A\N: L ágrimas finally got updated, so I figure I'm entitled to work on UM for awhile. HCSS ch3 is roughed out, and I'll fill it in eventually. I'm actually considering dropping it from and working on it solely as manga, on its website (which you can access thru my profile, hint hint).

The poem at the beginning of this chapter is also uploaded by itself on my profile; it's called 'Claustrophobic'. If you've played the original Diablo, you might recognize my inspiration. 'Course, my poem is much longer than theirs.

A comment in response to a comment from my beta: Yes, I know this is not as ha-ha funny as other chapters. In case you didn't notice, the rating got upped. We're heading into the darker waters, kiddies. Finally getting to the stuff I really have planned for this story. I hope you still laugh or at least chuckle sometimes during this chapter, but it's meant to be different. I'm sorry for the abrupt 180, but it's a rough draft anyway, and one of these days I'm going to clean the whole damn thing up. Until then, buckle up and try not to be offended.

(Note: For a momentarily-complete list of what islands dot these darker waters, check out UM's website, also accessible thru my profile.)

Thirteen: Steroid

cold and frightened, stricken blind

searching yet you cannot find

icy darkness all around

helplessly fall to the ground

immersed in your despair deep

you hear them nearer, nearer creep

whispered voices near you mock

that you will never pierce the lock

which holds your treasure locked away

to keep you from the light of day

weeping as you lose your mind

stealthily your eyes go blind

if you could just see afore

then you'd suffer nevermore.

These lines were inscribed on a cold stone door deep underground, and most of the letters were covered in a fine sifting of dust. It had been ages since the mage who'd written them had died; no one remembered who he was, for even in life he'd been nearly a nonentity. When he'd bought it, few had mourned. In fact, only one person had mourned, and that had been his faithful manservant. He was weeping because the mage had left everything to his mistress, which meant no sizable pension for him. All in all, the mage's death was not a spectacular event. After he was buried, everyone basically forgot him.

But curses have a way of sticking around, like a particularly gooey piece of old gum that's caught in the treads of your boot. So even though the mage was long dead and the curse had no particular usefulness anymore, it still owned Yanna.

Her screams of rage and, though she would never admit it, terror brought the others running. Marron, for instance, almost crushed Ryst and Strydda in his rush to get to the howling feringar. Ryst, luckily able to find suitable shelter, rolled his eyes and said, in an obnoxiously high-pitched voice, "Awwwww, how kyuuute!"

Marron, who by this time had reached Yanna, ignored him.

The blubbering catgirl, once Marron was within range, latched onto him and buried her face against him. She was likely aiming for his chest, but she ended up clutching his left arm. Since he was big all around, she probably couldn't tell the difference.

Though Yanna was repeatedly soothed, cuddled, and coddled, in the end the only thing they could get out of her was that she couldn't see that she was ripping Marron's tunic to shreds. The other scraps of information garnered from the panicking Yanna were enough for the others to put together the basic details: Yanna had touched the door, it had turned her blind, and she was hungry.

Armed with this information, plans were discussed. Yanna was sent off in Marron's care, and Strydda, not bothering to wait for instructions, wandered off after them. Ryst remained to inspect the door.

He didn't feel like being blinded, so he couldn't touch it. Unless it was a one-shot spell, in which case it would be safe. People like Yanna and Strydda weren't good for much, but they were good at setting off traps and, thus, making the area safe for the important people. Like him.

But he didn't know for sure if that was the case with this door, and he valued his sense of sight too much to risk compromising it. He was stumped for a moment before he remembered his staff. It was properly warded and protected, as any self-respecting mage wouldn't even think of travelling without such precautions. And since he was, in fact, the devil, even if most of his power was dormant, he was fairly sure the protective magic on his staff would cancel out any negative effects from the curse. He gave the door a prod.

Either he'd been right and the staff was magically dominant over the door, or he'd been right the other way and the spell had been a one-shot. Nothing happened to his vision.

This time he touched the door with his hand, and cursed his mistake. Though his eyes were unaffected, he was inconvenienced another way. The door resisted his touch furiously and expelled him several feet back. He would have flown farther, but there happened to be a wall in his way. His back connected with it first, and his head, which had kept going for a split second, slammed into the cold stone as well, and he saw stars. Damn, he saw planets. Pain, for a few terrifying moments, was all he knew.

Gravity took over and he fell to the ground, cursing. Thanks to his inhumanity, he was injured, but not very badly, and far from dead, as he might have been otherwise.

(A\N: Hey, a random wordcount! If you skip all the stuff at the top and the poem and my note here, the story is 666 words so far! And we're talking about the Lunarian devil.. o0;; Lucifer, are you trying to make a point?)

He'd forgotten— or rather, in this life hadn't learned yet— that many mages found it prudent to protect their spells and objects with charms against the devil. Even though he'd rarely had any cause to attack such a thing, the mages of Luna firmly believed in "Better safe than sorry; and if you think otherwise, you're probably a dead ass or drunk or stupid."

Since he was running on low power compared to his full potential, the counterspell hadn't hit him as badly as it could have. But if he'd been in his demonic form, he probably wouldn't have been affected by it at all, being that he was stronger than it . . . such a conundrum.

He got to his feet, winced as a stab of agony lanced through his shoulder. Looking at it, he couldn't tell if anything was wrong, but it seemed out of alignment. Damn.

Well, it's a good thing I still have some of my abilities. He did, in fact. Fibbing to Mercury about the complete dormancy of his power had stung a little, but God, if she knew what he could still do . . .

Shaking that thought from his head, Ryst drew into his mind and ordered his body to kindly tell him what was wrong. He was able to identify his problem as a minor dislocation, and shrugged. Hard. The scapula snapped back into place, and he bit down on his lip hard to keep from screaming. Since he'd withdrawn into himself, he couldn't feel most of the pain, but what he got was bad enough.

Thank God . . . or me, I guess, that the Lunarians believe in me so much, or I'd probably be dead now, he thought. It was their belief that had transformed him into a deity, and it was their continued belief that let him go on existing this way.

As it was, everything still seemed to be working with no glitches, which was welcome news. He took a few hesitant steps, realized his legs weren't going to collapse under him, and retrieved his staff, cursing under his breath.

Dammit, he was going to have to ask someone else to open the door. Maybe Mercury, if she'd wake up, since she had a staff as well, and any self-respecting spell would recognize and submit to a staff-bearing mage. It was just rude not to.

"That made my day."

Fuck. Ryst stopped and closed his eyes. Maybe if I ignore him, he'll go away.

Not likely. Doroval had come to visit.

"Hello, Ryan, dear," the soft voice taunted, and Ryst flinched at the sound of his own name. Doroval found this amusing, and laughed mockingly. "How are we today?"

"Well, we were good. Then you arrived, and things abruptly went downhill. What do you want, Daryl?" Ryst demanded, turning to face his brother.

He'd changed since Ryst had seen him last. He wasn't Suez, of Triton Manor, nor was he Dominus, wreathed in holy light. He was Daryl Consiglio, Ryst's twin brother.

Dominus, king of heaven, also known as Doroval to the masses, Suez to his current mother, and Daryl to his brother, was lounging against the stone wall of the arch Ryst had passed through, looking as though he owned the place. Not surprising. Daryl had always been like that, even in the days they got along.

It wasn't surprising that, in the Ryouya Analects— the six volumes that comprised Luna's holy books— Doroval had been described "as dark and brooding as the black hole known as the Arden"; Lunarians were not familiar with Gothic style. A young man with pallid skin, black eye makeup that made him appear as though he hadn't slept in weeks, and black lipstick smeared over pouting lips would definitely drawn some attention. Add to that a coven of safety pin piercings, several dozen chains, and so many spiked accessories that he somewhat resembled a many-horned rhinocerous, and you got one scary-looking supreme lord of heaven.

That was how Doroval was dressed now. No fancy ceremonial robes, no angelic garb. Baggy black pants with legs wide enough to fit Ryst's whole body in, black tank top, and black net top under that. His makeup was properly applied, and he wore his perpetual expression of mixed boredom and irritation.

Ryst responded with his own patented expression, touch-me-and-I'll-kick-you-in-the-gutter.

"Happy to see me?" Doroval smiled, toying with one of the heavy silver chains around his neck. He was smiling, but Ryst could see the hatred in his brother's eyes. He imagined the same look must be in his own, though he wasn't bothering to hide it with a smile.

Feeling that a quick subject change might be in order, to give him some time to plan his defense, he sprung a random question, ignoring the one Doroval had asked him. "I've always wondered, Daryl . . . how can you put your lipstick on with all those rings in your lip?"

If Doroval was surprised by the question, he didn't show it. "I take them out, Ryan. I put lipstick on. Then I put them back in. I guess I was wrong in crediting you simian-level intelligence."

"Unlike you, I never cared enough about jewelry or makeup to think about it."

"Really? If I were you, I'd take it up."

This was going nowhere, but that was what Ryst wanted. He knew better than to attack his brother, which was what Doroval was trying to goad him into. Instead, he followed the path of the conversation. "Why?"

"Your girl seems to appreciate it."

Ryst's internal body temperature dropped forty degrees. "What's that supposed to mean?" he snarled.

Doroval's smile widened. "What do you think it means, Ryan? Don't tell me you've already forgotten my penchant for visiting dreams."

"You—" Ryst's hands clenched into fists. He forced himself to calm down, succeeded marginally, and decided it would do for now. "Stealing her once wasn't enough for you?" he asked harshly. "Or is it the fact that you couldn't steal her that makes you want to try now?"

Doroval's eyes narrowed into slits, and dropped the smile. "Careful, Ryan. I'm not in the best mood today, and you know messing with me is dangerous. Especially since I'm fully divine, and you're just a human."

"Then get the hell out of Mercury's dreams!"

"At least I'm courteous enough to start there, instead of just appearing in front of her and . . ." He trailed off, the smile creeping back into his face. Ryst wanted to rip it off, but restrained himself. His shoulder was throbbing with belated pain, and a massive headache was beginning to claim his head. They had a habit of doing that when Doroval was nearby.

"What do you want, Daryl?" he asked finally, rubbing his temples. This was not turning out to be a good day.

She was dancing again.

Odd. She hadn't had this dream since . . . well, since the night she'd spent in the thieves' den, back in Tintagel. It was definitely that dream, though; same dim room, same red carpet and wall-smothering curtains, same strong arms around her. Everything was the same.

Mercury wasn't. Instead of feeling contented, lulled, she was terrified. This wasn't . . . wasn't right. Ryst was the only one she wanted to hold her this way, and if this was him, she'd happily chew on the carpet for a while. She could recognize Ryst even in this gloomy light, and it wasn't his arms trapping her against his body.

Terror washed over her, a terror so thick she could almost taste it. She twisted out of her captor's grasp, momentarily surprised when he let her go easily, and spun away, panting with fear. If there was only a bit more light, she could see the face of her captor . . . but of course, there wasn't.

"Who are you?" she cried, going with the first words to enter her mind. "And why are you haunting my dreams?"

"Haunting?" The mystery person sounded shocked, but not as shocked as Mercury as she recognized the voice.

"My— my Lord Dominus?!" The fear drained out of her body, but was rapidly replaced with terror of another source: her Lord had come to her, and she had rejected Him. She was well and surely damned to hell. Though that wouldn't be so terrible, part of her mused. Ryst would be there.

Though it was still too dim to see, when He spoke Mercury could hear the smile in His voice. "I'm touched; not many whom I visit can identify me." He stepped out of the shadows, and her breath caught.

He was . . . Suez, that nymph's son! Or at least looked very much like him. He could very well be Suez, if said Suez were seven or eight years older.

(A\N: One of my friends pointed out that 'Suez' is 'Zeus' backwards. o0;; Let's make it clear, people . . . that was an accident. 'Korangar' is 'Ragnarok' backwards, but that was on purpose. I named 'Suez' after the canal. The canal! /spaz)

"I've . . . spent my whole life . . . in Your service," she breathed, her terror now nearly choking her. "If I were to misname You, it would be a great grievance against both of us."

"So it would." His silver eyes glinted in the muted light as He inclined His head towards her in a slight bow. "Nevertheless, you have earned my praise."

She couldn't speak past the lump in her throat, though it was not a lump of fear any longer— oh, certainly not. Mercury wasn't sure what she was feeling, but it was . . . stimulating. Dominus had come into her dreams, touched her, complimented her. Why should she be so honored?

He was God, of course, and knew her thoughts. "To warn you, of course," He explained, His voice stained with concern.

"Warn me?"

"Of course." How had He gotten so close to her? He was barely a breath's length away now, close enough to kiss her. "I would not let such a faithful disciple fall prey to those that would harm her, my dear."

Her eyes widened to maximum capacity, her heartbeat kicked up several beats minute, and her face flushed red as a ripe cherry. Her Lord certainly was only being kind, only watching over her. He wouldn't lower his lips and catch hers. And she didn't him want to. But if that was so, then, oh, heaven, why was she leaning towards Him? "Harm . . . me?"

"Silly girl." Were those His fingers weaving into her hair? Was He urging her face towards his own? And if He was, then why wasn't she stopping him? He was so close, so gentle, so warm. Mercury's reverence of her Lord was beginning to shift from the divine factor to the masculine one. She forced herself to concentrate on His words. "The purpose of your quest is to destroy my brother, no?"

"Y-yes . . ." Her traitorous arms were trying to snake up around His neck.

"And he would stop you, true?"

"No!" She jerked away from him, wincing when His fingers caught in her hair. "Ryst said he wouldn't! He's helping me! If he wanted to stop me, he could, easily!"

He had drawn her back to Him, and she had gone, easily. Long tendrils of hair were curled around His hand, one even trailing up His wrist, almost to His elbow. She could not have moved had she wanted to; she was bound to Him by the silken strands of her own hair. "You see?" He whispered, His face so close to hers in the shadows. "He can't stop you. He knows better than to attack anyone under my personal protection, which, my darling, includes you."

She couldn't hold herself back any longer, and when He cupped her chin with his free hand and tilted her face up to His, she went willingly. When their lips met, Dominus found Mercury's passion to match his. He did not smile outwardly, but He could not restrain a smile within.

This soft, fragile priestess was His creature now, utterly.

A\N: That's all you guys get for now . . . it's 2,800-some words anyway, so it's on the short side, but all my work has been lately. The epic chapters have been eluding me . . . *sigh*

It doesn't help that I spent most of today either at the vet's with my cat, or on reading Golden Sun fanfics with headphones plugged into my GameBoyAdvance (damn Camelot! I want my GS: The Lost Age soundtrack!). So what writing I did today (basically the whole Doroval/Mercury scene) is kinda Golden Sun-flavored. That is, what I imagine to have gone on between Mia and Alex before he abandoned her . . . I bet if these games weren't rated E, then:

- Mia and Alex would admit their love (Alex does in Jupiter Lighthouse if you cast Mind Read on him while Isaac and Ivan are fighting Karst and Agatio).

- Felix would jump Isaac's bones. Or Pier's. (I bet you can guess what kinda fics I was reading today.. naughty, naughty Enna..)

- Jenna would get Garet, and

- Everyone else would have a big orgy to keep loneliness at bay. Oh, and the djinni would have a matefest and produce lots of little djinni that we could fight with in GS 3!

I'm such a hornball. Poor Terry... poor Michelle, rather. She's the one dating me. Terry just has to live with me. Michelle has to sit with me in darkened movie theaters.

Okay... now to upload.


5/10/2004, 11:03 pm – GS: TLA 'Tundaria Tower' song playing in GBA.

Edited 5/31/2004, 7:23 pm – 'All I Ask of You', Phantom of the Opera, playing in CD player