see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Halves: Circles + Chapter 11
"What's with those two...
" Sally muttered.
Wufei glanced at her, tearing his eyes away from the ruins around them.
"What do you mean?" Wufei cast a professional eye over his king and the
prince of Sanq.
"Oh please, don't you see it?" Sally gave him a condescending grin, which
made Wufei bridle. Sally shook her head with a sigh. Wufei could be pretty
obtuse sometimes. Well, most times. Actually, all the time...
She shared a glance with Amon, who had also noticed the odd interaction
between his liege and his consort. And felt Wufei bristle slightly behind
her. Well it was his fault for being so... so-...
Up ahead, Heero gathered Duo's reins before tossing them to a page. There
it was again. Something different than the easy camaraderie that had defined
those two before. A slight smile -from Yuy, that spoke volumes- a shared
look that lasted a bit too long, a silence -from Duo no less!- that curled
into a small grin... But there was something else... Sally tried to hang
the word 'shy' onto a highly proficient killer on one hand and the most
powerful mage of Lin on the other and failed miserably, falling back on
'constrained'. There was a distance between them that had never been there
before. Like they were making an effort to keep three feet of space constantly
between them. It felt quite deliberate, and Sally wondered if they'd had
a falling out, but all the other signs indicated quite the contrary...
Duo was her king but he'd been her friend first, and Sally wondered if
she should be worried.
"Keep your eyes on the surroundings." Wufei snapped, and Sally rolled
her eyes. She could tell by the slight frown above onyx eyes that he'd
instantly regretted his tone - he knew that she was a professional soldier
first and foremost and had never lost sight of their surroundings- but
didn't know how to tell her this. He didn't have to. Sally had endless
reserves of understanding and patience, and was used to having both called
upon by Wufei. Besides, she knew that he'd been sharp because she'd been
sharing a moment with Amon. Charming, urbane, high-born, ambitious, handsome
Amon. Yeah, right. Stupid black-eyed twit, as if that was likely to go
anywhere... Amon wouldn't object, not at all, and he'd made that clear,
but Sally had the wisdom to know herself. She preferred unadorned black
iron to gilded gold, was the bottom line.
Unfortunately the iron wasn't only in Wufei's soul but also between his
It had almost been easier when Wufei had been a hostage, paradoxically...
They'd both known he had a good chance of being executed at the end of
the Trials, and so their relations had been sober, clear-cut and professional,
though the plain understanding was there that if things had been different...
Well now things were different. But Wufei wasn't.
Sally had been raised a soldier in a family of soldiers, she'd lost her
parents at the Gap of Sevring, thirteen years ago, she'd grown to become
a strong and respected commander of troops, and she could fight and endure
and swear with the best of them.
For some reason the only thing that came to mind was: Twit...
"You okay?" Heero instinctively reached back to give Duo a hand then frowned
and took a step away instead. Hand-holding was okay, normally, but all
it needed was one stumble, a moment of surprise leading to a cling, and
"Yeah yeah." Duo grunted. They were climbing onto a pile of loose earth
and shattered stone that used to be the sacred heart temple of Maseng.
Duo, still exhausted by the ride and the after-effects of his damaged
lungs, was panting more than normal. He really should have had more than
two days to rest before heading back to Lin, but there just wasn't the
time. They had to prepare for the next circle ceremony two weeks from
now. It was being held in the small town of Peaknought, which was on the
border between Sanq and Lin and as near Kespar and Sansbury as could be,
which would allow a ceremony attended by all the local royalty. The town
of Peaknought had an old amphitheater that would do, but it was pretty
ancient and since its heyday the town had dwindled to a few thousand souls,
counting the goats, so there would be a lot of work making it ready for
the third wedding circle.
This stop... it was a detour but in some ways it was much more important
to the peace between Sanq and Lin than the wedding.
The town of Maseng had become a symbol to both sides of the extremes of
war. Treize had captured the town early on in his invasion of Sanq, twenty
odd years ago, and its population had been subdued and integrated into
the new borders of Lin. It had been a sleepy border town before the invasion,
but afterwards quite a few people had moved from the mountainous country
of Lin to live there, and, far from the front, a fragile truce had sprung
up between the two sides, born of normal people just trying to live their
Those were the ones who had died when the tide of war had turned and Treize
had had to retreat back to Sevring. To give his army time to maneuver
past the Gap, he'd laid a trap for Zechs in the town. As soon as the first
unit had moved in, the place had become a heaving hell of poisonous gasses
and mage-flame, catching both Zechs' army but also the population, from
both Lin and Sanq, in the miasma. No one knew if this had been deliberate
or not but it had been a bloodbath. In the end they couldn't even bury
the dead, and Jay's sorcerers had sent shockwaves and tremors over the
town to knock over buildings and put the fallen to rest where they lay,
in dirt, stone and ashes. Maseng had been burned from the map.
Duo and Heero looked at each other grimly and then turned towards the
assembly below them. They were both visible on top of the temple's remains
to the hundred or so people that had ridden with them here, a mixture
of Sanq and Lin nobles and dignitaries, as well as their guards. People
were looking at them soberly. They had a speech prepared by Zechs' ministers
and the Lin council, but really, the only thing that mattered was their
presence here side by side, a silent pledge. This will never happen again.
Heero sighed under his breath and took a step forward. He'd rather fight
a fiend than make a speech, but this was what was required of him. If
he went first, Duo would have some time to catch his breath.
The debris-ridden ground shifted beneath his feet. And shifted...
Heero shouted as something erupted out of the broken stone and packed
dirt and grabbed his ankle. Behind him he heard Duo yelp and then the
sorcerer stumbled against him, throwing them both to the ground. Fortunately
the contact was only fleeting and caught them by surprise, so nothing
Heero's blade was in his hand in a flash of light, swinging down to his
leg, but whatever it was that had grabbed him -and it was a grab, he could
still feel the bruising fingers against his ankle- had disappeared. Duo,
on his rump by his side, was staring at his feet in amazement. A shout
echoed out from the people assembled a distance away.
Several grinding crunches nearby. Heero looked around wildly. Something
was worming its way up through the stone and debris, several somethings.
A dozen feet away from them, a flat piece of broken mural was shoved out
of the way, and a hand, withered and yellow like old parchment, grasped
the ground and heaved. Dust and dirt fell away, and the thing pulled and
wrenched itself from the ground which groaned reluctantly as it relinquished
Heero heard screams from the group nearby and realized the same thing
was happening all around them. He stared at the humanoid figure staggering
to its feet before them. Dry empty orbs blindly quested for them, wrinkled,
desiccated skin flaked over withered twisted limbs, barely covered by
the torn and stained robes of a temple priest.
The dead of Maseng were rising.
Heero scrambled to his feet, weapon ready, keeping an eye on the four
other figures that had ripped themselves from their graves.
"... Is your magic working?"
Heero cast a wild glance at his husband, who had a hand pointing at one
of the dead things staggering to its feet nearby. A hand empty of any
kind of power. Heero extended his own hand, trembling slightly in anticipated
pain, and let loose a bolt of magic at-
It felt as if the magic that normally wrenched through his veins as if
it were pulling itself out of his very flesh was immobile, frozen.
"Well that's interesting... I think we're screwed."
There were two hundred people in a shallow dip below the promontory, in
a rough circle rapidly surrounded by the dead of Maseng.
If their attackers had been hoping to create a panic, they'd succeeded.
But if they were hoping for a bloodbath... they'd not considered the make-up
of the crowd. There were a dozen or so nobles of Lin in the group. And
you can only be a noble of Lin if you are very good at offensive magic.
Three corpses were sent rocketing back into a tumbled-down pillar. G sneered.
"Well this is easy enough, like a game of skittles."
"And how long can you keep bowling?" Jay asked tightly.
The dead things were picking themselves up, apparently unharmed, and moving
forward again, staggering blind, withered arms groping out towards them.
Behind them, something screamed, a terrible sound. One of the horses had
tried to bolt, and several dead things had latched onto it as it fled.
As the doctors watched, the creatures gripped it and, still holding the
struggling animal, dug into the loose debris like moles, dragging it down
with them. The horse disappeared in a trash of limbs, the ground closing
over it like a sealed grave.
"... as long as I bloody well can... " G muttered. A dozen feet away,
a young page was saved from the same fate by a Sanq guard and a Lin sorcerer
who blew and bowled his attackers away. The young man, pale as death,
was already buried halfway to his waist and whimpered as several hands
dug him out, headless of his broken leg. Resistance was organizing against
the dead in a tattered ring. No one could tell how many people had already
been pulled down into the ruined stones of Maseng by the vengeful dead.
G sent another burst of power at the three dead things nearest them. They
went down again, but soon picked themselves up. He'd put enough power
in it to rip a normal man limb from limb.
"They're tough. Impervious to magic, maybe." He muttered.
Jay grunted. "Have you tried fire?"
"Of course, my brain hasn't been turned to mush by old age yet, that's
the first thing I tried. It flickered over them then just went out like
they were made of stone."
"They were murdered by mage-flame, magic and poison. Maybe they're impervious
to that now."
"Or maybe the gods hate us."
"Well that's always a possibility. Do you see the boys?"
"They're up on the temple mound still." A sharp voice rang out behind
them. "Do either of you have any saltpeter?"
The two doctors turned to stare at the intense young man behind them.
"Chang? Have you lost you mind? What-"
"Yes or no!"
"No, I don't carry my lab around with me."
"Saltpeter?" Sally had approached behind Wufei. He spun on her with a
"I told you to stay near Amon! He can keep them away with his magic blasts!"
"I said I'd watch your back and you run off! Why do you need saltpeter
for?" Sally yelled at him using the same tone for both sentences, which
was confusing to say the least.
"You two are really very cute together." G ground out, sending another
wave of force at a group of undead things creeping towards them. "But
this is really not the time or place-"
"Shut up you old goat!" Sally barked at him. "Now, I have saltpeter, I
keep it in my medical bag. It's on my horse. Which is somewhere over there."
She pointed at a smaller group of people in the luggage train, separated
from the main circle of defenders by several dozen creatures. "It's going
to be hard to get so- Wufei!"
"Stay here!" Wufei shouted over his shoulder as he ran towards the edge
of the defensive circle.
"No!" Sally shouted grimly as she followed him. "I'm going with you, damn
you for a -"
"I can't curse as well as the pretty lady but I'll go with you too." Jay
said smoothly, appearing next to Wufei and listening appreciatively as
Sally scorched the air. He sent a wave of force sweeping ahead of them,
blasting away a few of the undead in their path to the smaller circle
of defenders around the panicking horses. "Saltpeter, hm?" He smiled coldly
at Wufei's startled expression. "I think I know what you have in mind,
boy. You think it will actually work?"
"I'll know when I try it."
"Even if you have to fight your way through a wall of dead to do it?"
"I can see why you and Heero don't get along." Jay said enigmatically.
"I can take care of some of these things but we'll have to punch through
the final lines around the baggage train the hard way or we might injure
one of our guys."
Two swords sung out of scabbards. Wufei glared at Sally who glared back.
"Okay, lovebirds, let's go." Jay chuckled dryly.
Up on the mound, things weren't going smoothly.
"I can't cut them with my sword." Heero scowled. The blade twanged and
bounced off of dead limbs like it was hitting dry ropy cordwood.
"My dagger is even more useless." Duo muttered, pressed against his back
as he stared at the circle around them, slowly growing smaller. They shoved
the creatures back with blade and hurled masonry, but the dead things
picked themselves up and came back again, twenty or so strong, relentless.
They were pressing more on one side of the circle than the other, and
the pair had taken quite a few steps away from their previous position
until they realized they were being herded towards a small dip in the
ruins... where the flickering blue fire of a portal glowed.
The two young men dug in their heels, but it was clear they were moments
away from being overwhelmed.
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