Demon of Justice Chapter 26


                                                                                                                                                                                                      "Waiting for Pain"


DUO: Sheesh, nothing’s happening! I thought they were planning to jump straight into another chapter again?

WUFEI: Shhhhh! They’ll hear you!

DUO: I was just wondering--

WUFEI: Do you want them to get to the part where I’m being tortured?!

DUO: Well, not really, but they did promise not to kill you.

WUFEI: And they also said I might wish they had. No thanks!

DUO: But...

WUFEI: *sigh* You want some more relationship progress, don’t you?

[Duo looks down at his hands and twiddles his fingers. Wufei glares at him. Duo starts twiddling his braid instead.]

WUFEI: ...All right, damn it, I’ll talk to the onnas!

KRASHNARK: You’re willing to get tortured for him but you won’t even kiss me?!

WUFEI: Duo doesn’t insult me.

DUO: Yeah, and I respect him in the morning!

KRASHNARK: ...I think you’ll be much happier if I just ignore that comment, right?

WUFEI: Correct.

KRASHNARK: Which shows I do care about your feelings. And I’ve stopped insulting you!

WUFEI: You still have a long way to go before there is any possibility of me regarding you as anything other than ‘someone to be very wary of’. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and organise my own painful near-death. *sigh*

DUO: Thanks, ‘Fei, you’re the best!

KRASHNARK (watching Wufei’s rear as he walks away): *sigh* Definitely. ...Hmm. I don’t suppose you could give me any pointers?

DUO: Well, if you’re serious about wanting to be nice to him now, instead of complaining every time the onnas want to write you as being ‘wimpy’...?

KRASHNARK: *wince* I promise, I’ve learned my lesson! Here as well as in the story!

DUO: In that case, go talk to Quatre. He put Heero on the right track. Just don’t expect him to go easy on you!

[Meanwhile, Wufei has stalked into the computer room, where Christy is staring at the screen and fiddling idly with the mouse.]

WUFEI: All right, get on with it!

CHRISTY: Hmm? What?

WUFEI: Writing. Torture. Of me, specifically. Come on, you’re usually enthusiastic about this!

CHRISTY: Oh, that! We’re going to start in maybe half an hour, as soon as Mel gets online.

WUFEI: *blink* So... what took so long?

CHRISTY: Her boyfriend was visiting her in Japan. She finds it a little hard to concentrate on writing torture while snuggling with her honey.

WUFEI: *blink*blink* Errr, yes, I can see how that might be distracting. Well, since you seem to have things under control I’ll just be going now--

CHRISTY: Actually, since you seem to be actually interested in this chapter, you can stay here and help us make it worse-- errrrr, better!

WUFEI: What?! No, hold on, I--

[There’s a ‘bong’ noise from the computer.]

CHRISTY: Yahoo! Mel’s awake! ON WITH THE FIC!

Demon of Justice
Chapter 26
‘Waiting for Pain’

Krashnark seethed, pacing back and forth in the area of the Dark Gods’ realm that was loosely defined as his ‘quarters’, glowing a pale red. Random items of furniture appeared out of the swirling mist around him, twisted and distorted by the force of his rage, lasting only seconds before evaporating again or being destroyed.

“That filth,” he snarled to himself, smashing a small table to one side. “That worthless little cockroach! If he thinks our lord father will protect him from me, he’s wrong. I’ll crush him the way Wufei would crush one of his precious bugs if it dared to scuttle out from under its rock!”

...Once I’m strong enough to do it and block him from taking revenge in the mortal world, that is...

Anger gave way to worry as he turned to stare at the glassy, shimmering spot in midair that he used to watch Wufei when he wasn’t actually hovering invisible at the human/demon’s side. Behind him, the roiling chaos began to settle down into the usual pattern he shaped his ‘rooms’ into as he concentrated his will on the shimmer, trying to force it to show something other than the vague green-streaked darkness it was reflecting.

I shouldn’t have used so much of my power making that link for him, he berated himself. I should have done it some other time, not the night before he went into a battle against my idiot brother’s forces. Or I should have cut it off sooner, instead of hanging on as long as I could maintain it. But he seemed so happy, talking to his friend... and I was sure I had Sharna cowed! Where in Krahana’s hells did he find the courage to defy me like that?!

At the very least I should have realised before now that I had so little power available, curse it!

Scowling, Krashnark sent another pulse of power into the floating shimmer, and growled as even that tiny expense of energy made his glowing aura dim slightly. After effectively ignoring it for several hundred years, he finally had a reason to regret neglecting his church.

They were boring, it’s true, he thought sourly, but boredom is no reason to neglect a duty. I stopped paying attention to the priests... four hundred years ago? Longer? They all seemed to be the same, cowering and fearful and crawling before me, begging for scraps of my power. They reminded me of my brother, damn it! Then, after my last Champions died, there wasn’t anyone else who appealed to me, so I ignored the mortals except when there was a major war happening. The church still exists, if smaller, but... when did they stop really praying to me?

He still had his own strength, of course; the strength that made him his father’s second-in-command instead of his older brother Fiendark, the strength that he could have sent to Wufei to use against his enemies if the annoyingly honourable little demon had just accepted his place as Krashnark’s destined Champion. He would have noticed quickly enough if anything had happened to that! But the power that came from prayer, the power that he could use to do things only a god could do, things where he didn’t have a Champion to use as a conduit -- the power he could have used to stop Sharna from cutting Wufei off from his power -- hadn't been there when he’d needed it. He’d had only the barest fraction of what should have been available, and he’d used it all up... and there was no-one involved in the fight who was even slightly inclined to worship him, so now that he was cut off from the anchor that Wufei would have provided, he couldn’t even go there in person to watch.

Sharna seems to have plenty, the little worm,” he snarled, glaring at the faint acid-green smears across his scrying illusion. “Enough to help his priests summon demons. Enough to trap my chosen. Enough to stop me from even seeing what’s happening to him!”

I will wait, he decided grimly, forming a chair out of the mists with a flick of thought and settling into it, eyes fixed on the shimmer. I will wait, and see if Torframos’s Champions can save my Champion. And when it is all over, I will take full and proper payment for every drop of blood, every moment of pain he suffers, out of my worthless little brother’s hide!

* * * * *

“I’m serious, Heero, I just know it! Wufei’s alive!”

Heero blinked and wrapped his arms tighter around the braided teen’s shoulders. “Duo, it was just a dream,” he repeated. “You--"

“I know it was a dream!” Duo interrupted, raising his head to look him in the eye. “But it was still real! A true dream! We talked! Touched! He was surprised by my brace!”

“Dreams can be like that. Your subconscious--"

Duo put two fingers across the Japanese teen’s lips, silencing him. “I know what your mind can do in dreams, and I know this sounds crazy... but it was real.”

Heero sighed, then gently pulled Duo’s hand away from his mouth. “Okay. Convince me.”


“Convince me. I know you, Duo, and I know you’re not crazy... no matter how much you may pretend, sometimes,” he added dryly, settling back against the pillows and pulling Duo against his chest. “Whatever convinced you, it’s got to be pretty good.” I hope! “What happened?”

Duo relaxed and let Heero hold his weight. “Well, it started with another nightmare about ‘Fei getting blown away. Then something twisted and it was like I was floating, with mist and stuff all around. I started talking to myself--"

“As you do,” Heero interrupted, smirking.

“--and the next thing, I heard Wufei say ‘Duo?’,” the long-haired teen continued, jabbing Heero in the stomach with his elbow without losing a beat. “We both thought it was some sort of freaky dream, at first, but we could actually feel each other... like you felt me just now. Ha. Then he brought up the brace, and the new t-shirt, and asked why he would dream about me in things he’d never seen before. He said he thought it was too ‘concrete’ to be an ordinary dream.”

There was a slight pause while Duo thought about how best to put the next bit. He didn’t think telling Heero that a god had turned up and spoken to them both would help the story’s credibility. It didn’t feel good to keep anything from his boyfriend, but maybe if he just left that bit out? It’s not like lying, after all... just, ah, ‘editing for content’, maybe?

Ugh. Still feels bad.

He sighed, and went on. “Wufei’s exact words were, ‘If this is my dream, why would I invent a leg brace and a new t-shirt for you? If this is your dream, why would I -- a figment of your imagination -- be surprised by them? Either one of us is dreaming far more imaginatively than normal, or--' Then he told me to smell him. Heero, he smelled like grass and woodsmoke.”

Heero blinked. “I don’t see how that--"

“Think about it,” Duo interrupted impatiently. “Have you ever smelled anything in a dream? Really smelled it, I mean, instead of just knowing how something should smell, or waking up to find out that the smell was in the air where you were and just got incorporated into the dream?”

“That’s... a valid point,” Heero said slowly. “And if the Doctors are correct, and he’s been pulled into a different leg of the ‘trousers of time’,” he continued, getting a snicker from Duo, “then it is possible that, thanks to some lingering connection to this world, he might be able to contact you when your mental barriers were down for sleep. Still, that would almost certainly take incredible amounts of energy! Where did that come from?”

“Pleased to hear you saying ‘did’ and not ‘would’,” Duo said lightly, covering an inward wince as he mentally deleted any mention of gods and magic from the story. Plausible but not a lie, plausible but not a lie... “Well, we spent more time discussing what happened to everyone than how we were managing to have the conversation. If we’re talking theoretically,” he said carefully, “what about the energy from the gun? That was a pretty cataclysmic sort of thing, you know; there was enough from that to do just about anything, I’ll bet, and the Doctors said it came from the ‘trouser fabric’. What if he could draw on that? Maybe it never really left him?”

“True, and plausible,” Heero agreed, nodding. “Given a source of energy and a ‘connection’, for want of a better term, and the oddities of the dream itself, I’d have to agree that it’s possible... and I certainly can’t prove it’s not!” He thought for a moment longer, frowning, and then shrugged. “All right. I’m at least provisionally convinced.”

Duo sighed happily, then winced again at the next question.

“So, did he say where he is? What it’s like? Anything?”

“Um... he said he was okay. He ended up in some sort of mediaeval-type world,” the injured boy said, thinking fast and editing out all the unbelievable parts. “There are knights and peasants... no guns or anything... he said they even thought he and Shenlong were demons at first. But he’s met some good people. Some of them aren’t human, though -- he said something about them having a few non-human intelligent species! They have different languages, of course, but he’s catching on quick. He said it’s really interesting, and that I’d love it there.” A soft sigh escaped him.

Heero hugged him closer. “You really miss him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, a lot,” Duo nodded. “He told me not to miss him so much I screw up what I’ve got, though!” He turned slightly, snuggling against Heero’s chest, and went on after a few moments. “He’s my best friend... like the brother I never had. Like Solo was, kind of. I could tell him anything. He may not have shown it to you guys, but he always had time for me. He read to me when I couldn’t sleep, listened when I bitched about Relena, commiserated, cheered me up when things went wrong... he even gave me advice about you.”

“About me?!” Heero asked, surprised.

The other teen chuckled. “Yeah. He’d tell me when I was being an idiot, throwing myself at you or whatever. He said to be more subtle; you already had Relena stalking you, and you didn’t need me to join the Scary Brigade. Oh! He was totally shocked at Relena’s turnaround. He said that her giving up on you and being nice to me was less plausible than anything that had happened to him!”

Heero laughed along with his boyfriend, then sobered. “Do you think this will happen again? This real dream?”

Duo shook his head sadly. “I don’t think so. It felt like a one-time deal.”

The Japanese teen pressed a comforting kiss to Duo’s temple. “It’s early, but not too early,” he said, changing the subject. “Do you want to stay up, or try to get a little more sleep?”

“Maybe sleep a little more? Like this, if it’s okay. I’m comfortable.”

“It’s fine, Duo. I’m comfortable too. Go to sleep.”

Silence descended on the room, and ten minutes later Heero thought the other teen had drifted back to sleep. He closed his eyes, trying to digest everything Duo had told him. Part of him stubbornly refused to accept that Duo could have received a mental message from another world -- technically a completely different reality -- in his sleep... but another, even more stubborn part of his mind insisted that this was Duo. Duo was not crazy, or gullible, or stupid, and therefore there had to be some concrete truth behind his conviction...

It was a difficult concept to grasp, and he could tell it was going to take him some time to absorb--

“Heero... are you still awake?”

“Yes, Duo, is there something wrong?”

“Um... will you help me to the bathroom? I have to pee...”

* * * * *

Vaijon leaned back against the rough wall where he’d been chained, panting slightly. Their captors had forced the knight-probationer and armsmen to run at what would have been their best speed if their arms hadn’t been bound tightly behind them, and he’d fallen several times, only to be yanked roughly to his feet and forced onwards.

“Not precisely the way we want to enter a Dark God’s temple, is it, Sir Vaijon?” Karthan muttered almost absent-mindedly from his place next to the blond human, craning his neck and peering towards the other side of the good-sized chamber. “Sword in hand and together with a lot more of the Order’s fighting men would be better, I think...”

Myself leading the charge, a Champion glowing with the God’s fire, thought Vaijon automatically, a lifetime’s fantasies supplying the way it should have been; he grimaced, dismissing the thought, and tugged experimentally at his manacles. “Even if I had my sword right now, it wouldn’t be doing me much good,” he muttered back bitterly, trying to flex his burned right hand and not having much success. “I should have tried to pull that thing off him with my off hand, not my sword hand!”

“How is it?”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Vaijon said shortly. “I’d feel better if it did.”

The dwarf glanced up at the white, seared flesh and winced sympathetically. “Well, if we get out of this with our skins more-or-less intact, Sir Uthmar and Sir Arwen should be able to do something for it. Assuming they can fight their way through to us in time, that is... or if we can do something for ourselves.”

Vaijon gave one last, futile yank at the chain holding him to the wall and sagged, blowing out his breath with a sigh. The damn thing didn’t even rattle, curse it, it was so heavy and well-greased against rust that it just clanked dully. “Quite frankly, Sir Karthan, and yes I know you’re not a knight but you are the voice of experience here... I am completely open to suggestions.”

There was a faint, pained chuckle from his other side. “First thing I’ve heard you say that didn’t sound like you had the family banner up yer arse, flagpole an’ all,” Jens grunted, shifting to ease the roughly bandaged wound in his shoulder. “May be there’s hope for you yet... sir.”

The knight-probationer stiffened, mouth opening for an automatic freezing rebuke... and then stopped.

I am probably going to die, he admitted to himself, staring blindly across the chamber, past the twenty or so assassins who had brought them in, at the huge stone scorpion looming over the blood-caked altar. Soon. Not gloriously, or heroically, or even peacefully. I am going to die badly, and Sharna will eat my soul. Why waste my last moments snarling at one of the only people here who isn’t going to cheer the priests on, just because he isn’t giving me the respect due my birth and position? As if that matters right now!

“Under the circumstances, Jens,” he said, a little stiffly, “I’m going to take that as a sort of warped, back-handed, possibly sarcastic compliment. Thank you. Would you happen to have anything a little more constructive to contribute, perhaps on the subject of how we get out of here? We can return to the question of flagpoles when we have a little more free time.”

Jens gaped incredulously at him, but quiet sputtering sounds from the other side of the human armsman indicated that the other members of the party were appreciating the comment.

“Gods save us, Gunnar’s rubbing off on him, too...”

“I have a bit of an idea,” Karthan whispered tensely, ignoring the byplay. “Can you see where they’ve taken Wufei? It’s not going to work without him, and I can’t reach him through our link.”

At six foot four inches in height, Vaijon had the best view of anyone in the group, and he nodded grimly as he looked back towards the altar. “I can see him,” he said quietly, “and I think you’d better come up with a different plan...”

* * * * *

"Dammit!" Duo muttered, flopping back on the bed. "I was sure I’d do it today..."

“This is nothing for you to upset yourself over, Mister Maxwell. Your knee is just not ready to bend yet, that’s all,” Dr. Modi said calmly, patting the braided teen’s good leg.

“I almost did it yesterday, and almost did it this morning, and almost did it just now! Why won’t it cooperate?!” Duo pouted.

The doctor chuckled and waved to the brand-new forearm crutches standing proudly next to the bed. “I am quite sure you will manage it soon. Now, since your magnificent custom crutches have arrived, and the incision has stabilised sufficiently to survive any minor accidental strains you may put on it as you swing your way around, why don’t you take a walk around the hospital? Perhaps you could buy your Mister Yui a cup of coffee in the cafeteria?” he said with a smile. “I promise you, the cafeteria food is of a far higher standard than the patient breakfasts...”

“You mean I can hobble anywhere I want?” the teenager asked, pout turning into a grin as he reached for the matte black crutches, covered in silver lightning bolts and scythes.

“As long as I have your word that you will put absolutely no weight on that leg during your travels,” the older man replied, walking towards the door and opening it.

“You got a deal, Doc! Hey, Heero, get in here and help me put my sweats on! We’re going for a walk!” he called through the doorway.

The doctor nodded politely to the Japanese teen as they passed in the doorway, and continued down the hall towards his next patient examination. Back in the room, Heero opened Duo’s bag, pulled out a pair of sweat pants and started helping his boyfriend into them.

“Since you haven’t told me to pack your bag, I assume we’re not leaving today?”

The braided teen sighed. “No, this stupid leg just doesn’t want to cooperate yet.” He brightened. “But the doc said I could wander around, so I’m taking you down to the cafeteria and buying you a coffee or something. Consider it our first date!”

Heero blinked. “Okay... uh, Relena, Quatre and Trowa should be here soon. I’ll just leave a note on the door, telling them to come find us.” One scribbled note later, he was following Duo as the American pilot swung merrily off down the hall.

Our first date, huh? he thought, watching his boyfriend carefully, ready to grab him at any sign of unsteadiness. Not exactly the most romantic place... but it is a start.

He never realised there was a small smile on his face.


Quatre sighed as he and Trowa stepped into the cafeteria, shortly before 3pm. “I was hoping we could bring him home today,” he said, a small frown on his face. “You know how depressed he gets when he’s cooped up...” His voice trailed off in surprise as Duo’s cheerful laughter floated across the nearly empty room.

“He certainly doesn’t sound depressed,” Trowa replied, smirking as he led his blond lover over to the table in the back corner. “Good afternoon, Duo. I see the poor doctor has had enough and banished you to this dungeon.”

“Yeah, it’s pure torture! Forced to drink this slop they call coffee! Fate worse than death, I tell you,” the braided teen said, chuckling. “Better than their icky fake vitamin-fortified OJ, but still a fate worse than death. Plus, my jailer,” he motioned to Heero, “forced a slice of apple pie on me. Terrible, just terrible!”

“And now this jailer thinks we should head back to your room,” Heero said, helping Duo out of the chair and handing him the crutches. “The previously wicked queen will probably be along soon, and we don’t want to have that meeting out in public.”

“Especially not if she makes good on her threat to kidnap me and you have to kick her ass,” Duo nodded solemnly, negotiating his way between tables. “Wouldn’t that look good on a front page or thirty?”

Quatre was left speechless, staring after the Japanese boy as he walked out beside Duo. Trowa chuckled and nudged him forwards, breaking him out of his daze.

“You’re not hallucinating, Quatre. That really is Heero Yui. New, improved model, with a visible sense of humour...”

Quatre just shook his head and followed the other pilots.


“Duo! Should you be up?” Relena exclaimed, dropping part of a stack of folders as she nearly bumped into him outside the room. “Is your leg all right? You’re not overexerting yourself, are you?”

“Calm down, Pretty!” he said, carefully manoeuvring around the fallen papers and swinging across to the bed. “It’s okay. Doctor Modi said it’s fine for me to wander around now, so long as I stay off the leg. Come on in and get settled!”

Heero crouched down and started gathering the folders up, nodding for Relena to go in.

“I think we’ve missed something there too, Trowa,” Quatre said under his breath.

“Looks that way... and I can’t wait to find out what,” his lover whispered back, before crossing the room and settling into a chair.

Heero dropped his burden on the wheeled table, pushed it over next to Relena, and perched on the edge of the bed next to Duo. “So, what exactly do you need our advice on?” he asked calmly, without any of the wariness he usually showed when the ‘Pink Princess’ was around.

“Quite a few things, actually, but the most important one is the question of some sort of policing agency for the whole Earth Sphere,” she said, opening a folder and passing around papers. “We’re setting up a sort of parliamentary or congressional system for the government, where regions on Earth and each colony will have representatives. In the future, of course, they’ll be properly elected to their positions by their region’s people, but we’ve already got a temporary structure in place, made up of surviving pre-Alliance rulers and politicians... and they’re already arguing. Some want a military force, with anywhere up to wartime-level powers. Others want a civilian police force, less power but in fancier uniforms -- in fact, some want a police force that’s so watered down that we might as well use them as school crossing guards, because they certainly won’t be able to do anything more useful! The rest of us want something in the middle...”

“Like a paramilitary police force,” Heero put in. “A force that could handle terrorist threats, and small military forces, yet not be an actual army.”

“I agree,” Quatre nodded. “Especially if it’s run with the proper emphasis on...”

Duo lost track of the conversation almost immediately. He had a niggling feeling that something was badly wrong, but what that ‘something’ was, he had no idea. His leg wasn’t bothering him, there were no missions to worry about, Relena’s presence was no longer a teeth-grinding annoyance or a security threat... so what could it be?

* * * * *

Wufei spent most of the hurried journey to the hidden temple slung over a brawny human’s shoulder, dangling head-down, struggling just to breathe and stay conscious. The barbed chain wound around him had somehow blocked his newly-formed links to Karthan and Nataku, and the cold fire running along it was slowly burning into him, sapping his strength until he could barely twitch a finger. And when he did manage to move, slowly working one hand out from under a loop, it shifted as if it were alive, coiling back around his wrist and digging hooks into his skin.

Magic, he thought painfully, thoughts moving as sluggishly as if he’d been concussed. Obvious magic. And since there isn’t a god yelling in my ear... I think he’s blocked too. Which means... this has to be his brother’s doing.

Several minutes of slow thought later, it occurred to him that perhaps he wasn’t completely cut off from his ‘godly stalker’. He’d become so used to trying not to think his name, but perhaps...


=*He can’t help you now,*=
a gloating voice said in his mind, higher-pitched than Krashnark’s low tenor but otherwise similar. =*My big brother,*= he went on, putting sarcastic emphasis on the words, =*thinks he can order me around, but he doesn’t even have the power to break through my shield to see you, let alone save you. I might let him watch as my priest tortures you to death, though...*=

Wufei’s thoughts froze for a moment in shock, before a wave of cold fury drove away the haze clouding his mind. Wonderful, he thought acidly. Childish sibling rivalry on a grand scale. ‘You keep hitting me, so I’m going to break your toys’, is it? Could you possibly be any more immature?!

He could feel Sharna’s mind recoil in startlement for a moment. =*You-- who do you think you are?!*= the god sputtered eventually. =*How dare you speak to me like that?! You’ll be begging for mercy in a few minutes, and--*=

As if grovelling would make you treat me any better,
Wufei snapped back. You’re planning to have me tortured to death and you want me to be polite to you?! Your brother’s right; you’re a moron!

=*You-- what-- I'm a god!*=

And I should care about that fact... why?
he answered, mental ‘voice’ dripping sarcasm. Hmm. You don’t sound as much like Krashnark as I thought you did at first. He doesn’t sputter. Or whine.

One last angry, incoherent noise, and the sense of Sharna’s presence was gone.

Duo’s been a bad influence on me, Wufei thought, anger fading into exhaustion. I really have to stop insulting every god I meet; it’s becoming a habit.

Considering his situation, it was impressive that it only took about ten seconds before he did a mental double-take at that thought.


As he passed through the hidden entrance to the underground temple, ducking his head in a sketchy reverence to the scorpion carved into the stone above the door, the assassin carrying Wufei used the movement to glance warily back at his limp burden. People marked for sacrifice, being carried semi-conscious into the temple where they are to die, are not usually snickering quietly to themselves...


Wufei had been brought in with a little more consideration for his physical well-being than the members of the Order of Torframos had received -- the idea being to keep him in as good condition as possible until the moment when the ceremony of sacrifice started -- so they travelled faster, and were already chained in a line to the back wall of the central chamber when he was carried in and stretched out on the altar. Vaijon was taller than anyone else in the room, and the chamber had been carefully designed so that everyone within it had a good chance of getting a good view of whatever ‘entertainment’ was in progress, so he had no problem seeing exactly what was going on... and it wasn’t encouraging.

“I think you’d better come up with a different plan, Uthmar,” he said quietly. “One that doesn’t require Sir Wufei’s participation. That chain doesn’t seem to have burned him the way it did me,” his hand twitched, “and he’s certainly alive, but... he doesn’t seem to be truly conscious. Or as strong as usual,” he added, voice dropping to a puzzled murmur.

The high priest had two acolytes (or minor priests, or perhaps just random cultists dressed in fancy robes -- Vaijon didn’t know how to tell the various grades of Sharna’s priesthood apart and didn’t really want to learn, beyond the basic recognition required for ‘evil cultist, kill’) holding Wufei still as he carefully unwound and rearranged the barbed chain, moving it so that his arms and legs were free while taking scrupulous care to always have at least one loop of it around his neck or torso. The men holding him had probably been chosen for strength more than piety, and were gripping his wrists and ankles tightly enough for their white knuckles to be obvious even from where the prisoners stood, but it was also obvious that they weren’t really necessary; Wufei’s eyes were glazed, almost closed, and the few movements he made were weak and uncoordinated.

“He’s acting like someone who’s taken a solid blow to the head,” Vaijon went on, “and I know that didn’t happen, so--"

“--he has to be under a spell,” Karthan finished for him, sagging slightly. “Bound into that chain, no doubt, and also probably the reason why I can’t contact him through our link. Damn. That does scuttle my idea... unless they’re going to take the spell off him once they have him chained down, to make him experience the ceremony ‘properly’.”

The blond knight-probationer raised an eyebrow, inviting further explanation. “Since I doubt they’ll remove the spell unless he’s restrained so securely even he won’t be able to break free, I fail to see how that will help.”

“I don’t need his physical participation,” Karthan told him, dropping his voice to a bare whisper so as to not be overheard. “I just need his attention... and the link. If we can’t re-establish our link, this idea really is doomed.”

And so are we, if we don’t come up with something else, Vaijon noted privately. Sliding down the wall to crouch on his heels, manacles pulling his arms up over his head, he did his best to look like someone who was just trying to find a comfortable position and brought his ear closer to Karthan’s mouth. “Even a flawed plan is at least a start... and I have, as yet, no ideas at all,” he admitted dryly. Some random impulse made him glance up at Jens, remembering the ‘family banner’ comment, and a faint smile quirked his mouth as he switched into his best Court accent. “I pray thee of thy courtesy, good Sir Karthan, do go on.”

Focussed on the need to get free before Sharna’s worshippers could really get started, Karthan managed to take that comment with only a filthy glare and a few violent beard-twitches before starting to explain.


Despite Wufei’s best intentions -- and previous practice at escaping from seemingly hopeless situations -- he wasn’t coordinated enough to take advantage of the moment when his bearer laid him down on the altar, the hooked chain loosened slightly, and the men responsible for restraining him hadn’t yet taken hold.

And even if I were coordinated enough, right now I’m so weak that Une would be able to hold me down, he thought sourly, trying to kick the man holding his ankles and managing absolutely nothing. Alone. Without her glasses on!

I can’t even see properly--

The hands holding him abruptly pulled, spread-eagling him, and he could feel someone else fumbling at his wrists and ankles; a cold hand dropped to touch the chain where it was still looped around his throat, someone muttered something under their breath, and he could abruptly see and feel clearly again. His first convulsive move made it clear that he’d been solidly bound in place, though, and he slowly allowed himself to relax, glaring at the robed man smiling thinly down at him. The links are still gone, he realised. I could probably break loose using the ‘extra’ strength my link to Nataku gives me, but... I don’t have it right now. Luckily for him.

“Good morning, my lord demon,” the man said pleasantly, spreading his hands. “Welcome to the House of the Scorpion.”

Wufei paused for barely a second before he smiled nastily back. Oh, why not? It’s better than doing what they expect, begging for mercy or acting nobly defiant-- “You really should be more careful who you invite in, you know,” he said calmly, noting the slight flicker of surprise in the priest’s eyes with a certain amount of satisfaction. “I killed the last person I saw dressed like you.”

“So I’ve heard.” The priest recovered his composure quickly, tucking his hands into his flowing sleeves and nodding. “My lord Sharna is a trifle... annoyed with you for that, shall we say?”

“He’s throwing a childish shit fit, you mean,” was the blunt reply. “From what I’ve heard, he does that a lot. Don’t you get tired of it?”

“You are determined to be as irritating as possible, aren’t you?” the robed man asked in an amused voice, wisely ignoring the last comment.

“It gives me some personal satisfaction, and can’t really make my situation any worse, can it?” Wufei flicked his hands in a sort of abbreviated shrug, accompanied by a dull rattle from the heavy chains attached to his manacles. Behind the priest, he could see the dark-clad men who had captured his group slowly filtering out of the room, replaced by an equal number of men who seemed to be bulkier, on average, and with more visible weapons, but who somehow struck him as less dangerous. The heavily-armed ones are soldier-types, as opposed to... hm. Spies and assassins? He nearly laughed. Of course they seem more dangerous to me; they’re the local equivalent of terrorists and guerrillas. My equivalent!

Excellent point!” the priest agreed cheerfully, drawing Wufei’s attention back to the conversation. He turned away for a moment, pushing up his sleeves as he examined something one of his assistants was holding out, but kept talking. “I have to admit that your attitude is a refreshing change, really. Normally, people in your position seem to think that not only could things get worse if they say the wrong thing, things could get better if they say the right thing,” he mused, hand hovering over the contents of a tray for a moment before he nodded and made his choice. “I have to put up with a lot of useless begging and pleading for mercy, and it’s nice to have something different to listen to for once... though I’m sure we’ll get to the begging and pleading eventually, of course,” he sighed, turning back towards Wufei with a short knife in his hand.

“Shall we get started?” he asked brightly, cold eyes and thin smile making an unpleasant contrast to the false warmth in his voice. “I hate to cut this conversation short, but my lord Sharna doesn’t like to be kept waiting...”


“Are you getting anywhere?” Vaijon hissed, glancing down at Karthan. The shuffling worshippers were clustering nearer to the altar, beginning to settle to their knees, and no-one seemed to be paying any attention to the ‘extra’ prisoners any more; since there was no longer any need to keep their voices down to bare whispers, he was standing up for a better view again. “They’ve taken the spell off, at least partly -- he seems to be properly awake again -- but I don’t think that’s going to last!”

“I’m trying,” Karthan gritted out, eyes squeezed shut as he mentally hammered at the closed link. Wufei? Wufei! Can you hear me? “Is the chain still on him?”


Shit.” So much for this idea, he thought darkly. Well, all I can do is keep trying and hope Uthmar and Arwen get here in time... Wufei! Answer me, damn you! Wufei!

The last couple of assassins slipped quietly out of the chamber, glancing uneasily behind them as they left, and Vaijon twisted to watch them go. “Where are they off to?” he muttered, half to himself. “I’d expect them to be in the front row, gloating over being the ones who caught us...”

“The dog brothers’re assassins, not cultists,” Jens said tiredly, shrugging his good shoulder. “Sharna may be their patron god, an’ they may do dirty work for his church, but they don’t worship the bastard, not really. They kill, but they don’t torture; I hear they charge extra if you want them to kill someone slow instead’a just shootin’ them.”

“Ah.” Vaijon digested that for a moment, then nodded towards the men who had replaced the assassins. “So they are...?”

Real cultists.” The armsman spat on the floor in front of him, scowling. “The sort that want to live in a hidden temple instead’a in a city, ‘cause that’s where the sacrifices happen. I’d say these’re the temple guard; the assassins’ll be swapping with ‘em so they can get in here.”

“Ah. I, ah, I see,” Vaijon said, a little sickly. There was a brief pause, and then he burst out with, “No. No, I don’t see. They want to watch people die that much?!”

“You’ve made it to knight-probationer and you don’t know this stuff?” someone muttered incredulously on Jens’s other side, and Vaijon blushed fiery red.

“They don’t want to just see people die,” Jens explained carefully, looking at the blond with something like pity. “They want a taste of ‘em.” Seeing Vaijon’s horrified expression, he nodded. “They don’t call their sacrifices ‘Feasts of Sharing’ f’no reason. Sir. Sharna gets the soul, an’ these bastards--” he jerked his chin at the worshippers, mouth twisting as if he wanted to spit again “--get the rest.”

Vaijon swallowed hard a few times and then nodded, a bit jerkily but still polite. “I see,” he repeated numbly. “Thank you.” Glancing one more time at Karthan’s tense face, he went back to watching the group around the altar, sending a silent but heartfelt prayer to Torframos as he did.


“Unfortunately, I won’t have the opportunity to show you my best work,” the priest sighed, discarding the last shred of Wufei’s clothing and handing the knife back to his assistant as he ran his eyes appraisingly over the bared flesh before him. “Given a strong subject, I can make a sacrifice last for days, but in your case I have to balance the desire to extract every bit of power against the need to finish before those two Champions come knocking down my door-- oh, I see you’ve done this before!” he laughed, fingertip tracing the thin scars left by an OZ sergeant’s knife on Wufei’s stomach. “Someone else got to you first... what a pity!”

“I doubt you’d consider him to be in your league,” the human/demon said evenly, keeping revulsion and anger out of his expression with an effort.

“No doubt,” he agreed, turning away to consider the tray of knives again. “Did you kill him too?”

“A friend did me that favour.”

“Can’t have that this time,” the priest murmured absent-mindedly, testing the edge of a long, narrow blade against his thumb. “Now... where to begin...” Resting the tip of the blade lightly on Wufei’s skin just below his navel, he turned his head to examine his victim’s face, eyes glittering cruelly. “Any more bold comments? Defiant speeches? Swear words, even? You can spit if you like, it’s been done before.”

“You’re enjoying this entirely too much, you know,” Wufei said flatly. And I will see you dead!

“Ahh, but is there really such a thing as ‘too much’ when you’re talking about fun?” the priest purred, and made the first cut.

* * * * *

I need to be listening to this! Duo thought, annoyed at himself. I’ve got the chance to help plan something that could do a lot of good, and I’m sitting here twitching because I’ve got random heebie-jeebies... ow!

Damn. I like these boxers, but the waistband must have a scratchy seam or something...
Rubbing surreptitiously at the suddenly aching, prickling spot on his stomach, he concentrated his attention on the conversation going on around him.

End chapter 26

[Christy is sitting in front of her computer, with Duo, Krashnark and ‘Scythe reading an e-mail over her shoulder. Wufei is slumped in a chair next to the desk, chin in hand, apparently sulking.]

CHRISTY: Hmmm. Not bad, considering she finished it after I went to bed, and she’s always complaining she can’t write unless I’m right there keeping her on track...

DUO: Eh... well, I suppose you could consider that to be relationship progress, yeah. Not much, though!

CHRISTY: You got a first date! You’re in hospital, for crying out loud, we can’t do much more until you get out of there!

DUO: You’re the ones writing me not being able to bend my knee yet! You can get me out of there any time you want!

KRASHNARK (fuming): How dare he! I’m going to skin my little brother and give Wufei a new rug!

‘SCYTHE: Calm down... it’s just a fic...

KRASHNARK: You weren’t saying “it’s just a fic” when Christy and Ashkara wrote about Heero using Deathscythe for parts!

‘SCYTHE: ...You have a point. Would you like to borrow my scythe?

WUFEI: You onnas never are going to get around to torturing me properly, are you? You’re just going to keep on letting me anticipate it-- and, judging from the way this chapter ended, you’re going to be doing it to Duo too!

CHRISTY: Why ‘Feifei, are you saying you want to be properly tortured? I never knew you were a masochist, but if you insist--

WUFEI: If you never really start torturing me, you’re never going to get it over and done with so I can get on with other things!

CHRISTY: What other things? Relationship progress?

[Krashnark looks hopeful.]

WUFEI: y-NO! Things like killing that damn priest!

CHRISTY: All right, all right! Next chapter, I swear, we’ll torture you properly. Now... what’s Mel written for the ending babble?

DUO: What... this isn’t it?

CHRISTY: No, Mel said she had something special in mind.

[She scrolls down and starts to read.]

CHRISTY: Oh, it’s a guest cameo!

[Dogmatix -- the fanartist and writer, not the cute little Gaulish dog -- appears, wearing a large floppy hat that looks like it’s a mixture of about three different mediaeval styles. With a feather in it. And a pointy bit on top, with a veil. She’s also got a sign hung around her neck, but whatever’s written on it is hidden behind the scroll in her hands.]

DOGMATIX (reading): “And yea, the great god Krashnark was royally pissed. And he didst make the heavens -- er, the dark bits of them anyway -- smoke with his wrath. And lo, Sharna peed his godly pants, or at least he wouldst have if he had hadst the sense, but we all knowest that Sharna hath not the brains Orr gaveth a mayfly, so he didn’t. Eth. Did noteth. Dideth not? Whatever. And--"

‘SCYTHE: Er... I think you mean ‘Didst not’, there.

DOGMATIX (looking up briefly): Really? Thanks! “So he didst not. And all the readers marvelled at his idiocy, and waitedeth to findeth out what the great god Krashnark would eventually doeth to his moronic and infinitely less sexy little brother but we don’t mention the relationship because Krashy doesn’t like acknowledging that they’re twins so don’t read that bit out loud Matix. Eth.” Um. Oops?

[Everyone just looks at her for a moment.]

DUO: ...Did Mel write that?


WUFEI: I knew it. She’s finally lost what was left of her mind.

‘SCYTHE: Sounds like she’s writing her own bible... sort of.

KRASHNARK: And what was that?! The First Book of Matix?!

DOGMATIX (looking at the scroll again): Actually... “Here Endeth the First Book of Eth.” I think she just likes saying Eth.

DUO: So why is she making you say it?!

DOGMATIX: Oh, I appliedeth for the job!

[She lowers the scroll, and the sign around her neck can now be read: ‘Official Pseudo-Biblical Chroniclerereth.’]

DOGMATIX: I get paideth, too. Slightly less than Jester to the Gods, but it’s not badeth. The speech peculiarity cometh with the position.

WUFEI: That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever--

CHRISTY: I liketh it. “And lo! The Divine Krashnark smote his evil brother!”

WUFEI: --oh, good grief.

KRASHNARK: I’m not going to kill him, you know. *growl* He wouldn’t suffer enough if I did... and anyway, Mel warned me she wants him for future plot developments. *sigh*

CHRISTY: I want him smote!

DOGMATIX: I secondeth that! He deserveth smiting, really.

CHRISTY: Right. Heero! Mission! Thy mission is to go smite the evil wicked Sharna!

[Heero looks in the door.]

HEERO: Can’t I just shoot him?!

CHRISTY: I said, I want him smote! Smoted! Splatted!

DUO: I think it should count as smiting if he uses the buster rifle...

DOGMATIX: You haveth a point there.

WUFEI: I think I want another drink.


Chapter 27

Gundam Wing

















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