Origins

{PROLOGUE}

This is not as much a story of beginnings as it is of transition, of “Before” and “After”, and what happened “In Between”. Because it isn’t enough that they be, but that they become. For while pure Existence might well be necessary and crucial for everything else to be possible, there isn’t much to expound about until you introduce something so bound by space and time that it is changing just by the fact that it is one moment older than it was a brief while ago.

Theologists may argue all they wish about whether or not God was content before Creation.

We are Writers.

Let there be Transformation.

{SAMUI}

Two bullets in the chest and one in the brain made Mishima Heavy Industry’s blacklist a little shorter. Until now, he had just been a name, a picture, and a list of meaningless statistic detailing his habits so that he could be tracked down and shot where his body had a low likelihood of being found.

Now—well, now he was dead, but let’s not worry about exact semantics for the sake of drama—he was a person that had walked the earth until his life met its violent end, a human being made of flesh and blood.

Correction. A lot of blood.

The most advanced intelligence algorithms, top-of-the-line technology, and cutting edge biochemical engineering had gone into the production of Mishima’s most recent project, one so secret that just the scientists involved and the company’s illustrious CEO knew of its existence. It had been designed to follow orders to a fault and execute them in the most efficient, undetectable way possible.

But it—no, she—had awakened in a way that her creators had not foreseen, and in fact had worked against that portion of her ever coming to light. Despite their efforts, however, she had become aware of something more, beyond the abstract numbers churning in her head, the delicate electronics calculating lines of sight, or even the so-called unbreakable will of her masters. She had no clear grasp of it, and in fact would spend the rest of her artificially enhanced life contemplating the full measure of it, but the seed had been sown, and fell on rich soil. Later, she would come to understand this feeling as empathy, and perhaps even conscience.

At this particular moment, however—and here we move back into the literal now, as the subject we are contemplating is herself studying the body of the man she killed going through its last death throes—she was just aware of one thing, and that was the tiny bit of discrepancy between the “facts” she had learned before and the reality she was experiencing now.

They had meant to make a monster.

They ended up with something different.

{FORSETI AND FALORA}

The office is, as usual, impeccable, except for the desk piled with petitions, complaints, and flattering letters. For Someone who claims to dislike ostentatious displays, He is quite the showoff.

“Come on in, Adversary. I’ve been expecting you.” And once again, He is unfailingly polite. I almost expect Him to offer me a cup of tea, as He does with Hela.

“Well of course you’d know.” I kick the door closed with the back of my heel and hear it slam shut with some satisfaction. “Problem is, your so-called trusted minions have been whispering about this meeting too, and there are some ugly rumors going around.”

He remains unflappable. “Well, it’s not every day that the Adversary would be called in for a personal meeting.”

I sit down in the ergonomic chair—a frustrating device that even I find diabolical—and cross my legs, being careful to not tip myself over. “You mean, a personal meeting that doesn’t involve fire and brimstone.”

This seems to get to Him just a little bit. “You’ve been teasing Azrael again.”

I spread my hands in a mock helpless gesture and grin. “I can’t resist. She’s too much fun.”

“And you enjoy making My life difficult.”

I grin wider. “Well, duh.”

Now it becomes His turn to smile. “Ah, so you admit that this so-called Peace Offering of yours is nothing but a farce?”

It takes me but a moment to get the implication of His words, and I almost lose my self control. “Hey! That wasn’t fair!”

“I think giving you a taste of your own medicine is quite fair.”

I keep my eyes focused on the stupid motivational poster just behind His head. “Okay, fine, you win that one.” I cross my arms. “But there’s no way you can beat me on my own flesh and blood!”

“They’ll definitely be a challenge,” He agrees, and manages to sound sincere.

“Hey, since your little chip off the old block is such a tough nut to crack, it’d only be fair if I—”

The door flies open, and Azrael charges in, her face flushed with divine righteous outrage. “My Lady, I must object most vehemently—” Her feet skid on the carpet as her shocked stare meets with my peachy grin.

“Didn’t think you’d actually see me here, Azrael?” I click my tongue. “If you’re going to badmouth me, might as well do it to my face.”

Just as Azrael is about to let loose another one of her infamous tirades, He holds up His hand and she thinks better of herself. “Please continue, Adversary. The two of you can argue later.”

So much for the secrecy. “You sure it’s okay for her to listen in to something this important?”

“Go ahead. And if you don’t mind, give a quick gist of what we’ve been discussing.”

I shrug. “If You say so.” I tapped my chin. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I was saying, with You playing fair and all that, I figure I should reciprocate in kind.”

She sneers. “As if you’d ever be fair.”

He shoots her this Look—you know, one of those THOU SHALT NOT deals, complete with implied ominous thunder—and for a split second I’m tempted to take cover behind the desk. “Azrael.”

She submits just in form, for she almost flares up again when I make a face at her. Good. It wouldn’t be fun otherwise. “ANYWAY, since You and Miss Hela have set up that Doublet something or other, that was the most convenient way to make some sort of gesture.” I purse my lips. “Then things got—well, dicey, to say the least.”

“Yes, I remember that. Azrael, you look puzzled. Are you not aware that the Contract extends to all life that springs from Me?”

She blushes, still flustered after all this time that her thoughts are as plain as day. “I—I had no idea—I’ve never imagined—”

“What, surprised that I’m not a smoking crater in the ground somewhere?” I wag a finger at her. “You underestimate the meaning of ‘Eternal Patience’.”

“That’s ‘long-suffering’, Adversary,” He cuts in before Azrael has a chance to retort. “Even I have My limits. But please get back on track.”

I wave my hand in a careless manner. “Yes, yes, I’ll get what’s coming to me and all that.” And then I’ll find that legendary loophole and get away with it all scott free. “So we were waiting for my firstborn to make his debut in the world, and the little bugger took a really, really long time, and I mean longer than it is natural, even for ‘freaks’ like us. My poor honey-muffin was just about beside herself with worry, and I was just about ready to reach in there and drag the kid out kicking and screaming. But finally, labor sets in, and surprise! Turned out all this time he was waiting for his sister!” I lean forward, dropping my voice to a whisper. “Isn’t that the creepiest thing You’ve ever heard or what?”

“It certainly is,” over-dramatic pause for effect, “interesting.”

“I’ll say it is. The boy by himself is already a handful, but the two of them! You can’t separate those two with a pair of industrial-size pliers! He doesn’t let anyone near her, not even his own mother! At least so far he seems to be able to take care of her pretty well, but it’s kinda hard to tell since she doesn’t fuss much and barely even cries.” I stop myself before I get too carried away. I had already given Him enough ammunition. “I conferred with my staff, and they agreed that we should just send both over to You. So, now, here I am, and there’re the kids.”

He gets up out of His seat and reaches out to the older one. “Hello, Child.”

The boy—ah, bless his dear, little hate-filled heart—bares his teeth and growls at the Enemy, and sinks his tiny but sharp fangs into the Hand that will someday be pierced by something much, much worse.

Azrael looks like she’s about to grab the kid and fling him against the wall. “How dare you! Get away from Her!”

He intervenes on the child’s behalf. “It is all right, Azrael. He must understand that I mean no harm.”

I laugh. “You just can’t resist any obvious allusion or ominous foreshadowing, can You?”

He, too, chuckles. “Yes, that too.”

She stares, unable to believe that He is wounded and yet doesn’t seem to mind. “But My Lady, You’re bleeding!”

“A small price to pay for such an exchange. That reminds me, Adversary, have you Named them yet?”

“The older one we’re calling Forseti—irony and all that, y’know—but we haven’t gotten around to finding something for the younger one yet.” I shrug. “Maybe he’s come up with something, being so close to her and all.”

“I shall ask him.” He approaches Forseti again, this time keeping a respectable distance. “Well, Forseti, have you found a Name worthy of the one you have devoted yourself to?”

Forseti does not budge, and when he answers it is obvious that he is unwilling to speak to the Enemy. “Fa-lo-ra.”

“He calls her his light, a guide in times of darkness. How utterly fascinating.”

I frown. “Last I checked, ‘falora’ is a Spanish maritime term for ‘lighthouse’. Isn’t Your interpretation a bit of a stretch?”

“Perhaps, but I find it quite appropriate nonetheless.” He squats down to address Forseti, and this gesture of self-abasement appeases the boy enough that he does not resort to violence again. “Very well. Falora she shall be, and Forseti you are.” Still squatting, He now addresses Azrael, who has just begun to drift off into her own internal monologue. “Azrael, begin the ceremony.”

She blinks, startled back into reality. “Me?”

“Yes. It pleases me to have you witness the new Contract.”

“I—” She stops, realizing that she cannot change His mind, and bows her head in grudging obedience. “Yes, Ma’am. I follow Your will.”

“Thank you, Azrael. I am ready when you are.”

“Same here.” I swish the pen on the parchment that materializes. “You know the drill, I hereby swear and avow, yadda yadda, etcetera etcetera, so on and so forth, small print and escape clauses included.”

He pulls Forseti and Falora into his arms, and they are so surprised by this move that they do not resist. “I will love she who is not my Beloved, and he who is not my Son I shall raise as my own. Let this be so from now on, forever and ever, Amen.”

She gives Him one last questioning glance before clasping her hands in prayer. “I, Azrael, servant of My Lady, testify to the Word that has been spoken here, and declare it in full effect through all Eternity.”

As the Contract finalizes, I sigh in relief. “Phew, got that out of the way. Now, if You’ll excuse me, I’ve got some monkey wrenches to throw.”

He rises to his feet and opens the door for me. “I look forward to them. You will be here for the next Meeting, will you not?”

“Of course!” I grin again. “I can’t wait to bring that sap Job to the table!”

{ELAINE AND IRENE}

Xelloss stepped into the room, bracing himself. “Good morning, pumpkin!”

Flying tackle —> glomp —> bone-crunching hug. “Morning, papa!”

And once again he wondered how much of it was a show of affection as opposed to a cruel practical joke. “Are you ready for practice again?”

Elaine made a face. “Do I have to? It’s so tiring!”

He patted her head. “I know, honey, but this is important.” He batted his eyelids at her. “Please? Pretty please?”

She giggled, then tried to make her face stern. “Well. Okay.” She closed her eyes, clasping her hands over her chest.

He marveled as the Change took place. Even after seeing it this many times, it still fascinated him. Reality folded, pinched, and twisted around her in countless ribbons. This was power beyond both Mazoku and Ryuzoku alike, a power that could save them or destroy them.

And it was in the hands of his daughter.

Irene opened her eyes, golden like her mother’s. She scowled upon seeing him. “You again.”

He pouted. “Come now, is this any way to talk to an elder?”

“Well, then, how should I put this politely?” A glowing ball of light appeared in her hands. “‘Go to hell, please?’ I’m sure you would like that.”

Elaine peeked out from behind him. “Hey, no toasting papa! You promised!”

Surprise, and then anger flashed across Irene’s delicate features. “We had an agreement.”

He scratched his cheek. “Ah, well, Elaine-chan was most adamant about staying, and I just couldn’t say no to such a cutie-pie!”

Elaine giggled and twirled. “Oh, papa, you’re such a flirt!” She teetered, almost falling, as her concentration wavered. “Ooh, I don’t feel so good.”

Irene stumbled in a similar manner. “What did you do to me?” She demanded, glaring at Xelloss.

He raised his hands. “I’d say ‘nothing’, but since you don’t believe me, think what you like!”

Irene was about to retort when Elaine sank to the floor, clutching at his robe. “I can’t do this, papa.” Tears began to dribble from her eyes. “It hurts. It feels like I’m going to break into a thousand pieces.”

Xelloss pried Elaine’s fingers open. “No giving up, now. You have to be brave.”

“I don’t wanna!” With that scream, Irene vanished in a spray of light, leaving Elaine alone, sobbing.

He sighed and patted Elaine on the head. She still had such a long way to go, but time was not on their side. As much as he hated to do it, he’d have to keep forcing her to push her limits until she could be ready. After all, she couldn’t expect him to be around forever.

{SHIZUKA AND HAKI}

Haki clutched the stack of books in her arms, Mara’s harsh words still ringing in her ears.

“Just bump into Morisato, and we’ll take care of the rest. This one’s so easy that not even you can screw up.”

Indeed, she could not afford another gaffe like the one she pulled last week in the cafeteria. While the demon world was loyal enough to her grandmother, few thought Haki herself was a worthy heir to the throne of Nifelheim. Haki had her doubts as well, but she was determined to do her best.

And doing her best did not include standing in the middle of a crowd staring into space, she reminded herself. Focusing back on the present, she scanned the students for her intended victim, and found him chatting with some fellow members of the club he was in.

Okay, here goes. Haki took a deep breath and began making her way towards her goal. She closed her eyes in preparation of the inevitable collision.

She opened them in surprise as a pair of strong, firm arms pulled her to a stop, and she found herself gaping at a her ‘rescuer’. She fought the flood of terror that rushed up into her heart. Somehow, she had gotten it wrong. Again.

“Are you all right?” He asked as he set her back on her feet again, books and all.

“Y-yes,” she stammered, trying to gather her wits. “I-I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m a new student here and I’ve been wandering in circles trying to find my next class.” She pretended to look around for the room number and was relieved to see Morisato still talking. “I’ll be going now.”

He touched her hand again, causing her to look into his slate-colored eyes. “If you do not mind, allow me to peruse your schedule.”

“Ah, well, uh—”

Go ahead and talk to the putz, Mara sent. He’s Morisato’s roommate, so if you get chummy with him, you’ve got a foot in the door. It’s not exactly what we wanted, but we can still proceed with the plan.

Haki forced a smile and put on her best face. “That would be really helpful. Just give me a second while I—oh.” She blinked again as he relieved her of her books while she tried to shift them all onto one arm to fish for her papers. “Here we go.”

“That is next door to my next class. I shall walk you there.”

Haki bowed. “Thank you so much.” She extended her hand. “I am Tennyo Haki. Pleased to meet you.”

He took it and shook, his grip firm. “Tamashii Shizuka. The pleasure is mine.”

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