Oh My Devil-Hunter

    By Mark Babcock

    Yohko slowly picked herself up out of the dirt for the nth time in the last ten minutes. "This is not going well" she thought, shaking leaves from her hair. The demon was currently fencing with Azusa, who was only just parrying its blows. With a side of swipe of it's tail, Azusa went spinning through the air to land next to Yohko.
    "Aahhg! I can't even make contact with it!" she wailed.
    Yohko considered briefly, and decided this patch of forest was working to their disadvantage. "Time to beat a strategic retreat, Apprentice."
    Taking off at a staggering run, they got to the street before the demon had clued in that they were running. With a howl of horrible glee, it took off in pursuit.
    Running down the street in their torn and dirty dresses, spear and soul-sword in hand, the local residents of the neighbourhood who were out for an evening walk were rather taken aback by the pair.
    This was nothing compared to their reaction when the demon roared by seconds later, intent on its prey.
    "I *pant* *wheeze* can't go *pant* much further..*pant* " Azusa managed to get out three blocks from the site where they first encountered the demon.
    "There! Up ahead! *gasp* The old Temple! We'll make our stand there!" Yohko wheezed.
    Running up the stairs to the temple's courtyard, they could hear the demon's coarse breath just behind them. As they reached the top of the stairs, under the archway, Yohko caught her toe on the edge of a flag stone and went sprawling. Because of her training, she managed to twist in mid air to land painfully on her back, soul- sword at the ready for one final desperate defence. To her amazement, instead of the demon dropping down upon her, it stopped dead in mid leap and was thrown back down the stairs by some unknown force. It then proceeded to stalk back and forth at the base on the stairs, thwarted, but not about to give up.
    Leaning on her soul-spear, and looking about to collapse in spite of it, Azusa panted heavily. "I don't get it, Mistress, what's holding it back?"
    "I think its because this is a holy site. The powers that this old temple is dedicated to must still hold sway." Yohko mused.
    "_Old_ Temple, Yohko-sama? This place looks almost new."
    "Yeah, its been abandoned since I was a little girl....Huh?"
    Looking around, Yohko noticed that the temple, and the small house that was off to one side of the courtyard, was indeed looking in very good repair. Yet Yohko remembered coming by here two years ago on a shopping trip with her grandmother and it had looked about to fall in on itself. Just then a sliding door on the veranda of the house opened, and a tall, well dressed woman came out, a mug of tea in her hands. As she sipped from the mug, her eyes roved the grounds with a bored expression in them. When they got to the pair, standing inside the gate leaning on their weapons, she straightened with a look of interest. "Belldandy! Could you come out here for a minute?" she called over her shoulder, her voice rich and sultry. As she proceeded to cross over to them the slight breeze wafted her long white hair to one side. The devil hunters could see that she had strange tattoos on her forehead and cheeks.
    When she was near Yohko bowed to her. "I apologize for the intrusion ma'am, but we are Devil Hunters you see and..."
    "..And you think you're gonna find some *here*?" The woman said, a hint of amusement in her voice.
    "No, uh, actually we were running from that one...." Azusa said pointing down the stairs.
    "Whats going on, Urd?" another woman, perhaps a little younger,with long brown hair and wearing a sweatshirt and shorts had joined them. A girl with long black hair about fourteen or so was leaning against a post on the verandah, idly twirling what looked to be a long handled mallet. Both also had the strange markings on their faces.
    "Beats me, sis. They say they're Devil Hunters but it looks like the devils are hunting them." Said Urd, hooking a thumb down the stairs.
    When Belldandy saw the Demon, her normally pleasant look changed to one of anger. "How did that get into this world?" She demanded.
    "Uh..We don't know *how* they get here. We just try to send them back when we can...." Yohko sputtered. She didn't know who these people were, beyond the fact that they are all foreigners, but something about them made her want to not offend them in any way.
    "Well, you would have trouble with a Duke of Hell even if you were twice as powerful. Leave this to me." said Belldandy, moving to the archway.
    "But...." said Yohko and Azusa together, moving to intercept her when a hand landed on each of their shoulders, stopping them.
    "Watch and learn, ladies. This should be fun." Urd said, grinning widely.
    Belldandy had stopped just inside the arch, her head bowed and her fingers clasped as if in prayer. "Powers of light, grant all the sight, and banish the evil from this night" She intoned. She then opened her hands and a small ball of light appeared there. It grew in intensity until it was almost as bright as day in the courtyard.
    Yohko had to look twice to be sure, but it seemed this Belldandy was floating up off the ground a good two feet. Just then the ball of light streaked down and enveloped the demon. With a roar of pain and anger, the demon faded from sight, the light disappearing with it.
    Belldandy, steadying herself against the arch, paused to catch her breath. Turning, she looked at them and smiled. "Won't you come in for some tea?"
    "Uh, Yes Ma'am." Yohko and Azusa chorused unsteadily.
    Just then, Belldandy noticed the cuts and the blood dripping off the two. "You're hurt! Please, come in at once and I'll attend to them."
    Yohko stopped just short of the house, looking down at her torn and dirty dress. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment.....?" She closed her eyes and called upon the well of power within her. She dispelled her soul-sword and was soon wearing the loose blouse and jeans she had on earlier. As she opened her eyes, she saw that Azusa was just completing her transformation back into her usual blouse and plaid skirt.
    "Sorry about that," she said "but that dress was not fit for polite company anymore."
    "Oh, no problem. Who likes to be a dirty guest." said Urd, smiling to take any insult out of the comment.
    As the two of them settled at the low table, Urd and the girl made themselves comfortable across from them.
    "Um, Just how did you end up being chased by a Duke of Hell?" said the girl, a calculating expression on her face.
    "Uh, well, just at the right place at the wrong time I guess, Haha..." She shrugged, an awkward silence descending over the table.
    In the distance, a motorcycle could be heard approaching along the street.
    "Here we are," said Belldandy, coming into the room with a tray of six mugs, tea pot, and assorted utensils. She quickly had the tea poured for them all with two mugs filled at vacant places at the table. Belldandy stopped, and a warm blue glow filled her hand.
    Yohko didn't know what this was about, but suddenly she felt a little dizzy. When the world straightened out, she saw that all the cuts and scrapes were gone, along with some of the worst of her old scars. Shaking a little, she thanked her host, and picked up her tea, surprised she wasn't spilling any.
    The motorcycle seemed to have come in via a rear gate and stopped just behind the house. Shortly after a young man and a woman that could be his sister came in the back door shedding helmets and motorcycle jackets. After they had settled at the table, introductions were made. Yohko properly introduced herself and her Apprentice. The others were Belldandy, her older sister Urd, her younger sister Skuld, and Keiichi Morisato and his younger sister Megumi.
    After tea, Keiichi and Megumi excuse themselves and set up lights outside in order to work on a dragster bike.
    Belldandy looked at Yohko for a moment, and asked, "So, you called yourselves `Devil Hunters'. You evidently have some powers pertaining to such a calling, as you command soul-weapons. But to challenge a Hell Duke is not a trivial thing."
    "Please ma'am, I have to ask...Who are you? You toasted that demon where we couldn't even make a dent in it. Please tell us how you did that..." Yohko said humbly. She wasn't thrilled with the comments about the level of their skills, but this woman was something else.
    Looking out the door to see if they might be overheard, Belldandy said. "We three are Goddesses. Skuld here is the Goddess of the Future. I am the Goddess of the Present, and Urd is the Goddess of the Past. Why we came to be here is a long story, and not meaning to be rude, but it is one that is somewhat private, also."
    "Goddesses! Oh Wow! Yohko, isn't this exciting! I never met a real Goddess before!" Azusa gushed, making Yohko wince. While Belldandy took this with a good natured smile, Urd and Skuld rolled their eyes.
    "So that's how you dealt with that demon like that." said Yohko in a small voice."When a demon or devil are near, our rings glow green, and we go into action. It isn't a matter of who or what we have to face, for it is our duty to purge the world of evil. This last one was the nastiest yet, and they seem to keep getting tougher. I thank you for intervening, and apologize for bringing it to your door."
    "Oh, no need for that, you were smart to come here as it would have perhaps have harmed you otherwise, and then others would have been hurt or killed. Still, it is a worrisome thing to have such as that show up in the world and have those charged with fighting such evil so ill prepared for it." Belldandy paused for a moment, looking at her sisters. "I think," she said "we should consult with higher authority about this."
    "Uh, problem, I'm still banned from the heavens." Commented Urd, which got a surprised look, quickly stilled, from the two Devil Hunters.
    "Then we'll use the phone." Belldandy explained, which got a bigger look of surprise out of the girls.
    Moving to the other side of the room, she picked up the phone and dialled a rather long number. After a short pause, it was answered.
    "Hello, Kami-sama? It's Belldandy. We may have a problem.....Well, does a Hell Duke running down the street sound serious? (she winced, and pulled the phone away from her ear) Uh, Yes Kami-sama, that's right....It was chasing some Devil Hunters.......No, they don't know where it came from.....Yes, I got rid of it......Uh, hang on... Yohko-san, what is the toughest you two ever had to deal with?"
    "Uh, I guess that would have been the Demon Tokima.." Yohko replied.
    "Thanks...She said the Demon Tokima....Really? Wow....What should we do about all this.....Uh, huh.....Yes Sir.....Thank you Kami- sama..Bye..."
    "What did he say?" Skuld asked.
    "We have some preparations to make....It seems Keiichi and Megumi aren't the only ones busy tonight. Yohko, you and Azusa should perhaps spend the rest of the night here... Please feel free to call your folks and let them know your all right."
    "Uh, Yes ma'am..." said Yohko, moving toward the phone.
    "Oh, please, call me Belldandy, it makes me feel so old to be called "ma'am"." She grinned.
    As Yohko dialled her home number, the three Goddesses went into a brief huddle and then Urd and Belldandy left the room heading for the back of the house. Skuld sat down at a computer and started using what looked like a graphics program, drawing a complicated series of rings and circles. Azusa sat down next to her and studied the screen as Skuld worked for a while. Abruptly, she exclaimed,"That's a Gate of Power, But I've never seen such a configuration at the edges before."
    "That's because most gates are made to summon the powers of deities, and concentrate all the power they can get. Because this is being made by us, we have to control the power, rather than concentrate it. If we used a gate drawn for human use, we could blow the roofs off all the houses in town." Skuld paused, looking at Azusa hard. "How do *you* know about gates of power?"
    Azusa pulled, from seemingly out of nowhere, a large, ornate leather bound Tome. "Oh! Its all here in my copy of `All you Really Need to Know about Hyper-Space and Pan-Dimensional Travel'." She said brightly.
    (Skuld face-faults) "Well really!" exclaimed Yohko as she slammed down the receiver.
    "Is there a problem?" asked Belldandy, coming back into the room.
    "Not really, its just my mom thinks I'm shacking up with some *guy*!"
    "Would it help if I talked to her?" Said Belldandy, a shocked look on her face.
    "No, But what really pisses me off is that if she was just concerned for me, I could handle it. The point is mom thinks I *should* be shacking up! Humph!"
    "......." thought Belldandy.
    "Um...Megami-sama, may I ask a question?" queried Azusa.
    "Yes, but please, call me Belldandy."
    "That man, Keiichi, and his sister. Do they know about all of you, or should we watch what we say around them?"
    "Keiichi knows all about us, but his sister doesn't know yet, I think. Which for the moment is as it should be, I guess."
    During all this, Urd came out of the back of the house with arm loads of blankets and then returned with Skuld carrying several futons and pillows. Skuld then grabbed a sheet from a small ink-jet printer in the corner as Urd dug into a bag, pulling a box of artist's pastels from it. Together they went back down the hall.
    "Please make yourselves comfortable,"said Belldandy, "you will be sharing this room with Megumi, as I think they will be working on that engine 'till midnight for the race this weekend. I've put another pot of tea on and there is lemon and honey if you desire.
    I'm sorry if I seem to be such a poor host, but we three have much to do before noon tomorrow. Please feel free to help yourselves."
    Left alone for a while, Yohko and Azusa sat in silence for a bit, trying to absorb the weight of what they just landed in. Looking around, she decided that the futons needed to be laid out and prepped for the night. With Azusa's help, she laid out the three futons and placed the pillows and blankets on them. Sitting on the edge of one, she sat and thought for a bit, until Azusa came back from the kitchen with a mug of tea for each, her's with lemon as she liked it.
    "Thanks, Azusa-chan. I needed this...."
    "Yohko-sama, that circle Skuld-sama was drawing, it was for the charging of artifacts too, I think."
    "I'm sure they'll tell us whats going on in good time, though Belldandy was sure upset about that demon. I hope we're not gonna be in any trouble about that." Picking up her tea, she said "I for one would like a closer look at that Bike!"
    Wandering out the door of the veranda, she sat down on the edge of the walkway and nodded a greeting to the two students. Megumi was helping Keiichi fit a new fuel injector into the engine. A box on the ground had a part sticking out of it that looked like a miniature jet fan. Megumi looked at Yohko and asked, "Are you friends of Belldandy's?"
    "Uh, well... truth be told, we only just met her a little while ago," explained Yohko, " She sort of saved us from a fate worse than death.."
    "That's Belldandy for you, she is always so helpful," replied Megumi."You'd think she was a Goddess or something, she's so nice."
    At this Keiichi slipped with his wrench, barking his fingers and looking an amusing cross of guilty, surprised, and pained.
    Megumi looked at his fingers, "Ow, that must've hurt, hang on while I get you a bandage or three."
    As she went inside, Keiichi looked carefully at Yohko and Azusa.
    "You know?" he asked.
    "We know." Yohko replied "You more of her friends from the Heavens?" he asked, looking a little worried.
    "No, we're just a pair nice, friendly, neighbourhood Devil Hunters"
    Yohko said with a grin, guessing correctly that Belldandy's sisters and friends must make life interesting this college student.
    "Devil Hunters! I *don't* even want to know!" He retorted with mock severity, mopping up some blood with a clean sheet of paper towel.
    About this time Megumi could be heard returning, and so ended the current conversation. After helping her brother with the Band-aids, the two carried on with the work on the bike, the four of them chatting about various topics, though Yohko and Megumi had fun annoying her brother talking about what type of guys they'd like to date. Azusa made trips to the kitchen to bring the tea pot for everyone, or sat listening quietly to the chatter. Occasionally Belldandy or one of her sisters would stick a head out to see if everything was ok, and sometimes join in the chatter briefly.
    It was around 11:30 when Yohko started to catch herself dozing off, Azusa already a limp weight against her shoulder. Excusing herself, she rousted her apprentice and went in for bed. The last thing she thought as she drifted off was that there was *NO WAY* Chi' was gonna find out about these people.
    It had been a dreamless sleep from which she woke, a cold feeling creeping over her. Looking at the VCR across the room, she could see it was 3:36 in the morning. The shapes of Azusa and Megumi sleeping could be seen in it's glow. Padding to the bathroom, Yohko could see a faint light under one of the doors at the end of the hall, and hear low voices in discussion. After returning from the bathroom, the sense of unease was still there. She decided a little night air was what she needed. Pulling on her jeans and top, she wrapped herself with the blanket and quietly went outside. She stared at the stars for a while, and then wandered over to the Temple, slowly climbing the stairs to the entrance. Inside, the interior was dimly lit by a pair of large candles near the alter.
    Moving to the alter, she took one of the incense sticks from a bundle, and lighting it from one of the candles, placed it in one of the holders in the alter. As the smell of Jasmine spread, she clapped her hands and offered a silent prayer to the gods, as was customary. Sitting down, she thought about how odd it was what she had just done, given who was living on these very premises.
    She soon became aware that she wasn't alone. Turning, she could make out a shape standing in the shadows at the far end of the temple. The figure moved closer to the shrine and showed herself to be Belldandy, wearing a quilted dressing gown and pink bunny slippers.
    "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude on your worship." Belldandy explained. "I needed to think things through, and this is the quietest place for that." She turned to go.
    "Please, don't go because of me." Yohko returned hurriedly. "This is _your_ temple, after all..."
    Belldandy gave her a surprised look, then broke out in a grin.
    "Oh! This isn't *my* temple. This is a Shinto temple."
    "But, but..." got out Yohko, utterly confused.
    Belldandy sat down cross-legged in front of Yohko, revealing a white flannel night-dress under her house coat.
    "I am a Norn Goddess, as are my sisters. I was responsible for Keiichi getting thrown out of his dorm, and was able to get permission for us to stay here." she explained.
    "We get all sorts of Monks stopping by, and we do provide for those in need, as best we can. But don't worry about how you worship, that has always been a private thing, I think."
    "I just feel so odd." replied Yohko. "I suppose I believed, really believed, in Gods and Goddesses when I became a Devil Hunter. After all, there has to be *something* to oppose that evil. But I never figured I'd ever be sitting on the floor of a temple in the middle of the night, talking to one wearing `Bunny Slippers'" she ended, with a small smile.
    Belldandy rocked back with a burst of giggles. "They were a Christmas gift from Keiichi, and they *are* warm too. I won't tell you what Urd got him, save to say he went as red as the holly when he figured out what it was. His sister teased him about it for weeks afterward. Ah, my goodness." she said, sweeping her long hair out of her face, which had a fond expression on it.
    "Hmm? Yes?"
    "If I may ask, What is the big worry over that Demon today...yesterday....I guess? Is it really that serious a thing? I mean, it was a bad one, but we had dealt with tough ones before.."
    Belldandy let out a long sigh, considering her words. "Long ago, when mankind first walked the earth, the demons and gods made an agreement. No demon or devil, or god or goddess, above a certain rank, could enter the mortal realms or affect it directly. and there were strict rules about how other levels could operate too.
    I am almost as powerful a goddess as you can get and still have no restrictions on what I do. Only seven levels are above me, and I don't think I'll ever be able to attain them, though. Nor do I care to, really. I'm happy with what I am..." she continued briskly.
    "But that Hell Duke was *way* over the limit, and may be a warning of more to come. There is something evil growing and I fear that demon will be the least of our worries, somehow....I should really get back, those two are libel to start World War Three if I'm not there to referee." She got up to go.
    "And I really should get back to bed, or I'll be grumpy in the morning..." Yohko laughed, getting up as well.
    Together, Goddess and Devil Hunter returned to the house.


    Written by Mark Babcock, babcock@biologysx.lan.nrc.ca
    Posted by David Wills, dwills@world.std.com

    -- Excerpt from "Oh My Devil-Hunter", by Mark Babcock.