I. Alea Iacta Est
Michelina stares into her scrying pool. The water is a deep, familiar blue, a color darker than the Earth’s sky but brighter than its oceans. It reflects the whole of the Universe.
She sighs and leans over the edge, dragging her fingertips across the water’s surface, watching stars burble and dance away at her touch. She’s quite tired, really. Minding the Universe for millennia after millennia is a weary task.
<<What are you doing?>>
She lifts her head up in surprise at the voice. It isn’t easy to sneak up on her, and there’s only one person who can. Maybe two.
“Gabe.” She pivots around, setting her bare feet on the marble floor. “You caught me resting.”
Gabe glides toward her. He’s wearing his original form, as he usually does. Michelina, though, is presently wearing the shape of a Pre-Raphaelite muse: flowing gossamer gown, wildflowers woven through her endlessly long hair. Inspiration on two long legs.
<<Isn’t this all a bit archaic?>> Gabe waves around at the palace. It’s made of glimmering marble columns and floats atop a bank of fluffy white clouds, a throwback to very ancient Greece.
“Excuse me for feeling Nostalgic.” Michelina waves her hand and the palace disappears. She’s sitting in an ordinary couch in an ordinary apartment, early 21st Century in style. The scrying pool is now a laptop computer, humming quietly beside her.
<<Well, this is just boring.>>
There really is no pleasing Gabe.
<<Why were you resting?>>
“I was tired.”
He stares at her strangely.
“Yes, I only imagined I was tired. Happy?”
<<Not especially.>> Gabe shrugs. Feelings, even imagining that he has them, doesn’t come easily or naturally to him. As it should be.
“Why are you here?” Gabe usually only comes to see her if he has a message. What he does with the rest of his time is a mystery.
<<Lucas sent me.>>
Michelina frowns. “So he wants to gloat, then?”
Gabe shrugs again. <<He wants to meet with you.>>
So he does want to gloat.
Light Yagami is dead, his soul dissolved into the nothingness of Mu. She won the battle.
But Kira’s presence--his shadow--lives on, so really, she lost the war.
<<He has an offer.>>
Michelina takes in a sharp breath. “Already? The 21st Century has barely started.”
<<Well,>> Gabe shrugs once more. Sometimes it seems the only gesture he is capable of, that sometimes-infuriating tic of impartiality. <<You’ve gotten off to a bad start.>>
So I have.
“What is his offer?” The voice she’s using, usually so sweet, is stiff.
<<You’ll have to ask him. He’s waiting at the Tower.>>
“Yes. Yes, of course he is.”
She comes swiftly to her feet. The apartment dissolves around her and morphs into the Royal Library of Alexandria. It had been one of humanity’s greatest triumphs, once, a beacon of scholarly achievement during the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Now, it’s nothing but a memory in Pandæmonium.
“Von!” she calls, knowing that her voice will carry to wherever her comrade is working.
“Michelina?” He appears before her at once, wearing his preferred form, that of a small, rumpled scholar, complete with an unkempt beard, natty cardigan, and frivolous eyeglasses.
She takes a deep breath, stands up taller, straighter. “I’m going to see Lucas. He has an offer.”
Ah, so it’s that time again already? Very good, Miss.”
The Tower is neutral ground. It looks out over all of Pandæmonium. The prideful humans who built it called it the Tower of Bable, but now it, too, is just a memory, much like the Royal Library of Alexandria.
It has a truly horrific number of steps, though, so Michelina just flies, tearing through the fabric of Pandæmonium until she lands, light as stardust, on the upper-most platform.
<<Hello, Lucas.>> Like him, she wears her true form. A shape that would be incomprehensible to any human who glimpsed it. It is neither male nor female; it is both all colors and no colors at all.
In this state, they are both at their most vulnerable and most powerful. To appear as such is a gesture of trust, but a very uneasy trust.
<<Michelina. You look as beautiful as ever.>>
If she had a mouth, she would smirk.
<<Gabe says you have an offer?>>
<<And? Do not keep me waiting.>>
<<You are eager, I see.>> Now she thinks she hears a smirk in his voice. So he wanted to gloat, after all.
<<I am out of chances. You know that.>>
There’s sympathy in his tone now, but she pays it no mind.
He isn’t known as the Father of Lies for nothing.
<<Why do you even offer?>> To say she’s suspicious is an understatement. <<You know that you have virtually won.>>
<<Pity?>> he says, simply.
She narrows her eyes, figuratively. <<Try again.>>
Now he laughs with subtle mirth. <<I do not want our games to end, Michelina. It’s only been fourteen billion years or so. Surely you have some fight in you yet?>>
She bristles all over. Damn, but she hates his arrogance. <<You bet I do, buster.>>
<< Buster ?>> He laughs again. <<You amuse me, Michelina. Why would I ever want us to part?>>
<<Why would I want to stick around just for your amusement?>>
He comes closer, until the dark glow of his form overlaps with hers -- both cold and hot all at once -- until its hard to tell where he begins and she ends.
<<Stick around for your own amusement then, Michelina.>>
Hours or eons later, they have struck a bargain. The rules are in place, the Champions have been chosen.
Now they must pluck them out of Mu.
Michelina and Lucas descend the Tower stairs together, walking as civilized humans do, though they are anything but. Over the years, though, they’ve picked up more than a few human-like habits. For better or for worse.
“How will you wake him?” Lucas asks. He’s wearing one of his oldest and most appealing forms: long hair like pale cornsilk, tousled by a non-existent wind, and skin like rich amber.
“Gently, as with all others.”
“He’s a creature of logic and intellect. There’s always that to consider.”
“And yours is a creature of pride and power.” Michelina cringes a little, even as she says it. They’re souls , not creatures.
“So he is.” Lucas hums in the back of his throat, the sound edged with menace. “Perhaps I should go for something a little classic.” A pitchfork materializes in his left hand, its barbs wet with clotted blood. Curled horns, blacker than onyx, push through the skin on his forehead.
Michelina rolls her eyes. “You’re perverse."
He laughs. To him, this is just another of their games.
Michelina tilts her head at him, as if quietly approving of his antics, though in truth she only draws strength from his careless mirth.
For her, this is much, much more than a game.