"Well, he is!"
CHRISTY: So you didn’t get anything
MEL: That is kind of the point of a holiday, you know. I didn’t
even write any more of the evil porn thing.
WUFEI: ...Should we run
screaming about now?
MEL: Oh, no, it’s not about you. For a
CHRISTY: Yeah, see the plot bunny over there? It’s been chewing
on Mel’s ankle to make her do Bahzell/Brandark smut, and she’s silly enough to
MEL: It’s the only way to get it to stop!
?! I knew you two were sick, but--
CHRISTY: I would
like to point out that I have nothing to do with it.
MEL: Bahzell is not
dead in the porn! Yuck! It’s set either a couple of months in the past or in a
different leg of the trousers, sheesh.
CHRISTY: And that makes it
MEL: Hell yes.
DUO: Much as I hate to agree with Mel, it
would just about have to. Ew.
TROWA: Christy? I have a
CHRISTY: If it’s about the porn, ask Mel; I’m staying waaayyyy
away from it.
TROWA: It’s not about the porn.
CHRISTY: Okay then,
TROWA: *points down*
Does he ever
[One of Trowa’s feet is pinning down the end of Loki’s stretchy
elephant toy. The other end is in Loki’s mouth, and the little red dog is
growling happily as he tries to drag it away.]
CHRISTY: No. Suck it up,
RELENA: I beg your pardon?
CHRISTY: Not talking to you,
Who let her out of the prop
She’s been upgraded to the character closet
with Uthmar and the rest. She only had to stay in the Attic of Evil while she
was being a bitch, and she got over that chapters ago.
She still makes me twitch.
Demon of Justice
“Your brother is
?!” Duo’s voice yelped, loud enough to be clear in Heero’s
room.What just happ-- Zechs?
Heero doubled back through
the bathroom to Duo’s room, one hand automatically reaching for a gun he wasn’t
Duo was sprawled on the floor, right leg sticking straight up
over the edge of the bed, staring incredulously at his phone; then he yanked it
back to his ear, listening. “I called him Sexy Zechsy. Look, it rhymes and he
, okay? I don’t know how he looked back when you last saw him, hon, but
right now your brother is an utter babe
. OZ coulda got a few thousand
extra female recruits if they’d just put him on a poster or two.”
reflection, Heero had to admit that Duo was probably right. Wait a moment.
Duo’s talking to Relena... Zechs is her brother?!
“Okay, ‘Lena, this
is-- look, you can tell me off for the nickname when you see me in person, ‘kay?
Go get some sleep if you can, and I’ll see you for breakfast. Eight o’clock,
clear your schedule for at least the morning ‘cause we’re gonna be busy.” He
glanced up at Heero and gave a sudden, distracted grin. “Heero’s cooking, so
you’re in for a treat. --Yes he does, and he’s an awesome
cook, trust me.
G’night hon, see you then.”
“Duo, what have you just gotten me into?
What’s this about Zechs? And do you need a hand there?”
“Ah, yeah, thanks
Heero,” Duo said, appearing to notice his position for the first time. “You were
gonna make breakfast anyway, weren’t you? So I haven’t committed you to anything
extra, you just need to cook a bit more. Turns out Zechs’s real name is
Milliardo and he’s Relena’s brother, who woulda thought?”
about that for a moment as he carefully helped Duo disentangle himself from the
sheets and stand, then shook his head. “There isn’t much of a resemblance, is
there? Well, eye colour, but that’s not so unusual; Quatre’s are nearly the
“Yeah, you’re right. I mean, their faces are totally different
shapes, and the hair... both long and straight, but Relena’s sort of a honey
blonde and Zechs is platinum. Either he bleaches or he had one hell of a shock
when he was younger.”
“And went white?” Heero snorted. “You might as well
assume Relena dyes hers.”
“Nah, the tabloids woulda spotted that by now,”
Duo grinned. “Wow, though.”
“No kidding. How’s the knee?”
it’s fine. This is the first and probably only time I’m glad to be wearing a
Heero smirked. “It does have a use. So...”
Duo raised an eyebrow as Heero trailed off, looking thoughtful.
did survive. When we didn’t hear any more about him after that one report before
OZ surrendered, I wondered if it had been false. I... think I’m glad?” he said
quietly, almost puzzled.
“Yeah.” Duo’s grin softened. “It’s not like we
wanted to kill him, is it? We didn’t want
to kill anyone... okay, a few
people maybe deserved it, but most of ‘em were just on the other side. Hell,
even Une’s not all bad, and I hated her guts for most of the war.”
the person who was the first to suggest hiring
“Yeah, so I like giving second chances. I told you it was a
crazy idea at the time.”
“Yes you did, but your crazy ideas work more
often than they don’t.” Heero glanced over at the clock again, and winced.
“Well, if Relena’s going to be here at eight, and I assume you still want your
morning soak in the hot tub, I suggest we try to get some sleep.”
being the operative word,” Duo muttered. “Damn. You know, finding out he’s
Relena’s brother is going to spoil the whole Sexy part of Sexy
* * * * *
“How’s he doing?”
The ship’s surgeon
made a face as he turned away from the unconscious hradani. “Not too good,
Captain. Mind, it’s practically a miracle that he’s still alive, so in some ways
he’s doing wonderfully. I’d heard hradani were tough, but this is
Evark frowned, one hand rubbing at his tunic over the
pendant hidden beneath in the habit he’d picked up over the last couple of days.
“He needs to live, Chihar, and I get the impression Korthrala won’t be too happy
if he’s crippled either.”
“Well, Korthrala’s going to have to get used to
the idea,” Chihar snapped. “...Begging your pardon, Captain, but this is
frustrating as all the hells. I should have realised how badly off he was and
asked you to get a healer of some sort, a priest out of the temple maybe, but--
well, I didn’t.”
“Given that we need to keep him a secret, getting a
healer-priest on board to tend him might have ended up getting him killed
anyway,” Evark muttered. “I wish I knew more about what’s going
“He’ll live long enough to tell his story, I’m sure enough of that,”
the surgeon shrugged. “Beyond that? I don’t know. His wounds are closing fast,
and like I said, he’s tough; he survived losing enough blood to kill three
humans. If anything, though, that chop to his leg closed too
not entirely sure it drained clean before it closed up, and he’ll never have
much use of that leg even if it did.”
“...I just need to make it to
Hurgrum,” a cracked voice whispered.
Chihar cursed under his breath as he
whirled back to the makeshift pallet on the floor, and Evark’s eyes widened as
they met the hradani’s gaze. He -- Brandark,
Evark remembered -- was
lying still, face pale and drawn, but his eyes were glittering with fever... and
“Here, Longshanks,” Chihar muttered, hands gentle as he
raised Brandark’s head and held a cup to his lips. “Get this down you, and we’ll
see about something a bit more substantial if you keep it down.”
drank obediently, but never looked away from Evark, and his mouth quirked into a
humourless smile as the cup left his mouth. “Just get me to Hurgrum,” he
repeated, voice clearer. “Get me there, and give me an hour to tell Prince
Bahnak what he needs to know. Then I can die.”
“You’ll be doing no such
thing if I have anything to say about it,” the surgeon growled, “so I’ll thank
you not to be giving up while you’re in my
him later, Chihar,” Evark interrupted, going to one knee by the pallet. “And
hello to you, Brandark; I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself before, but
I’m Evark Pitchallow. We’re on our way north up the coast to the Bay of
Kolvania, and yes, we will get you to Hurgrum. My word on it.”
“--do I know your name? Well, it was Korthrala who let
me know we should stop and pick you up instead of sailing on by, and when I was
able to get to His House in Refuge he told me your name. Apparently he likes
you,” Evark said dryly, one hand twirling his moustache as he felt a secret
inner glow. And me!
The hradani’s ears flattened uneasily, then
struggled back up to half-mast. “Huh. That’s... not something I ever expected to
“Well, it seems you’re popular there,
big ‘un, because Foam Beard says his sister Chesmirsa likes you
.” Now that
brought the ears up for a moment, and
Brandark’s eyes lost their hard glitter, softening. “Well, isn’t that a thing,
“A hradani bard?” Chihar muttered, half-smiling. “Now that’s
“Would-be bard,” Brandark snorted. “I can play well enough, but I
haven’t the voice for it, and I can’t compose anything better than satire.
Bahzell says--“ His voice cut off abruptly and his face twisted in grief, ears
Evark looked away and gestured to Chihar, giving the
hradani a moment of privacy in his pain. “I’m needing a few minutes to talk to
our passenger alone, if you think he’s up to it.”
Chihar grumbled. “I
think it won’t matter one way or another what I say if you and that big lunk
want to talk. Let me know when you’re done.”
Evark watched him go, then
turned back to Brandark. The hradani was staring blindly at the deckhead above
them, but blinked and turned back to him when the halfling shifted. “Right
then,” Evark said, voice low. “Whatever message it is you’re carrying, it’s
important enough to get my god fussed, and Korthrala’s not the fussing sort.
I’ve dropped a high-paid cargo run to shuttle you up north, boyo, and I won’t be
asking you for a bent copper kormak, but I will ask you this; can you tell me
what in all the hells is going on? If you can’t, then you can’t, but if you can,
I wish you would. I’d really like to know why I’m about to take a blue-water
ship up the damned Saram River, through three different human kingdoms and a
load of Bloody Sword hradani bandits -- saving your presence,” he added dryly,
“past the Forest of the Sharmi and
Troll Garth, too, if it turns out
that’s the most navigable branch.”And,
he thought, unspoken but
seeing that the hradani understood him without words, if you die on the way
I’d like something more to deliver than your corpse and a few cryptic words
muttered on a beach.
* * * * *
Major Rathan No’hai Taihar
scowled around at the mess. Oversized corpses littered the clearing, the damp
ground was torn up and churned like a bad road after rain, a couple of the
smaller trees had been uprooted or even snapped off in the melee, and frankly
the half-elf major didn’t think he’d ever seen a messier battlefield. Which
wasn’t making it any easier to work out what exactly had happened
A few things were immediately clear, of course, but that just led
to more and murkier questions. What in Phrobus’s name had a couple of dozen
been doing in the middle of the Shipwood?Apart from
he commented dryly to himself, fastidiously nudging one of the
corpses with his boot to bring its face into view.
“Well?” he asked
coldly, and his second in command saluted.
“Sir,” Halith said stiffly.
“It appears that almost all of them belonged to the same group; they have fairly
standardised gear, and--“
“You call this mess standardised?” Rathan asked
incredulously, gesturing at the various nearby corpses. Astonishingly, Halith
“Not by our
standards, certainly,” he murmured, and the
major couldn’t suppress a laugh. “Their cloaks and so forth certainly aren’t,
but they are all wearing similar armour and carrying nearly identical weapons,
and while I can’t read hradani runes I can tell that they all have the same
markings on belt buckles and sheaths. So yes, sir; I do call this mess
standardised, however painful it may be to warp the meaning of the poor word
“Point taken,” Rathan sighed. “Carry on.”
only two bodies that don’t match,” Halith said, gesturing to one side. “One is
wearing a higher quality of gear, but with the same symbols, so I believe he was
their leader. As for the other...” Leading the major past one of the fallen
trees to a slight dip in the ground, he gestured elegantly.
The body lying in the dip was
immense, well over a foot taller than any of the other hradani corpses and much
more heavily built. Not that the other hradani were slender, far from it; but
Rathan would swear that each of the massive body’s thighs were as thick as his
“That’s either some sort of freak of nature, or...”
Horse Stealer, sir.”
“This was ridiculous enough even if we assume the
others are Wild Wash! What is a Horse Stealer hradani doing at this
of the continent?!”
Sensibly enough, Halith didn’t answer the rhetorical
question, instead crouching by the large corpse and wordlessly pulling back the
cloak half-covering it. Rathan’s eyes narrowed.
“I see,” he said,
dangerously quiet. “Are there any signs to tell us how many survivors there
“Not as yet, sir,” Halith shook his head, dropping the cloak back
to cover the roughly-bandaged chest. “At least one, obviously, given that this
one couldn’t have managed that himself. I have the scouts searching for tracks
“Good. What about my cousin?”
“He should be here
Rathan sniffed. “He’d be here already if he’d started out as soon
as my messenger reached him. I suppose I should be thankful he’s willing to stir
his rear out of his mansion at all.”
Halith coughed behind his hand and
looked pointedly away from the major, diplomatically deaf.
from the mysterious corpse, Rathan kicked through the litter of bags and
clothing lying nearby. Something twanged and jangled, and he leaned down to pull
a smashed balalaika out of the bag that hadn’t protected it. “Good grief,” he
muttered, turning it around in his hands. “It takes greedy bandits to steal
musical instruments.” One string parted with a quiet *ping*
, and the
balalaika twanged again as he dropped it, dismissing it from his
Scanning the battlefield again, Rathan realised that Halith was
still standing quietly at his shoulder, awaiting orders. “Well carry on, man,
carry on,” he said irritably, waving him away. “Report back if you find anything
important.” Halith saluted and strode off, and Rathan found himself in the
perennial position of an officer in the field with good subordinates:
temporarily without anything to do. He sighed.
“Can’t my cousin Taihar deal with
this himself?” Yithar asked, almost whining. The army scout to whom he was
directing the question shrugged very slightly.
“I’m sure he can, m’lord,
but he felt that as the incident occurred on your land you would wish to be
Yithar huffed. “Oh, it’s my land all right, but we’re talking
about the middle of the Shipwood
! It’s leagues
away from any of my
actual villages, it’s not as if anyone ever goes
“Well, it seems that several somebodies did
m’lord.” The scout shrugged again. “And died there. Given the circumstances, the
army does have to concern itself.”
“I still don’t see why he needs
,” Yithar muttered, but stopped arguing. He probably doesn’t need
he thought sourly. In fact, I’m sure he doesn’t. He’s just calling me
there to be annoying, curse him.
The rest of the journey to the
clearing in question was quiet, but certainly not peaceful; Yithar spent it
cursing his cousin, his horse, his saddle, the saddle-sores he was sure he was
going to develop, and the army scout for setting a pace much faster than Yithar
was accustomed to travelling. The cursed grunt didn’t even have the grace to
look uncomfortable in the saddle.
Arriving at the ravaged clearing,
Yithar paled at the sight of the bodies Rathan’s squad were dragging into ragged
lines. “You didn’t say they were hradani
! What-- what if some of them are
still out there?!”
“We’re checking that, m’lord,” the scout said
“So why’d you call me out here before you were sure?!” Yithar
dithered for a moment, briefly considering reining his horse back around and
riding back where he came from, but saw Major Taihar approaching and pasted a
sickly smile on his face. “Cousin! Er, what--“
“What took you so long?”
the major snapped, gesturing the scout away.
“I, well, I’m hardly
prepared to ride out at a moment’s notice...” Yithar could feel his smile slide
towards apologetic and swore inwardly. Why does he always have this effect on
me? Oh, now the eyebrow, of course!
Rathan had indeed raised one
supercilious eyebrow, sniffing slightly. “Well. You’re here now.”
yes. Ah... what happened here?”
“As near as we can tell from the
placement of the bodies and so forth,” Rathan told him, turning away to gesture
at the mess, “most of these died fighting a much smaller group of enemies. Wild
Wash or one of the other, aheh, ‘smaller’ breed of hradani versus three or four
Horse Stealers, it looks like. All or nearly all of the larger... well, more
numerous... group died; only one of the others fell.”
“If only one of
them is dead, how do you know how many there were?” Yithar asked nervously,
sidestepping away as two of Rathan’s men dragged another body past him. “And how
do you tell them apart? They all look alike to me
gave him another raised-eyebrow look, but deigned to answer instead of just
telling him it should be obvious. “There were three main clusters of dead, and
one was bigger than the others so was probably made by them fighting against two
opponents rather than just one. We’ve also found three sets of tracks leading
away, one south towards the coast and the others heading north. As for how we
can tell them apart?” His voice turned dry as he pointed to one end of the
nearest row of corpses. “They may look alike to you, but if you look closely
enough there are
a few minor differences about that one
Yithar’s eyes went wide and he sputtered for a moment before
regaining his voice. “Gods! Um, eheh, I see your point, cousin...” He frowned,
voice trailing off, then resumed in a low mutter. “He’s nearly as big as the one
in that damned village...”
Rathan scowled. “What one in which
“Oh!” Yithar fairly jumped. “Ah, there were a couple of hradani
living in one of my villages until recently. A blacksmith, even bigger than that
one I think, and his daughter. They’ve left now, though,” he hastened to assure
“And you didn’t think it was odd to find them there?” Rathan
“Well, no!” he protested. “The Wild Wash are just up
the coast, after all, I suppose one or two get in a feud and have to leave every
so often. Besides, so long as he was productive I had no reason--“
that one’s no Wild Wash brigand! The only hradani who grow that big
are Horse Stealers, and they live up north by the Sothoii
that way?” Yithar blinked, then flushed angrily. “Well, I
“Plainly,” Rathan sneered. “I’ll be wanting to speak to these
hradani of yours.”
“I told you, they left!”
“Then you’d best set
them, hadn’t you?”
Yithar gnawed his lower lip,
glaring at his cousin’s back as the major stalked away. They’re not my
hradani, certainly not now! And if Taihar wants me to find them, or goes looking
for them himself, that whole mess with the Order of Torframos and the
demons is going to come out...
He was uncomfortably aware that what
Major Taihar found out, the Council of Lords at Bortalik would know soon after,
and they weren’t going to be pleased that he hadn’t kept them fully informed. In
fact, he hadn’t kept them informed at all; that little ‘incident’ hadn’t exactly
shown him in the best light, and he’d spent very little time trying to decide on
the best way to report it before deciding on ‘not at all’.
He was going
to have to report it now. The Council might have been happy with a delayed
report if it had been less embarrassing, or if he’d made it before this happened
to force his hand, but in the circumstances their position was going to be that
he should have started sending them couriers as it was happening. They weren’t
going to take ‘delayed paperwork’ or ‘pressures of his other duties’ as an
answer this time. And when he thought about exactly what he was going to have to
Temples of Sharna in the Spinewall, near enough to his lands
that they were sure to claim he could have -- should
have -- found out
about it before now.
Demons being summoned and attacking his
A demon prince
being summoned, and going off with the Order
of Torframos of all things.
His own less-than-scintillating performance
during all of this. Yithar wished he could believe that lying about it would
pass muster, but when this
report reached the Council they were certain
to send investigators to interrogate all the witnesses.
worst of all, a member of one of the Militant Orders had threatened to use
Yithar’s own conduct as a formal repudiation by the Purple Lords of their legal
Yithar didn’t realise it, but his complexion had turned pale enough
to look faintly greenish.
“M’lord?” one of his human guardsmen asked
tentatively, peering at him with a worried expression. “Are you all
“Mind your own cursed business, Kairic,” he snarled, happy to
have even a minor target to strike at. “When and if I want you to poke your nose
into mine, I’ll tell
The blond guardsman stiffened to
attention, face blank. “My apologies, m’lord. I spoke out of turn.”
right you did,” Yithar muttered, glaring venomously. The human stayed stiff,
staring over his shoulder as if he’d been stuffed and mounted, and Yithar
finally turned away. The rest of his small escort were blatantly Not Hearing
Anything, carefully examining nearby corpses or diligently watching the trees
for hypothetical ambushes, and he snorted mentally. Cowards, the lot of
Looking around at the squad still tidying up the bodies, he
frowned. Rathan’s words still stung, and he almost pouted as he looked at the
hradani corpses. I don’t see why I should be expected to know the
difference between hradani tribes. It’s not as if it’s actually relevant
to me. I didn’t go into the army.
Another pair of Rathan’s men
grabbed the arms of yet another corpse near him, starting to drag it away, and
he eyed the body’s gear, automatically valuing it. I can tell that this one
is wearing far better gear than the others; depressingly plain and ugly, of
course, but quite a high value. Surprisingly high, really. There, that’s
relevant to me... eh?
As they hauled the body away, something that
had been hidden underneath it came into view, glinting brightly in the subdued
afternoon sun. Curiosity piqued, Yithar strolled over, fastidiously avoiding the
worst of the bloody mud.A sword? Well now! That’s a much better blade
than I’d expect any of these filth to be carrying, quite elegant really.
Valuable. I wonder who they stole it from?...Is that an
emerald as the pommel stone? It’s huge!
Sun and leaf-shadows
flickered as a gentle breeze stirred the trees, and Yithar’s eyes widened as the
emerald gleamed at him. It was bigger than his thumb-joint, with no flaws
visible to a quick examination, and his mind started totalling up its possible
price.=*Pick it up,*=
something whispered quietly to
him....Rathan will take it,
he thought dazedly. It’s evidence,
or spoils, or something; he’ll say it should go to the
the whisper insisted. =*This isn’t
for the likes of him. Something that fine should be yours. Claim
Almost without him willing it, Yithar reached out and picked up
the sword. It came up out of the churned muck clean, not even a smear of dirt or
blood marring its shine, and he turned it in his hand wonderingly, staring at
There was something engraved on the sword’s guard. A...
Yithar had just enough time to realise what that meant before a
cold, gloating voice spoke in his mind.=*You’ll do just fine. Power
and vengeance for you; souls and vengeance for me. Agreed?
Agreed.*==*And for your first task as my Champion... leave no
Kairic hung back as his lord moved on,
quietly letting the other guardsmen move ahead of him and hoping that he could
remain mostly unnoticed for at least the next few minutes. If he didn’t attract
Lord Yithar’s attention again until after he’d gotten over his current mood,
chances were that the lord would have forgotten all about it by the time they
got back to the estate.Or he’ll be more pissed at someone else by
then, and ignore me in favour of punishing them,
he thought, trading
carefully expressionless glances with one of the other guardsmen. It was a dance
he’d done before, carefully staying in Yithar’s sight enough to be recognised as
something, while not getting enough attention to be a target of too
many of the lord’s frequent snit fits.I should have gone into the
army... oh well.
Shrugging mentally, Kairic followed as Yithar stopped
glaring around the clearing and walked towards where one of the bodies had been
lying. Now what’s he doing? The way he hates blood and mess, I’d expect him
to be balancing on a tussock and squeaking every time he looked at the
When the half-elf lord bent down and straightened up with a
sword in his hand, Kairic blinked. Where did he get that?! I would have sworn
there was nothing there! It’s not even dirty, so it can’t have been buried under
Uneasily, he took half a step back, then another. His instincts
were screaming at him all of a sudden, and there was something badly
Then the sword in Yithar’s hand burst into green
flames, and he swung sideways without even looking to cut one of his own
guardsmen down.Oh fuck!
Backpedaling frantically to
get clear, Kairic snatched out his own sword but hesitated, unsure of his next
move. I know he’s useless with a blade, but that sword--!
He had no idea
how to tell what sort of magic it was, but really he didn’t need to; it was
kind of magic, and that was more than enough. Tyllar
went down way too fast, that shouldn’t have been enough of a cut to drop
him like that -- whatever that sword does, it’s bad--
dropped open as Yithar spun and ducked, bringing the sword around in an
impossibly graceful motion to impale his second guardsman, then kicked the
falling corpse off the flaming blade and slashed sideways. The tip barely
reached his third target, slicing a shallow nick across the front of his throat,
but the man dropped as if poleaxed.Oh shit. Oh shit. It’s
helping him fight and he only has to scratch me, there’s no way I can
beat him like this!
Kairic could see his own death in his lord’s eyes
as the half-elf turned to him, sword lifting--
--and Major Taihar leapt
at his cousin from behind, swinging his own sword in a two-handed arc at
Yithar’s head. “Gods damn you for a gutless fool!” he roared. “I knew you were
an idiot, but this
Yithar backhanded him with the pommel,
snapping his head back and sending him staggering to the ground. His face had
been almost blank, sheened with sweat, but now it twisted into a manic grin.
“Ha!” he crowed, seeming to forget Kairic completely as he turned to gloat. “Now
who’s the weakling? Now who’s the failure? Now
who’s in charge?! I always
hated you, you bastard!”Oh thank the gods, thank you, let him forget
me, let me pull something to live through this!
scrambled away, putting a tree between him and the raving half-elf, but somehow
he couldn’t bring himself to run. Knowing that that sword was behind
expecting at any moment that it would strike his back and end his life... no.
I’d end up trying to run backwards or something and that never works. Maybe,
maybe, uh, if I-- there has to be a way!
Cringing, hating himself, he
watched as Yithar slaughtered the Major’s squad. Part of him wanted to charge
and help, try to save someone else; part of him still wanted to run; part of him
begged to hide and pray he wouldn’t be found. Part of him saw one of the scouts
on the other side of the clearing, white-faced, working his way backwards into
hiding, and took shamed comfort in the idea that someone else was as scared as
Yet another part, a tiny irrepressible speck, noted that Yithar
must have found a really impressive
cursed sword, if it could even lend
the ability to fight like that. Then he saw the Major groggily trying
to stand, and had an idea.Will it work?It’s got to.
And Yithar is conceited enough that it just might!
It took all of
Kairic’s courage, more than he’d thought he had, to run towards the half-elves.
Halfway there, he almost turned back as something occurred to him: If he’s
possessed or something, not really acting of his own volition, this won’t
work. It’s an appeal to his vanity, to the leadership skills he thinks he
has, it won’t work if I can’t flatter him!--Well damn it, nothing
else is going to give me much of a chance! Stop thinking and do
He reached Major Taihar just as the officer managed to
straighten, bringing his sword up in a defensive position. Blood was running
down his face from his nose and split lip and he swayed, clearly dazed, but he
wasn’t giving up.Please let him be dazed enough to not react fast
when I do this-- and let him have his wits about him enough for it to
Yithar cut down the last soldier and turned back towards the
Major, grin widening, just as Kairic came up behind him. Kairic could almost see
Yithar’s thoughts in the flicker of his eyes as he noted the guardsman’s
presence and dismissed it as inconsequential, focussing on his cousin. Rathan
spat blood and raised his swordtip, drawing breath to say something, defiant or
insulting perhaps, certainly not a plea for the mercy Yithar clearly wasn’t
going to give.
Both half-elves froze, eyes going wide in shock, as Kairic
wound his left arm around the Major’s throat and jammed his short sword into his
back. Rathan stiffened, lips moving wordlessly; then his eyes rolled closed and
his breath huffed out as he went completely limp, spattering more blood. Kairic
yanked backwards, going down on one knee beside his target as he dropped him
flat in one of the deepest, messiest puddles of fresh blood and mud the new
slaughter had left.
Leaving his sword in the muck, the human spat on his
victim and shoved the limp body over onto its face, then turned and knelt
submissively, bending his head. “My lord.” Thank all the gods, my voice
Kairic didn’t dare peek up through his
hair, but he could see Yithar’s feet. The half-elf wasn’t moving; then the tip
of the cursed sword swung down to hang at his side, no longer flaming. There
wasn’t a mark on the blade, even now, as if the blood from his multiple kills
hadn’t stuck... or had been absorbed.
to kill him
, you know.”
The guardsman almost fainted in relief.
Yithar’s tone was petty, sulking, and familiar
. It was one he’d heard so
many times before, telling him that his lord was annoyed -- but not quite
annoyed enough to strike out at his servants. “I humbly beg your pardon, my
lord,” he said smoothly, bowing his head further. “I only thought to assist you,
as is my place.”
“Bah. You have a point, I suppose.” Yithar stepped
closer, feet turning to the side as if he was studying his cousin’s corpse. A
sideways glance without moving his head let Kairic see that the back of Rathan’s
tunic was soaked with bright blood, the ragged cut left by his sword showing
clearly. “Well, dead is dead however it happens, and I have to admit he makes
such an attractive
cadaver,” he went on, sounding almost
“As my lord says.”
“Hmm.” Yithar’s feet turned towards
him, now, and there was a long pause; then the lord snorted and abruptly turned
away. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go fetch the horses.”
Kairic spent a long minute gentling the horses before
he untied them; they were unsettled by the violence and the scent of blood, and
as he murmured soothingly to them he could feel his own racing heart slow as
well. By the time they were calm, so was he. For a moment, he considered
flinging himself on one of them, scattering the rest and sprinting for the
he thought, carefully not glancing back over his
shoulder. Not yet. No matter how wilfully blind he is, he’s got to be
suspicious of me still. Go along with him, wait for a better moment and make it
When he turned, Yithar was watching him, sword in hand, and he
barely managed to hide his shudder. Oh yes. Not now. Not yet.
plastered a blank look on his face, bowed, and held the stirrup for his
Once the sound of hoofbeats had died away, Rathan
cautiously opened one eye. His face was pressed into the muck, he could barely
breathe, he’d been holding his breath anyway in an effort to better imitate his
own dead body... and he was damned if he was going to move before he was well
and truly certain that his crazed cousin was far, far away.
footsteps and snapped his eye shut again before registering that they were
coming from the wrong direction.
“Sir?” a shaking voice whispered.
“Major? Are... are you alive?”
Only the knowledge of exactly what was in
the mud trying to flow into his mouth stopped him from gasping in relief.
Lifting his head, he looked long and hard in the direction Yithar had ridden
away in before turning to the trembling scout. “Did anyone else survive?” he
“Just Veleran, I think, sir,” the scout told him, pointing
back into the trees. “We were both scouting trails when-- when, uh, it happened,
and I think Lord Yithar never saw us. We didn’t want to both come out at once in
case he wasn’t really gone.”
“And you drew the short straw,” Rathan
finished dryly. The scout managed a shaky smile for a
“Rock-leaf-knife, sir. I always lose.” Staring around at what was
left of his squadmates, he lost the smile quickly. “I should check the others.
If someone else is feigning--“
“They won’t be,” the major told him
grimly, levering himself up out of the muck. “One of his own men went straight
down, stone dead from just a scratch. That sword kills with a
“Sir, if it does that, how did you
swiped gory muck off his face, eyes distant as he remembered a desperate, hissed
whisper in his ear and the feel of a sword rasping along the scale armour under
his tunic.’Play dead if you want to live through this!’
had help,” he said shortly. “One of his guardsmen kept his wits about him and
managed to both fake my death and prevent his own.”
“Oh.” The scout’s
eyes were wide. “Well done him.”
“I’ve a heavy debt to pay that human if
we both live through this mess,” Rathan admitted, recovering his sword. “Do we
still have our horses?”
“Yes sir. They only took the ones they came
“Good. Call Veleran in and fetch the six freshest horses; leave
the others tied, we’ll be coming back as fast as we can.”
“Where are we
The Major shot him an exasperated look. “Bortalik, man! I’ll
be heading straight for the Council house, and while I do that one of you
will be doing the rounds of every temple you can reach.”
* * * *
“So that’s it?” Wufei asked. Half asleep on two cushions next to him,
Karthan yawned, craned his neck to see the screen, and nodded.
The channel between the large island and the beach where
the Order of Torframos were setting up camp was wide enough for details to be
lost in the distance, but still narrow enough that Wufei could see the lights of
a small city springing up in the gathering dusk. It seemed to be a compact, neat
little port, and the vague hint of docks he could make out seemed far more
extensive than necessary for a town that size. Then again, Uthmar had said
something about Marfangers being ‘legendary seamen’...
“We made fairly
good time here. I’ll be glad to get out of this chair, though.”
my scintillating personality not enough to keep you amused?”
two of my harness straps are directly over spots where that damned priest got
all knife-happy, no,” Wufei told him dryly, making Nataku kneel and reaching to
unsnap the buckle. “Also not when I’m doing almost everything
“Wufei!” Karthan jerked upright, scowling. “Damn it, the
whole point of me insisting on riding with you was so I’d be here if you needed
bandages changed or anything! Why didn’t you mention it so I could get some
extra padding in there or something?”
Wufei looked thoughtful. “Do you
know, I didn’t think of it?”
“So you sat there the whole time, griping at
your harness, instead?”
“Apparently so. Oops?”
“Watch it, you, or
I’ll tell Naiya you’re neglecting yourself.”
“Just don’t tell Vaijon as
well,” Wufei said, opening the hatch.
“I would have thought you’d rather
have him change your bandages than her?”
“Naiya won’t change my
bandages,” the pilot told him dryly, standing up carefully and wincing as he
stretched. “She’ll just turn her back while someone else does it, and lecture me
the whole time. Vaijon, however, will change the bandages, wince every time he
thinks he’s hurt me, and lecture himself
the whole time for not riding
along and making sure I was properly looked after. While the last day or so has
been a welcome change in his personality, that doesn’t mean I appreciate
Plans for the next couple of days
were discussed around the Champions’ campfire that night.
ship can get us up to Belhadan in about ten days,” Arwen began, cradling his mug
in both hands.
“Really?” Vaijon blinked. “Ah, your pardon, Sir Arwen, but
isn’t it over two hundred leagues from here?”
“It is,” the Champion
nodded, “but a Marfanger captain who can’t make twenty leagues a day is a
Marfanger looking for a new ship. That’s if they’re only sailing during daylight
-- if they sail at night they can double that distance, and they
“But we’re not after planning to do that?” Cord
“Right,” Uthmar grinned in his beard. “That’s when Wufei and
Nataku will be catching up to us, and getting some sleep.”
“Catching up? That would involve falling behind. Surely you jest. Still, I did
wonder how you were going to explain us.”
“We’re not going to yet,” the
dwarf told him dryly, one eyebrow heading for his hairline. “Nataku can sustain
twenty leagues a day?”
“More like forty, underwater, if she’s making sure
not to cause disturbances on the surface.” Wufei shrugged, doing some quick
calculations in his head. Probably even faster, given that I won’t have to
worry about OZ picking us up on sonar! Leagues seem to be the same length as the
old measurements back on Earth, about three miles, so that means Belhadan is
roughly six hundred miles from here... allowing for the ship’s route not being a
“I assume you intend for us to stay out of sight, and on
land we’d be running into coastal villages all the time, so underwater it is. If
we were flying
, however, and knew where to go, we could make it to
Belhadan in one day.”
“...I didn’t know she could fly,” Uthmar finally
said, both eyebrows attempting to become one with his scalp.
Terrin put in cheerfully. “I actually got to see
coughed, hauling his own eyebrows down to approximately their usual locations by
sheer force of will. “Er. You’re right, Wufei, we were planning for you to stay
out of sight on the trip if it was possible. Once we reach Belhadan, though,
we’ll be contacting the chapter house and revealing your presence. We’ll get a
lot of attention on the way overland to Axe Hallow and the motherhouse,” he
added, grimacing, “but it can’t be helped. The Empire of the Axe is far more
densely populated than the Purple Lord lands, so keeping you secret from the
general populace won’t be feasible any more.”
“I gather lords like Yithar
are the reason we aren’t hiring a Purple Lord ship?” Wufei asked.
one of the reasons, yes.”
“Plus the fact that the Purple Lords don’t get
on with anyone, including each other, so you never know which one is plotting
what with whom,” Gunnar put in, leaning back rather stiffly against a tree. “And
they really don’t like the militant orders, so we’d get price-gouged from here
to the Wind Plains. And
, their ships stink.”
“Both,” he grinned. “A Purple Lord ship would be doing
well to get us up to Belhadan before the snow flies.”
“Let’s not hire
“Let’s not,” Arwen agreed dryly. “So. Uthmar or I, along with
a few of the men, will head across to Marfang Island at first light and find a
ship; there are a couple of coastal villages just south-east of here who make
money ferrying people across, so getting there won’t be a problem. Wufei, if you
wouldn’t mind taking Nataku and playing least-in-sight while the ship picks the
rest of us up, that would be appreciated; and, given that you can travel as fast
as you say, you’d best wait until dusk tomorrow before coming out of hiding and
following along. There’s enough ship traffic along here during the day that
you’ll likely have a hard time finding an opportunity to get underwater with
nobody in sight, not to mention that Refuge Harbour is close enough for a
lookout with a good spyglass to get a clear view of this shore -- and with the
Wild Wash hradani just a little way to the north-west, they’ll be
“How will Wufei be able to track us, though?” Naiya asked,
“If Karthan’s on the ship with you,” Wufei shrugged, “I can
follow along. Plus, since he and I seem to be able to speak over our link no
matter how far apart we are, we’ll be able to stay in touch without having to
risk actually meeting up on the way. I can stay underwater until you’ve got the
people in Belhadan as prepared as they’re going to get for our
“Might I travel with you, S-- Wufei?” Vaijon put in, a
little diffidently. “In case you need assistance, or company?”Ten
days alone in a small metal box with Reformed Vaijon. Dear gods.
very proud of the fact that his voice didn’t waver, and he was fairly sure that
nothing of his reaction had shown on his face. “I’ll be fine, Vaijon, really. I
can still talk to Karthan, and I’m sure he
--“ A quick jerk of his head
upwards indicated who he meant. “--will pop in for a chat.” Though he hasn’t
been around since we left the temple site this morning. I wonder why?
“Besides,” he added quickly as Vaijon drew breath, “I still don’t know what
triggered the link between Karthan and myself; I don’t want to find out that
just carrying someone else in the cabin with me will do it.”
not going to do any experimenting with that right now,” Uthmar agreed. “Or,
probably, ever. No, Wufei will be fine, and it’s not as if he can’t come find us
if he does need something.”
With that idea shot down, talk -- thankfully
-- turned in other directions.
* * * * *
“How could you nickname
my brother Sexy Zechsy
?!” Relena wailed as soon as she came in the
“Because I didn’t know he was your brother at the time!” Duo
protested from his seat at the table. “And like I said, he is! Believe me hon,
if I’d known he was your brother my appreciation of his ass would have been
“You’re not helping!”
two talking about?” Quatre asked, eyes wide.
“Turns out Zechs is Relena’s
brother Milliardo,” Heero explained dryly, dumping a stack of plates in front of
Duo. “--Pass these out, please. Apparently he thinks he’s not good enough to be
her brother or something, so Duo is planning to beat some sense into
“I’m not going to actually hit him,” Duo added hastily as Relena
looked about to panic. “Of course, these plans may change if he stays stubborn
and makes ‘Lena cry.”
“I still don’t know if this is the right thing to
do,” Relena said miserably, sitting down next to him. “Maybe... maybe he’d be
happier leaving again. I haven’t seen him since I was tiny...”
yeah, maybe he would,” Duo shrugged. “Thing is, he doesn’t actually know that,
does he? He doesn’t know what sticking around and being your brother would be
like. Plus, he’s kinda basing his decision to leave again on what would be best
, right? You and he disagree on what would be best, and he doesn’t
have the right to make that decision on his own anyway. So we tell him to be
your brother on a trial basis or something. Give it six months or a year and
then see how you both feel about it.”
Quatre blinked, clearly still stuck
on an earlier part of the conversation. “...Sexy Zechsy is Relena’s
“Oh, Quatre, not you too!”
Trowa nodded wordlessly, passing her a glass of juice.
don’t believe this,” she sighed.
“I think you two were supposed to be
planning, not discussing Zechs’s relative sexiness and whether or not his
nickname is accurate,” Heero said dryly.
“I’m not saying it’s not
,” Relena protested, “I’m just-- um.” She blushed.
it, ‘Lena, you’ve checked out his rear too,” Duo said in a low voice, grinning
“I have done no such thing!” There was a brief pause as her
blush deepened; then she sighed, one corner of her mouth lifting into an
embarrassed smile. “His shoulders, on the other hand, did give me a few
interested moments. And if you ever
reveal that to anyone
I’ll-- I’ll-- I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll think up something and it will
“Lips are sealed!” he said hastily, lifting his hands in
surrender. “Not a word. I heard nothing.”
back, staring dully at the ceiling. His leg throbbed, his headache was bad
enough to be giving him little sparkles in front of his eyes, he was certain he
could feel every one of his seven broken ribs, and yet somehow he couldn’t work
up the energy to push the call button and ask for painkillers. It wasn’t as if
it really mattered, after all...
He heard the door swing open, but didn’t
bother to look. It was only going to be a nurse, or maybe the lunch
“You sure?” a familiar voice asked. “Okay. Q, you stay here,
okay? I’ll start, you can come in later. Oh, sweet! He’s in traction! Yo,
Zechsy, you can’t get away from me now!”
When he looked towards the door,
Zechs discovered with trepidation that no, he hadn’t been experiencing some sort
of auditory hallucination. Duo Maxwell really was in his hospital room, grinning
“...What happened to you?” he asked, seeing the
“I’d say ‘you did’, except you had nothing to do with this,”
Duo said cheerfully, swinging over and flinging himself into the visitor’s
chair. “It was some stairs, mostly... and a ladder, and then the stairs again,
and then I had surgery, which is why you find me here before you with my style
slightly restrained by this brace. Only slightly, though.”
“Thanks to you feeling all emo and unworthy,
sunshine, I got woken up at stupid o’clock this morning by a hysterical phone
call from one Relena Peacecraft, who happens to be your sister and also -- now
this bit is important -- my friend. I do not appreciate people upsetting my
friends, much less making them wake me up at stupid o’clock. I’m a healing boy
and need my rest. So! We’re going to discuss this like the mature adults we
aren’t, and you are going to bow to the wisdom of my arguments and realise that
your sister loves you, you moron, therefore you leaving is not
thing for her, I don’t care what you think. You might as well give in now,
‘cause I’m not going anywhere until you do.”
going to say anything or just capitulate wordlessly?”
“...Do you ever
have to breathe
“So I’ve got good lung capacity. It’s a gift.”
Duo peered closer at Zechs’s face, checking his eyes. “How much painkillers are
He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “Obviously not
KRASHNARK: I don’t even get an appearance this
MEL: You’re busy.
CHRISTY: You have worshippers to sort
MEL: Plus, we currently have enough separate plot threads going that
it’s a bit hard to progress all
of them in one chapter. We’ll be weaving
a few of them back together soon, it’ll be better then.
CHRISTY: Awww, Loki got a line! He wants two words, Mel. Type “yap
yap” for him.
HEERO: You’re giving the dog
KRASHNARK: More lines than me
MEL: Hey, he’s not in
the main story. Deal.
CHRISTY: He could be! He could steal the whole fic.
Yessums could, Loki! Oo could steal da whole fic! Izzums cute doggie? Oo wanna
be da puppy in da plans? Izzums gonna be in da fic?
DUO: ...okay, who put
the drugs in Christy’s cola this time?
WUFEI: There’s a puppy in your fic
plans? What horrendous fate is waiting for it?
MEL: We don’t torture
, Wufei, geez! Just bishies. We have some
DUO: So you’re planning to use the puppy to torture us,
[Heero looks nervous.]
CHRISTY (unconvincingly): We wouldn’t
do that. Really.
QUATRE: Well, now we know what to watch out for.
MEL: One thing. For one of you to watch out for. Yep,
you’re really prepared now. *snicker*
WUFEI: Given that I’m
apparently being left alone on a shore frequented by hradani brigands, I plan to
watch out anyway.
[Mel grins evilly. We probably don’t need to specify
the ‘evilly’ part, our readers understand us by now.]
MEL: Oh, you’ll be
. Trust us.