Demon of Justice Chapter 33
"Will You Serve?"
...Well. That went better than I expected.
CHRISTY: You’re still alive,
MEL: I was totally expecting the bunker to have taken an ICBM
by now. The worst hit was a squeetackle.
CHRISTY: Doesn't phase me. I
haven’t even read Oath of Swords, so I don’t care if we kill them
MEL: You’re probably going to need a bunker yourself after that
comment, you know.
CHRISTY: I have Loki. He’ll protect me.
cute little red dog in her lap looks up adoringly at her.]
to mention Krashnark, and ‘Scythe, and Schu, and Sesshoumaru, and Spike, and
Ardeth, and Sarge... oh, and I have Leggy!
MEL: I don’t think the
bishounen custody settlement ended up quite fair, you know. And frankly Sarge is
the only one on that list that would willingly defend you, assuming he
noticed a need.
[Sarge, the large black and white cat who thinks
“ngaaarrrr” is a proper meowing noise, is nowhere to be seen. Neither are any of
the aforementioned bishounen prisoners. They’re probably hiding from the
CHRISTY: Are you implying that Loki and Zac wouldn’t protect
me? I am their mommy, the source of their food...
MEL: I’m stating that
they’re flakes. Zac is also now blind, and anyone wishing to threaten you would
just have to bring a toy of some sort and Loki would fall in
CHRISTY: ...You have a point there. It’s not Loki’s fault he’s part
[During this whole dialogue, the G-boys have been watching
silently, with cynical expressions on their faces.]
DUO: So. How many
years have passed since the last babble?
HEERO: I’m guessing
MEL: Three days, oh ye of little faith.
not like we don’t have reason to expect it.
[Loki’s adoring gaze switches
from Christy to Trowa, and he yelps.]
CHRISTY: Now you’ve done it. You
are so in the shit now, Tro.
[She hauls a mangled toy that looks rather
like an elongated elephant out from under the sofa and throws it to
CHRISTY: Here’s his baby. Knock yourself out.
MEL: And while
Tro is keeping the hyperactive dog amused... on with the
Demon of Justice
“...Get up,” Wufei told Vaijon
The knight-probationer flushed a darker red, but
obeyed, head down.
=*He thinks you’re refusing his apology,*=
Krashnark said quietly in Wufei’s mind. =*If that is not your intent, I
suggest you say something.*=
Ah. Thank you. “I accept your
apology. As far as punishment goes, I can’t speak for the Champions, but I
require none beyond what you just assigned yourself.”
The mortified blush
was fading from Vaijon’s face; now he looked mostly puzzled. “I... your pardon,
Sir Wufei, but I don’t follow.”
“You apologised in public,” Wufei
explained, smiling a little ruefully. “I know how much that hurts.”
Vaijon,” came a quiet voice from behind him. “Sir Wufei. Is everything all
Vaijon blushed again as the two Champions strolled up, looking
unconvincingly casual. Cord was a step or two behind them, axe slung over his
“Sir Vaijon was kind enough to assist me out here,” Wufei told
them. “He also apologised, and-- Vaijon, don’t kneel again, once was
Arrested half-way, Vaijon straightened up, coughed, and settled
for bowing. “Sir Wufei has been most forbearing and accepted my apology for the
wrongs I have done him. I must apologise to you as well, sirs; my faults have
been most grievous, and I shall do my best not to repeat them.”
watching armsmen had been edging closer, and were within earshot. Faint but
clear, Wufei heard an anonymous mutter.
“Huh. Stick’s at least half-way
By the way Vaijon stiffened and his ears flamed red, Wufei
guessed he’d heard too.
=*He probably hasn’t blushed this much since
he hit puberty,*= Krashnark mused, a trace of malicious humour in his mental
“Well,” Uthmar said, eyebrows nearly vanishing into his hairline.
“A very proper speech, Sir Vaijon, and if your future actions back it up I’ll be
more than satisfied.”
Vaijon bowed again. “Sir Wufei has also kindly said
that he regards my apology as sufficient punishment to satisfy him. As for my
transgressions against the Order’s discipline, I await your
“Hm.” Uthmar looked thoughtful... then stepped back, and
nodded to Arwen, grinning. “Given that Sir Vaijon was specifically assigned to
you by Sir Terrian, I believe this comes under your authority.”
thank you,” Arwen muttered under his breath, visibly restraining a glare.
“...I’ll think about it, Vaijon. Right at the moment, we should bring Sir Wufei
up to date on what’s been going on.”
“Aye,” Cord rumbled, one ear
slanting back in what Wufei was beginning to recognise as the Hradani equivalent
of a quirked eyebrow. “We’ve been a tad busy in the last couple of
...It has been at least that long since I really paid
attention, isn’t it? Wufei mused, a little annoyed at
=*You were unconscious for much of that time,*=
Krashnark pointed out drily.
“To cut a long story
short,” Uthmar said cheerfully, “the buried temple is not so buried any more,
and we have prisoners.”
“Not too many of ‘em,” Cord shrugged, “since they
know the penalty for what they’ve done, an’ less than we started with, since the
dog brothers tend to be carryin’ a way out.”
Arwen grimaced. “Much as I
hate to say it, they’ve saved us time. Worship of Sharna in and of itself isn’t
technically a hanging offence, but knowledge of and participation in
sacrifices... well. Uthmar and I have the authority to judge and sentence them,
which we’ll be doing at dawn.”
“And then we’ll be leaving.” Uthmar didn’t
look as uncomfortable as Arwen at the idea of executing their prisoners, but he
certainly wasn’t casual about it either. “We need to get started on our way to
Axe Hallow; this has already delayed us more than I’m really happy
=*Indeed.*= Torframos’s voice came from thin air, and everybody
jumped. =*Not that I’m complaining; this did need to be properly cleaned up, and
I don’t see how you could have settled it faster than you did... but you will be
needed elsewhere soon. All of you.*=
* * * * *
brother,” Korthrala sighed. “I don’t have any land-based servants near enough to
Torframos snorted quietly. “None of us do. Isn’t
that the problem? I think Lillinara has a few quiet devotees there, but no
chapter house, and nobody she can really work through. You’re doing better than
me, really -- you’ve at least got one prospective hradani
“Not any more,” the older god said grimly.
Korthrala shook his head. “He’s alive, and between him and my
little captain I can keep an eye on the situation, but... this has changed him.
He’s closed off, now. I don’t think he’ll ever be able to hear me. He loved his
friend like a brother,” he almost whispered, grieving. “It was part of what made
him mine. He was all passion. Now... he’s all grief and hate, and it’s not the
sort of hate I can work with.”
* * * * *
Quatre stared, eyebrows
raised and a bemused expression on his face.
“I know,” Duo groaned, head
flopping down to rest on his arms. “It’s not the most believable story I’ve ever
come out with.”
“Oh, belief isn’t the problem,” the blond assured him. “I
believe you. I have to believe you, after all, or decide that I’m having
hallucinations that perfectly match yours; I felt... her. No, the boggling thing
is that you were perfectly calm after being pulled into some sort of mental
pocket universe for a chat by a goddess. A goddess from another
dimension, at that!”
“Hey, Orfressa’s cool!”
“You are just
proving my point here, you know. I do see why you didn’t tell Heero the whole
story to begin with, though. Without confirmation it does sound a bit
Duo grinned. “Your talent for understatement is nearly as
good as Tro’s talent for silence, Q. But hey, I have confirmation
“Yes, you do, but... why is a goddess from another dimension
contacting you?! Is it something we should worry about?”
faded. “I dunno. She couldn’t exactly explain details, y’know, it was all
emotions and Twenty Questions. She likes me, though, I got that much, and... I
think she needs me, somehow.”
“Argh.” Quatre rubbed at his eyes. “I
really should have gotten coffee first. Honestly, Duo, the ‘need’ part does seem
like something to worry about. I do not want to wake up one morning and
discover that you’ve disappeared in the night because some goddess from another
dimension decided she was lonely!”
“Don’t tell Heero that, or
he’ll never even let me pee alone again!”
“Don’t tell me
Duo’s gaze shifted, looking behind Quatre to where Heero had just
stepped out of the sliding glass door; then he slowly sank, until only his braid
was above water.
Heero walked to stand beside Quatre, gazing down through
the bubbles at his boyfriend, who was apparently trying to either drown himself
or turn invisible. “Hn. Quatre? What’s going on?”
“...I refuse to answer
that question on the grounds that I am insufficiently caffeinated to come up
“...Right.” Sighing, Heero bent to grab Duo’s braid, then
straightened up, bringing the other pilot up out of the water. “Breakfast’s
ready. Coffee’s on the table. And if I don’t have answers in twenty minutes I’m
going to be theorising all sorts of things, so you’d better come up with
“Apparently, secrets are about to be
explained, and for some reason this may cause me to monitor Duo’s bathroom
visits far more closely than either of us want,” Heero deadpanned as Trowa
walked into the dining room. “I don’t suppose you’re in on this?”
in so far as I told Quatre to ask Duo about something that was bothering him,”
Trowa replied without turning a hair. “It may or may not be
“Since when did you two work up a comedy routine that uses
us as the straight men?” Duo grumbled, hair still dripping onto the floor
behind his chair.
“Since I walked in on a conversation that is probably
going to need a lot of back story explained to make sense,” Heero told him,
passing out plates. “It’s a defence mechanism. I learned it from
“At this point I think you’re supposed to call me
“Duo? I think you’ve created a monster,” Quatre said
“I didn’t hear you complaining when Relena decided to be my
padawan,” Duo objected. “--Oh, wait, you did. Never mind.”
“You have your
coffee,” Heero pointed out. “You have your pancakes. Now will someone
tell me why I’m apparently going to need to develop an abnormal interest in
Duo’s peeing habits?”
“Never mind my peeing habits! My peeing habits have
nothing to do with this!”
“You were the one who mentioned them first.
“Okay! We were going to tell you anyway!” Sighing,
Duo dug his fork into his stack of pancakes and pushed his wet bangs back with
his other hand. “Remember the dream I had in the hospital? The first one, where
I got to talk directly to Wufei, not the one where I just freaked out about him
“Well, I... didn’t exactly tell you
everything. I didn’t lie, I just... okay, so I censored out some details,
‘cause I figured they were too weird and if I told you about them you never
woulda believed me, ‘cause you woulda thought I was crazy.”
his one visible eyebrow, smirking. “Whether or not you’re crazy has nothing to
do with whether or not we believe you, Duo.”
“Ha ha. Anyway, Quatre felt
Wufei the second time, which kinda proves I have been in touch with him, and he
felt Orfressa in the kitchen, which proves she’s real. Kind of. He believes it,
“...Orfressa? In the kitchen?” Heero asked.
carving knife?” Trowa suggested. “Or are we not discussing Clue after all? I
don’t recognise that name as one of the suspects.”
Duo stared at them for
a moment, then turned his head to look plaintively at Quatre. “Is it this
annoying when I do that?”
“Yes, Duo,” he sighed, pouring himself
another cup of coffee. “Only you’ve had more practice, so sometimes you’re
“Man, Heero, you must really love me. Anyway! You
want explanations, you’re getting them, now lemme finish!” Taking a deep breath,
he waved his hands, groping for words. “...Argh. It was easier to explain this
to Quatre, it didn’t have to make logical sense... Okay. You know how the
Doctors said some of the parallel universes in the Trousers of Time thing could
have broken off early enough to have different laws of physics? Well, the world
Wufei’s in is kind of one of those, only it’s got different laws of
metaphysics. And gods. Plural. Active ones. One of which set up the first
dream so that Wufei and I could talk, and one of which was talking to me
yesterday, when I fell over in the kitchen.”
“...Orfressa, I gather,”
Heero said, perfectly calm... except that his hand was clenched white-knuckled
on his fork.
“Yeah. She, uh, likes me.” Duo pulled his braid over his
shoulder and started tugging at the sodden end tuft.
“You can confirm
this?” Still outwardly calm, Heero looked at Quatre.
“I felt it,” Quatre
nodded. “Her. Distant, the same way I felt Wufei, but... powerful.”
does she feel like, anyway?” Duo asked curiously. “Besides big, I mean. You said
everyone’s got a flavour, what’s hers?”
“Just... big,” Quatre shrugged.
“Cold, but not in a bad way; not emotionally cold. Lonely?”
“So where do
Duo’s peeing habits come into this?” Trowa asked blandly.
“You had to
remember that,” Duo muttered. “Uh, well, as well as liking me, she... kinda
seems to need me. So Quatre was saying he didn’t want me vanishing in the
middle of the night because some goddess from another dimension decided to
Duo-nap me out of loneliness, and I said don’t tell Heero or he won’t leave me
alone even to pee. Which is where Heero came in-- er, out-- and heard
The fork in Heero’s hand bent. “I don’t give a damn how much some
goddess needs you,” he snarled. “We need you more. I need
“I don’t really think she’s going to grab me or anything!”
Duo protested. “I don’t think she can, and even if she could I’m pretty sure
she’d ask me, not just snatch!”
“’Pretty sure’ isn’t sure
“I, uh, guess you believe me then?”
“Of course,” Heero
said almost absent-mindedly, shoving his chair back from the table.
blinked. ...Wow. That’s... wow. Something to think about
“Where are you going?” Quatre asked.
“To contact the
Doctors,” Heero tossed back over his shoulder as he stalked out. “If there’s
even a chance of Duo ending up where Wufei is, I want a plan in place for how to
Back at the table, the remaining three pilots looked
at each other.
“That’s right,” Quatre said slowly, thinking back. “The
doctors did say they could duplicate the accident that threw Wufei out of our
“Hm.” Trowa stood up, pushing his nearly untouched plate away.
“I think I’ll go help Heero plan.”
* * * * *
Evark Pitchallow returned the harbour master’s wave from the
quarterdeck as his ship slid precisely into place alongside the dock. The city
of Refuge was Marfang Island’s main port, and Marfanger halflings had their
pride, so even the dockworkers moved as quickly and efficiently as Evark’s own
“Welcome back,” the harbour master grinned from the dock. “Anything
“The usual,” Evark shrugged, leaning on the rail. “Light
cargo, cloth and spices mainly-- ah, never mind that,” he interrupted himself,
waving off the halfling dockworker hoisting a heavy coil of rope towards the
nearest bollard. “Leave us on just light lines; we’re off again as soon as we
unload, so there’s no point putting the heavy mooring on.”
“Not taking on
“We’ve got a charter, a speed job.”
“Huh.” The harbour
master scratched the base of one horn. “Well, you’ve the ship for it if anyone
“Damn right I do,” the captain agreed cheerfully. “I won’t
“It’s not like you need me to hold your hand, is it? Fair
winds and Korthrala’s waves to you!”
Evark nodded politely, then
straightened up as the other halfling strode off, flexing the hand that had been
clenched tight on his sword hilt, out of sight. This is Refuge, he
thought, frustrated. My home port! I shouldn’t have to fear enemies
Cold twinged on his breastbone, under his tunic, and his
hand rose to cover it as a couple of roughly dressed humans walked past; sailors
from one of the Purple Lord-owned ships further down the docks. He’d felt the
same twinge and an impulse to secrecy every time they’d overhauled a wallowing
Purple Lord vessel on their way to Marfang Island. Whatever’s up with that
hradani, you don’t want the Purple Pissants finding out, do you, Lord? he
thought, flicking a glance upwards. I hear you. Not a word to them... which
means not a word to anyone, if it could be overheard. And I’ll count being made
to feel an outcast in my own home city as one more reason to hate the
trade-strangling, money-grubbing bastards!
Holderman appeared at his
shoulder, watching the humans as suspiciously as Pitchallow had. “We’ve started
unloading,” he said quietly. “Should be done in just over an
“Good,” Evark nodded. “After that, keep the boys on watch and head
over to Seaspray’s dock, talk to Marlok and get him to take our next
cargo run. Tell him I owe him a favour, promise him a bribe, let him take over
the run permanently if that’s what it takes; the Purple Lords will notice if we
don’t fulfil our contract, but if they get their cargo they won’t care
who delivers it.”
His first mate snorted. “I doubt they’ll be able
to tell the difference.”
“True. So long as they don’t start wondering
where we are, I don’t care.”
“Fair enough.” Holderman looked sideways at
him. “You’d be able to get a better deal out of him...”
“I’m going to be
busy elsewhere. I may not be able to talk to Korthrala direct, but I know where
to find someone who can.”
There was a temple of
Korthrala to be found in every port town, large or small, and Refuge was no
exception -- and given the Marfangers’ close relationship with the sea, it was
one of the bigger and more impressive ones. It was a mixed blessing from Evark’s
point of view; the temple’s size meant he anticipated no trouble finding a
priest high enough in the hierarchy to help him, but its popularity meant he
might not be able to get that priest alone.
Stepping in the open
front doors, he dipped to one knee in a quick reverence towards the altar, then
straightened, looking around. Now, where’s--
a quiet voice said at his elbow, and he turned to see a young boy wearing the
short robe of an acolyte.
“This way, if you please, sir.
Father Grahn is expecting you.”
...Or the person I need to find could
find me. This works.
Father Grahn turned out to be an elderly
priest in the robes of a mid-level celebrant, ivory horns yellowing with age
against his balding scalp. The room the acolyte bowed Evark into was strange,
oddly proportioned and far too large for the few small pieces of furniture in
it; the ceiling was at least three times as high as normal for a halfling
--cool blue-green light filled the room as Korthrala
appeared, towering above them. “You made excellent time, Captain. Well
“My Lord,” Evark murmured, dropping to his knees and bowing his
“Oh stop that, we don’t have time,” Korthrala snorted. “My brother
is sending some of his servants to Axe Hallow-- well, they were going to go
there anyway, but he’s told them to hurry it up and he’s going to loan them to
this mission. You need to get Brandark to Hurgrum.”
Brandark, m’lord? That’s his name?” Evark blinked, slowly standing
“Oh, right, he hasn’t told you yet. Yes, his name is Brandark and
he’s very important-- both for his message, and for himself. Look after him for
me, please? I like him a lot,” the bearded god said sadly. “And he’s one of
Chesmirsa’s favourites, too.”
“Good. Be well,
Evark, and be careful; I like you too.” And the god was gone.
Father Grahn asked cheerfully, holding up a large mug. “Sit down, do, Captain,
before you fall down; he’s a bit of a shock the first time, isn’t
“...hhhn,” Evark squeaked, sitting down. He likes
* * * * *
“No burial?” Wufei asked quietly, taking one
last look at their abandoned camp before climbing into Nataku. Half a dozen of
Sharna’s armsmen, the few who had been captured alive and hadn’t managed to
suicide, were dangling from trees at the edge of the clearing.
shook his head. “It’s written into the legal code as part of the sentence for
anyone executed due to serving a Dark god. Unless there is risk of pestilence,
contamination of drinking water, or something similar, the bodies are to remain
hanging for a minimum of one week.”
“In the middle of nowhere?” One
elegant black eyebrow quirked. “I do understand the need for a display of force,
but it’s rather pointless if nobody is going to see it.”
there’s one Dark temple, there’s often more,” Karthan shrugged, “and cultists
travel back and forth from temples to cities -- sometimes just for a shopping
trip. Even evil cultists need to eat. So it’s entirely possible they’ll serve as
“And even if they don’t,” Vaijon pointed out, “we are under
orders to hurry.”
Wufei managed -- barely -- to not glare. The tall
knight-probationer was practically glued to his side, a circumstance that wasn’t
likely to change for a while. He has apologised, he reminded himself.
He’s behaving much better, so far... but that still doesn’t mean I like the
idea of him being assigned to serve me!
=*You have to admit it’s
an appropriate punishment,*= Krashnark said mildly in his head. =*Poetic,
That doesn’t mean I have to like it! I prefer to do
things for myself, I don’t need a servant!
until you’re healed,*= the god pointed out, =*and he owes his Order extra
service and obedience as penance for his disobedience. He might as well serve it
with you. He won’t feel that he’s regained his honour otherwise.
And,*= he added, cutting Wufei’s next retort off, =*he can’t hover
at you during the march, since you’ll be in Nataku.*=
have a point.
=*I’m tempted to say ‘of course’, but I’m working on
not being smug.*=
Wufei snorted, and Vaijon looked at him
“Nothing. Just a funny thought.”
pause, and then Vaijon cleared his throat tentatively. “Are you certain you are
healed enough to travel, Sir Wufei?”
“I healed a lot overnight,” Wufei
said. And the dreams I had make me suspect I had the link to Karthan open, so
I may have been accidentally using him as a ‘template’ again... “Plus it’s
not as if I’ll be marching on foot with the Order.”
“Sir Vaijon, would you do me a favour?”
“Stop calling me ‘Sir’. Please. Just ‘Wufei’ is fine; I’m
not a knight, and I’m definitely not used to being ‘Sir’ed every time I turn
“Er.” Vaijon looked conflicted. “But you are a prince, s--
“In another world,” Wufei pointed out. “It hardly matters here, and
even if it did I would much rather be called just ‘Wufei’.”
“I can hardly
call you by your bare name while you continue to call me ‘Sir
Wufei eyed him dryly. “I’ll stop if you will...
“...Very well. Wufei.”
Excellent. One annoyance fixed.
Now I just have to wait until I can stop walking around wearing nothing but
pants and bandages.
dwarf looked up from his position seated next to Wufei’s chair inside
“You didn’t wake up this morning with... cuts, or anything
hurting, did you?”
“Nope. Not a scratch. Why?” he asked, suspecting he
already knew the answer.
“If you were dreaming about riding on a cart
that was travelling through a tunnel large enough for Nataku to walk along, I
had the link open. And as I told Vaijon, I healed quite a bit last night,
“You thought some of it might have transferred over?” Karthan
shook his head. “No; I was dreaming that, and I suppose you were probably
using the link to heal, but you didn’t harm me.”
“Good,” Wufei muttered.
“That’s a relief.”
“I would have mentioned waking up with sudden
knife-wounds, you know,” Karthan said sarcastically. “Not being completely
oblivious to the fact that that’s not normal.”
“Forget I asked, I wasn’t thinking. You sound like you’re channelling
“I was thinking Gunnar, actually. Duo sounds like fun.”
he is.” Wufei grinned. “I try not to admit that in public, though.”
saw a little bit, that first night we had the link,” Karthan admitted. “You
dreamed about your friends. He does seem a lot like Gunnar... though I’ve never
seen Gunnar throw food. I’m sure he’s thought about it.”
did say that Gunnar talking was more worrisome than Gunnar fighting. That sounds
very like Duo. He’s deadly in a battle when he needs to be, but he’d much rather
taunt his enemies, make them lose their tempers, and leave them completely
incapacitated but unharmed while he skips off with whatever he came for. And I
do mean skip,” Wufei added. “He danced his Gundam off one battlefield
while singing a song about pigeons.”
Karthan snorted. “Definitely
Gunnar’s style. I’m not sure whether a meeting between those two would be
hilarious or terrifying.”
“Both,” Wufei said definitely.
* * * *
Yanathor’s face was impassive as he watched the ‘faithful’ trickling in
to the hidden temple’s main chamber, but if his expression had matched his mood
he would have been grinning like a loon. Years of planning and preparation were
finally beginning to pay off.
It would have taken much longer to get
to this position if I’d stayed in Fiendark’s priesthood, he mused, nodding
regally as his underpriests bowed. Decades, perhaps... assuming I could have
stabbed my way to the top without having someone else take me by surprise some
dark night. Fiendark does so enjoy watching his worshippers scramble for
position. And then, even at the very top, even if I’d made it to Archpriest, I
still would have been under the god’s thumb. Much better to be a temple High
Priest under a god that never speaks! I can run things to please
So... time to start really putting my stamp on
The new altar hadn’t been easy to obtain. Getting it made had
been the easiest part; it was hardly a complicated design, and Yanathor had been
able to find an unscrupulous stonemason to carve the pattern he remembered from
his time as an acolyte in Fiendark’s service. Once it was completed, though,
getting it into the city and to the temple had been tougher. Any guard who got a
clear look at the pattern of grooves and chain attachment points on the slab of
black granite would be able to identify it as a sacrificial altar immediately,
and no amount of bribes would cover that up. Not even here.
I’m to cement my grasp on their minds -- make it impossible for them to even
think about betraying or defying me -- they have to damn themselves along with
me, he thought coolly. They have to do things that will have their own
neighbours, their own families calling for their blood if they’re found
out. Until now, they’ve done nothing irretrievable; even if they were exposed as
worshippers of a Dark God, the general opinion would be “at least they picked
the best of a bad lot”. Some people might even respect them for their choice.
After tonight... that won’t be true any more.
Still smiling inwardly,
Yanathor, the human High Priest of Navahk’s secret Temple of Krashnark, lifted
his hands and stepped forward to call the assembled hradani to
With an irritated shake of his head, Krashnark
flicked his fingers and dismissed the scrying window he had been watching
Nataku’s progress through.
He can tell when I’m watching him, he
told himself, pushing to his feet and beginning to pace. He’s actually got a
few hours to relax now, with that golden-haired twit unable to annoy him
and the dwarf to talk to. He needs some peace and quiet, and that means peace
from me too! I don’t want to get him annoyed with me again...
he wants to talk to me, he’ll call. If he needs me for some reason, I’ll
feel it. The warm-spice-green-heat of Wufei’s soul was a taste at the back
of his mind, gently radiating, somehow calming, and Krashnark closed his eyes
for a moment, savouring it. Hells. It’s been a long time... I had a dozen
Champions at once, sometimes, and I chose my priests from the worshippers who
could hear me the best. But then it all soured, somehow, and I stopped
listening. He snorted, frowning. Which lost me prayers, and power, and
nearly lost me Wufei.
Absent-mindedly, he lifted one hand and started
to sketch out a scrying window again, then realised what he was doing and
stopped. Don’t be an idiot! Do something useful -- like finding out
exactly how much power I have to work with now, and working to increase it so I
don’t run out when I need it again!
A moment’s concentration,
shifting how he ‘looked’ at things, and several clots of his own red-glowing
power made themselves known; he ignored the denser cluster to the south, for
now, and peered closer at the scattered northern ones. Hm. Fewer than I
remember, but still reasonable, I suppose. The rituals to set up and maintain
consecrated ground only need a halfway competent priest calling on me, after
all; they don’t require me to actually answer or even notice the-- huh. I don’t
remember that one.
‘Looking’ closer, he poked a mental finger
at the weave of power and huffed scornfully, almost laughing. I think this
one was cast by an only quarter-competent priest. It’s new, and feels like it’s
been reinforced recently, but it’s fraying already. Where is this?
Hradani lands? What are they up to?
Reaching out again, he opened
himself to listen, touching the weave of power to bring any prayers from
within it up above the gentle background surf of minds calling on him. There
were more than he’d really expected, quick unformed flashes of need and
want and fear from skirmishes across the continent, most not even
shaped into words--
~give me strength~ ~lend me courage~ ~let me kill
this bastard~ ~power to my sword arm~
--and then he focussed properly
on the new temple, and felt the storm of emotion raging within
~this is wrong!~ ~killing in battle is one thing~ ~Lord, is this
really--?~ ~foul, no, I won’t~ ~can’t be right~ ~power!~ ~someone will stop~ ~I
won’t~ ~PLEASE GODS NO OH NO PLEASE I DON’T WANT TO DIE LIKE
Things weren’t going nearly as well as
Yanathor had hoped.
He’d thought he’d prepared fully. He’d groomed his
hradani congregation with sermons and exhortations about the power and prestige
available to those who worshipped the Dark gods properly, dropped dark
hints about what form that proper worship took, practiced verbally whipping them
into a frenzy -- that part had been easy -- where they should have roared
approval of whatever he did. Everyone knew what true Dark worship meant,
after all, it wasn’t as if they could honestly plead ignorance, so it shouldn’t
have come as a surprise... and all the time he’d been using the little trickles
of power he could get from the rituals to nudge them his
Judging by his experience with human worshippers, they had been
ready! They hadn’t even flinched at animal sacrifice, and that was always a hard
line to get people to cross. By all the indications, they should have been
willing to cut the throats of their own mothers if he demanded it! They’d been
bellowing the responses to his prayers, the new, bloodier prayers he’d composed
himself, they’d been eager for the sacrifice, the air was so thick with
bloodlust he could practically taste it...
...and then his
acolytes dragged forth a bound and gagged hradani girl instead of the dog or pig
they were expecting, and the mood had chilled in an instant. Shoulders had
hunched and ears had gone flat all across the chamber, and for a moment the
bloodlust had focussed on him.
He still had a hold on them. He’d
turned on them and berated them for cowardice, jeered at their weakness, and
they’d slowly settled. This was Navahk, after all, where the Prince held
power through fear and force and weaklings died if they were lucky; if you
weren’t cruel you were seen as soft, and the soft couldn’t last. Still, the
first muffled wail from the girl as he’d begun to cut had brought their ears
They would have broken right then if I hadn’t left the gag
in place. Damn them! he thought bitterly, able to feel the reservoirs of
life and power still untapped within the sacrifice. I’ve barely tasted her
potential. She could last hours, give me a store of power to use to sway
their minds further, but if I draw this out any longer they’re going to break.
How did I misread them this badly?!
Enough. Kill her now, take
what energy I can from her death, and use it to cow them. I’ll still achieve one
of my aims, at least; once they’ve participated in a sacrifice, even an
abbreviated one, they’re condemned by law and I’ll have them by the
The human acolyte holding the small tray of knives (not
nearly as wide a selection as Yanathor wanted, but he had plans to expand it)
was doing a good job of hiding the tremor in his hands, but his eyes were wide
and ringed with white, flicking back and forth between his High Priest and the
congregation. The responses had almost stopped, only a few voices chanting along
with the underpriests, and there was a rising murmur, almost a growl. Dropping
the thin flensing knife he’d been using onto the tray, Yanathor seized the
largest blade and raised it above his head, aiming to strike directly at the
Power and rage blasted him, burning, and he dropped
the knife and fell to the floor as a red-blazing figure appeared at the head of
“Just what in the name of all My sister’s
hells do you fools think you’re doing?!”
Krashnark’s anger was a
nearly physical thing, filling the underground chamber and pushing at the walls
until dust and grit fell from the ceiling. “How dare you? This is not My
worship. This has never been the form of My worship!”
The robed human at
his feet flinched, feebly whimpering something about “honour” and “veneration”;
Krashnark focussed his gaze on the man, examining his soul and crushing him into
silence beneath the weight of his attention. Faugh. Not even a trace of an
alignment to me, no alignment to anyone -- why would he even become a
priest in the first place? Robed as one of My high
...My own fault, I suppose. Without me selecting the ones
I want to serve me, it makes sense that the greedy ones would creep in, he
Movement to one side caught his eye, and he turned to
look. All the mortals in the chamber had reacted instinctively to his arrival
and the force of his presence, going to their knees or even down on their
bellies, but one of the hradani was struggling to his feet. “Your pardon, Lord,”
he choked out, managing to lift his gaze to Krashnark’s chest. “We thought-- we
knew it was wrong, but-- we’d followed him too far, and it was hard to stop.
We-- I think-- I hope, we would have stopped him, but--“
effort, Krashnark controlled his fury, drawing his power back until the
assembled mortals could breathe freely again. “You have the opportunity to
redeem yourselves in My sight,” he told the hradani coldly. “I reject him. I
repudiate all those here robed in My colours. They are no longer under My
protection -- in truth, they never were -- and I condemn them for their offences
against Me.” His voice darkened.
“I’m sure you know what to
The five human ex-clergy and the two Navahkian acolytes never had a
chance to run, as more than forty hradani gave themselves to the Rage and fell
on them like wolves.
Breathing hard, Akar turned from
the ruin of the last acolyte and looked at Krashnark. The last fading remnants
of the Rage were sputtering out, sparking along his nerves, and this time when
he tried to face his God he could look him in the eyes.
leaning on the black altar, arms folded, seeming almost casual now that the
smothering blanket of his anger had lifted from the room. The sacrifice -- the
girl -- was huddled at his feet, clutching the rags of her skirt around her
shoulders, and Akar dropped his gaze and went to his knees again as the shame
returned. Why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t I refuse? If just one of us had
said something, done something, the rest of us would have followed-- why
By hradani law, by bone-deep hradani
instinct, women were to be protected. Immune to the Rage, they were
lorekeepers, lawkeepers, rememberers of what scraps of oral history their
persecuted race had managed to cling to in the decades immediately following the
Fall of Kontovar. Even in Navahk, assault on a woman was the only crime that
could not be excused by the Rage. Black Churnazh and his sons might not care,
but even they had to hide their crimes instead of daring their subjects to
So why didn’t we stop him?!
incompetent priest can influence the minds of his congregation,” Krashnark said
darkly, and Akar jerked as he realised the god was answering his unspoken
question. “Even without Me paying attention, without Me deliberately lending him
power, he had enough to... push you towards his way of thinking.” White
teeth glinted as he grinned nastily. “He badly underestimated hradani, though,
if he thought you were sufficiently under his control to agree to this.”
One hand reached down to gently brush the girl’s bare shoulder, and she leaned
into the touch, head against Krashnark’s knee.
=*Look at me,*=
Krashnark’s voice said insistently, somehow inside Akar’s head, and he
jerked his gaze up, wide-eyed. Three or four other hradani across the room were
doing the same, ears coming up.
Akar cringed inside as his god’s eyes
looked at him, through him, but he couldn’t turn away. He was being measured,
and he was sure that he was failing some test, not meeting some standard that he
couldn’t even imagine... but Krashnark smiled.
Lord! Akar swallowed hard. I’m not good enough-- I
don’t know how--
=*I don’t need good, Akar,*= Krashnark
replied. =*I need effective. I need someone who can hear me, and who
is willing to do as I please. I want a priest who will learn, not one
whose only thought is for his own power and advancement; and for a change, I’d
like one who will carry My banner forward into battle, instead of staying behind
the lines.*= The mental voice gentled. =*There’s someone I’d like you to
meet, later. I think you’d like him. In the meantime... will you
...If you want me, Lord. I will.
* * * *
Trowa walked into the dining room and stopped, blinking at the apparent
blizzard of papers that had struck. White and yellow pages were scattered across
the table, some stacked, others laid crosswise between piles or lying at random
angles; the carpet was slowly disappearing under crumpled rejects, and Duo and
Quatre were at either end of the table, scribbling madly on legal
“Did I miss the ticker-tape parade?” he inquired mildly, reaching
out to pick up one of the pages.
Quatre’s hand slapped down on top of it,
keeping it in place. “It may not look like it, but these are all organised,” he
said, still writing. “Don’t mess up the placement before we get it all into a
At the other end of the table, Duo tore the latest page off
his pad and flicked it onto the mess, seemingly at random; then he stretched
over to grab a different page, and began adding to the lines already
“...I see,” Trowa blinked again. “Do you need more coffee, or
would that be counterproductive?”
Two hands held mugs out to him without
either boy looking up.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”
few minutes later with fresh caffeine, Trowa leaned over to eye the pages
without moving them. Seemingly-random scrawls (Duo’s handwriting) and neat
printing (Quatre’s) met his eyes.
“Rechargeable batteries,” he murmured,
reading. “Solar panel chargers. Extra ammo, underlined six times. Krugerrands,
retain minimal operating funds, precious stones... concentrate on smaller
brilliant cuts, not large, not cabochon... hacksilver--
“Chopped-up bits of silver used as currency,” Duo told him,
not looking up. “Vikings and the old Rus used them, paid for stuff by weight and
cut bits off to make change. They started out breaking up looted Roman plates
and cutlery, but later on some of ‘em wore special jewellery, armlets and coiled
bracelets and things they could cut the ends off if they needed
“Did you know the word ‘ruble’ is descended from the verb
‘rubit’, ‘to chop’?” Quatre added.
“I did not know that.”
did I until I asked Duo what hacksilver was half an hour ago,” Quatre murmured,
hiding a smile.
“So I paid attention to some bits of our history
classes,” Duo snorted, glancing up long enough to stick his tongue out at them
both. “Besides, history is interesting. And useful right now.”
for what?” Trowa asked, gesturing to the literary snowdrift. “What are you two
“What we’re going to take when we go to the world Wufei’s in.”
Quatre’s tone was perfectly matter-of-fact.
Duo muttered. “Heero may be planning for ‘Mission: If Duo Gets Godnapped’, but
we figure, why wait? We already have someone to go after. Besides...” He looked
up again, blue-violet eyes uncharacteristically serious. “Quick question, answer
without thinking, whatever pops into your head: what would we end up doing if we
Trowa opened his mouth, paused, closed it again, then
lifted one finger. “Join the Preventers?”
“You had to think about it,”
Duo pointed out. “And really, why? Doing what, exactly? Do they need us?
Us in particular, that is, our abilities, not just warm bodies to fill
“They’ll need mech pilots,” Heero’s voice pointed out from the
door behind Trowa.
“They’ve got a thousand,” Quatre noted. “And they
don’t need Gundam pilots. In fact, they don’t need Gundams.”
do you want to bet they demand we ‘decommission’ them?” Duo asked, eyes
glinting. “Are you willing to hit another self-destruct button? Scrap Wing and
Heavyarms? ‘Cause I’m sure as hell not doing that to my buddy.”
would... ah... ‘strenuously resist’ any order to dismantle Sandrock,” Quatre
chimed back in, voice suspiciously calm.
“Face it, guys, we don’t fit
here any more.” Duo was grinning now. “Our skills aren’t just obsolete, they’re
dangerous. Frankly, I don’t want to join the Preventers; it’s not my
style. But if we don’t...”
Quatre picked up the thread again.
“We’ll be a threat. We’d have to go into hiding to avoid surveillance,
supervision, you name it; but then they’d be even more worried about what we
might be up to. I could evade that by taking over WEI and becoming a good
corporate front man, but why? My sisters are doing an excellent job, and
who’s going to take a seventeen-year-old CEO seriously? Unless I lean hard on my
‘ex-Gundam Pilot’ credentials, which would just feed the fears I theoretically
went into WEI to appease.”
“And again,” Duo grinned, “he doesn’t want
“Allah, no,” Quatre muttered. “Early mornings, eighteen-hour days,
legal tangles, board meetings that go on for six hours, you’re not allowed to
shoot your problems... that would suck.”
Duo beamed. “Q-bean, I’m
so proud of you! You’ve been paying attention.”
shooting problems is not my first solution, doesn’t mean I don’t like having it
as an option.”
Trowa and Heero looked at each other. Trowa quirked one
eyebrow. The corner of Heero’s mouth twitched up a millimetre.
down ‘extra cores for Wing’s beam sabre’,” Heero noted, turning to
“Fuel for Shenlong’s Dragon Fang,” Trowa pointed out, continuing
on to whatever he’d been going to do when he first
Much later, Duo was hauled out of sleep by the
ringing of his cellphone. Groaning, he pawed at his bedside table, squinting at
the glowing numbers on his alarm clock. One-thirty? For the love of little
pink elephants, who the fuck is calling me now? It can’t be a mission. It
had sure as hell better not be a mission!
Blinking to bring
the caller ID into focus, he groaned softly. Relena? She’d better be calling
me to report her own kidnapping or something...
“’Lena?” he mumbled
into the phone, scrubbing his free hand across his forehead in a probably futile
effort to clear his head. “What are you--“
< < Duo? Duo, I’m sorry,
I had to call you, I couldn’t think of who else to talk to and I need to talk to
somebody, I can’t-- I need to, to, I don’t know, I’m sorry-- >
“’Lena, you’re babbling,” Duo informed her gravely. “First things
first. Are you currently being kidnapped, held for ransom, having a gun pointed
at you, in a building with a bomb threat or anything like that?”
gulped audibly, getting herself somewhat under control. < < No, I-- no.
Nothing like that. > >
“Cool. Just wanted to make sure. Now that
we’ve got that out of the way, ‘Lena, honey, it’s oh-dark-hundred! It’s not even
sparrowfart yet! I’ve been in bed for about fifteen minutes, I just
dropped off, I was starting up what looked like a pretty good dream and if you
don’t have a damn good reason for calling me right now I will tell
you all the kinky details!”
< < ...I’m sorry... >
Aw man no, don’t cry, you’ll make me feel bad. “Argh. Scratch
that. You must have a good reason, you’re not the sort of person who drunk-calls
their friends from a club just so they can scream ‘Woooo~!’ down the line and
hang up. I’m not mad, ‘Lena, I promise, I just don’t have my brain on straight
yet, okay? What happened? > >
< < *sniff* I am
sorry, Duo, I didn’t even check the time before I dialled you. I just... this is
ridiculous, I don’t know where to start! > >
Ha. Been there.
Almost against his will, Duo felt himself starting to grin as he flopped back
into his pillows and relaxed. “Take a deep breath, hold it for a count of five,”
’cause you sound like you’re about to hyperventilate, “let it all
out, get it straight in your head, then go. I’ll wait.”
*sniff* Okay. > >
Waiting for Relena to speak again -- he
could hear her obediently doing the little breathe-hold-sigh exercise -- Duo
heard his door swing a little further open and a shadowy figure leaned into the
room. Duo waved, then gave a thumbs-up, and Heero nodded and faded
< < Okay, > > Relena said, sounding more under control.
< < I had a lot of meetings and conference calls today. They went on
pretty late, and after the last one my secretary told me Lady Une had called and
requested I ‘screen her after I was done, no matter what time it was. That
sounded urgent, and she’s already setting up the Preventers while finishing up
OZ’s disarmament, it could have been anything; so of course, I did. >
“As you would,” Duo muttered, stifling a yawn.
< < Lady
Une was... acting a bit strange, I thought. At first she was talking around the
subject, telling me about how she’s been personally visiting bases that are
being decommissioned, and sometimes she needs to counsel the soldiers. A lot of
them have no idea what they can do now, where they can go, what’s going to
happen to their families and so on. She’s been given quite a lot of
discretionary power in the interests of getting it all sorted out quickly and
neatly, so she’s actually used ex-OZ funds to finance short-term assistance and
housing for decommissioning soldiers. She told me it’ll help keep them out of
trouble, > > Relena giggled a little, then sobered.
will,” Duo agreed. “Leaving a bunch of people with military training at a loose
end with nothing to do and nowhere to go is just asking for trouble.” Ooh,
déjà vu and irony. Nice combo.
< < I know. She was
talking about that, and went on to how she visited a base today. Specifically,
the base hospital. A lot of the pilots who survived that last battle are being
looked after there, and... > > She gulped hard. < < And... so is my
brother Milliardo. > >
Duo’s eyes snapped open. “Your
< < My brother. > >
“I didn’t know you
had a brother!”
< < Neither did I! > > Relena almost
shrieked. < < I mean, I knew I had a brother, but I thought
Milliardo was dead! For, for years, he’s been living under an
assumed identity, and he believed Treize, believed in his goals, so he joined
OZ, and-- and-- > >
Sitting up and swinging his good leg out of
bed, Duo snapped the bedside light on and leaned over, fumbling for his
crutches. “And what? ‘Lena, this is good, right? I mean, ow, no contact for
years, that’s bad, but--“
< < Duo, he asked her not to tell me! He
said-- > > She gulped again, obviously trying not to cry. < <
--there’s too much blood on his hands, he said he doesn’t deserve to be
my brother. He told her he’s planning to just disappear, take another new name
and disappear, and-- I don’t want him to, I want my brother back, but, I
don’t know, do I have the right to stop him? What if-- >
“Hey, whoa, no,” Duo interrupted. “What we do now is, your friend
Duo goes to talk to your brother while he is conveniently stuck in hospital, and
tells him to cut that shit out because his sister loves him and doesn’t care.
And then if he’s still enough of a twit to go skulking off into the sunset being
all emo and alone, we may just track his silly ass down together and slap him
upside the head until he gets the idea he has a family, all right? What
name is he admitted under?”
< < Zechs Merquise. >
Duo fell out of bed.
DUO: If you start next chapter by telling me
I’ve wrecked my knee again, it is on!
MEL: Ack! Put down the
plastic scythe, that’s Christy’s! Look, you’re fine, you’re wearing the brace.
You may have a slight bruise on your rear, but Heero can kiss it
DUO: Okay then.
MEL (grinning): Which cheered you up, the
knee or the kiss?
DUO: Both, but the kiss wouldn’t have made up for the
MEL: If we’d busted your knee, Heero wouldn’t be kissing your rear,
he’d be kicking ours.
DUO: ...Which might have been worth it...
MEL: Don’t tempt us to invent complications.
TROWA: Mel? Why
did we come back to your place before finishing the babble?
told me to do it myself, the big meanie. I’m sure she meant me to write her
saying something pithy and amusing, but eh. Why do you ask?
one hand. It’s holding the head of an elongated elephant stretchy-toy, and a
small red dog with floppy ears is dangling from the other end, growling happily
through clenched jaws.]
QUATRE: What’s so bad
about Loki being here? He’s quite sweet, if a little ditzy.
MEL: He’s not
the problem. Hubby’s cat Titti, She Who Is The Ginsu Feline Whirlwind Of Death,
is the problem if she sees him. Quick, take him back! There’s a portal in the
pantry, it comes out in her laundry, just go!
WUFEI: You have instant
transit between here and her house? Why did you get your husband to drive us
there and back, then?
MEL: Because with only five seats in the car, I get
to sit on someone’s lap. *leer*
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