[Christy comes out of the study, bouncing happily.]
CHRISTY: Ninmu kanryou! C'est fait accompli! Zadaniye vipolneno! Mission accomplished! Er... mostly.
QUATRE: What is it, Christy?
CHRISTY: I got all the fics and main pages moved to our new website! It only took me forever! Of course, all the picture galleries are going to have to wait, since we want to put them on a different site with more room, and we haven't exactly decided which one... but the fics are up and all the links work!
HEERO: Remind me again why you had to move.
MEL: Originally it was because we were going to run out of room if we put up any more pictures. Then it got a bit more urgent, because we got so many visitors that we exceeded our bandwidth limit and our old host locked our site until the end of the month. On the tenth.
HEERO: ...I still don't believe it. Your writing isn't that good. You must be indulging in wishful thinking.
MEL: In that case, you tell Christy that she just did all that work because of a figment of our imagination. Go on. I dare you.
[Duo slaps a hand over Heero's mouth.]
DUO: Don't do it, Hee-chan! It's too dangerous!
HEERO: Mmfmmf mhmfmff. (Translation: 'Ninmu ryoukai'.)
QUATRE: I think a strategic retreat to minimum safe distance is called for at this point. Come on, Duo!
[Heero gets up and walks over to Christy as everyone else dives for cover.]
THIS SCENE HAS BEEN CENSORED DUE TO EXTREME VIOLENCE AND CHARACTER ABUSE. PLEASE STAND BY. NORMAL BABBLE WILL BE RESUMED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
[Elevator music plays.]
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE. WE WILL NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULAR INSANITY.
[Heero is in a body cast once again.]
MEL: Wow. Y'know, Christy may be even scarier than you when she goes Zero, Quatre.
QUATRE: What makes you say that?
MEL: Well, just look at him! Could you do that much damage with only a plastic scythe?
QUATRE: Good point.
DUO: Yup. Poor Hee-chan!
WUFEI: I never thought I'd say this, but... it may be safer this way. Before Christy goes Zero again and takes any more of us out, on with the fic!
DEMON OF JUSTICE
"She was called Nataku?" Uthmar asked, looking at the picture of Meiran with a puzzled frown.
Karthan nodded. "I don't know why, but that's what I got when I saw the drawing. This is like... like remembering things, only they're not there until I remember them, and then it's as if I knew them all along," he said, rubbing at his forehead. "I keep thinking that I should get a headache, but it never turns up."
"Let's hope it stays that way," Uthmar muttered, carefully turning over a few more pages. "You said you can feel what Wufei feels about things?"
"Then I have a very important question for you." The Champion closed the book of pictures and leaned forwards slightly, hands clasped on the table in front of him. "How does he feel about us?"
"I don't know, yet," Karthan replied. "He only dreamt about his home and the people there."
"But you were linked to him during the fight!" Uthmar protested. "He must have been thinking about things here then!"
"Yes, but the link was different them!" Karthan blinked, thinking about what he'd just said, and nodded. "It was different," he said slowly. "I didn't feel as if I was inside his thoughts; it was like we were talking to each other, and I only got a couple of flashes of emotion. Maybe because he was awake, and it was at least partly under his control?"
Karthan half-grinned. "He did not intend to pull me in with him. That was one of the times I felt emotion; he was definitely startled when I turned up. And while he was fixing Nataku, I think he was working at least half by guess. He told me, 'I've never done this before, but I seem to know what to do'."
"But he must have done it before," Naiya protested. "If that's how he mends Nataku's wounds--"
"He used to have some other way of doing that," Karthan insisted firmly. "He must have, because he didn't have a link to Nataku when he was in his own world. I got that much from the dream, at least. He was a little faster than most people, a little stronger, and more skilled. That's all. His strength, the link, and the ability to hit people who are out of arm's reach are all new."
"You're saying he wasn't much more than a human, then," Cord said quietly. "Is that it?"
"I'm saying he was human."
Nobody could think of anything to say in reply to that.
* * * * *
"So essentially, you're telling me that you can't find anything definite?"
"No, miss," the quiet man said, standing with his hands clasped loosely in front of him. He looked like a minor clerk or shop assistant, perhaps working in a bank or a men's store... not like a private investigator, which he was. "Matters are naturally complicated by the war. Most of the persons I've found who seem to recognise the name or description are OZ personnel. Ex-OZ now, I suppose." He smiled thinly. "Frankly, you're more likely to be able to access their records than I or my associates."
"I'm not particularly interested in what he may or may not have done during the war," Relena informed him. Heero surely knows most of it already, she thought. The only thing that might drive him and Duo apart would be finding out that Duo was an OZ agent, and I know perfectly well that he wasn't!
If necessary, evidence could be manufactured...
"I want to find out his history before the war," she said quickly, pushing the unwelcome thought away. "What was he doing? Who was he associating with? Was he in trouble with the authorities?"
The man raised an eyebrow and smiled again. "He's from L2, miss, and not rich, you said? Then he was almost certainly in trouble, whether he deserved it or not."
"Find out what sort of trouble, then."
"Certainly, miss," he said calmly. "I'll need to go to L2, but I'll keep in touch. Do you have a photograph? So far I've been questioning people whose memories are relatively fresh, but if I'm to dig deeper into the past a picture is better than a description."
"Of course," she nodded, rising and going to the door. "Wait here a moment, please."
Upstairs, in her bedroom, she unearthed a handful of photographs from underneath the false bottom in her jewelry case. They were all of Heero, taken at different times when he had been off guard; she didn't think he knew any of them existed... There was one of him and Duo together, in casual clothes, leaning back against a railing. It wasn't actually a good picture of Heero - she'd only kept it because she had so few - but it was a very good picture of Duo.
She held it up for a moment, looking at them; then she picked up a pair of scissors and cut them apart.
Heero and me.
* * * * *
"Doctor Modi said you weren't to put any weight on that leg, so you have to stay in bed," Heero informed Duo as he carried him upstairs. "I'll bring the TV upstairs for you. If you need anything else, tell us and we'll get it. You're definitely not allowed to go up and down the stairs, so I'll bring your meals up, too."
"Do I at least get to go to the bathroom, or have you stolen a bedpan from the hospital?" Duo inquired through clenched teeth, fuming. He's planning my life again, damn it!
"I'll carry you there," Heero said flatly, toeing the door to Wufei's room open and sidling through, careful not to bang Duo's feet against the doorjamb. Belatedly, the tone of the question got through to him and he looked down at Duo's face. The braided boy was staring straight ahead, face almost blank... but his mouth was pressed firmly shut and the muscles along his jaw were tense.
"...Please, Duo?" Heero added weakly. "I'm worried about you. Please don't do anything that might make your leg worse. I'm... I'm sorry if it came out sounding like an order. I'm no good at asking nicely, especially when it's something important. You've already been hurt because I was an idiot, I really don't want to risk anything else happening to you..."
"Put me down."
Flushing slightly, Heero got Duo settled in the bed and stepped back.
"Damn right you're no good at asking nicely," Duo said acidly, glaring at an innocent spot on the wall. "After all, that takes practice."
Heero winced. "Uh... do you want anything? I'll get it--"
"I want my knee to be fine," Duo snapped. "I want to not have to go the hospital. I want Wufei back safe and sound. Can you get me those things?"
"...No," Heero whispered.
"Then I don't want anything. Leave me alone," Duo muttered, turning away and pulling the blankets up.
Trowa spoke up from behind Heero as he quietly closed the door. "He's just indulging in a shit fit. Considering what's been happening, one thing on top of another, it's understandable. Give him an hour or so and he'll be sorry."
"I don't want him to be sorry," Heero said softly, not turning around.
"It won't last," Trowa replied, a faint smile colouring his voice. "And it's better than having him try to snap your head off. Why don't you get out for a break? Go shopping, or something. We're running low on a few supplies."
Heero shrugged, one hand waving as to dismiss the idea; but he walked downstairs and went into the kitchen. Listening, Trowa heard cupboards open and shut, and a few minutes later the old van they'd been using for supply runs started up and pulled away.
Duo lay in bed, seething. Frustration and anger were clashing with guilt, grief and regret, and the confusion was just making him madder. Serves him right. He's been a bastard to me often enough. It's about time he got some of his own back! Trying to run my life, ordering me around like I can't be trusted to do the right thing--
He did say he was sorry.
Like it means anything to him! It's probably just another way of getting what he wants. A new technique, 'Nice Heero'.
I still shouldn't have said that to him.
Well, he shouldn't have said the things he said to me. Payback.
... but payback isn't always fair.
The door opened quietly and Duo stiffened. "I said, leave me alone!" he snarled, voice tight.
"Looks like you've got your own back for the way he was talking to you last week," Trowa said calmly. "He looked worse than you did when he came out of the room."
There wasn't anything in his tone or wording to indicate that he didn't approve, but Duo still felt as if he'd been reproached. "Well, it's fair enough, isn't it?" he snapped, lunging upright and glaring. "Even when he says he's trying to be nice, all he does is order me around. It's his fault I've gotta have surgery anyway, where does he get off telling me to look after myself? He ignores me and treats me like dirt all this time, then all of the sudden when I've given up he's suddenly in love with me so I've got to start hoping again. And he has the nerve to look like a kicked puppy when I-- when--"
Duo abruptly burst into tears.
"I didn't mean to hurt him that badly," he sobbed, tears running down his face. "I was mad, but I didn't mean-- and he is trying-- and I'm not even sure how I feel myself. I can't get it all straight in my head! I wish Wufei was here. I want him back! I could always talk to him, even if he couldn't give me advice, it helped me sort things out. I can't talk to Quatre about this, he's part of the problem. And that's another thing!" he wailed, scrubbing ineffectually at his face with the back of his hand. "I'm starting to feel like the prize in a tug-of-war, here! Quatre and Heero are glaring at each other like-- like-- like a couple of jealous boyfriends! You're in it too," he sniffed, waving one hand at Trowa, "but at least you don't seem to be going over the top..."
"It wouldn't help, would it?" Trowa said quietly, sitting on the edge of the bed. He felt Duo tense as he put an arm around his shoulders, and carefully didn't put any pressure into the embrace. "I'm not going to push anything. I don't think it would be fair. You've got to have a chance to make up your own mind. I wouldn't exactly object if you decided you wanted us instead of Heero," he added dryly, gently pulling Duo against him as he felt the braided teen relax, "but I don't want you to choose in a hurry and regret it later."
"I do still love Heero," Duo sighed, leaning against Trowa's shoulder, "but I'm pissed off at him too, and I'm not sure which is more important. I've got him if I want him... but I had to lose Wufei to get him, and that hurts! I didn't warn him in time. I yelled, but he didn't have time to dodge or-- or anything..." His voice dropped until Trowa almost couldn't hear him. "Maybe it's my fault he's gone."
"That's a really stupid thing to say," Trowa said acidly, tightening his grip and shaking Duo slightly. "If it's anyone's fault, it's OZ's for playing around with a dimensional cannon. You can't be responsible for everything and everyone!"
"It's a very Catholic attitude," Duo said with a shaky laugh. "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa..."
"Is it a Muslim attitude, too? You once said you thought Quatre would eventually blame himself for the lack of air in outer space, after all... and last night he muttered something about 'maybe it would have missed Wing if I hadn't said anything about it'. Then there's the fact that I was going to go after that thing, but Wufei went in my place. Do you think I haven't thought about that?"
"It wasn't your fault!" Duo protested automatically, then hesitated.
"You see?" Trowa said gently. "If you won't blame us, you can't blame yourself."
"Sure I can," Duo said without much conviction. "It's another very Catholic attitude."
"You've got a lot of things to be upset about," Trowa pointed out, fighting not to grin, "and a lot of confusing stuff to work out. It's only natural that you're going to get... snappish. But you might want to cut Heero a little more slack, just in case you decide to keep him."
Duo managed a noise somewhere between a hiccup and a chuckle, then sighed. "I should apologise, I guess."
"He's probably going to apologise, too. I sent him shopping--"
"And he went?"
"Yes. For some reason he thought you didn't want to see his face just then, and I suppose he figured that there wasn't much else to hang around for. Do you realise he hasn't done any work on Wing for days?"
"Really. Anyway, he went, and I doubt he'll be back for a couple of hours. Maybe you could have a nap in the meantime?"
Duo's hand tightened on a fold of Trowa's shirt, almost involuntarily. "You gonna stay?" he asked, very quietly. "I don't want to be alone, now."
"I'll stay," Trowa reassured him, shifting to lie on top of the covers next to him.
* * * * *
"Human," Uthmar said flatly. Karthan nodded. "You're saying that in Wufei's world, humans ride around inside demons, to make war?"
"Ah. That's another thing--"
"Great," Uthmar muttered, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Now I'm getting a headache. Go on, tell me!"
"I don't think Nataku's exactly a demon, either."
One slightly bloodshot eye popped open and glared across the table at Karthan. "You're not going to tell me that Nataku is human, too, are you? Because I'm warning you, I won't believe it."
Karthan grinned slightly. "No, sir, Nataku is very definitely not human. It's a machine."
Uthmar dropped his hand and stared incredulously at the other dwarf. To him, 'machine' meant something like the water powered mills and foundries in the dwarven cities, not something that could get up and walk around like a man. "You said he - it - You said Nataku can think! How can a machine think? And what makes it go?"
Karthan rubbed his temples, wincing slightly as the question triggered off a shower of 'memories'. A quick image of Nataku, lying on its back with half of its torso in pieces around it as a large metal object was lowered towards its socket, trailing wires as thick as rope-- "There aren't any words in any of the languages I know to explain it, sir. Nataku was built. There's something in the body that... it's got sort of a fire in it, but it's not hot, and even a tiny burn from it could kill you. The fire gets turned into something like lightning, is collected, and somehow it makes Nataku go. And think. Little trickles of lightning through tiny bits of wire and stone..." He shook his head, blinking. "The words just won't fit! It thinks, it counts and measures and ciphers so fast it's incredible, but it's got no will or emotion of its own. If Wufei tells it to do something, it does it. That's all."
=*It would explain why I can't feel Wufei except when he's using his powers,*= Torframos said abruptly in the back of Uthmar's mind, =*if he's not much more than human at other times. And it would explain why I can't feel Nataku unless Wufei is inside. How did Wufei get those powers, though?*=
"Do you have any idea how Wufei got his powers?" Uthmar repeated, for Karthan's benefit.
The other dwarf blinked and seemed to concentrate for a moment; then he shook his head. "No, sir. He's got them now, and he didn't have them before. That's all I know."
"So are we to call him human, or demon, or what?" Cord asked quietly. "I'll tell you straight, it's easier to think of him as a demon, what with his looks and all."
"His companions look normal by our standards, and he didn't - doesn't - think of them as different from himself," Karthan informed him. "I think humans just come in a wider variety than we're used to, where he comes from."
"Elves and dwarves and hradani, too?" Naiya asked, sounding interested. "What about halflings? A hradani with Wufei's colouring would be an odd sight!"
"I don't think--" Karthan broke off and frowned. "I don't think there are any there," he said slowly. "I didn't see any non-humans in his dream... though it was mostly about his friends... and I'm not getting any memories when I think about it. Did he draw any non-humans in his book?"
"No," Naiya said, shaking her head. "There's only two pictures of people that aren't his four friends or that girl, and they're both human-- though one looks nearly as big as a hradani, and the other seems as arrogant as a Purple Lord!"
Cord snorted, flicking a quick glance towards the shuttered windows and dropping his voice. "Well, with no half-elves in the world, somebody would have to fill their place..."
Uthmar smothered a cough behind one fist, beard twitching as he suppressed a grin. "A world of only humans, hm? Sounds monotonous."
"That's not the impression I'm getting, sir," Karthan said dryly.
"Well, even if he is human, it's probably simplest to keep calling him a demon," Uthmar sighed. "I think it'll be easier to tell people 'this one's a good demon', rather than trying to explain 'No, he's not a demon. He just looks weird, and has strange powers, and a really big suit of animated armour'..."
=*Actually, human or not, he is a demon,*= Torframos said absently.
"Huh?" Startled out of his train of thought, Uthmar squinted up at the ceiling and frowned. "What do you mean?"
"He's talking to Torframos," Karthan explained in a careful whisper as the two hradani looked at the Champion with surprised expressions.
"I didn't think he was trying to start a conversation with my smoked hams," Cord whispered back.
=*'Demon' originally meant 'being from outside this world',*= the god explained, sounding rather preoccupied. =*'Devil' has almost the same meaning, but implies greater power. Even a creature with no powers at all can be a demon.*=
=*Oh, yes. If Wufei had brought a-- a rabbit with him, that rabbit would also be a demon. Assuming his world has rabbits, of course... and since Wufei seems to have acquired powers since he arrived here, the hypothetical rabbit might, too.*=
Uthmar covered his eyes with his hands and groaned. "Demon rabbits," he said despairingly. "Vorpal bunnies... this is ridiculous!"
Cord nearly spat the last mouthful of his tea across the table as he choked. "Demon rabbits?!" he sputtered, mopping his face with a sleeve as Naiya snatched Wufei's sketchbook out of harm's way. "What are you on about, man?!"
"It was just an example Torframos gave me," Uthmar said hastily. "Any creature from another world is a demon in this world."
"So... demon rabbits?"
"If someone brought one here, yes," Uthmar sighed, glaring briefly upward. "It sounds silly, I know."
Cord snorted. "It does, aye! Brings to mind a wee fluffy cottontail with great big fangs, rippin' unsuspecting men's throats out. I think I'd rather have big green wailing blobs, thank ye kindly! You expect things like that to be dangerous."
"On that note, I think it's time to go to bed," the Champion said firmly, rubbing his forehead, "before this conversation gets any sillier. Unless you can think of anything useful to add?" he asked, raising one eyebrow at Karthan.
"I don't think so, sir," Karthan said, frowning slightly. "Except... no, it's gone."
"Every time someone says 'Nataku', something niggles at me," the dwarf said, frown deepening. "I'm not sure..."
"Nataku the big metal machine, or Nataku the girl? Chang Meh-ran?" Naiya asked, stumbling over the name.
"Both, but mostly the girl. Nataku. Nataku... oh!" Karthan smiled, brightening as light dawned. "That's it!"
"'Nataku' means 'justice'," he said, looking hopefully at Uthmar. "That's good... isn't it?"
* * * * *
As the next day dawned, the villagers were out at first light, looking glumly at the ruin the battle had made of their few remaining grainfields. Although the fight had started in the already burnt sections, it hadn't stayed there; sections of other fields had been flattened or torn up, Nataku's flamethrower had started a small fire, and the bonfires built to destroy the demon's remains had touched off another.
"I don't think I'd feel happy eating what's left, either," Royce said with a sigh, kicking at the ground. Stinking black ashes fluttered away on the breeze. "Bits of that damned thing melted everywhere, and the ashes are all over the place. What if it's poisonous? I think we should get the fields blessed, and not replant until after Chemalka's sent us a couple of good hard rains."
"At this time of year?" Derrin grumbled. "It's not going to rain until winter starts, and that means winter wheat's the only crop we'll get. Don't mistake me, I agree with you that it's the best thing to do... but it makes a bad situation worse."
"I know." Royce sighed again, looking around at the gathered men and women. "We're going to have to buy grain to get us through."
"Do we have enough money to buy grain and still pay the taxes at the end of the quarter?" Jarad's mother asked.
"Maybe. If we buy the absolute minimum, if we cut extra wood for sale, and if the hunting is good, we can just scrape through, I think," the headman replied.
"Well, if we're not going to harvest what's left of this crop, we can plough it under and let it lie as soon as the fields have been blessed," Terrin shrugged. "We can put everyone onto woodcutting instead of weeding and bird-scaring."
"It's mostly the women and children who do that anyway," Gwent protested. "They can't cut trees!"
"No, but we can set the ropes to guide the falls, trim branches off the logs, cut the brush back when it's in the way, carry water and whetstones..." Jarad's mother smiled, standing straighter. "All of that takes time away from the cutting. And a few of the bigger girls might surprise you, Gwent Richars'son! We've got two months until the end of the quarter. I say we can do it!"
Royce nodded, relaxing slightly. "That's more like it," he said approvingly. "If we just-- eh? What's Manten up to?"
The tall teenager came out of the village at a flat run and made a beeline for the group of villagers. "Big trouble!" he wheezed, then went into a brief sneezing fit as dust and ashes swirled up around him. "Lord Yithar-- *ahchoo!*-- he's-- *ahchoo*"
"Lord Yithar's what?"
"He's demanding next quarter's rent now!"
"Isn't it customary to charge rent at the beginning of the quarter, Lord Yithar?" Uthmar snapped. "Not one month into the previous quarter!"
"According to Purple Lord law," Yithar said loftily, "I can demand payment at any time in the preceding quarter. And it's taxes, not rent! If they haven't planned ahead and can't pay, they're not the sort of workers a Purple Lord wants on his land."
And how are they supposed to plan for a spoiled brat's whim? Uthmar thought angrily. It's just a convenient way for you to kick them out, trying to salvage a scrap of pride by victimising people who can't fight back!
"I beg leave to make partial payment, m'lord!" Royce gasped, running into the square.
Royce swallowed hard, but persisted. "M'lord, by law, if we have a reasonable expectation of being able to pay the full amount by quarter's end, a partial payment is permitted--"
"At the discretion of the lord involved!" Yithar said, almost dancing with triumph. "I say, if you can't pay now, you certainly won't be able to pay later. Not with your fields like that! And if so, I want you all off my land now, so I can move in better tenants!"
"Are there no provisions in your law for Acts of Gods?" Uthmar inquired. "That was an Act of God if I ever saw one!"
"No," Yithar said smugly.
"Will-- will you accept payment in kind, m'lord?" Royce asked desperately, clutching at straws.
"No! Money, jewelry and precious metals only," Yithar snapped. "I don't want half-cured hams and broken down nags!"
But you'll take them anyway if the villagers have to default, won't you? Uthmar took a couple of steps back, out of the Lord's line of sight, and drew Gunnar to one side. "Take up a collection among the men," he whispered, pressing his money pouch into his second's hand, "and slip it to Royce when that prick isn't looking. Tell them I'll pay them back when we get to a chapterhouse and I can access my funds."
"We'll do what we can," Gunnar whispered back, "but there won't be much. We spent most of our cash provisioning for this trip in a hurry!"
"I know," Uthmar hissed, "but it might make the difference!"
Gunnar slipped away, and Uthmar went back to watching as the villagers bustled around, scraping together every last copper coin and earring they had. Gwent brought out the small pouch of money that he'd saved from selling his beer; women twisted their wire-thin wedding bands off and added them to the pile in front of Yithar, fighting back tears; and through it all he looked more and more smug.
"I even got ten coppers out of that yellow-haired guardsman of Yithar's," Gunnar whispered, reappearing at Uthmar's side. "We were dicing with him last night, after Yithar finally went to sleep and he could get away. He doesn't say much, but I got the impression he doesn't like his lord much... It isn't going to be enough, is it?"
"He doesn't think so," Uthmar growled, nodding towards the Purple Lord. "Look at his face!"
=*If they default, you can escort them to the nearest chapterhouse,*= Torframos said quietly. =* The Order will provide for them.*=
Yes, but they'll have lost everything! Uthmar flicked a glance upwards, then back to the tavern table Yithar had appropriated; he was setting up a small pair of scales to weigh the jewelry, moving with precise, finicky movements. Their overlord may be a bastard, but this village is their home. The Order can't give them enough to set themselves up again, either; the best we can do is give them alms while they find work. They'll be split up...
Across the square, Wufei wobbled into view in the open doorway of Cord and Naiya's house, blinking sleepily at the milling villagers; then the demon saw the pitiful pile of valuables and coins in front of Yithar, with Royce standing opposite him, twisting his cap, and frowned, eyes narrowing.
And if he loses his temper and does Yithar in, it won't matter how much we approve, Uthmar thought grimly, starting to work his way around to where the human/demon was standing. The Purple Lords will see every person in the village dead!
end chapter 14
WUFEI: ...Well... that was less stressful than usual.
DUO: For you, maybe! You got to sleep through the whole chapter!
WUFEI: Wounded and suffering from nightmares, I would like to point out. As if I ever have nightmares!
MEL: You did in Endless Waltz.
QUATRE: I didn't even get an appearance.
HEERO (out of the cast again, but not looking happy): Lucky you.
YITHAR: When do I get some proper recognition of my talents?
EVERYONE ELSE: ...............
YITHAR: I should have been promoted to Baron by now, at least. And I'm not getting any respect!
CHRISTY: How did you get here?
YITHAR: There's a trapdoor over there. [He waves vaguely towards the study.] Who's in charge here? I have a few complaints to make, and I expect satisfaction!
MEL: Bugger. Left the lid open. Sorry, guys.
[Mel picks Yithar up by the scruff of his neck, ignoring the resulting squawks and kicks, and hauls him off into the study. There are a few thuds and a slamming noise, then she comes back, dusting off her hands.]
MEL: He won't be back.
TROWA: You have a trapdoor leading to the Oath of Swords universe in there?
MEL: Hm? Oh, no, he just climbed out of the Prop Box.
WUFEI: You keep minor characters in a box?!
TROWA: Maybe it's a good thing we're major characters.
DUO: What about Gunnar? Is Gunnar in there? Let him out! He's too cool to keep locked up with that jerk!
CHRISTY: Don't be silly! We don't keep characters in a box.
CHRISTY: We keep them in a closet.
MEL: We keep two-dimensional objects and plot devices in the Prop Box. Like a few cool swords, all the backgrounds, one heck of a lot of trees, a few demons we're gonna use later...
WUFEI: And Yithar?
MEL: And Yithar. Face it, he's useful, but he's too annoying to treat like a real character.
HEERO (brightening up a little): Does that mean Relena's in there with the demons, too?
CHRISTY: Nope. She's in the attic.
DUO: Remind me to buy a few dozen bug bombs and fumigate up there.