons, since she was indirectly involved with Fafnir's lot. However, I'm intrigued; where are you going with your idea, Urd?"
"Personally, I think that Odal did a good job at keeping Celestin in line, to say nothing of Thivaldi and his goons. Plus, he's a god which will at least get her in a cooperative mood, compared to sending her to work under the demons." There were a lot of ifs here, since she had no idea what Sanngrid's reaction to such an idea might be, and to say nothing of Odal's, who might as well wish to do nothing with that problematic goddess.
"Even so, what do you think she might be good at?" Asked Ansuz, who understandably remained skeptical of the whole proposition. "After all, it was a bit naive to think that a goddess who gave up her obligations as a Valkyrie to redeem herself just like that?"
"I won't argue with that. In fact, that's why I felt so hesitant to ask you about it," agreed Urd, but found herself unsure how to express her thoughts on the matter. In her mind, Sanngrid represented all those who openly mistrusted her dual nature, yet extracting revenge for the insults she had hurdled at her back then… just didn't feel like something a goddess should do. "However, from what I learned about her, that goddess lost her angel to the Angel Eater, and that's an experience I'm familiar with. Unlike her though, I got mine back, and the same is true about Bell and Peorth, so we never got to feel the long term effects of this loss. If that came to be though, I'm pretty sure some of us might've needed some counseling, and yet in her case she went back in duty without any serious psychological evaluation."
The Celestial couple couldn't help but stare at each other, as it was the second time today that they found themselves at a loss of words from Urd's rather uncharacteristic insight. Out of all possible replies, neither of them expected her to make a direct comparison of the traitor's situation with her personal predicament back during the Angel Eater incident. The most important thing though was that Urd did also raise a valid point when she brought up Sanngrid's psychological evaluation, which Tyr himself found a bit sketchy; yet only after her betrayal. "As a matter of fact," said Tyr in an attempt to help his wife, who clearly was at a loss of words, "I did look into her folder after her initial defect, and I'm not happy with what I saw. I found that it was a bit… strange that she was allowed to keep her position in the Fighting Wings after the loss of her angel. The healer assigned to her case did point out that she seemed stable enough at the time of her evaluation, yet she did seem to express unusually strong animosity towards the demons, which by itself is a worrying sign. If nothing else, we try to avoid keeping Celestials with a personal agenda in the Fighting Wings, should they - accidentally or not - end up triggering the Doublet System."
"More so," Ansuz continued once she composed herself, "while you're absolutely correct in your analysis of her condition… I'm afraid that sending her to work for Odal might only deteriorate her mental state even further. After all, you do realize that your nephew is now married to Hagall: the second highest ranking demoness. With Sanngrid's attitude towards the Infernals, this could only lead into trouble down the road."
"I thought of that, but seeing that she agreed to come with me while I was still a demoness at the time, gives me the feeling that she's not a lost cause. At the very least, we can give her a second chance, and see what she does with that. If she's beyond saving, then I guess sealing her is the only option." Part of Urd wondered why she insisted on helping that goddess, especially since there was still a realistic possibility that she might turn on them as soon as the opportunity appeared. Then again, offering Odal a trained Valkyrie as an assistant could turn out to be a useful asset to him, and with everything else going on at the time being, it was worth giving it a try. "Look, I understand there's a risk involved here, and this could easily turn into a fiasco, but having a Valkyrie operate… outside of the normal regulations might be a good thing for us. If our enemies can do the same, then it's a good idea to use this opportunity to our advantage as well. At least, that's what I think."
Considering that both sides have expressed their ideas on the subject, Tyr decided that carrying on this discussion any further would've been a waste of everyone's time, so he pointedly cleared his throat to get attention. "Thank you both, I suppose that's good enough. Personally, I'll have to agree that while risky to trust a goddess like Sanngrid, I must admit that your idea, Urd, does have its merit. As such, I'm compelled to give it a thought and perhaps assign her to Odal for the time being; unofficially of course. Providing that she doesn't make a fool of herself while under his watch, we could discuss the possibility of giving her a pardon, which is way more than she would've ever hoped under these circumstances. In the meantime, the best we can do is finalize the negotiations for a joint operation in Helheim, and see how the demons react to that."
Hearing this, Urd felt a wave of relief knowing that this meeting was finally over, or at the very least close to. It's been a really long day for her, and there was nothing better to help her relax than head over to Earth and mess around with her alchemic experiments. 'Oh, and while at it, I might get Ma-chan to clean up my… or should I say our room?" A gleeful smile subconsciously formed onto the Norn's lips, as the idea of going back to her old routine without the slightest worry in the world really felt nostalgic by now. And while technically speaking she could do that, ignoring what was happening just for the sake of her personal comfort just didn't feel like the right thing to do.
With her stepdaughter seemingly lost in thought, Ansuz grabbed the opportunity to hover over to where she stood and then glanced back at her husband who already caught on and brought out his communicator. She waited for a moment to let him prep the camera application, and then edged closer to the distracted Norn and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, while striking a V-sign with her free hand. Naturally, this immediately got the Norn's attention, but by the time she realized what was going on, the photo had already been taken.
"What the?!" Left in a state of understandable bewilderment, the half goddess watched Ansuz bounce back to Tyr's side in order to check the photo, which prompted her to follow after. "Hey, what's the big idea?" she asked, while looking between her parents, who shared such a proud smile that made her feel even more awkward than before.
"We just wanted to commemorate this historic event with a photo," calmly replied Tyr, much to Urd's further confusion. "It's not often we get to praise you for a job well done, and at the very least we wanted to keep this photo to remember this day by. But enough with our rambling, how about you head back to Earth and take a much needed break from all this? Oh, and feel free to grab that goddess on the way back, too."
Emotionally exhausted from having to deal with that situation on Earth, Urd didn't even bother putting up a fight for such a silly reason. Instead, she shrugged at them and threw a thumb over her shoulder in the door's direction. "Can I go now, or is there anything more to discuss?"
"No, you're free," casually replied Tyr, and with a simple gesture opened up the door behind his daughter, who offered a slight bow and then turned around to walk out of the office. Watching her go, Tyr shook his head and turned to his wife, now that they were left alone. "I was way older when I first managed to possess a mortal and control them to this level of precision. Perhaps it's due to her demonic ancestry, as it's way easier for Infernals to do this, although given how little she knows how to control her other side, it's even more surprising that she pulled this stunt to begin with."
"Urd-chan has quite the potential, and for once I wish she was a bit like her mom, rather than you, love," agreed Ansuz, and then smirked a bit when she noticed the curious look she got from her husband. It took some effort to keep a straight face while she pretended that she had something to check on her communicator, leaving her husband wondering just what she meant by that little comment towards the end. "Oh, my! I forgot I had to get Loki and that mutt of his out of decontamination. I'm pretty sure you brother's not happy we left him in the Mystics' care for this long."
"Considering how bad the situation could've been for him, he should be happy that we're letting him out so easily. Normally it takes a lot longer for anyone who comes into contact with an avatar of Nidhogg, to make sure that they're free of its influence. I suppose, having Hild's form could've minimized its corruptive presence, although we shouldn't be careless if we run into… her again." Past experiences have taught them to never underestimate the Infernal Dragon, as the bloody thing has the nasty habit of deliberately giving off the impression of being mindless; until proven otherwise. And while Tyr himself was perfectly aware of this, it still took him by surprise to see Nidhogg attempt to reason with them, even if it was pretty clear that striking any deals with that thing would've been a terrible idea for them.
"As much as I wish to agree with you, his daughter is really upset about the whole situation," replied Ansuz, even if it took her some effort to get used to the idea that Hel was now a part of their extended family. "Come to think of it, did you read the Fighting Wing's report of the girl?"
"You mean Hel?" asked Tyr, to which he received a nod that reminded him of something he wished he had forgotten about. While listed as a cyborg and therefore less of a concern for them, Hel's prototype was reported to show properties that deeply concerned the Valkyries tasked to shadow her while she stayed in Asgard. Given the girl's status, Tyr allowed her to stay with her 'father' while the rest of her collective 'network' resided in the realm was now named after her. "Unfortunately I did, and I'm not sure what to make of it."
"That girl is either an Ironwood Dryad that's developing in that synthetic body of hers, or… something else entirely. All three Valkyries following her were almost certain that she gave off the signature of a true hybrid, not unlike Urd-chan. Worse, she's getting registered as such from most of our security systems, which… means that she's probably evolving," mused Ansuz, no matter she wished all this was a mere mistake. "After all, neither Loki nor Odal used an actual Ironwood Dryad when they put her together. In fact, it's been reported that not only does her hair grow, but she's also growing up physically. That shouldn't be possible for any regular synthetic, especially not while the rest of her artificial skin is growing as well."
"Normally, we would've her examined, but… you know who's likely behind this, don't you?"
"Yggdrasil," whispered Ansuz, as the idea of the World Tree acting on its own was a matter of even greater concern than Hel's status. "To say nothing of Keiichi-kun's incident, that was tied to it, too. Do you think it's… a sign for that being implemented?"
The Daitenkaicho got up from his chair and approached his office's largest window that provided him a clear view of Yggdrasil's Complex, which dominated the Celestial capital. "I honestly don't know. While there have been times the Tree acted on its own, this is on a whole different level that's never been observed before."
"That's not what I asked," clarified the goddess as she approached her husband, and stood next to him by the window. "Tell me, did the Tree actually reply to our question?"
"If you're referring to the query we submitted about Ragnarok protocol after that whole Hel incident, then we didn't. Well, at least nothing direct, other than what I mentioned during the last Council meeting," said Tyr in a pretty somber tone, even somewhat fearfully so. "As I pointed out at the Councils' meeting, having been reminded of our obligations… was pretty much a warning; a reminder that fighting over demons shouldn't be a priority during such dire times. Which is exactly why the Councilors eventually agreed to back my proposition, and cease their incessant complaints. But you should already know this, right Ansuz?"
"I'm aware of it, and that's why I asked if we got a better, clearer reply. Or didn't you ask for a clarification? I dare not speak of it, but knowledge of the accursed protocol was probably what drove your grandfather mad. The mere notion that the Tree has plans to replace us should we fail our prime directive is scary enough, but unlike the Ironwood Dryads that preceded us, the term purge itself implies a fate far worse."
"Based on my father's memos from the time he initially took over the position of the Daitenkaicho, finding out about the mysterious protocol that became the bane of his predecessor's sanity, became one of his biggest long term goals. However, after many attempts at asking Yggdrasil about it, the closest my father got for a reply is, and I quote here: Abhorrent is to deny one's purpose of being," sighed Tyr, although he subsequently shook his head and met his wife's gaze for long enough that she started to flap her winglets in wonder. "Alas, that's the best we actually got for a reply. The Tree iis not only working in mysterious ways, but also hates to repeat itself. That being said, I doubt that it would've been this silent if Hel's ascension marked the beginning of our end. Still, you seem skeptical. Or is there something else that's bothering you, love?"
"Nothing… I'm just starting to double guess myself. With all this crazy stuff that happened as of late, whispers can be heard in the dark, that this won't do us good regardless of the outcome. First we got a human like Keiichi-kun turn into a god, and then we had a literal double of Hild being nothing more than an avatar of Nidhogg." For a moment, all signs of worry disappeared from Ansuz's face, only to be replaced with a fierce scowl at the memory of that shameless skank of a copy, that even dared to make such an outrageous proposal to her husband. Sure, said skank was technically speaking part of Nidhogg, which meant that any negotiations with the being would've been foolish to begin with, but the mere idea revolted her. "Ugh… that horrid wench is still free to wander around. I can't believe she got away when we had her surrounded."
"She is an avatar of the Dragon, though," noted Tyr with a heavy sigh. "I'm afraid that despite her form, it might be nigh impossible to do anything about her. Even if we go as far as to kill her, Nidhogg can simply revive her. This only means that unless Yggdrasil banishes her to beyond any of the nine realms, we're going to have her around for some time. At least until Nidhogg loses interest in this latest prank of its, and the problem resolves itself."
"Sadly, I can't argue with this," bitterly admitted Ansuz, no matter how much she wished it wasn't true. "Still, the idea of Nidhogg being this active is outright scary. If it was only Yggdrassil, I wouldn't be complaining, although this is outright unprecedented; in recent millenia, at least."
If the discussion couldn't get any more grim, a resounding explosion interrupted the conversing couple, with its mighty shockwave travelling across the Celestial capital, just as the emergency sirens went off. Worse yet, at that very moment a warning sign started to flash on Tyr's holomonitor, prompting him to rush to his desk to check out what this whole commotion is all about, with Ansuz s mere step behind him. "The Mystic's containment facility 5? Isn't that where-"
"I was heading," said Ansuz, finishing her husband's sentence. Looking over his shoulder, the goddess watched the incoming live feedback from a security camera outside of the facility, that clearly depicted a plume of smoke rising from the building. More so, there were clear signs that someone -or something- punched a person sized hole through its reinforced walls, despite the several layers of integrated armor plates meant to keep even the most powerful of monsters at bay. "Wait, you don't think this was Loki's doing?"
"As much of a troublemaker my brother is, I don't believe he's stupid enough to cause such a ruckus. He's more into juvenile pranks than outright criminal offenses, which is exactly how he avoided getting sealed for all this time." Already, reports started to pop up on the screen, informing the Daitenkaicho that no less than five squads of Valkyries and three supplementary Einherjar squads are currently heading there to secure the area before any of the horror stored there manages to escape. It was then, when Tyr suddenly realized something… potentially disturbing about this whole situation. "Hold on a moment! I think we're forgetting something important here. Didn't we store there the bits of that Hild look-alike we captured during her original appearance?"
That was all Ansuz needed to hear to immediately make a dash for the window, as this was undeniably the fastest way out of the gods' administrative complex. "Don't just sit there! Call for reinforcements while I'm heading to give them a hand! And while you're at it, send those squads a warning of what they're up against!" She barely heard Tyr's reply as she jumped out of the window, and then proceeded to propel herself through the air so fast that she broke the sound barrier within seconds, causing the curious gods who were looking out of their windows for the source of this commotion, to jump in surprise from the unexpected sonic boom.
Asgard, in a different timeline
Roughly an hour after making initial contact with Fafnir's forces, an exhausted trio found a relatively quiet corner to take a much needed break and regroup for the final push to Yggdrasi's complex. On top of that, they had yet to reunite with their comrades, who were likely a few city blocks away from them, given the sounds of battle that had been coming from that direction. At least, they too must've gotten a break as well, since things have gotten quiet the last couple of minutes, while their presence could still be felt from said direction.
"I think we shook them off." Perched on top of SA-α's turret, who was in its vehicle form, Surt took the opportunity to use the gunner's position as a makeshift chair, regardless of how cramped it might've been. Then again, there was no time to spare seeking luxuries such as a proper bed in the middle of a battlefield, so Surt was more than happy to have the chance to stretch his tired arms and rest his weary body for a few minutes. Even the synthetic below him used this break from battle for some field maintenance, utilizing its automated onboard repair systems.
"About scrappin' time I'd say! Nasty little buggers, chasing us half the effin city," spat SA-δ from the sidelines, as it too stayed parked there in vehicle mode to patch up some of the minor wounds it received during the clash with Fafnir's legions. Even if there were significant restrictions on what was possible to get repaired on the field, there were no guarantees when they'd get back to their mobile base, so, taking advantage of this opportunity was of the essence.
"Their coordination seemed to get a significant boost over the last fifteen minutes," noted SA-α, and then rotated its turret once, to get a better scan of their surroundings. "At least, this partially collapsed building provides more than enough material to mask our presence. Although, we have to be careful not to cause an explosion while we're still inside, or it might fully collapse on top of us. This goes twice for you, SA-δ."
"Hey! Wasn' me who blew a friggin' gasket here!" shot the synthetic, and while incapable of pointing at the actual culprit, it was more than obvious who it was referring to based on past events.
"Look... I'm sorry about that scene, okay?" While not exactly eager to admit his own fault for the predicament they were in, Surt wasn't going to feign ignorance either. To him, a proper soldier always takes responsibility for their actions, and for the commander of an entire realm, this went twice. "It's just… I can't stand how stupid it all sounded."
"In all fairness, it was a mistake to bring you here without explaining that particular detail," said SA-α who has already regretted this decision, even if it was primarily due to its concern that such a revelation would've turned their immortal allies against one another. Considering that Fafnir used to be a demon before his downfall had him turn into a dragon, there was still the possibility for the Celestials of their group to start accusing the two demons of being responsible for this whole situation, especially given that it was Hild's fault for not executing her predecessor when she took over his position. Granted, as it turned out, it was Surt who reacted poorly to the news, and in an explosive display of anger inadvertently led to their enemies discovering their presence. "I was under the impression that it would've led to unnecessary friction between you, so sought to avoid it. A truly bad idea as it seems, but I'm afraid it's a bit late to fix this error now."
"Could've… should've… it doesn't matter right now. Besides, I'm not in position to judge you; not after my own blunder." Shameful as it is to admit such a thing, and to a synthetic made by a goddess nonetheless, Surt didn't feel it fitting to lie to an essentially allied military commander. Either way though, this was not the time to bother himself with such matters, but recover as much strength for the final push. Still, before they even entertained the thought of entering Fafnir's domain, it was imperative to rendezvous with their missing comrades… and paradoxical as it sounded, Surt wasn't looking forward to it. 'I'm fairly sure Hild already knows whose damn fault this cock up is. If… no, when we get out of this god forsaken cesspit of a world, I dare not think of what she's going to do to me as punishment. Knowing her, it won't even be the typical punishment, but more likely something seemingly innocent yet infuriatingly humiliating punishments… Ugh… Like… like that time she had me wear her dress, after I cut off the tail of a Da'rullth. It didn't even matter that I took off its head! Sure, I may have needed a bit of help to get the opportunity to get a clear shot of its head, but I still pulled it off!'
Memories of that event sent shivers down the Eldjotunn's spine, as in a moment of stupid juvenile bravado, he went explicily against his caretaker's orders to avoid taking on any hostile lifeform on his own during a reconnaissance mission. Being brash young trainees and all, they weren't supposed to go after anything remotely dangerous, although in the event they happened to be ambushed, the idea was to get out of there as fast as possible and let the professionals do the job. Unfortunately, young Surt didn't quite like the idea of turning tail to a freaking Da'rullth, even if the oversized, six legged lovechild of a crocodile and a snapping turtle, wanted a piece of him, so as a result he sliced off its jaw instead. While the incident itself ended up in his humiliating punishment at Hild's hands, it proved the first taste of real combat against a living target with the explicit desire to kill him. Needless to say, that particular creature ended up getting killed itself, but being his first real experience of combat, and in a way led him to choose a military career; at least, initially. 'And here I am now, fighting on the Celestial capital, and not even in my own world, either. To think that it's against Fapnir though!... How is it possible that moron managed to suppress Yggdrasil of all things, when he was nothing but a weakling hiding behind his throne back when I apprehended him during our coup.'
Realizing that without knowing their true adversary, they never really asked much about the circumstances behind the loss of Asgard. After all, it was easy to assume that only an entity like Nidhogg was capable of such a thing, and thus dismissed the notion of asking for additional details. More so, he and Hild were under the impression that Odal's report pretty much covered just about everything that transpired in this realm during its retaking, that secretive brat must've kept a lot more to himself. "Say, can I ask you something?"
"Yes?" responded SA-α with curiosity edged in its voice.
"How exactly did someone to the likes of Fafnir manage to do all this? Last time I saw the bastard, he was nothing more than an overgrown lizard. So, how the hell did someone like that was able to do this amount of damage?"
"Sadly, we don't know all that much. By the time of our creation, things had already deteriorated enough that there were no reliable records of the initial invasion, and even then there was allegedly not much to note. From what little we could gather, dragons suddenly appeared outside of the city, leaving everyone confused as to where they came from. In hindsight, it was probably thanks to some inside help that granted those creatures entry to the realm, and we now have some idea as to who that was -but once again, it's not that important at the moment. What actually is worthy of noting is that over time their bodies seem to have considerably degenerated, to the point that they started dying as if they're mortals. In fact, they might practically be, and on top of that, their intelligence also took a serious hit as well. Unfortunately, this only happened long after all opposition was neutralized, especially thanks to the Doublet System being in effect, as the initial invasion came too suddenly for the system to be disengaged."
"Huh… so far, that's all information that I already knew of. Well, except perhaps the whole insider thing, but I've got a feeling this must've been that traitor Odal was working for. What was his name again?... Three-something-or-another?"
"Thrivaldi," corrected the synthetic for him, even though SA-α was somewhat unsure if Surt's display of forgetfulness was genuine, or simple mockery. "To the best of my knowledge, that's Fafnir's right hand. We rarely got to see him during our operations, since getting near Yggdrasil's Complex is next to impossible for us, yet we still gathered enough intel to point in that direction."
"I see…" The dark haired demon went silent, and for a while he thought about what he'd been told, trying to see if there was anything he had missed from Odal's report. Unfortunately, the rogue god either knew little about Fafnir's power boost, or he was simply unwilling to share such knowledge with them. Whatever the case might be, there was no way of asking him right now, except for seeking his counterpart in this realm. It sounded crazy, but since they seemingly went further back in time from the moment of his departure, this meant that Odal -or at the very least some version of him- must be somewhere in this timeline, although reaching him could prove a fool's errand. There was also the fact that the whole idea almost encroached on paradox territory, which was something generally frowned upon by Yggdrasil, and though the Tree didn't seem to be in great shape here, there was little doubt that pushing it like this would certainly get them in the Tree's bad side once -and if- they got back.
Without anything else to do about their situation, Surt decided to simply take a nap and try to regain as much strength, since that was the most constructive way to pass time right now. Outside the thunderstorm carried on relentlessly, but for once this worked in their favor, given that the low visibility due to the downpour hindered their pursuers' search effort. Sure, once in a while a piece of debris would come off loose from the ceiling, prompting him to check whether or not it was the sign that the building was finally coming down or not. So far though, it seemed they were relatively safe, so he closed his eyes once more. Only this time, a different sound entered his ears, followed by a wave of a particular wavelength of negative emotions that were mostly associated with anger. 'I think something's approaching, and it's pretty pissed off too.'
Surt woke up with a start, and looked around for the source of that intrusion, but before he or the synthetics managed to do as much as speak of what was happening, he felt a warm breath against his neck. 'Uh oh… don't tell me this is…'
"Wakie, wakie, Commander. I hope I'm not interrupting your beauty sleep in… you know… the middle of a warzone and all that," purred a ritch, feminine voice so close to Surt that she nearly brushed her lips against his skin. This only helped make him even more uncomfortable than he already was, which brought an evil grin on her lips, even if this little victory was short lived, considering they still had a long road ahead of them. "And while on the topic of warzones… do remind me why are we already in one. Because, from what I recall, we weren't even supposed to engage anyone until we would be much, much closer to our target."
"Wait, Hild! Let me explain!" said Surt in a hurry, and immediately snapped his head to the side to look at the pissed off demoness, who somehow managed to avoid detection until she was literally breathing against his neck. More so, as his eyes met hers, the crimson fire that burned in them, almost paralyzed him from fear. It was without doubt that he messed up, if he managed to make the normally disciplined Hild so furious that she was brought on the verge of losing all semblance of self control.
"Very well, go on. I'm listening. And make sure you convince me that going through all this trouble of fighting our way to this point was worth it."
"Well… you see…"
AN: I would like to thank everyone that has offered their feedback and support both here and on the Goddess Relief site.
There are a few things that I'd like to note for this chapter.
The Ragnarok Protocol wasn't mentioned up until this point, although it's been vaguely referred to during the previous chapter's discussion between Celestin and Sanngrid. Of course, I'm nowhere done with this, but it should be pretty obvious that it's a failsafe placed by Yggdrasil in the event the current day immortals go rogue and turn against it, upon which point, their elimination is necessary. Keep in mind, this isn't exactly the same Ragnarok described by the Norse legends, as that whole situation played out very differently over there.
Now, on a slightly unrelated matter, Maztema with my permission started translating this story in Spanish. So if you find it more convenient to check the early chapters in Spanish, please give his version a check too! He's already on chapter 12 by the time of writing this note, so that's an amazing amount of time and dedication, and all by his own volition, so please give him the moral support needed for his translation project.