Demon of Justice Chapter 27


                                                                                                                                                                                             "Out of Sight, Out of Body"


WUFEI: I hope the onnas aren’t planning to continue that stupid chronicle. It’s bad enough knowing what they’re going to do to me this chapter without having it described in bad pseudo-mediaeval language!

ARDETH: I don’t know... Dogmatix was rather nice, I thought.

SPIKE: Eth. *snicker*

HEERO: Don’t start.

SPIKE (grinning evilly): Why not-eth?

HEERO (smirking back): Because it annoys Legolas too, and he’s standing right behind you with his bow.

SPIKE: ...Ah. Right. That’s a good reason.

DUO: ‘Scythe, do you know when the onnas are going to get going?

‘SCYTHE: They’ve started. Christy said something about only being able to push the readers’ patience with cliffhangers so far before they snap...

WUFEI: They’ve started? But... Christy hasn’t dragged me into the study! Normally they want us right there when they’re torturing us, so they can describe the results better.

‘SCYTHE: Apparently they already know what you look like when you’re in pain.

DUO: *grumble* They should by now, the number of times they’ve tortured us in the past!

KRASHNARK: They’d better let me rescue Wufei or I’ll start zapping things again!

[The door to the computer room/study opens and Christy sticks her head out.]

CHRISTY: Krashnark, could you-- Oh good, you’re already looking outraged. Hold that pose for a second!

[She pulls out a Polaroid camera and takes a photo of him, tugs it out of the slot and squints at it as the picture develops.]

CHRISTY: Hmmmm... yeah, that’ll do. Thanks, Krashy-babe!

KRASHNARK: Hold on! What are you two up to now?! The only thing I’ve got to be outraged about is Wufei! If you let Sharna seriously hurt him, I’ll--

CHRISTY: --be able to have a nice hurt-comfort scene where you fuss over him and soothe his fevered brow, yes, we know. Have fun!

[The study door slams behind her, and the various characters turn to look at each other.]

WUFEI: ...Uh-oh.

KRASHNARK: ...I hadn’t thought of that... No! No, I’m still not going to just stand by while Sharna’s priest tortures you, and that’s not just because I don’t want my little brother to be able to gloat at me! It’s wrong and they shouldn’t do it to you!

WUFEI: I’m not sure whether to feel suspicious, or strangely touched.

KRASHNARK: Besides, you’d just yell at me if I tried to soothe your fevered brow.

WUFEI: Suspicious. Definitely. *sigh* Still, the sooner the onnas get going with the torture, the sooner it’ll be over and done with, so... on with the fic!

Demon of Justice
Chapter 27
‘Out of Sight, Out of Body’

“Now, it’s understanding I’ll be if y’tell me to mind my own business, seein’ as how things are a tad busy right now,” Cord said conversationally, blocking a sword strike with his axe, “but would y’mind tellin’ me how come you and th’lad there aren’t glowing yet?”

Uthmar snorted, not taking his eyes off his own opponents. “Because using Torframos’s power against a pack of perfectly ordinary mortals would be as good as murder, which Champions aren’t really supposed to do,” he answered shortly, grunting as he cut one cultist down and twisted to block a cut from another. “We’ll glow for demons, mages, and spell-casting priests.”

“I think I’m seein’ your point,” the giant hradani mused, kicking his momentarily distracted opponent back into the press of cultists, probably with a few broken ribs to keep him occupied. The first green-clad soldier who lunged forwards into the gap went down with an arrow in one eye, and Cord had a second to turn and nod his thanks to Naiya and Terrin, who were standing on top of the baggage cart with bows. “It wouldna be fair to take an unfair advantage against plain ordinary people, is that it?”

“Essentially,” Uthmar agreed, wondering where this was going. There was a dangerous glitter in Cord’s eyes, and an edge to his voice that didn’t go with his calm delivery...

“Then would y’do me the favour of explainin’ just how goin’ down under three-to-one odds can be considered fair?” Cord rumbled, smashing a cultist to the ground with an overhand stroke.

Uthmar had to admit -- privately, at least -- that he had a point. Normally, he would have said that forty-five fighters, two of them Champions, would have been more than enough to handle whatever forces were protecting a hidden temple to a Dark god, and normally he would have been right... but the one thing he could be sure of at the moment was that the situation was not normal. If things had been ‘normal’, his armsmen wouldn’t have been surrounded by over three times their number of well-armed cultists and backed into a tight defensive ring around the cart and their nominal ‘noncombatants’, who were proving to be surprisingly good shots.

At least they didn’t hit us until after we were all up, awake, and armed for the march... “It’s the principle of the thing,” he said, a little weakly.

Principles, is it?” Cord said derisively. “From what I’ve seen, little man, principles are the things that’ll get you killed when your enemies use ‘em against you! All else bein’ equal, if one side’s got principles an’ the other don’t, it’s the side without ‘em that’ll win -- and y’can hardly argue that things are equal here!”

Uthmar opened his mouth to argue, but the hradani wasn’t listening any more. The dwarf on his other side went down as a sword point found a weak spot in his armour, and he dragged the wounded armsman out of harm’s way, blocking the stroke meant to finish him off.

“Now, you just sit here quiet until-- well, if it isn’t the Jester t’the Gods,” he chuckled, leaning Gunnar back against one of the cart’s wheels and gently probing his wound. “Didn’t recognise you with y’helmet on. I’m thinking there’s no need to be in such a hurry to go and take up your new job, lad!”

Gunnar winced, but managed a lopsided grin. “Actually, I was rather planning to stay here. Somebody’s got to keep all the rampant egos around here in check!”

“Aye, well, if the Champions’ll just get their thumbs out, we might be able to manage somethin’,” Cord grumbled, turning to go.

The dwarf stopped him with a hand on his arm. “While I understand that principles can be a bit of a pain,” he winced, “sometimes literally, and personally I agree with you that the current odds are a good argument for relaxing those principles... sometimes, all else being equal, principles are the only way you can tell which side is which.” His smile faded. “Our situation isn’t what I’m worried about right now, though.”

“Oh? And what would you be worryin’ about, then?”

“Wufei,” Gunnar said grimly. “He hasn’t come back, and Nataku’s just sitting there... and our opponents have hardly even looked at Nataku, like they know she can’t do a thing to stop them. They’ve done something to him, I’m sure of it.”

“Aye, that’s not good, but--"

“It’s worse than ‘not good’!” Hissing in pain, Gunnar slumped back against the wheel, hand pressed to his bloodied side. “I can think of two possibilities, both damn nasty. One, he’s a demon, and was originally summoned by a priest of Sharna. Judging by what Naiya and Rami told us, he broke free before they could perform the second sacrifice and bind him into obedience. I don’t think they can continue the process with a different priest, but what if they can? What if they’re planning to do the second sacrifice now? Two, and more likely...” He took a deep breath. “What if he is the sacrifice? Think about it. There’s probably more power and potential wrapped up in him than in anyone else in this world. If a priest of Sharna gets his hands on that sort of power... what d’you think he’s going to do with it?”

“...Nowt we’ll like,” Cord said eventually.

“’Aye’,” Gunnar agreed, mimicking Cord’s accent dryly. “Which is why we have to get out of this mess and help him. Fast.”

“Which means it’s time to ditch the Phrobus-damned principles,” Cord growled, ears slanting backwards. “I’ll just be borrowing this then, if y’don’t mind,” he added, switching his logging axe into his left hand and picking up Gunnar’s double-bladed war axe in his right.


Uthmar traded blows with a succession of opponents, swearing under his breath as one after another ducked backwards, pulling out of reach to take a breather as another cultist stepped in to take their place. They’re just working to hold us in place and wear us down, not trying to kill us immediately... and I’m not even managing to seriously wound many of them, let alone kill them! he fumed, slashing in vain at one more retreating figure. I don’t have time to evaluate one fighter’s style and find an opening before he pulls back and I’ve got to start again, and I don’t have the brute strength necessary to smash through their defences in one or two blows, unlike Cord.

A niggling, guilty thought popped up in the back of his mind. But I would if I just used some of Torframos’s power...

He shook his head, dismissing the idea, and chopped at his next opponent’s legs. That’s not an option, no matter what Cord says. And speaking of Cord... the way he fights, it’s damn clear that he’s not just an ordinary smith and forester! Not that I really thought he was. Hradani aren’t the most feared and hated race on this world for nothing, and Horse Stealer hradani are--

A deep-throated bellow came from behind him, almost a roar, and he barely had time to duck out of the way as Cord charged straight past him into the thick of the enemy forces, striking right and left and leaving a trail of shattered bodies behind him.

--more frightening than the rest, Uthmar finished, watching wide-eyed as the enemy forces fragmented around the hradani. I’ve never actually seen hradani in battle, but I’d heard... oh damn! He’s gone berserk, he’s not watching his rear and they’re coming in behind him--!

Without thinking about it, he reached for Torframos’s power and charged after the hradani, blazing golden fire surrounding him.

* * * * *

Wufei hissed in pain as the priest carved another line into his stomach, and then cursed inwardly as a quiet laugh let him know he’d been heard. Worse than the pain, though, was the slow pulling sensation, as if each slice, each drop of blood, was taking something out of his soul... and the huge stone scorpion looming over him was starting to glow faintly green.

“I’m impressed,” the priest said in an almost friendly voice, cutting slightly higher this time as he drew some sort of pattern on Wufei’s skin. “That’s the first involuntary sound you’ve made. You’re not struggling, either... I don’t suppose you’re actually enjoying this, are you?”

“Hardly,” Wufei snarled. “I am not a masochist.”

“I thought not, but it was worth asking,” the priest mused, wiping up a trickle of blood with one finger and licking it off. “Hmm... interesting. I’m not sure whether you really do taste slightly different to normal humans, or whether I’m imagining it.”

“I have no idea,” Wufei said shortly, and closed his eyes, concentrating. The cutting started again, darts of pain across his inner thighs, but he dismissed it from his mind.

It’s not important, he told himself, reaching inwards. An illusion... the world is an illusion. My body is an illusion. Pain is an illusion. I can simply refuse to perceive them, and leave them behind...


Muttering under his breath, a quiet echo of the prayers being chanted by the worshippers behind him, the priest made another delicate slice into the meat of his victim’s thigh. Blood welled up, dribbling across golden-tan skin in beautiful patterns, and his smile widened as he drew in the power flowing from the wounded body--

--and then faded, as the spread-eagled demon abruptly relaxed and the power flowing from him dwindled to nothing.

Eh?! What’s going on? As long as he’s alive and able to feel pain, he shouldn’t be able to block me-- He hasn’t died, has he?! Alarmed, he reached out to feel the sacrifice’s throat, hardly feeling the sting as the hooked chain caught on his skin. The demon had looked strong, but you never could tell about a person’s heart, and then there had been that embarrassing incident with the girl who’d turned out to be a spy, carrying poison to save her from questioning... it had saved her from something else, and totally ruined the summoning ceremony. The memory of Sharna’s fury made him wince.

A strong, slow pulse beat under his fingers, and he frowned. “What are you doing?” he asked lightly, none of his alarm showing in his voice as he twisted the boy’s head to face him. Even if he’s passed out, that shouldn’t affect... eh? What has he done to himself?!

The face looking back at him was slack, eyes almost shut and unseeing, a complete contrast to the angry, resentful, alive features that he’d been laughing at only seconds before. “Come on now, wake up,” he said, slapping the demon’s cheek. “You can’t hide like that... wake up!” A second, stronger blow had no effect either, and the quiet chant behind him faltered as the cultists realised something was wrong.

One of the underpriests moved forward, swallowing nervously. “My lord, is there--" He flinched back, out of arms’ reach, as the high priest snarled and slashed the slender knife across the sacrifice’s chest, gouging a deep furrow through skin and muscle until the fragile blade twisted in his hand and snapped.

“He didn’t feel it,” he muttered, staring into the demon’s face and searching in vain for any reaction. “He’s alive, and not unconscious, yet somehow he didn’t feel it... and he has to, or this will not work! What did he do?!”


As several former members of OZ -- including Lady Une -- could have told the priest, torture will get you nowhere if your victim can put himself into a trance. Wufei was only distantly aware of his body; he felt no pain, and although he could still see and hear what was going on around him, it seemed about as real and important as an old black-and-white film, out of focus and echoing faintly. If someone he trusted told him it was safe to come back he would be able to hear and respond, but until then he could just drift in soothing warmth...

* * * * *

Still rubbing idly at the prickling spot on his stomach, Duo turned his attention back to Quatre’s voice.

“...probably be best to have a group overseeing it, I think. If there’s one qualified person in charge, we can avoid arguments about who has jurisdiction over what, and if they are then answerable to a committee there shouldn’t be...”

Another dull pain moved across his abdomen, and Duo lost track again. What the hell? he thought, fingers moving to the new spot under his blanket. I can’t feel anything there, and it doesn’t hurt any more or less when I touch it, so what’s--

Another pain, this one below his ribcage, made him jump slightly. Another, and another...

“But who would be best for the leadership position?” Relena’s voice broke through his distraction. “And what title should they have? I realise that question may seem trivial, but believe me, some of the people I have to convince to vote for this will panic if it sounds at all ‘Napoleonistic’ or ‘aggressive’...”

Duo tried to pay attention, but a sudden prickling, burning feeling up and down his inner thighs made it difficult. He barely managed to suppress a wince.

“I think-- Duo, are you all right?” Trowa’s concerned voice gave him an anchor, and he looked up to see everyone watching him.

“Yeah, Tro... s’okay. I’m just a little stiff and sore. Keep going, I’m fine,” he replied, forcing himself to grin. He squirmed on the bed slightly, then let out a relieved sigh as the pain suddenly faded.

“If you’re sure,” Heero started, leaning forwards to stroke his boyfriend’s cheek.

“It’s fine, Heero; I just needed to get more comfortable, I guess,” Duo replied, leaning briefly into the caress. “We were trying to decide on who should head this ‘peacekeeping group’, right?” At everyone’s nod he continued: “Well, I know this is going to sound kind of flaky... but what about Lady Une?”

* * * * *

Down on his knees, forehead pressed to the side of the bloodstained altar, the high priest prayed desperately. My lord Sharna, forgive me, but something has gone wrong. I--

=*I can tell that!*= an angry voice spat in his head. =*You should have him screaming for mercy by now, and he’s not even twitching! What are you doing about it?*=

He has somehow withdrawn into himself, I think, my lord, the priest continued. I am ashamed to admit my failure, but nothing I can do to his body will wake him. I have tried to retrieve his mind with a spell, but it slips through my grasp like water and I fear this is beyond my powers...

=*So you want me to fetch him back myself,*= Sharna muttered sulkily. =*I have to do everything for you, don’t I?*=

I did try, my lord, but my abilities are naturally immeasurably inferior to yours, the priest said soothingly, flattering his god with the ease of long practice. He’d relaxed slightly; when Sharna started sounding pouty instead of angry, it usually meant that the dangerous moment had passed. If I am to complete the sacrifice and deliver his soul to you, I must humbly beg your indulgence and assistance.

Sharna didn’t bother to answer, but the feeling of his presence vanished from the priest’s mind, telling him that the conversation was over. He could feel power gathering around the demon as he stood up, and smiled at his underpriests. “Fetch the stronger knives,” he ordered, rubbing sticky blood from his forehead. “Our subject will be back with us soon, and this has delayed us more than enough; the time for delicacy is past.”


A thin wisp of green fog coiled out of nowhere in front of Wufei, and he felt a pang of unease even through his tranced detachment. Nothing was supposed to be here in the dark with him. Nothing could be here with him once he’d withdrawn from his body, wasn’t that what Master O had told him...?

The tinge of negative emotion made the dark warmth around him waver, threatening to break the trance, and Wufei automatically let it slide from his mind, sinking deeper into nothingness. Nobody had come to get him, so he was supposed to stay where he was. Stay in the warm dark until someone he trusted called... Duo came to get me last time, he remembered fuzzily, and would have smiled if he’d retained awareness of his mouth. Duo came and called me. Maybe he’ll call me again?

The fog-wisp shifted, curling towards him, and he regarded it with a mental frown. I’m pretty sure that’s nothing to do with Duo...

Searing pain shot through him as it touched him, shattering the trance state as if he’d never achieved it, and he found himself staring up at the glowing stone scorpion with his own scream echoing in his ears.

“Welcome back,” the priest crooned, tracing the knife in his hand across the ragged slash across Wufei’s chest, smile widening as he gasped and shuddered. “Yessss, it’s not easy to maintain composure if you think the pain’s over and then it starts again, is it? A technique I’ve used to advantage in the past, and you did it to yourself, oh dear... and things are about to get a little more serious.”

“Go to hell!” Wufei choked out, trying to regain control over his muscles. I will not struggle helplessly, damn it, I will not scream again-- I refuse to give this bastard the satisfaction!

“Not until I die, dear boy, and as long as I make myself... useful... to my lord Sharna, he’ll see to it that I live a long and healthy life.”

The Chinese teen managed a laugh and a twisted grin. “Oh? The priest I killed was being ‘useful’, but he didn’t look very healthy by the time I left. Sharna didn’t do a damn thing for him, so why do you think he’ll bother lifting a finger for you?”

“Because your death and sacrifice could be a greater triumph than any of his priests have managed since the Fall of Kontovar,” the priest told him smugly, and drove the short-bladed knife straight through the palm of his right hand.


Vaijon flinched, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment before forcing himself to open them and keep watching. I can’t turn away from courage like that, he told himself, feeling sick. I can’t refuse to bear witness to it, even if I know I’ll never be able to tell anyone what I’ve seen.

I can’t refuse to watch him prove I was so wrong about him...


Wufei tasted blood and realised that he’d bitten through his lip in his efforts to keep quiet. He jerked involuntarily at the increased pain as the priest twisted the knife before pulling it back out, but managed to stay silent except for harsh, ragged breathing. And that’s all he’s getting, he promised himself grimly, glaring up at the ceiling. If I can push myself back into trance, and go deeper this time -- so deep that nothing can reach me, not a friendly voice, not Sharna, nothing--

I’ll die. I’ll die without ever waking up.

Somehow, now that he’d made that decision, he was calm again.

If I can manage it, they won’t get what they want. That priest won’t get any more power, Sharna won’t get whatever he gets out of a sacrifice... well, he may still get the satisfaction of having had his brother’s chosen Champion killed, but at least it’ll be a flawed triumph. Besides, I have the feeling Krashnark will make him regret it soon enough.

Heh. I’m depending on my annoying stalker to avenge me. How stupidly ironic!

Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the darkness behind his eyelids, trying to dismiss the pain and the sound of chanting from his awareness. It was harder than before, but he’d proven in the past that he could achieve trance despite drugs and torture, and this time the drugs weren’t a factor--

A faint green smudge curled into view, and the sense of Sharna’s presence intensified. =*But I am,*= came the vicious thought. =*You aren’t going anywhere. I pulled you out of there once and I can keep you from going back! You’re mine now, and nothing is going to prevent me from taking your soul!*=

My what?!
Wufei thought incredulously, shocked out of focus. I’ve made no bargains with you, I’m not one of your servants-- you have no right to take anything!

=*You’re in my temple, on my altar, being cut to shreds by my priest, and that gives me all the rights I need,*=
Sharna gloated, green smudge brightening and starting to expand, throwing out tendrils of sickly light. =*I hold you here, he kills you... and I win.*=

Over my dead body,
Wufei told him, and the priest paused uncertainly in his work as his victim’s mouth twisted up into a wry smile. Literally.

It’s a pity I’m not going to survive this,
he thought privately as he ‘turned’ to escape into the depths of his own mind, pursued by threads of Sharna’s energy. I really want a long talk with Uthmar about the way this world’s gods conduct themselves!

Pain burned through him as one of the tendrils reached him, but he was ready for it this time, pushing it away along with the physical pain. Illusion, he told himself firmly, falling deeper into himself. Pain is part of the world, and the world is illusion, and illusion has no place here. The only reality is my mind, alone in darkness...

=*Get back here!*=
Sharna screamed, flinging more tendrils after him.

No pain. There can be no pain... pain needs a body, and my body is illusion, and illusion has no place here... The thought trailed off as Wufei cleared his mind completely, sinking deeper.

Changing tactics, Sharna spun the threads out in front of Wufei’s bodiless point of view and tangled them into a net, trying to draw him back into consciousness instead of shocking him awake. =*I’m not letting you go!*= he snarled, starting to panic. If he killed Krashnark’s human and didn’t get the extra power this bright soul would give him, he could depend on something very nasty happening to him as soon as Phrobus lost interest in protecting him -- and though he might think otherwise in his more optimistic moments, deep down he knew that his father favoured his older brother. Had always favoured him. Would always favour him. And therefore had very little interest in protecting Sharna at the best of times...

A mind, unlike a body, has no inherent size or shape. A point of view would be a literal point if the person concerned didn’t have a strong mental image of their own body to provide a form. Wufei, falling deeper into trance, wasn’t just forgetting his body; he was actively rejecting it.


‘Seeing’ him start to slide through the net, Sharna panicked for real... and yanked.

For an instant, Wufei’s disembodied mind was almost crushed between two magics, the chain-spell keeping him isolated within his body and the improvised web hauling him up out of trance, before something gave and he felt himself spin free. Instead of the quiet, dark peace he’d expected, there was a sudden crashing flood of sensation, light and sound and a strange sort of pressure coming from concentrations of energy, disorienting him; then he steadied, bobbing like a tethered balloon, and found himself looking down at his own blank face from about three feet up.

If he’d had a throat to do it with, he would have swallowed. He pulled me all the way out?! Well... that didn’t go as either of us planned!

He could see himself-- his mental self, he supposed was an appropriate term, lifting translucent hands that glowed greenish-white and looking wonderingly at them. Sharna’s nauseating energy was everywhere, too, a darker, uglier green than he was; a faint lattice woven through the walls of the chamber, a solid mass seething around the stone image looming over the altar, fading tangled strands falling away from his disembodied self, and a stronger concentration spreading from the chain around his neck to surround his body, looking like matted cobwebs with a ragged hole torn in them. The ‘tethered balloon’ thought had been surprisingly apt, because his floating self was tethered to his body by a thin silver tendril, threaded through the hole in the cobweb-spell... which was closing up as he watched. He had barely a second to realise and feel uneasy before it sealed itself, pinching off the shining tendril and setting him adrift.

I see, he thought numbly, watching the drifting tendril as it shrank, seeming to evaporate. The spell was designed to cut me off from any links between myself and things outside my body... so it did. I might have been able to get back into my body if I’d tried before the hole sealed, but now...

Somebody leaned into his field of vision, peering closely into his body’s face, and he recognised the priest, looking seriously agitated. He couldn’t help feeling a tinge of satisfaction at that. Ha. That’s ruffled his composure, finally... hm. I seem to have achieved my aim, even if this isn’t quite the way I was trying to do it!

He bobbed higher and turned slightly, moving so that he could see more of the chamber. The soldiers don’t look happy, either-- there's Vaijon! And the others! They weren’t killed!

The sight of Karthan brought the subject of his lost links to the dwarf and Nataku back to the forefront of his mind. If I could just talk to him again... were the links destroyed, or just temporarily blocked? Can I re-establish them?

A faint tugging feeling made him focus his attention back onto himself, and he raised an insubstantial eyebrow as three hair-fine threads spun out of his glowing self. It seems the desire is the act, in this state-- wait. Three? Frowning, he watched one of the threads drift tentatively towards Karthan, while the other two stretched out towards one of the walls, looping and tangling around each other. I presume Nataku is in that direction, he thought, puzzled, but why two threads?

His musing was cut short as the first thread reached Karthan and immediately snapped taut, thickening. --fei! Wufei! Please, damn it, hear me, can you hear, are you still--

Karthan! Are you all right? I--

A momentary rush of emotion, relief and joy and hope and fear all jumbled together, and then it was as if Karthan had bundled five minutes’ worth of explanation into a single mass and thrown it at him.

--use the link lend me your power I’ve borrowed your healing in the past I should be able to borrow your strength! I can borrow strength break free do something at least distract them buy time--

--and everything blurred as the link pulled tighter and snapped him into Karthan’s body.


Curse them, why did they have to stand up again? Vaijon fretted, craning his neck and stretching up on tiptoe. I can’t see, damn it! Sir Wufei stopped moving again and now they’re all panicking but I can’t tell why--

Karthan jerked violently next to him, rattling the chains binding him to the wall, and there was a faint crackling sound, like a pinecone thrown into a fire. Vaijon glanced down, opening his mouth automatically to ask if something was wrong, and then flinched back as the dwarf shuddered, jittering lines of white energy crawling over his skin.

“...Did it work?” he whispered after a tense pause, when nothing more seemed to be happening. “Are you borrowing his strength?” Can you get us out of this?

The dwarf looked up at him, breathing heavily, and Vaijon gulped as he saw the same greenish-white fire burning in his eyes that he’d seen in the demon’s. He seemed dazed, blinking, but recovered quickly and smirked.

“Karthan didn’t borrow my strength,” he said quietly, voice not sounding quite right. “He borrowed me.”

* * * * *

“Well, I know this is going to sound kind of flaky... but what about Lady Une?”

Everyone else in the room stared at Duo, and he almost snickered out loud at their wide-eyed looks of blank incomprehension. Goldfish, he decided, that’s what they look like. Really surprised goldfish!

After a couple of breaths, Quatre recovered his composure and cleared his throat. “Duo... she’s one of the bad guys!”

“Technically, no,” Duo argued seriously. “She just wasn’t on our side. Look, OZ sucked, I’m not going to argue about that, but the fact is that Kushrenada had perfectly good motives. He wanted system-wide peace, and we can sure as hell agree with that; it was his methods that we were arguing with.”

“Turning the colonies into heavily-guarded prison states was a bad idea, yes,” Trowa muttered dryly.

“My point is,” the braided teen continued doggedly, “everything Une did, she did for Treize. Yes, she was so wound up in the idea of getting results for him that she went over even his limits fairly often, but I think that was usually when he hadn’t made the limits clear. So... he wanted system-wide peace. This new organisation is going to be working for system-wide peace, and you bet it’s going to have clearly defined limits! If we presented this to her as ‘what Kushrenada would have wanted’, I bet she’d jump at the chance to continue his dream, and we’ll never find anyone else who’ll be so determined to succeed--"

A slight pause and minute widening of Duo's eyes were the only warning the others had that something was wrong before he screamed and curled forwards into a ball, wrapping his arms around his chest. The scream trailed off into a pained whimper, and tears leaked from the corners of his eyes.

Heero grabbed his boyfriend into his arms. "Duo! What's wrong?!" He only vaguely noticed Quatre slumping forwards in his chair, fist clenched over his heart, before Duo's body jerked and his right hand spasmed, hitting the Japanese teen in the jaw.

", 'Fei, no, 'Fei, no, 'Fei..." Duo chanted breathlessly, eyes glazed and unseeing.

"Heero! What's wrong with him?" Relena asked anxiously, scattering folders over the floor as she scrambled out of her chair and moved to Duo's other side. “Should I get the doctor?”

"Hurts," Quatre gasped, pressing his face into Trowa’s chest as the taller boy supported him. "Pain... not Duo's... Make it stop... Wufei?!"

Suddenly, Duo calmed and relaxed, eyes fluttering closed as he gasped for breath. Heero carefully pulled him out of his tight curl, hands searching for any physical sign of what had happened but finding nothing except a few muscle tremors and a fast heartbeat, slowing down now.

“Duo?” he asked shakily, cupping Duo’s cheek gently. “What happened? Are you all right?”

The braided boy’s eyes opened slightly and he raised his hand to Heero's face, returning the caress before letting it fall back to the bed. "S'okay..." he whispered to his stunned boyfriend, lying limp and apparently exhausted. "Somethin’ hurt ‘Fei real bad, but it went away... an’ he didn’t. I could still feel him for just a second after the pain stopped, an’ he felt better. 'Fei's gonna be okay...” His eyes closed again, and his breathing slowed and deepened.

Heero frowned, watching Duo until he was sure he really had fallen asleep, then turned to look at the other people in the room. Relena looked thoroughly lost. Quatre had straightened and was rubbing his chest, relief and confusion clear on his face. A concerned Trowa hovered over his lover, hands lightly stroking down his upper arms in reassurance.

"Heero," Relena asked softly, touching his arm, "what just happened? I thought..."

"Yes, Heero, what did happen?" Quatre snapped, blue eyes locked on Duo's recumbent form.

Heero sighed. "I'm not exactly sure," he replied, brushing Duo's hair off of his face. "Duo had a dream last night..."

He was interrupted as the door flew open and Dr. Modi and two nurses rushed in.

"What has happened? We heard a scream!" the doctor exclaimed, rushing to the bedside.

Heero shook his head, trying desperately to think of some sort of convincing explanation, fast. I certainly can't tell him that Duo is either hallucinating or receiving mental messages from our lost friend! He opened his mouth, not really sure what was going to come out, but was saved from having to answer as Relena spoke up.

"Duo had a nightmare, doctor. We were talking, and I suppose he dozed off. It's probably from all of the stress he's been under lately... the accident, the surgery... He really isn’t comfortable in medical environments, you know," she said with just the right mix of concern and calm, smiling at the older man.

"Hmmm..." the doctor replied, checking Duo's pulse and peering closely into his now-peaceful face. "That is understandable, yes. His pulse is good, there's no fever..." He turned to Heero. "If young Mr. Maxwell has any problem sleeping because of further nightmares, let the duty nurse know, Mr. Yui. I'll leave orders on his chart for a mild sleeping aid to be administered on request, just in case."

With a nod, he ushered the nurses out the door, closing it behind himself as he left.

Heero sighed and flashed Relena a small, thankful smile. Relena smiled back, then repeated the question Heero was hoping no one would return to.

"Okay, Heero. What the hell just happened?!"

Heero ran a hand through his messy hair. "Duo thinks Wufei is alive in some sort of alternate dimension, and that they were in contact last night as he dreamed." He turned slightly to glare at Quatre, remembering how Duo had reacted to the Arab pilot’s earlier stubborn insistence that Wufei had to be dead. "And I believe him."

"Heero, that's... not possible," Relena said, shaking her head. "Alternate dimensions are science fiction! Surely you and Duo don't really..."

"Yes, we do," the Japanese teen said stubbornly. "Space colonies and feasible energy weapons were considered 'science fiction' not all that long ago. According to the doctors, there’s one particular theory they accept regarding alternate dimensions. They explained it as being like a pair of trousers with an infinite number of legs. The massive amounts of energy released when that experimental weapon backfired blew a temporary hole in our leg, then pulled Wufei out. According to their theory, he would end up in a similar dimension to the one he left, so he’d be able to survive, and according to my theory, if some of that energy stayed with him it might act as a connection back here, making it plausible for him to be able to contact this dimension, and Duo, who he has strong ties to." Heero turned his glare on the blonde girl, daring her to argue.

"But--" she persisted.

"No... it has to be true," Quatre said, awe in his voice. "That wasn't Duo's pain! It felt like Wufei."

"'Felt like Wufei'?" Heero asked, blinking at the unexpected support.

“All the people I can feel are different,” Quatre explained, still rubbing his chest. “It's easiest to express as flavours, I think. Trowa is like... melon, cool and refreshing. You're like strong peppermint with a metallic undertone. Duo is complicated, bitter chocolate and sweet orange and a little salt. Wufei is completely different to him -- warm spice and musk -- and that's what I was 'feeling' just now. And even though it was strong, it was tenuous, as if very far away or going through a filter."

"Which fits the 'alternate dimension' theory," Trowa put in quietly. Seeing Relena’s confused expression, he explained further. "If you think of Duo as a receiver, rebroadcasting the 'signal' from Wufei, it makes sense that it would be dampened. Like the difference between sitting in the front row of the audience at the orchestra, and listening to the same musical piece on a stereo." He shrugged. "It really is the only explanation, unless you want to blame it on both Duo and Quatre hallucinating the same thing at the same time, without the benefit of mind-altering drugs. That seems a lot less likely to me than the Doctors' whole 'Trousers of Time' theory... no matter how confused we were the first time they tried to explain it."

Relena opened and closed her mouth a few times, speechless, then shook her head and threw up her hands in surrender. "All right... I’m outnumbered and out-argued, and... well, I want to believe it too, I suppose! So. We have reason to believe that Chang Wufei is in some alternate dimension, alive and, uh, at least semi-well and probably getting better.”

“Well put,” Trowa said dryly, going down on one knee to help her pick up her scattered documents.

“It’s rather a vague reassurance, but since we’re hardly going to get postcards I suppose it will have to do to take that particular load off all our minds,” she muttered, sounding a little stressed. “And I really don’t think it’s a good idea for me to think about this too much until after I’ve had some time to let it sink in... slowly. So, gentlemen, if you think we can still concentrate, shall we finish hammering out these ideas -- quietly, without waking Duo? I have to have something to present as a middle-ground view in the council session tomorrow..."

* * * * *

Are you all right? Wufei thought urgently, feeling oddly off-balance in the shorter, heavier body. Karthan? Are you there?!

came the tentative answer, and he closed his-- Karthan's-- the body’s eyes, feeling immensely relieved.

Gods, I thought I’d knocked you out of your body when I slammed in!

I think you just knocked me further in, or something,
Karthan replied, seemingly regaining his composure. You know, if you’d asked me yesterday what I thought the possible consequences of our link might be, this would not have been one of them. And may I say how very glad I am that you’re not dead?

I very nearly was,
popped out before Wufei could smother the thought, and he felt the dwarf’s shock as the closeness between their minds let the rest of the information leak over, telling him exactly what Wufei had been about to do to himself. Cursing inwardly, he tried to close off his thoughts, with limited success. He could feel Karthan’s solid, warm personality pressed close against his, like Duo’s presence next to him in bed on a cold night when the memories bred nightmares and one or both of them needed company, and there was a flicker of surprise and embarrassment as that thought made it across too. Then a sympathetic wince at his embarrassment...

Sorry, he thought curtly, angry at himself at this sudden lack of control, breaching his mental privacy. (--the only sort of privacy there is sometimes in a close-knit clan or a small safehouse and I value mine so much--) He was uncomfortably aware of the few flickers of emotion and image that were trickling across to him from Karthan’s thoughts; there was nothing clear yet but he was sure that would change, and the thought of listening to someone else’s private thoughts was almost as bad as having someone else listen to his. I don’t think I can go back to my body, but my link to Nataku is back now. I can go there and use our link to loan you--

Karthan interrupted firmly, nervous but determined. This is going to need everything you’ve got, not just brute strength, and I have no idea of how to use your other powers, like that armour and the extending punch.

Neither do I! It just happens!
(--without thinking it feels good somehow but it scares me sometimes--)

And what if it doesn’t ‘just happen’ for me? Besides which, I’m no better than average at fighting unarmed. If you stay in my body and use it to fight, I think we stand a better chance of survival. (--if I fail we die my fault--) We can try to keep our thoughts separate, and just... do our best to ignore whatever we can’t hold in. (--seen some already in dreams -- honourable man trust him keep his secrets--)

All right, Wufei thought back slowly, convinced more by the ‘leaked’ thoughts than by what Karthan had said intentionally. I’ll try. (--didn’t happen when we were together in Nataku wonder why--)

You’ve got a point, that is strange. Maybe because we were both still linked to our own bodies? Like having an anchor.

(--DAMN IT--)

(--oh sorry--)

Try harder, Wufei requested grimly, and took a firm grip on the chains holding them to the wall.

He’d hoped that one quick yank would break the chains loose from their attachment point, leaving him/them with a short length hanging from each wrist, useful as an improvised weapon until he got his hands on something better; instead, the stone wall cracked and the ringbolt both chains were fastened to pulled out. Keeping one eye on the agitated group at the other end of the chamber, watching for the first signs that what he was doing had been noticed, he frowned as he picked it up, intending to twist the links free -- nearly dropped it as the frown felt strange, distracting him -- caught it again, fumbled as he tried to get the right grip with shorter, wider hands than he was used to, swore mentally--

Karthan’s mental laughter brought him up short. Don’t complain! I’d rather have a couple of fumbles getting loose than not be able to get loose at all!

Wufei grinned sheepishly, and nearly dropped the ringbolt again. Your beard tickles every time I move my-- your-- every time I change expression!

Not once you get used to it, it doesn’t.

I have no intention of staying here long enough to get used to it! Taking a deep breath, resisting a hysterical urge to laugh as the damned beard tickled him again, he wrenched the ringbolt out of shape and pulled the chains loose. “It’s a start,” he muttered, and blinked as the voice came out strangely, Karthan’s deeper pitch blended with his own quicker, sharper delivery.

“Uh... Karthan?” Jens said tentatively, staring at him wide-eyed. “How did you...”

Only Vaijon knew what I was planning, Karthan informed him quickly. The others were too far away to reach with a whisper and I didn’t want to be overheard--

Wufei opened his mouth to explain, realised exactly how odd anything he could say would sound -- anything brief, anyway, and he didn’t have time for anything detailed -- and closed it again. “Vaijon, you explain,” he muttered, stretching up to reach the manacles on the blond knight-probationer’s wrists. “I think I’m going to be busy-- Gods damn it, don’t I have enough problems with being short at the best of times?!”

Hey, I’m tall by dwarven standards! Karthan shot back. (--used to get in trouble for growing out of my shirts and now he wishes I’d done it more?--)

Vaijon coughed, face colouring. “Here,” he said, voice trembling with suppressed laughter, and slid down the wall into a crouch, bracing one leg for Wufei/Karthan to use as a step. He grunted slightly as the dwarf’s not inconsiderable weight came down on his thigh, but held steady. Jens’s explanation was delayed again for him to watch in fascination as Karthan’s stubby fingers pried carefully at the thick iron cuffs, slowly bending the edges up far enough for him to get a secure grip and snap the lock without bruising Vaijon’s arm. “Torframos,” he swore softly, “it’s just like watching my father peel the rind off a cheese!”

“Explain, Vaijon, before Jens has a heart attack,” Wufei said pointedly, snapping the second lock and hopping down to the ground. “If I do it, it’s going to sound like I’m speaking in the third person, and it’ll be very confusing.”

An alarmed shout came from behind Wufei/Karthan, and Vaijon’s head snapped up to look, awe and laughter vanishing from his expression. “I’ll explain, and find some way to get the others loose,” he said, looking down at his burned, useless hand with a frustrated grimace. “You have something else to worry about...”

End chapter 27

[With a puff of orange smoke and a sprinkling of Official Pseudo-Biblical Chroniclerereth Sparkly Dust, Dogmatix appears in the middle of the lounge, balanced precariously on a rickety soapbox. The various inhabitants of the House of Bishounen Torment-- errr, Mel and Christy’s quite nicely furnished home-- stop whatever they’re doing and stare, with various expressions ranging from surprise to interest to ‘Oh god no, they’re doing it AGAIN...’]

LEGOLAS: This had better be over in less than twelve minutes, because that’s when ‘Bubblegum Crisis’ comes on and you’re in front of the TV.

DUO: If you’d be quiet and let the Official Chroniclerereth speak, please...? [He settles down to listen, grinning.]

DOGMATIX: Err... I don’t think it’ll take-eth that long. Ahem. Hear ye, hear ye! Here beginneth the Second Book of Eth, which continueth from the First Book of Eth. Even though it’s really a scroll, not a book, and it’s been written on the back of the first one to saveth parchment, so technically... er, where was I? Oh! Yes, Second Book. Eth. And weep, for His Demonic Highness be-eth captured, and lain uponeth the altar of the uncute younger broth-- ummm, of Sharna, and attendeth to by the most vile icky priest.

KRASHNARK: *growl!*

WUFEI (scowling): I’m going to have to do something about him.

CHRISTY: Heero... go smiteth him with thine mighty beam cannon!

DUO: I secondeth that motion!

QUATRE: I do have to admit... Sharna doth need smiting. Eth.

HEERO: Not you too!

DOGMATIX: May I go on-eth, please? Leggy’s starting to sharpen his arrows... thanketh you. But lo, His Demonic Highness doth retreateth into himself, and leaveth behind but an empty shell, and snatcheth a grim victory from the grasping fingers of the icky, icky priest.

DUO: You could calleth him something worse than ‘icky’, you know. Several somethings.

DOGMATIX: Well, I triedeth, but whenever I wroteth down something really descriptive, it burnt a hole in the parchment. Eth.

SPIKE: Make it fast, bint. Bubblegum Crisis is on in eight minutes now.

DOGMATIX: I thought you liked the ‘eth’ thing! Eth.

SPIKE: I like Priss better. Move it! ...eth.

DOGMATIX: *cough* Sharna then being wroth, didst plungeth his hand-- er, well, icky green tentaclethes anyway-- into the very being of one Chang Wufei, and proceededeth to rippeth out His Demonic Highness’s soul! And everyone waseth very surprised. Even the icky priest, and most of all Sharna himself, because-eth the big moron hadn’t meant to do-eth that.


DOGMATIX: And yea, His Demonic Highness’s pain didst echoeth through the trouser leg of the universe (size 57 times ten-to-the-bazillointh extra large-eth) and acrosseth the thread that bindeth Wufei to one Duo Maxwell, who screamethed in pain, which much alarmethed his comrades and one reformed Pink Princess. Said pain didst also brusheth over the empath, who didst taste Wufei upon Duo’s scream, and no we don’t mean that way, hentais! Eth.

DUO: Hey, Q-bean kiss-ethed me back in Chapter 4, so it’s not completely out of the questioneth!

QUATRE (blushing): Those were special circumstances! Um, eth.

HEERO: Omae o korosueth! ACK! It’s catching!

TROWA: ...... (Eth.)

DOGMATIX (talking faster, one eye on the clock): And so was Wufei casteth out of his body, and trapped thus, bereft of host and home. But all was not losteth, nay! For Karthan didst calleth out to His Demonic Highness, and thus were the two joined in one, and Wufei spake unto Vaijon, and reassureth their erstwhile friend who’d finally gotten the flagpole out of his ass that everything was fine. Eth. Then with his demonic strength didst Wufei breaketh the bonds holding Vaijon, and lo, hope shone-eth upon the company once more.

LEGOLAS: Three minutes. And if I catch it, I’ll shoot you whether you’re in front of the TV or not.

DOGMATIX: Eep! Here endeth the Second Book, or Scroll, or Second Side of the Scroll, whatever, of Eth. Eth. Bye!

[Another puff of smoke and sprinkling of glitter, and she’s gone.]

ARDETH: Legolas, you have to admit it’s kind of fun.

SPIKE: Yeah, it grows on you... like athlete’s foot, judging by how contagious it is! *snicker*

‘SCYTHE: Krashnark, I may have to do something about that brother of yours... he’s beginning to annoy me.

KRASHNARK: Join the club. And I am going to do something about him, so hands off!

‘SCYTHE: You’re missing the point. The last time I got annoyed, Krakatoa went ‘boom’... eth.

DUO: That was you? Cooleth!

WUFEI: Wonderful. Not only do I have two gods in my life acting like obsessed stalkers, there’s also a demi-god of Death with poor impulse control. Spike, where do you buy your vodka? I have a feeling I’m going to need to place a bulk order...


Chapter 28

Gundam Wing

















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