Demon of Justice Chapter 35
"Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!"
You’re actually starting another chapter immediately after finishing the last?
MEL: Christy will spank me or something if we
MEL: Don’t blame me, that’s all Christy. She
actually has macros to spank people with in World of Warcraft. You should see
raid chat some time.
CHRISTY: Hey, it’s a luck thing. I never start a
boss pull without spanking the tank.
MEL: ...and the DPS, and the other
healers, and possibly the boss...
CHRISTY: ...Yeah, I do spank the boss
on occasion. But our guildies like it! Suxxy gets upset if I don’t spank him
DUO: I stand by my earlier statement. Kinky.
we’re a kinky guild.
MEL: Only mildly kinky. We don’t ERP as
naughty sheep or anything.
CHRISTY: There’s always Bet and his turtle
MEL: Which he confines to turtle mobs. He doesn’t ask guildies to
dress up or anything, so it’s okay.
CHRISTY: Bully was doing sheep last
MEL: You’re not helping me portray the rest of the guild as sane
human beings, C-chan.
CHRISTY: Why were you trying to? Sanity’s
MEL: You have a point there!
WUFEI: ...Suddenly I
remember why we used to fear the days these two would start a new chapter
right after the last. Writing that way makes them even stranger than
DUO: I don’t think the word ‘normal’ applies to them at the best
of times. I think I wanna join that guild, though! Christy, can I copy your
Demon of Justice
“Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!”
want me to call a nurse or something?” Duo asked cheerfully. “Actually
physically beating you up is not part of my current plan, so I don’t mind
getting you some more painkillers.”
“That wasn’t my point,” Zechs sighed
again. “If I had sufficient painkillers, I would be asleep and not have
to deal with this.”
“Suck it up, princess. Been there, done that, wrote
the book on it. --Oh, wait, if you’re Relena’s brother then you really are a
prince, right? Suck it up, princey boy!”
“Yet another reason not to
return to my former life,” Zechs pointed out. “Sanc doesn’t need another heir
“So you don’t go back to being Millardo
Peacecraft,” Duo shrugged. “You can stick around being Zechs Merquise, or maybe
take a new identity like you planned, just without the leaving part. Or you
renounce the throne in favour of your sister, whatever. That’s handleable. What
isn’t handleable is you emo-ing off into the sunset and upsetting Relena, okay?
She does care about you.”
“She doesn’t need me!”
to differ. It’s not like she has any other family left, is it? And she’s kind of
short on genuine friends, too. She could really use your support.”
apparently has you; I’d expect you to claim that you’re better than a dozen
other friends.” Zechs blinked, thinking about that statement, and looked
quizzically at Duo. “How did that happen, by the way?”
kinda baffled myself,” Duo grinned. “It works, though. Still...” He rubbed his
nose and grimaced, sobering. “I might not always be around, you know? We -- all
of us Gundam pilots -- look, this may not happen, okay, so don’t tell your
sister yet, but there’s a chance we might all... leave. Which would pretty well
wipe out most of your sister’s close friends, all right? She’s gonna need you
even more if that happens.”
“How is it that I’m not allowed to ‘emo off
into the sunset’, but you are?”
“’Cause you’d be emo-ing away from
something good and towards nothing, and we’d be emo-ing away to somewhere we’re
needed, okay? Also, there would be less emo and more explosions.”
not going to ask,” Zechs decided eventually. “I think I’m afraid of the answers
“You’re demonstrating excellent judgement there. Now apply some
of that excellent judgement to your current situation, i.e. your sister is your
sister no matter how unworthy you feel. She disagrees about the unworthy bit,
“That’s not her decision to make,” Zechs snapped.
it is. Or at the very least, it’s a shared decision,” Duo snapped back.
“Neither of you gets to make choices for the other here. And, Zechsy, just a
heads-up? You’d better make the right choice, ‘cause you do not want me to chase
you down and go Shinigami on your ass.”
“Didn’t you just say you were
planning to leave? That’s going to make chasing me inconvenient.”
think we’ll be able to get Relena settled first. Not, y’know, wanting to
abandon her without a support structure,” Duo said pointedly. “Plus, even
if you wait for us to leave and then sneak off, she’s perfectly capable of
chasing you down herself. There would be less ass-beating than I’d provide, but
a lot more big blue eyes and wobbly bottom lips. Trust me, that’s worse. You do
not know fear until you wake up in what you thought was a safe house and find a
pink limousine outside your front door.”
Is he ever going to shut up?
mention that I’ll be bringing friends if I have to track you down for
ass-beating? It’s a very nice ass, by the way, we’re all agreed that it’s just
about perfect even if we have to regard it platonically now that we know you’re
Relena’s brother. It’s a shame, really, I used to pass boring hours on stakeout
imagining how you’d react if Une ever groped you-- you can’t tell me she didn’t
appreciate it-- but now I have to regard you as sort-of a brother, which makes
ass-appreciation kind of creepy. Anyway, as I was saying, friends. Multiple
friends. Multiple friends with weapons and awesome skills at ass-beating while I
sit back and rest my knee so Heero doesn’t get all disappointed and pouty at me
again. Did you know he can do pouty? He seems to have adopted it as an alternate
strategy now that he’s learned not to give me orders, and he’s actually fairly
good at it, though I think he’d be horrified if he realised what he was
Stubbornly silent, Zechs stared at the ceiling tiles. Surely, if
he could ignore the babbling Gundam pilot for long enough, Duo would give up and
“Oh, and if you’re trying to wait me out, I should warn you that
I don’t bore easily.”
“Nope, I can go on with
stream-of-consciousness nagging for hours if I need to! It’s easy,
really, I just kind of disconnect my filters from between brain and mouth and
let ‘er rip, and yes I do have filters normally--“
“--which is proven by the fact that if I’d said half the
things I was thinking to Heero when we first met two years ago, he woulda shot
me then and there and I never woulda had the chance to see your ass. Did you
ever notice that you’ve got a dimple in your right butt cheek, but not the left?
Those pants you used to wear all the time were tight enough to show it off
nicely. I thanked God for your tailor every night. Well, not every night,
just when I’d had a chance to check out his work again. Getting back to the
topic at hand--“
“--i.e., you being all gloomy and
feeling unworthy of your sister, have you considered that if you emo your way
into the sunset, you never will be worthy of her? Lady Une’s grasped the
whole concept of redemption through good deeds, you know; I’m pretty sure she’s
heading up the Preventers to earn forgiveness, whether she consciously
recognises it or not. Actually, I really doubt she consciously recognises it,
especially since the person she most wants forgiveness from is dead. Your
sister, however, is alive and kicking and loves you, aren’t you
Seething, Zechs clenched his teeth and continued trying to glare
a hole in the ceiling tile directly above him.
“Wow, look at that
expression! Anyone would think you weren’t happy about that. What’s not to like
about having a sister like Relena? She’s pretty, has good taste apart from her
inclinations towards pink -- which I’m getting her away from, you can thank me
later -- gets on with practically everyone, is actively working to improve the
world, and is generally a pretty cool person. Okay, so she’s kinda naïve, and a
politician, but nobody’s perfect; and as politicians go, she’s a decent one.
Doesn’t take bribes, follows her convictions instead of pandering to financial
interests, that sort of thing. The gushing about Total Pacifism gets a bit
tired, but she seems to be toning that back too.”
expression. If he didn’t react, didn’t give Duo any feedback, surely this would
“Man, you’re determined. Anyone would think you actually
had a hope of winning. By the way, I do realise that browbeating you into making
the decision I want is pretty hypocritical given that I just got done telling
you that nobody gets to make unilateral decisions about someone else’s
happiness, but I can live with that, so don’t bother trying to use that as an
argument against me.”
“Welp, I figure I’ve
softened you up a bit, it’s time for Round Two. I mentioned I bring friends,
didn’t I?” Rubber tips squeaked on the flooring as Duo heaved himself up on his
crutches and headed for the door.
As if Winner is going to be able to
convince me if you can’t, Zechs thought contemptuously. The sweet-faced
blond wouldn’t be able to take being ignored for long.
“Okay, babe, your
Hesitant footsteps approached the bed.
Zech’s head snapped up and he gaped in shock as his sister’s
eyes met his.
* * * * *
Akar looked around the... well, it
certainly wasn’t a sacrificial chamber any more. He’d taken a sledgehammer to
the black granite slab himself, and one of the other hradani worshippers had
turned out to work on what passed for a road gang here in Navahk; he’d carried
the pieces away to be shattered further into gravel and used to repair potholes.
It seemed like a fitting end for them.
Now he just had to figure out what
to replace the slab with. Did the temple even need an altar? Krashnark
had made it plain he didn’t want sacrifices-- well, not of virgin maidens, at
The new-made priest sighed. He was supposed to be Krashnark’s
chief worshipper here, the one who led the others in the correct forms and
rituals, and he had no idea what they were!
I could ask...
Akar’s ears flattened as he shied away from that thought. Hradani just didn’t
have anything to do with gods, Dark or Light, unless it was to swear by
their names. Bad enough that he’d actually come to a temple to worship one,
worse that he and the rest had followed that damned human priest into some
fairly dark paths... worse still that he’d said yes to becoming a priest
And yet... it had been the god himself who’d asked. He’d looked
at Akar, into him, and asked. How could he say no?
All right, he
could have. He’d felt the option there, and if he was frank with himself he’d
admit that having the option to say no made him a lot happier about saying yes.
Didn’t mean he was going to be very happy about it, though.
this isn’t getting me any further towards working out what to do next, is
it? he told himself grumpily. I need to
...Which means I need to figure out how to ask, curse
Taking a deep breath, Akar looked around, ears flattening. Nobody
else was around, for now, so if he was going to do it at all he figured now was
Grumbling to himself under his breath, he knelt and closed his
Krashnark’s attention was
pulled away from the temple he was inspecting by the tentative mental call. He
wasn’t enjoying what he was finding out about the state of his church and the
quality of his worshippers, so a prayer from the one priest he was currently
happy with was a welcome reprieve.
=*Yes, Akar? What is
...Begging your pardon, m’lord, and I’m not wanting to
disturb you, but--
The god found himself snorting incredulously.
=*What’s all this ‘my lord’ and ‘pardon’? You’re a hradani, Akar, I was under
the impression you only speak formally to people you don’t
There was a pause, and then Akar’s thoughts were back, a
little less tense: That’s true and all, Krashnark, but I’m also Navahkian.
We’ve gotten used over the last few years to our overlords wanting us to
=*Ha! Well put.*= Krashnark grinned. =*Well, since
you’ve got my attention, what do you need? And never mind all the frills, I
think I’d prefer you to speak plainly.*=
Ah. I will then.
Ah... Another pause, and then a faint, not-meant-to-be-heard ‘Curse it!’
Sir, I don’t know how to be a priest! You chose me, so I’ll do my best for
you, but what is it I’m meant to be doing? How should we worship you? How
do we serve you? What do I tell the others when they ask me what they
=*Be yourselves, mostly,*= Krashnark told him,
sending a little of his amusement and pleasure along the connection. =*I
didn’t choose you to change you, Akar; you’re fine just the way you are. I don’t
need you all to sit in a room somewhere and sing my praises. What I do
want you to do is dedicate yourselves to me on the battlefield. Call on me for
strength; you’ve got courage enough of your own, I think, but others can call on
me for that too. Cut down your enemies and give me a thought then. Thank me if
you think I’ve helped. Each prayer to me, each moment of battle, every enemy you
defeat in My name -- whether you do so publicly or in secret -- is a moment of
devotion. Tell the others so.*=
Then why did your last priest have
this bloody huge useless temple built down here?! Akar sputtered. Er--
that came out wrong.
Krashnark laughed out loud, and felt Akar’s
relief as he heard it. =*No, Akar, that came out just fine. He built it
because he wanted it, and I wasn’t paying attention at the time. Use it
for meetings; when you know there’s a battle coming, call My worshippers in and
bless them in My name. You can do that, you know.*=
touch cringed for a moment, and Krashnark imagined his ears flattening. I’m
not sure I’ll be any good at that part...
=*You don’t have to be
fancy about it. Call on me, and you’ll know what to do.*=
Uh, yes. What should I
do about Mathel? The, um, girl.
=*The one who was going to be
sacrificed?*= Krashnark’s mental voice had darkened, and he felt Akar
flinch, but the hradani didn’t withdraw. =*How is she?*=
enough. That bastard didn’t have time to do anything serious, and, well, she’s a
hradani same as the rest of us; she’s healing fine. We, ah, haven’t been keeping
her prisoner or anything, but she’s still here. I don’t think she wants to go
=*Ask her why not,*= the god suggested. =*If it’s
something you can put right, do it. If not, let her stay. I may have a task or
two for her later.*=
Conversation with Akar
finished, Krashnark returned to considering his other temples.
one, he thought sourly. Not even one of those priests is a good
match for me. A couple of the minor acolytes, certainly, there were one or two
with a bit of a spark, and some of the worshippers had potential, but otherwise?
I know I have potentials out there. Akar is proof enough,
and four more of those hradani heard me even when I wasn’t specifically speaking
to them! So why are there hardly any potentials in the rest of my church?
I used to find nearly all my Champions there! Was three hundred years of neglect
really enough to change it that much?
What is so different now
that worshippers who match me aren’t coming to my church?
back, Krashnark tried to pinpoint anything that had changed. Is it that the
wrong people have been manoeuvring themselves into positions of power? Are they
making it less attractive to the mortals who match me?
are the wrong people. My priests are no longer mine in any way that
matters. And yet... looking back, they’re just like the ones I used to have. The
ones that bored me, even though they did match me.
So the church
hasn’t changed that much, but... the mortals who match me
* * * * *
By mid-morning, Wufei was already
Nataku was as well hidden as he could manage, lying down in a dip
with camouflage netting and cut brush arranged over her; it wasn’t going to be
as effective against close-range observation as it had been in the past against
satellite photography and air searches, but it would do well enough so long as
nobody actually walked right up to her. The port city on Marfang Island was
interesting to watch for a while, but he didn’t dare observe it too closely in
case, as Arwen had said, some lookout with a good spyglass was checking this
stretch of coast for lurking hradani raiders. This left him with nothing to do
except take a short walk in the Shipwood -- short, because he didn’t want to
either get too far from Nataku or discover that today was the day foresters
picked to select a new area to gather timber from -- and there was only so much
to look at in old-growth forest with limited underbrush.
He also hadn’t
thought to inquire whether or not there was a local equivalent of poison ivy,
and didn’t want to find out there was by pushing through a stand of it. Just
because he hadn’t run into it yet didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
sticky sap from his fingers, he checked Nataku’s camouflage for the third time
before reluctantly concluding that he couldn’t do much to improve it. He turned
away to make yet another circuit of the little mini-valley, and suddenly found
his mouth watering at a faint, tangy scent.
...Citrus? It wasn’t
quite lemon, or grapefruit, but something in between.
Come to think of
it, he hadn’t had anything like citrus since he’d arrived in this
I can always consider this scurvy prevention, he decided,
and set off to track down the smell.
I wonder if
there used to be a garden here? he thought, sizing up his discovery twenty
minutes later. That was certainly a possible explanation for why half a dozen of
the small, shrubby trees were clustered together in the same area, but on the
other hand they were completely surrounded by huge hardwoods that had obviously
been there for a long, long time. Or perhaps a bird ate some fruit and spread
the seeds. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
What did matter was
that although he didn’t recognise the fruit studded along the thorny branches,
they were clearly some sort of citrus. They looked a little like small limes,
peeled like mandarins, segmented easily, and when he cautiously tasted a little
of the juice he decided that the flavour was rather like pink grapefruit shot
I could definitely get to like these, he decided,
finishing the first one and taking off his shirt to use as a makeshift bag. I
hope they’re commonly grown! I’ll take all the ripe ones just in case, though --
I’d kick myself if I passed up the chance and it turns out they’re not
Moving around to pick from the other side of the first tree,
he stopped to check an area where several parallel cuts had been made in the
bark. Sap had dribbled down to congeal in a sticky mass, and it looked as if
globs of it had been scraped away.
Knife cuts, not claw marks, he
decided, tentatively feeling at the dribbled sap. This has mostly hardened,
sealing the cuts; I don’t know how long that takes, but I would guess at least
several days. I don’t see any tracks. Why would someone collect sap from a
citrus tree, though? Is it used for medicine? The only parallels he could
think of were willow bark, used for the aspirin-like painkiller found in it, and
Opium’s definitely not citrus, though, he thought
dryly. Sniffing carefully at the pungent sap -- which was probably how he’d
found the trees in the first place, he realised -- he eventually shrugged,
giving up on the puzzle for now. All I smell is citrus. I’d think it was
children playing some sort of game, or gathering sap to use as chewing gum, if
these weren’t out in the middle of nowhere!
I’ll ask Karthan and
the others later.
* * * * *
“S? Is your boy bothering you
about this ridiculous idea, too?”
“It’s not exactly ridiculous,” S
protested, looking up from his computer. “We did tell them we could probably
duplicate the effect, you know.”
J snorted, crossing his arms. “Just
because we can do it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea! We also told them we
couldn’t duplicate whatever happened next.”
“I get the distinct
impression they’re planning to ‘wing it’,” S said dryly.
“And you think
it’s a good idea to let them?”
“Then why are you helping
S sighed, turning away from his keyboard and giving J his full
attention. “Because if I don’t help them, they’re fully capable of trying to do
this by themselves. Do you think they can build one of these things and time the
energy surge precisely enough for it to work as intended?”
again. “Not a chance in a million.”
“Which means they’ll die.” He
met J’s eyes for a long moment, until the other scientist looked away. “The best
I can do for them is to make sure they understand all the risks -- which they do
-- and then help them do whatever it is they choose. Well, they’ve
“But this is insane!” J burst out. “The absolute best
that’s going to happen is that they end up in a strange world, which
won’t be the one Chang is in, and have to deal with whatever they find
with no allies, no support system, nothing! How is this a useful course of
“At least they’ll be doing something,” S shrugged. “And... well,
Trowa indicated they may have a way to track Chang.”
J blinked. “Did he
say what it was?”
“Then how are we supposed to set anything
up to help them?!”
“I’m sure they’ll let us know at some
“Which will probably be too late for us to incorporate whatever
it is into the main design!” J huffed angrily, turning away. “I’m going to call
Heero and give him a piece of my mind. Withholding critical information, he
knows better--” The door slammed, cutting his mutters off.
gently, turning back to his computer. “Well, that got him back on task.
Now for those power curve calculations...”
* * * * *
“Sis? Are you
Chemalka Orfressa looked towards the door of her quarters, and
smothered a laugh as she saw her older brother peering in around the edge of it.
“No, I’ve got nothing much happening right now. What is it,
“What would you need to make the Saram River
“The Saram?” Chemalka’s gaze went distant for a moment, then
snapped back into focus. “It’s not prone to flooding, and it’s not due for
another for a while yet. Why?”
“Um. I meant,” Korthrala started again,
“what would you neeeed, to make the Saram rise?”
waggling your eyebrows at me?”
“What are-- oh, get in here,
you look silly peeking around the door like that. Brother, are you actually
trying to bribe me to warp weather patterns?!”
depends. Would it work?” Korthrala looked sheepish.
“Sit,” she told him,
pointing commandingly to a chair that appeared out of nothing behind him. “And
talk. What is so important that you need this river to flood for, hm?”
sighed and sat, hands clasped between his knees. “One of My captains needs to
get a message to Hurgrum, fast. He can’t take the Spear river to get close to
the city, because of the Purple Lords’ embargo on foreign ships, so he’s going
up the Bellwater to the Saram.”
“One of your captains?” she
interrupted, surprised. “As in, a sea captain? He’s taking a blue-water ship up
“See, you understand!” he said enthusiastically,
gesturing. “The Saram isn’t navigable by a keeled ship above Derm, it’s got too
many shallows, so when Evark finds that out he’s going to have to make port at
Derm and take Brandark cross-country. But that’s too slow, and Brandark’s really
not well enough for a cart ride, so if you could just make the Saram flood a
little...” He trailed off, looking at her hopefully.
the headwaters of the Saram navigable by a blue-water ship will take more than a
little flood,” she said dryly. “I’m not going to warp weather patterns
over half of Norfressa for the next month and get Toragan angry at me for
drowning one of his forests just to speed up one message!”
“But it’s an
“What is it, then?”
“I don’t know.” At
her look, he spread his hands. “Really! I don’t know, exactly, just that it’s
something to do with Sharna. It’s one of those ones where you can feel which
mortal task is important but not why, you know?”
“I don’t work with
mortals, so no,” she sighed.
He perked up suddenly. “Oh! And it’s a
“It’s kind of small, and it’s got
a shallow keel! It doesn’t draw nearly as much water as most blue-water ships,
so it really does need just a little flood, honest. Maybe not even a flood, just
a -- a swell?”
It was Chemalka’s turn to sigh. “Let me take another
look,” she told him, eyes going distant again as she examined weather
“Do you know which branch of the Upper Saram your captain is
likely to take if he thinks they’ll be navigable?” she asked eventually, still
gazing off into the mists. “There are a couple of possibilities.”
no,” Korthrala admitted. “I don’t do rivers much. He’ll probably ask the locals
“Hm. Well, I can do you a swell,” she started, and he jumped
“Really? Thank you!”
“Just a swell!” she insisted,
focussing on him. “And I’m only going to do it for part of the Upper
Saram, so you’re going to need to get word to him about which way to go. The
rest is up to him; I hope he finds a good pilot!”
“He will!” he assured
her, then paused. “Huh. I need to... hm...” His own eyes went distant, and he
frowned. “He can’t get there in time... um... she’s busy... I don’t have anyone
in the right place inland. I might have to borrow one of Torframos’s mortals
“Isn’t there somebody Father uses in Derm?” Chemalka asked,
propping her chin on one hand. “I’ve heard Semkirk talk about him. Someone who
can hear most of us?”
“In Derm--? Oh! Him!” Korthrala looked
queasy. “I don’t really want to use him...”
“Well, if you want to
get your captain going up the right river, you might need to.”
well. Thanks so much, Chemalka!”
“Hold it,” she said, stopping him before
he could get out the door. “Now let’s talk about that eyebrow-waggle implied
* * * * *
“Kairic! Get in here!”
By seeming to kill Lord Yithar’s cousin Major Taihar -- and by
being the only one of Yithar’s guardsmen allowed to survive that mess -- Kairic
had earned a promotion to head Yithar’s personal guard. Even before his lord had
picked up the emerald-hilted sword that he now carried everywhere, the human
guardsman would have considered that a very mixed blessing; as things were now,
he considered it a special miracle that he was still alive. He certainly didn’t
plan to keep his new position long enough to find out if it came with a raise.
“We need to head out,” Yithar told him, staring out the window of his
study with one hand on the hilt of his new sword.
“Certainly, my lord. Did you have a particular destination
in mind, or any specific preparations you would like made?”
the half-elf said absently. “Just... that way. Bring everyone.”
lord. I’ll make the preparations and let you know as soon as we’re ready to
leave,” Kairic murmured, bowing himself out.
That sword is giving the
orders, he thought, hurrying down the stairs. Which means we’ll be
heading off to kill someone. Someone the Scorpion wants dead... so, a Champion,
or a priest, or just someone who’s caused Sharna enough trouble to get him mad.
And that means Yithar probably wants all his guardsmen along to get in
their way, and die, to make his job easier.
No thanks. I wasn’t
expecting to get a chance this soon, but now that I’ve got it I’m taking
“Lord Yithar does not wish to be disturbed,” he said curtly to
the guards flanking the bottom of the stairs.
“Yessir,” they muttered,
watching him go. Neither he nor Yithar had given any explanation for their
return minus three guardsmen the day before, him because he hadn’t been able to
think of anything to say and Yithar... well, Yithar probably hadn’t realised
that anyone had noticed. Guardsmen were interchangeable, after all. As a result,
all the other guards and half the servants were on edge.
make this easier, he decided, and abruptly changed directions. Nobody’s
going to bother him to ask for confirmation of anything I choose to
Tyllar, the first of Yithar’s guardsmen to die the day before,
had actually been the only other guard Kairic had considered something of a
friend; given that the easiest way to deflect their lord’s temper was to
redirect it to someone else, they tended to regard each other more as targets
and enemies than comrades in arms.
...And that makes this a lot
easier, Kairic thought grimly. There’s only a couple of people I care
about enough to warn.
“Ah, there you are, lad,” the elderly cook
said, eyes wary until she saw that he was alone. “Does his lordship want
“Not at present, but there is something you need to do,” he
said pleasantly, heading straight past her into the massive pantry. “Come here
for a moment, Alin, I need to explain the details...”
Alone in the dim,
cool room, he turned to her, dropping his voice to a whisper. “I’m running,
Alin, and you need to go too. It’s not safe here any more. Have you got
“A little, but-- Kairic, you know we can’t leave!” Alin hissed.
“We won’t just have to dodge Himself, he’ll have all his relatives and the army
looking for us just out of spite! What in the world is going on?”
got a new sword, Alin. He picked it up yesterday. It has a scorpion on
it, Alin, that’s what’s going on, and that’s why Tyllar and the others didn’t
come home with us last night. It’s sending him after someone, and I don’t think
he can argue with it long enough to come after us himself, but staying here
would be a really bad idea. You and your girls have to get
Alin had stiffened, eyes wide. “...You’ve seen it? It’s not just a
“It’s real. Get out and go somewhere else, Alin; go
anywhere. Just don’t go south-west.”
She was silent a moment,
studying his eyes; then she nodded. “Himself gave me money for provisioning just
last five-day,” she whispered back. “That’ll get us a good long way up the
Spear. Do you need any?”
“I’ll be fine.” On impulse, he hugged her. “Go
“Go well,” she choked out, hugging him back. “Lillinara
light your path, Kairic, and bless you for warning us.”
As he left, she
was calling the two kitchenmaids to her. “Girls, come now, we need to go buy
some things for the lord. Get the donkey cart and fetch your cloaks, hurry lass,
he’s in a bit of a bait...”
That’s taken care of, he thought,
feeling much better. She’s a clever woman and the girls aren’t fools either;
they’ve got at least as good a chance as I do. Time to make the best of mine!
Two remounts, travel light and fast, make the best time I can to... to... where?
Not Bortalik. Not Marfang Island; whatever that sword is after, it’s in that
direction. Which way, then?
...North, he decided. Head out
by the road to Bortalik, then once I’m out of sight swing north and head
cross-country to Sindark. I’ll decide where to next once I’m there; then I can
buy passage down the Darkwater, or up towards Alfroma, or... anywhere, really.
North first, though. I should be able to make a good few leagues before that
twit realises it’s taking me too long to get back to him.
* * * *
Wufei stirred in his sleep, wincing as one of his
few remaining unhealed cuts stung. He was napping in the pilot’s chair, trying
to get some rest before nightfall, but there was something making his dreams
he mumbled, stirring slightly.
He snapped awake,
gasping. Instinct sent his hands flying, bringing screens to life and activating
scans, searching for the threat and finding--
Nothing. The screens were
“Ugh. Was I dreaming?” He relaxed slightly, rubbing at his eyes.
It had seemed so clear for a moment...
there?” he asked slowly, looking around. It’s not Krashnark. I don’t feel
anyone watching me, but that was not my
“What sort of
“That’s not helping! Danger from
Wufei growled under his breath, bringing
more of Nataku’s systems active. I’ll lose the camouflage net, but I’m not
about to take the time to strike it properly. “You can’t just show up and
talk to me? Everyone else seems
“Fine. How about this?”
Sitting Nataku up, Wufei pointed directly north, then began swinging his hand
As he pointed roughly east-north-east, the emotional
surge came again.
“Right. Thank you.” Nataku! Long-range
scan, on this bearing.
**UNIDENTIFIED ENERGY SOURCE**
Sharna. Something he’s doing, anyway. Another
Pulling clear of the camouflage, Nataku stood up and stepped
out of the dip. About to turn towards the beach, Wufei hesitated, turning back
towards the energy reading. If it’s another demon, I
“Gah! Don’t do
“As Duo would say, ‘Danger, Will
Robinson, Danger!’” Wufei muttered, rubbing his abruptly-throbbing
“Heh, yes, he’s-- wait. You
//affirmation// The emotional surge was startlingly
is ridiculous. Krashnark?!”
There was barely a pause before the answer.
“Who’s talking to me?”
The tone of the reply was
rather puzzled. =*What do you mean?*=
“Somebody, I assume a
god, just woke me up and warned me about something Sharna is doing about ten
leagues that way.” Wufei pointed impatiently. “All I’m getting from them is
emotion, though, and I don’t have time for this. Who is it?”
should be able to tell if another god was speaking to you, and I
was rather my reaction too,” Wufei said dryly. “Who’s
What’s my idiot brother up to?*=
“I was hoping you could tell
=*Let me--*= The mental connection hissed for a
moment with anger-- and, Wufei realised with a start, a little fear. =*Ah.
She’s right, Wufei, you need to leave. That’s... My little brother has broken a
couple of rules to do that, and it’s very dangerous.*=
“So I should
just run away and leave whatever that is to do whatever Sharna
=*That is a full-fledged Champion of Sharna, carrying
a sword that is effectively a gateway straight to my brother. If it even
scratches you -- or, I suspect, touches Nataku -- you will die, and I
will not be able to protect you. I think it was originally aimed at someone
else, but it’s been repurposed to hunt you.*= Krashnark’s tone lightened
slightly. =*You really have pissed him off. In any case, since it’s after
you, it’s... not exactly harmless to others, or even close to it, but the
Champion shouldn’t be able to spend much time playing around.*=
do I stop it?”
=*You don’t. A Champion does, or preferably more than
one. You run away. Please.*=
Wufei muttered, turning Nataku towards the ocean. “Now I really have a lot to
talk to Karthan
Fifteen leagues up the
coast, on board the Osprey and heading north at speed, Karthan blinked.
Yes? What is it, Wufei?
Can you get Uthmar and Arwen somewhere
private to talk to them? Something -- multiple somethings -- just came
...I think so, yes. Give me a moment.
Uthmar first, Karthan headed in his direction as fast as he could, considering
that the deck was on at least a fifteen-degree tilt and bucking up and down.
Several of the Order’s lay brothers were scattered around the railing, looking
“Sir Uthmar?” he asked politely, nodding at the ship’s captain in
apology as he interrupted their quiet conversation. “Might I have a word with
you and Sir Arwen in private?”
“In a--” Seeing his face, Uthmar cut
himself off and frowned. “All right. Captain, is there somewhere we could
“Aye, there’s my cabin, but it’s a bit low-ceilinged for even you,”
the halfling shrugged. “Or you could have your talk here, and my men and I will
give you some room.”
“Thank you. Sir Arwen!” the dwarf Champion
Once the human had joined them, Uthmar cocked
his head to bring his fellow Champion down to dwarven head height, then looked
at Karthan. “Well?”
“It’s Wufei. One moment.”
Torframos needs to hear this.
Eyebrows raised, Karthan passed that on.
“Huh. Torframos?” Arwen asked,
glancing upwards. “Are you there?”
=*I am now,*= came the familiar voice
out of nowhere, quieter than normal. =*I gather we’re being
“Possibly,” Karthan shrugged, rolling his eyes. He’s
Will you lend me your voice and ears? This is going to take
long enough even without you having to repeat everything both
The way you’ve ‘borrowed’ before? All right.
the others’ point of view, Karthan blinked a couple of times, then straightened,
expression shifting. “We have a problem,” he said grimly, voice overlaid
strangely with Wufei’s tones. “Or rather, I have a problem, but you
aren’t going to like it either.”
“What is it?” Uthmar asked, frowning
“In order? Sharna has a Champion ten leagues from where I am now.
He or she is carrying a sword that Krashnark called a ‘gateway’, and is
apparently tracking me. I have been told to run away, and am doing so, but
judging from the commotion in the harbour I’m pretty sure at least one lookout
from Marfang Island saw Nataku before I got underwater. And for the icing on the
cake,” he carried on, rolling right over Arwen as the human spat out an oath,
“Orfressa delivered the original warning. From the way Krashnark reacted,
I gather that’s not usual? Oh-- and she knows Duo. Somehow. Even though I’m
fairly sure he’s still in the world I came from.”
=*Grandma warned you?!*=
Torframos squeaked. =*Father said she ‘knew what she was doing’,
but she spoke to you?!*=
“Not in words, but I got the message all
the same. Is this bad?”
Arwen swallowed, paling. “Well, we told you
Orfressa doesn’t notice mortals, but... sometimes she does, and when she does
things can go very badly.”
“Very,” Uthmar agreed quietly,
apparently chewing on a strand of his moustache. “This Champion of Sharna with a
‘gateway’ sword, though, what’s that mean?”
“Krashnark said he broke some rules to make it. Frankly? Orfressa seems pleasant
enough and certainly didn’t do anything to me right away, so I’m far more
worried about the sword.”
=*As you should be,*= Torframos confirmed.
=*G-Orfressa doesn’t do anything without a good reason, whether the rest of us
understand it or not. A sword that could be termed a ‘gateway’, though... there
are only a couple of things I can think of that could be described that way, and
“We should turn back then,” Arwen said grimly.
Torframos made a noncommittal noise. =*Perhaps,*= he said
“Perhaps?!” the human Champion yelped, then glanced around and
lowered his voice again. “Torframos -- my lord -- something like this is what
=*True. However, you’re also needed up north, and if
that sword is actually aimed at Wufei I don’t want to bring him back within
range of it. There are chapterhouses of at least three Orders in Bortalik,
Arwen; you are not the only possible solution to this problem. --No, keep alert
in case anything else is moving, but continue north. Now that I know about this
Champion and the sword, My siblings and I can take steps.*=
* * * *
“He’s getting away!”
The guardsmen flanking the stairway
exchanged nervous glances at the shriek of frustration and rage, then stiffened
to attention as a door slammed open above them. Yithar ran down the stairs,
taking two and three steps at a time, and slammed to a halt between
“Kairic? Kairic!” Panting, he glared around, then focussed
abruptly on the guards. “Why aren’t you getting ready to move
“Uh... my lord?”
swallowed, pointing towards the rear of the manor. “I don’t know, my lord. He
told us you didn’t want to be disturbed, and went that way.”
snarled. “Fine. You, both of you, get ready to leave. Horses, armour, all that
sort of thing,” he added, waving one hand dismissively; the other stayed
clenched tight on the hilt of his sheathed sword. “Tell the others. Get my horse
ready, and be quick about it. I’m going to go find Kairic.”
Kairic was nowhere to be found.
By the time Major
Rathan No’hai Taihar rode in through the gates of his cousin’s manor,
accompanied by a regiment of the Council’s army, four priests, and a Champion of
Lillinara, Yithar was gone. Half of his guard force had been ready to go when he
came storming back from his futile search; the other half had still been
saddling up or scrambling into their armour, and had been left
“You say he went south-west?” Rathan asked again, glaring at the
“Aye, sir. Well, a couple of points west of south-west to be
precise,” the human nodded. “He was in a right bait, too,” the gatekeeper added,
sizing up the major’s mood and deciding that he was unlikely to be offended on
his cousin’s behalf. “Mad as a cut snake an’ yelling about someone ‘getting
“Did he say who, exactly, he was after?”
“Not as such,
sir.” The gatekeeper scratched his chin. “Just ‘hurry up, he’s moving,’ an’ so
on. He was in such a rush, first trying to find Kairic an’ then going after
whoever it was. None of ‘em had remounts, so whoever he’s after’d best not be
far away, the way he was whipping ‘em on.”
new guard commander, as of yesterday,” the human shrugged. “Yeller-haired human,
a bit taller than me. I dunno what happened yesterday, but the lord rode out
with Kairic an’ three others when he went to answer your message, sir, an’ came
back with just him.”
“Ah.” Rathan’s eyes narrowed. “I believe I
know the man. He’s missing?”
“Aye. Rode out on the road to Bortalik about
a candlemark before the lord started looking for him.”
For the first time
that day, Rathan smiled -- smirked, really. “Good to know he still has his wits
Riding back from the beach, Yithar had most
of his attention on the mental conversation he was having. His guardsmen were
straggling behind him, unwilling to approach him while he was in a bad mood,
some gentling along horses that had strained legs or thrown shoes in their
headlong rush to the coast over uneven ground.
=*Damn that demon!
Slippery bastard,*= Sharna raged. =*I want him dead, curse
So do I! Yithar snarled back. There’s only so many
places he can go. We’ll find him.
=*If you’d been faster getting
on the road, instead of wasting time looking for that
You were the one yelling at me to not let Kairic get
=*You should have killed him yesterday! I said no
Well if you weren’t happy with me leaving him alive
you should have said something then! You agreed with me that it would be
convenient if I had a guard captain who knew what was going on.
=*Shut up. Just shut up.*=
silent, pouting. Sharna was silent too, and the half-elf rode along in both
inner and outer silence for a few minutes.
=*Right,*= Sharna said
eventually, calmer now. =*You need to prepare for a longer trip, and leave
before that human can reach Bortalik and bring back forces to... ‘deal’ with
you. Of course, he might not manage it.*=
What do you
The god’s voice positively sniggered. =*Half of the
Council of Lords serve my sisters, or Fiendark, or me. If he talks to the
wrong person first, they’ll take care of him for us.*=
nastily. Oh, I like that idea.
=*Best not depend on it,*=
I won’t. Still, even if he talks to the right person --
wrong person, from our point of view -- and convinces them that he’s not either
insane or lying, any force he can raise can’t possibly make it back here from
Bortalik until late tomorrow--
His tired horse lifted its head as
they left the shade of the Shipwood’s immense trees and moved onto the road. It
knew it was close to familiar stables, warm grain and a rubdown from the grooms,
and its stride lengthened as it turned towards home. Yithar’s gaze lifted too,
anticipating hot mulled wine and a bath.
“My lord?” one of his guardsmen
asked tentatively, kneeing his mount forward to come within earshot. “Were you
expecting your cousin? That’s him, isn’t it, with the army?”
horse squealed as he hauled on the reins, staring in shock. Those were his
cousin’s banners, and a milling crowd of soldiers on horseback, light glinting
off spearheads and swordhilts-- How? He was dead, I saw him, Kairic
Kairic. Damn him for a traitorous bastard, Kairic
=*Move,*= Sharna said abruptly. =*Head
north. Get off the road. There’s a champion of Lillinara down there, and priests
of Korthrala and Orr. I am not going to lose you and that sword because
you hang about here gaping like a fool, get going north!*=
* * * *
< < What’s this nonsense about you having a way to track Chang?
Heero raised an eyebrow at Doctor J’s image on his laptop, then
turned back to the weight calculations the call had interrupted. “It’s not
< < Oh? Then why didn’t you mention it before? >
“It wasn’t relevant.” He grimaced inwardly as he heard the faint
defensive note in his voice, knowing that J would hear it too.
Not relevant?! How is it not relevant? You’re demanding we help blow you out of
this universe, unleashing enough energy to destroy you if we get anything wrong,
and you don’t think telling us about something that might throw our calculations
off is relevant? Whatever device you’ve MacGyvered up has got to be
drawing sufficient power to potentially interfere-- > >
“It’s not a
device,” Heero interrupted, pushing his notes away and turning back to
the laptop. “Duo and Quatre can track Wufei.”
The expected derision
didn’t come. Doctor J raised one eyebrow, mechanical eyes refocussing. < <
Maxwell and Winner? Is this something to do with Winner’s empathy? > > At
Heero’s dumbfounded look, he snorted. < < H quantified it scientifically
years ago, it’s not as if we’re talking about some fake medium using cold
reading to contact the dead on a broadcast show. So Maxwell has something
similar? > >
Heero blinked. “Ah... sort of. He and Wufei have a
< < You’ve confirmed this? > >
< < Hmph. Good enough, I suppose. I don’t see how knowing
where Chang ended up is supposed to help you get to the same universe as him,
though. > >
“They’ve, uh, managed to communicate. We’re planning to
wait until after they talk again, and get Wufei to duplicate the conditions on
his end that actually pulled him into that universe.” Heero closed his mouth
firmly, staring J down and almost daring him to demand further explanations.
I am not going to tell him about gods stalking Wufei and ‘needy’
goddesses popping in to chat to Duo in the kitchen! It’s surprising enough that
he’s willing to accept Quatre’s empathy and Duo being linked to Wufei
J raised the other eyebrow this time. < < Managed to
communicate? Hmm. Interesting. You know, if we’d just known this was going to
happen we could have planned a series of experiments to determine the relative
energy levels of the universes involved... hmm. > >
“If we’d known
this was going to happen, it wouldn’t have happened,” Heero pointed out
< < Hah! True. > > J snorted again. < < Well.
Fine. So we don’t need to allow for some sort of Chang-sensor device in our
calculations, good. Is there anything you’re planning that we do need to
allow for? > >
“Luggage?” Heero shrugged. “We have some rather
extensive plans for things to take with us.”
< < Going prepared?
That’s the most sensible thing you’ve said to me in weeks, > > J grumbled
half-heartedly. < < All right, get us some mass and volume calculations as
soon as you’ve worked them out and we’ll determine the best way to arrange
things. J out. > >
Heero breathed out a sigh of relief and leaned
back in his chair as the com window closed. Phew. Duo’s right, being truthful
while not telling everything is harder than
DUO: Told you so.
HEERO: You were
DUO: Damn straight I was!
CHRISTY: Yes, well, get over it
Duo. You have your moments.
DUO: Oi, I’m basking in earned glory here,
don’t harsh my--
BRANDARK: I notice I got left out again. Do I only get
to show up every second chapter or something?
dead, Brandark, generally you wouldn’t get to show up at
BRANDARK: What?! When did I die?!
MEL: Bahzell’s the
one that’s dead, C-chan, Brandark honey is just depressed and in
CHRISTY: Oh, right, he’s the emo one. I can make him
MEL: Not without my cooperation you can’t. Hush. Sorry, Brandark,
but for the next few days nothing interesting is going to be happening to you,
so we’re not going to spend words to describe it--
drifting in and out of consciousness, emo-ing, that sort of thing.
MEL: --when we need that word count to progress our other
plotlines to the point where we can smash a few more of them together. And he’s
got good reason to be emo-ing, C-chan, really!
CHRISTY: Maybe he should
just go read Norcumi’s porn. Or yours, if you’ve gotten around to finishing
BRANDARK: ...read who’s what?
CHRISTY: It’s really quite good!
It’s amusing, it’s hot, there’s dead hradani sex--
CHRISTY: Okay, not really dead dead, just kinda
[Brandark has an expression on his face that would be
familiar to any of the bishies Mel and Christy keep captive: “Oh lord, I am
going to regret asking this, but it’s like a train wreck and I can’t look
BRANDARK: ...So... in this porn... who am I--
MEL: Looks like somebody read it.
Really? Is it any good?
BAHZELL: *blushing* No!
Your mouth says no, but your ears say yes.
MEL: Just go read it,
Brandark, it’ll give you something to yell at us for. All you bishies need
something to yell at us for...
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