CHRISTY (smugly): Heero's starting to like me.
MEL: *snort* Yeah, right!
CHRISTY: No, really! Watch this... Heero! How do you feel about me now?
HEERO (flat-voiced): Nice Christy. Good Christy.
[He pats her on the head a couple of times and walks off.]
MEL: Whoa. What'd you slip into his Weetbix?
CHRISTY: I didn't drug him! He likes me because of what I want to do to Evil Doctor J in 'Chasing the Crown'.
[Christy suddenly whips out pompoms and starts waving them.]
CHRISTY: Shameless plug! Shameless plug! Ex-fam's 'Chasing the Crown' is INCREDIBLY cool, and if you aren't reading it already you should be! Yaaaaaaaaaaay!
MEL: Are you finished?
CHRISTY: Uh... yeah.
[She tosses the pompoms away and sits down again.]
MEL: So what do you want to do to J?
DUO: You don't want to know!!! It even made me feel sick to my stomach!
CHRISTY: You're a guy, Duo; of course it made you feel sick.
MEL: Oo-er. Suddenly I don't want to know.
HEERO (smirking evilly): I like it.
WUFEI (scowling): I don't. She wants me to do it to him!
CHRISTY & HEERO: We'll help!
WUFEI: Piss off!
MEL: Hey, that was OOC. Duo's really rubbing off on you, isn't he?
DUO (leering): Well, I should hope so after all the time we've spent pressed up against each other's hot, sweaty bod*mmmmph!*
[Wufei has clamped one hand over Duo's mouth.]
WUFEI: And yet Heero's lack of chatter hasn't rubbed off on you.
CHRISTY: *snicker* Go 'Fei-fei! I think that's a point for you.
MEL: Where's the video camera?
WUFEI: I hid it. [He drags Duo out.]
MEL: Damn! That's definitely a point for you.
CHRISTY: *sigh* No free show? Ah well. On with the fic!
DEMON OF JUSTICE
"He's a WHAT?!"
Heero sat quietly for what seemed like a long time, staring out the window and turning Trowa's words over in his mind. It wasn't really that long, however; when he heard Quatre coming up the stairs, he sat up and automatically checked the clock, and was startled to see that it wasn't two in the afternoon yet.
"I made lunch," Quatre said quietly, edging into the room with a laden tray. "Is Duo awake yet?"
"Whuzzat?" Duo responded, propping himself up on one elbow and scrubbing at his eyes. "Sucky pillow," he mumbled, then blinked his eyes open and saw his 'pillow' looking back at him with raised eyebrows. "Oh. Hi, Trowa."
"Hi yourself," Trowa said, dryly amused, rolling off the bed onto his feet and stretching.
Looking up, Duo saw Heero and smiled sleepily... for just a second, before returning memories made him drop his eyes, smile fading.
Oh shit, Heero thought, heart sinking. Trowa was wrong. He's still mad--
"Sorry, Heero," Duo muttered.
What?! "No!" Heero blurted out, reaching towards him without thinking. "I mean-- I'm the one who should apologise! I promised not to act like that. You had a right to get mad at me."
"Yeah, well, maybe I did," Duo said awkwardly, rubbing at the back of his neck, "but I shouldn't'a blown up at you after you'd apologised, the way I did. That wasn't fair."
Heero swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat, smiling shakily. "I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me."
"Deal. ...Hey, Q, what's for lunch?" the braided teen said hastily, sitting up and whacking his pillows into a good shape to lean back on. "I'm starved!"
Heero shot Trowa one brief, thankful glance, and got up to investigate the contents of the tray.
* * * * *
Somewhere that didn't really exist as a physical location, Sharna stalked along a dim corridor. Small spits of angry green energy crackled around his fists, occasionally zapping sideways into the wall.
"Fine," he snarled under his breath, turning a corner. "So one demon wasn't enough. I'll see how long those two last if I send three--" Turning another corner at speed, he yelped as he slammed into something solid and staggered back.
"Going somewhere, little brother?" Krashnark enquired silkily, leaning casually against the corridor wall.
Fear flickered in Sharna's eyes for an instant before he straightened up, tugging jerkily at his clothes. "What do you want?" he growled, eyes shifting away.
"I asked first."
"I don't see that my business is any concern of yours!"
"No?" Krashnark pushed away from the wall and took a lazy step forwards, smiling thinly at his twin. "I'm not so sure. If you were planning to do something more about that new little human-demon, it's very much my concern. Our lord father said you could send one demon."
Sharna snorted, forcing his chin up. "Our lord father will reward what works! He won't care that I've sent more demons when I show him that piece of filth lying in a pool of his own guts."
"Not this time," Krashnark almost purred, smile widening. "He's placed the matter in my hands."
"What?! He can't do that! I want that whoreson dead by my hand--"
His brother lunged forward and caught Sharna by the throat, driving him back against the stone. Green and red light flared around them for an instant; then Sharna sagged, whimpering, and the green light died.
"Chang Wufei is my meat," Krashnark whispered, red fire dancing in his eyes. "I'll have him on his knees in front of one of my altars within a year, so you can forget about your revenge. It's not going to happen. If I find out you've taken an active part against him," he continued, hand slowly tightening, "I might just find out if our father can do without you. Understand me?"
Sharna managed to choke out a vaguely affirmative noise, and Krashnark dropped him.
"Unlike you, dear little brother," he said, turning away, "I don't promise things I can't deliver. Remember that."
* * * * *
"How many did he give you?" Naiya asked, voice hushed as she looked at the pile of huge gold coins in front of Royce.
"Twenty," Royce said, just as quietly.
"And one coin is worth two quarters' tax."
"More," Royce told her. One finger flicked a small stack of silver and copper coins, tipping it over; a single tiny gold coin showed at the bottom of the pile as it fell over. "We got change."
"So that's ten or eleven years' worth of tax there?" Gwent asked, pointing at the remaining coins.
"No?" Gwent looked puzzled. "But--"
"One coin is over two quarters' rent if you go by its weight," Gunnar told him, leaning on the table next to Royce. "If you sell them as incredibly fine examples of foreign-minted coinage - really foreign! - they're worth a lot more."
"How much more?" Royce still hadn't taken his eyes off the glittering pile.
Gunnar shrugged one shoulder. "Don't ask me; I just spend money, I'm no expert at valuing it. My sanitharlahnahk is a goldsmith, though, and a good one. I can send him a message if you want." A wicked grin appeared on his face. "You probably have enough money there to buy your own village somewhere, plus a good big tract of forested land, and set up as an independent borough. There's lots of places that would be more than happy to have you, too."
"What's a sanith-- sanithar-- what you said?" Rami asked, while the rest of the villagers were busy absorbing Gunnar's statement.
"Sanitharlahnahk?" Gunnar blinked. "The way you'd say it, it means... er... my brother's wife's sister-in-law's second cousin on her father's side. We're practically brothers; if I say there's something here he really should see for himself, he'll come."
"'Practically brothers', he says," Cord muttered, rubbing at his forehead. "Dwarves!"
Cameron pushed through the crowd of villagers, still limping slightly on his wrenched knee. "Gunnar? Sir Uthmar's talking to Wufei, out behind the forge, and wants you there."
As Gunnar came around the corner of the forge, trailed by Cord and Naiya, Uthmar was showing definite signs of frustration.
"Why can't you just keep 'borrowing' Karthan's language skills? It'd make traveling with you a lot simpler!"
"And it makes everything else a lot less simple," Wufei snapped back; Gunnar was interested to note that he was using the 'speaking to equals' form of Spearman, just as fluently as he'd used 'superior to inferior' mode when talking to Lord Yithar.
So he figures we're superior to Lord Pisspot? I knew that boy was bright... Sidling over to Karthan, Gunnar whispered "Traveling?" and raised an enquiring eyebrow; Karthan nodded, but held up one hand to indicate 'later', attention fixed on the arguing Champion and demon.
"What do you mean?" Uthmar asked.
"For one thing, if I have the link open enough to borrow Karthan's skills, we start seeing out of each other's eyes, which is very distracting," Wufei said, folding his arms across his chest.
"Oh yeah," Karthan muttered under his breath. "Definitely. I didn't know it went both ways, though..."
"For another, if I'm wounded when we're in contact, it passes over to Karthan as well," the demon continued.
"We're not likely to run into anything serious on the way--"
"I don't think it was very likely that a huge screaming green blob-demon would dig its way here and attack us, but it happened," Wufei snorted, cutting Uthmar off. "Apparently this 'Sharna' person does things like that to people who've annoyed him, and since it didn't work the first time he's likely to do it again. Next time could have worse consequences than a few cuts and bruises," he muttered, shooting a mildly apologetic, ashamed glance in Karthan's direction. "I will learn to speak the language myself."
"For another thing, he's a very private person in some ways," Karthan whispered to Gunnar. "He really doesn't like the idea that we can poke around through each other's memories, and would like to keep it to a minimum. Can't say I disagree with that point of view, either. From what I've seen, some of his memories are much worse than mine. Some are just... private." He blushed slightly, looking away.
"All right," Uthmar sighed, giving in. "Can we at least clear up a few things now, before we go back to acting things out and drawing pictures?"
A faint chuckle escaped Wufei, and he bowed. "I am at your service... for now."
A short time later, they had established that Wufei had been fighting a war in his own world, for what seemed to be perfectly good reasons, and that he had very little idea of how he'd gotten into the void from which he'd been summoned. Explanations of how things worked in his world were a little trickier.
"If there's no magic in your world, how do you do all these things?" Gunnar asked curiously. "Cities-- countries-- floating where there's no air or heat or weight, weapons that can destroy a city in a second... it sounds like magic to me!"
"It is not magic," Wufei insisted, frowning. "It's all science, and machines. There just aren't any words in your language to properly explain it-- Karthan, are you all right?"
The dwarf was rubbing at his temples, grimacing. "I'm fine," he muttered through clenched teeth. "It's just... every time you try to explain something like that, there's a whole flood of information that comes up in your head, and in mine, and I understand it for just a second... and then I automatically try to put it into words. You're right, there aren't any, and it's giving me a headache."
"I'll close the link--"
"That's not necessary!" Karthan said hastily. "Just... can we change the subject?"
"There's something else I need to ask you, anyway," Uthmar said, flicking a quick glance upwards. "What's your rank?"
"Rank?" Wufei looked almost offended for a moment. "I hardly see that it matters here. Besides, I never had a formal rank; the Gundams started out working independently, and there aren't enough of us for a traditional command structure."
"No, not military rank, that's not what I meant," Uthmar said, waving one hand in negation. "I meant, what's your social rank? Baron? Prince?"
"Oh!" The demon blinked, then shrugged. "My clan don't-- didn't-- use those terms. I'm just a warrior."
"You don't act like 'just a warrior'," Naiya pointed out.
Cord grinned. "Aye, you act like a lord is supposed to act."
"Well, I'm not a lord," Wufei insisted, flushing slightly.
"Maybe you haven't been called a lord," Uthmar put in with another glance upwards, "but I'm sure we can work out what your rank equates to--"
"Why? Again, I don't see why it should matter here."
"It probably shouldn't," Gunnar said, drawling. "However, it will. There are plenty of idiots out there who won't take you seriously unless you have a title of some sort to wave in their faces. Or they'll try to order you around, if they think you're a commoner. Do you want some Purple Lord or an Axeman noble to try to conscript you into his army? There are a few out there who are dumb enough to try it." His grin widened. "I'd like to watch that, but..."
Wufei scowled. "I have no intention of lying about it."
"You won't have to," Gunnar told him. "All you have to say is that your people don't use our terms of rank, but you've been told your rank is equivalent to our... whatever. Perfectly true."
"...I suppose so."
Wufei shrugged, looking away. "I am the only son of the head family in my clan."
The others all looked at each other and nodded. "Prince," at least three voices said simultaneously.
"I am not!"
"According to our standards and rank structure, oh yes you are," Uthmar said calmly. "It'll save you a lot of trouble, too; I'd advise you to just accept it."
"Fine," Wufei grumbled, looking mutinous. "Just do me one favour. Don't tell Rami. She already seems to think of me as a romantic hero; finding out I'm a 'prince' would make her completely insufferable."
"As you wish, Your Highness," Naiya said sweetly, keeping a straight face with an effort.
"If you start calling me that, I'll go back to calling you 'onna'," Wufei threatened.
"All right then, I won't... sir."
He gave her a dirty look, and turned back to Uthmar as she snickered. "I have a few questions of my own, if you don't mind. I still know very little about this world, after all."
"If I can answer them, I will."
"Thank you." Wufei thought for a moment, then nodded slightly. "First, I'd better know something about the person I seem to have as an enemy. Who is Sharna?"
Uthmar looked startled, then frowned. "I thought we explained yesterday."
"I managed to understand that somebody called Sharna was mad at me for killing his servant," Wufei said dryly, "and was going to send either people or a demon to take revenge. The rest of it was... fuzzy."
"Ah. Well. Sharna's one of the Dark gods," Uthmar started.
"...what?" Wufei stared, wide-eyed.
"A Dark god. The god of demons and assassins, actually," the Champion explained.
"A god," the demon said flatly, closing his eyes and wincing. "Well, magic works here and you have demons; I suppose it's only logical for you to have gods as well... Logical! Ha!"
"You don't?!" Uthmar asked, aghast.
"No. We don't. A lot of people believe in various gods, but if they exist they never do anything... obvious," Wufei said, sounding a little strained. "We don't have magic, demons, or active gods-- unless you want to believe Duo in his more extreme moods," he added under his breath, starting to pace. "A god. Wonderful. How many gods are there?"
"Seven Dark gods and fifteen Light gods," Gunnar said promptly. "Sixteen, if you count Orfressa."
"Ah. And I might not count her because...?"
"She's the universe."
"I see. Do I have to worry about all seven Dark gods, or just the one?" Wufei asked acidly, still pacing. "Not that one isn't enough!"
"Probably only one, and he can't act against you directly," Uthmar said, trying to sound reassuring.
"Why not? I would have thought dark gods would enjoy doing that sort of thing."
"None of the gods are permitted to act directly on anything in the world," Karthan said, wincing as Wufei spun on his heel and the faint images of what he was seeing spun with him. "It's the only rule the Dark gods have never broken. Sooner or later, two gods would end up acting against one another, and enough power could be released to destroy the world. Even the Dark gods don't want that... Wufei, please sit down! You're making me dizzy!"
Wufei didn't sit down, but he did stop pacing. "Sorry," he said, a little shakily. "I thought I was adjusting quite well to all the differences, but it appears I just hadn't reached what Duo would call my 'weird shit tolerance limit'."
"It's, uh, understandable," Uthmar muttered. "I did rather spring it on you." Ignoring the rude noise Gunnar made, he continued, "The restriction on direct action is why all the gods who are interested in mortals have priests and Champions to do things for them."
"Like our very own Champion, Sir Tactful, here," Gunnar said cheerfully.
"Now who's springing things on Wufei?" Karthan muttered.
"You're a Champion?" Wufei asked slowly. "The, ah, direct representative of a god?"
"Er... yes," Uthmar replied, feeling faintly embarrassed.
"I'm assuming it's a Light god?"
"Oh, yes. Torframos. He's the god of the earth."
=*Pleased to make your acquaintance, Your Highness,*= a deep, amused voice said out of thin air.
"Don't you start! It's bad enough--" Wufei paled as he abruptly realised just who he was talking to. "Ah, I beg your pardon," he said stiffly, eyes wide. "I, ah, I think that's becoming a reflex..."
The deep voice chuckled. =*I'm the one who should apologise; I should know better than to tease someone who's just had a serious shock. And I seem to have startled everyone... Perhaps we'll speak again later, Chang Wufei.*=
"Ah, yes," Wufei said carefully, unable to think of anything else to say.
=*Until then,*= Torframos said, and fell silent.
There was a long pause.
"...Is he gone?" Naiya whispered, staring upwards.
"Yes, he's gone," Uthmar said sourly. "I'm going to have to talk to him about that..."
"You're going to tell off a god?" Cord rumbled, eyeing the dwarf with respect.
"Why not? He's my god," the Champion replied, one corner of his mouth quirking up under the beard.
"I think the rest of my questions can wait," Wufei said quietly, "especially if the answers are going to be that... dramatic. I have more than enough to think about for the time being. If you don't have any more urgent questions?"
"No; everything else can wait," Uthmar told him.
Wufei bowed wordlessly, walked a short distance away, and started a set of slow stretching exercises.
Karthan grunted softly, rubbing at his eyes. "That's better," he muttered, blinking. "Double vision is bad enough when both images are moving the same way!"
"He's closed the link?" Naiya asked, still shooting nervous glances upwards. "I should probably get you both breakfast."
"I don't think he wants any," Karthan told her. "He was thinking something about doing exercises and clearing his mind. Breakfast did not feature in his immediate plans."
"But he's still wounded!" she protested, looking over her shoulder as he ushered her away. "He shouldn't be putting any stress on his back yet. He doesn't heal that fast!"
"Believe me, lass, that's not going to stop him."
For several minutes after they left, there was nothing behind the forge except Wufei, working his way through his daily Tai Chi exercises. Gradually, the tension eased from his muscles as he was able to put the problems facing him aside for the moment and concentrate on the forms; then he finished the Tai Chi, bowed to an imaginary opponent, and began his katas.
A patch of air behind him shimmered briefly, then settled. Nothing had visibly changed, but the hairs on the back of Wufei's neck prickled as he felt someone's eyes on him. He added a turn to the next pattern, swinging around with narrowed eyes to see who was there, and almost dropped out of stance with surprise when his eyes met empty air.
He was right, though. There was someone watching him.
Interesting, Krashnark thought, one eyebrow lifting in mild surprise. I'm shielding as strongly as I can, and intangible; that dwarf Champion could probably walk straight through me and never notice. Even his god wouldn't notice. But this little human-demon somehow realised I was behind him. Very interesting!
Wufei shook his head slightly, dismissing the impression, and continued his kata, gradually increasing his speed and the power he put into the strikes.
A faint smile appeared on the Dark god's face as he noticed blood seeping through the bandages around the small demon's waist. This one's far to good to be wasted satisfying my brother's infantile need for revenge, he thought, smile twisting into a sneer for a moment. He's not even fighting a real enemy, but he doesn't let pain distract him from his focus. It's a pity I didn't bother to watch when my brother set his demon on him; I'm sure he burned brightly in that fight!
This isn't just a matter of duty anymore, he mused, walking in a slow circle around Wufei as the Chinese pilot spun and kicked. Or a matter of putting Sharna in his place. I want this Chang Wufei for myself. It may not be too hard to convince him, either... after all, what better patron for a true warrior than the god of war?
Krashnark paused as a thought struck him. I could even make him my champion.
I was just planning to have him worship me. I haven't taken a champion for... how long? Centuries? None of the mortals have caught my attention like this for a very long time...
He might be worth the trouble. I'll think about it.
Krashnark watched silently until Wufei finished, bowed to his imaginary opponent, and walked off.
* * * * *
"Geez... who let Frankenstein into the house?" Duo muttered, listening to the slow, heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. "Who is it?" he yelled.
"Me," Heero's voice called back, sounding slightly strained.
"What are you doing?"
"Hang on a second." The footsteps clumped along the corridor to Duo's half-open door, which was kicked open to reveal a large box with Heero's legs visible below it.
"Heero, what the hell-- Is that a bar fridge?!" Duo demanded, eyes widening as he read the lettering on the box.
"Yes." The box wobbled across the room until it was next to Duo's bed, then lowered to the floor. Heero's slightly red face rose above it, and he started opening the top flaps.
"Why did you get a bar fridge, Heero?" Duo asked quietly, not sure whether to be delighted or mildly annoyed.
"I figured you needed something to keep all the sodas from going warm."
"...You bought soda."
"Heero, I was under the distinct impression that your opinion of soda was rather lower than your opinion of tequila as a mild thirst quencher," Duo said conversationally, lying back and looking thoughtfully at the ceiling.
"Only if the tequila doesn't have the maggot thing in it," Heero grunted, crawling underneath the bed to plug the little fridge in. "Tequila with maggot is worse than soda."
"It's not a maggot. It's a cactus worm."
"Whatever. I'm not going to be drinking the sodas, so my opinion of them doesn't matter."
"Uh-huh. You bought a bar fridge so I could keep soda in my room, is that it?"
"And ice cream," Heero told him, picking up the flattened cardboard box and heading for the door. "It's got a freezer compartment."
Duo pulled the blankets over his head and gave in to a fit of mildly hysterical giggles.
About an hour later, passing through the lounge room on the way to do some work on his Gundam, Quatre paused in confusion as he saw the empty space on top of a low table. "Trowa," he said, looking back over his shoulder, "where's the stereo?"
"Heero took it up to Duo's room," Trowa said calmly.
"Oh. Well... I guess that's reasonable," the blond muttered. "He's usually the one who wants it on, after all."
"Heero's reasoning was more along the lines of 'Duo Must Not Get Bored Or He'll Get Up'."
"I can see his point," Quatre admitted, then blinked and leaned sideways for a better view around Trowa's shoulder. "And... the TV?"
Trowa pointed upwards silently.
"That's going a bit far! We need to watch the news bulletins on that!"
The taller boy shrugged. "We can still watch them. We just have to go up to Duo's room to do it."
"...And the company, and having the TV up there, will help keep Duo from getting bored, right?"
"All right," Quatre sighed, starting to walk again, "but if we come back and find that the stove has vanished, we're putting Heero on sedatives."
Time passed. Maintenance was done. Eventually, Quatre came back to the house to fetch coffee for himself and Trowa.
He walked into the kitchen, paused, and then walked out again. After a quick search of the ground floor, finding no-one, he walked to the bottom of the staircase and glared upwards.
"All right," he called coldly. "WHERE IS MR. COFFEE?"
There was a faint sputtering noise, then laughter. "Busted, Heero!" Duo called, still laughing. "I told you you weren't going to get away with it!"
"I don't mind the stereo," Quatre insisted, stamping up the stairs. "I can live without the television. But Duo is not the only person in this house who drinks coffee, and we can not visit his room whenever we want a cup!" Throwing open the door, he glared around, noting that all the missing items were there, as well as what looked like every book and magazine in the house.
"Don't blame me, Q," Duo said cheerfully from the bed. "I only asked for a mugful, not the whole coffeemaker!"
"Oh, I know who's responsible," Quatre told him, glaring at Heero as he stalked across to unplug the coffeemaker from the powerboard and coil up the cable. "You're acting like a magpie, Heero, or maybe a bowerbird. It's like Aladdin's cave in here!"
"Wrong fairytale," Heero said, stopping him on his way out the door; frowning, Quatre looked over at him, leaning back to balance the coffeemaker's weight.
"Oh? Which one should it be?"
A faint smile lifted one corner of Heero's mouth. "Ali Baba and the One Thief," he said quietly.
end chapter 16
WUFEI: Great. Not only do I have an evil god out to kill me, I have his twin brother as my own personal stalker.
MEL: We're so good to you, aren't we, Wuffie?
CHRISTY: We've given you a choice! Sort of like 'the Lady or the Tiger'.
MEL: Death or the dark god! You're so lucky.
WUFEI: Somehow I'm not feeling the love.
[He stalks off.]
CHRISTY: Well. That was a success. He didn't try to kill us.
MEL: Either we're handling him well, or... we're slipping. Hmmm. Maybe we should turn up the heat on him?
CHRISTY: We already decided we were going to, remember?
MEL: Ohhhhhhhhh yeah. That's okay then.
CHRISTY: Duo! Du~u~u~u~o! How do you like this chapter?
DUO: You're still psychologically torturing Heero. It sucks.
MEL: Hey! We let you be nice to him, and he got a couple of warm fuzzy happy moments!
DUO: That's just so you can swat him again later, isn't it? I know the way you two think.
CHRISTY: Well, now that you mention it... maybe just a little.
QUATRE: And why do you always write me as a caffeine addict?
CHRISTY: Because you are.
QUATRE: ...Good point.
TROWA: It's no good arguing with them.
MEL: Listen to Trowa, guys, he's smart. So, Christy, should we bring in the assassins next chapter or leave them out for a while longer?
DUO: Hey, hang on-- assassins?! Are you going to have people trying to assassinate Wufei?!
MEL: Yeah, him too. Now--
MEL: --go away, sugar, we're plotting.