She hadn't quite been prepared to see all five Gundam pilots in action. Although it had been four years since they'd first been brought together, time had dulled none of their skills, at least not to her eyes. She couldn't imagine what it would have been like if they still had their Gundams, how quickly this entire incident might have been resolved.
Usagi's breath caught in her throat. This was it, the house Relena had brought her as a captive, the house where Hekate was created, where so much of this nightmare started.
She started as a voice beside her whispered, "Is this the place?"
Willing herself to breathe normally, she looked over at Heero and nodded. "It is."
"All right." By some unspoken order (Maybe they arranged all this before we left the Winner Estate, she thought inanely to herself), they began divide up, a pilot with each of the goddesses, till only she and Duo remained. In her mind, it made a lot of sense; it made things balanced, since the goddesses' powers could balance out the lack of knowledge the pilots had of their own, while the pilots were enough at ease with this kind of mission to balance out the goddesses' unfamiliarity; and it made things a lot easier for what she was going to have to do. It would be a lot simpler to slip away from just Duo than from everyone at once.
She spared a moment to glance over to her side, examine the man next to her. It had been four years since she'd met Duo. Time had changed them both in its own subtle ways, but he was still one of her best friends, and despite everything that had gone on over the past month*, she still was in love with him. It still confused her, these seemingly conflicting emotions she felt for him and Heero. She was forcing them out of her mind for now though.
You know ever better than I do that if your heart is not clear, the Ginzuishou won't respond. Yes, that's what it was Ami had said to her. It seemed like ages ago, when in fact it was less than two weeks ago. She made herself move all her concentration on what was happening and what was still to come.
A hand touched her arm lightly, and she looked over at Duo expectantly. "Don't look so worried," he whispered. "It'll go fine, you'll see."
She nodded. "Of course."
He nudged her lightly, shoulder against shoulder. "After all, you have the God of Death as your personal escort." She had to mirror his smile; it was irresistible. "It'll be fine, Usagi."
"Yes, it will be."
The house before them went completely dark, and Duo climbed to his feet. She followed, shooting him a questioning glance. "That's Heero's signal. It's time to go. They're all going to provide distractions for us to slip in, get Kuzanagi, and get back out."
She nodded again. "Simple enough. Let's get this show on the road."
Slipping in the mansion was almost embarrassingly easy. She supposed that was a testament to how thorough the others were being with their distractions. There was no sign of Thanatos, Sakura, or even so much as a guard. She moved near silently along, occasionally having to check to make sure Duo was still with her; he was so quiet that she could almost swear he wasn't there at all.
When they reached two sets of stairs, one leading up to the second story while the other led down to the basement, Duo gently tugged her arm, bringing her to a stop and pulling her out of sight back around the corner. "Where from here?" he whispered.
She glanced at the stairs leading up then back at him. "Second story. It would be in his bedroom. That's where he kept everything important last time I was here." Which, admittedly, had been when she was still Hekate, but there was no reason to bring that up again. No one really wanted to think about it, least of all her. The things she had done in Relena's name still haunted her nightmares. "That would be the second bedroom on the right once we reach the top."
"All right," Duo agreed, starting to move forward. "Stay behind me, all right?"
She shook her head in agreement. "Of course."
As quietly as they could, the pair turned the corner and started up the stairs. It was only when she stumbled and Duo reached back to catch her arms to steady her that she realized he held a gun in one hand. But, of course, it was the best weapon he had, short of releasing Shinigami, and she had no wish to meet the winged God of Death again any time soon. She'd rather meet -
She cut her thoughts off short as they reached the top of the steps and the great space of that dark hallway loomed before them. As Hekate, she'd slept near the end of it and had had to traverse the length of it more than once in her day and night here. She thought as hard as she could, but she could not recall a time when so many of the endless doors down its length stood open, including the second door on the right that they sought.
"Something doesn't feel quite right here," she faintly heard Duo mutter, an acknowledgement of the same uneasy feeling that was making her more and more nervous by the minute. She stayed close to him as he moved forward as he'd requested, though, fingertips resting lightly on part of his braid for reassurance. Who knew how much longer she'd be able to -
Duo went flying across the hall as they reached the first door, a sudden intense wind sweeping through the open door, knocking him off his feet, and making him collide with the far wall. Like something out of a bad dream, Thanatos - no, Vritra - emerged from the blackness, obviously the source of the wind. Before she could even think about making a move, either to attack or go help Duo (she wasn't sure yet herself), a vicious backhand caught her across one cheek, and she too was on the floor.
"At last," the voice she faintly recognized as Thanatos' rumbled, both aloud and in her mind, "at last, I have two of the greatest thorns in my side here, at my mercy. How long I have waited for this moment."
She couldn't force herself to listen to the demon ramble. She glanced over her shoulder to where Duo had fallen and breathed a small sigh of relief to see him moving at least to his knees. He was shaking his head sharply, like he was trying to clear it, but at least he was moving, though for how much longer she couldn't say. That depended solely on the humor of the creature Thanatos had become.
"I suppose that I should take my time killing you both, make it slow and painful, but I guess I cannot with your friends here also." The creature shrugged indifferently. "So I guess fast deaths will have to suffice." From a sheath at his side, he drew Kuzanagi, blue eyes flicking back and forth between Duo and Usagi till they lit on the still struggling man. "You will go first, Shinigami. I learned my mistake from the last time, and I would not want you around to undo my work on Selene. Farewell."
It's like the fight against Morrigan all over again, rushed through her mind. Certain death at the tip of a sharpened blade awaited Duo, and all she could think to do was exactly what he'd done for her in the same situation. Moving as quickly as she could, she threw herself between Kuzanagi and Duo.
The feel of the blade cutting through her chest was... indescribable. It was a white-hot pain like nothing she could have possibly ever imagined. She thought she might scream, but she could find no air in her lungs to push it out, and so it remained lodged in her throat. The blade drew back out and she started to slump forward, catching herself on her hands and knees; a second later, Duo grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back against him. "No... Usagi..." she heard him whisper faintly.
Above them, Thanatos/Vritra chuckled darkly. "I suppose the order of your deaths matters not. Now, Shinigami, you-" He broke off at a bubbling laugh that emerged from Usagi's lips. "Why do you laugh, Moon Goddess?"
"Don't count us out yet," she forced herself to whisper. One-handed, she reached into the pocket of her pants and pulled out the last two talismans, the mirror and the Ginzuishou. "This isn't over by a long shot."
Her fingers shaking, she dropped them into the pool of blood forming around her, watching as the mirror shattered into a million pieces. She barely heard Thanatos scream "No!" and Duo whisper "Don't leave me" before the darkness took her.
* * * * *
Selene, the darkness whispered.
She forced her eyes open to the pitch black. I am Selene, she returned. You are the one I seek?
I am. Do you know what you are doing, summoning me like this?
I do. Only you can defeat Vritra and send him back to the abyss.
It has cost you your life. It may well cost you your soul.
She shivered at the thought but made herself speak. As long as I can protect this world, I don't care about myself. She paused and amended her reply. As long as I can protect the ones I love...
Yes, love. That is why you are doing this? She nodded. A true and noble reason. Very well. I accept your calling and will leave to fight Vritra. The august woman's face lightened. And I will do all in my power to protect the ones you love.
She bowed deeply in the darkness. Thank you, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami. But she was speaking to empty space.
* * * * *
No matter how many times he tried to convince himself guys didn't cry, he couldn't stop the tears streaming down his face. It was just as well Usagi's actions had stunned the monster before him into immobility; he wasn't sure he could raise a hand to defend himself right now. Faintly, he could sense Heero's presence trying to make itself known in the back of his mind, but he couldn't concentrate on it, not now, not when he was holding the body of the woman he loved in his arms.
Who knew how long the light had been shining in the dark hallway before he finally took notice of it reflecting in the shards of the broken mirror. It gave out the most amazing reflections, sending bright streaks of light across every visible surface.
And it came from the woman he held.
* That's right. So far, Gods and Other Creatures has only taken 30 days to occur. Seems like a lot longer, doesn't it? See the timeline.
(Obviously, this link contains spoilers to the rest of the series. Be forewarned.)
23 March 2004
Wow, yet another chapter done. Looks like we're really getting down to the wire, ne? Waii!! Usagi's dead. Thanatos is Vritra. And is this Amaterasu making her appearance at last?
See everyone in the next chapter!