Author: Maldoror
Disclaimer: The usual, Gundam Wing belongs to it's owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.
Rated R for language, lots of violence, sexual content
see chap. 1 for more notes

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 17
In search of destruction

Heero was walking with a steady pace that ate the miles, brushing up the dust of the little-used road as it curved into the Birdscry mountains. The brown-haired man seemed to hardly ever sleep, yet never seemed tired, which made him the exception on that particular morning. Quatre and Duo were yawning every other minute and Trowa was wondering if they should take a mid-morning break and maybe a nap when a bend in the road revealed their destination.

The fortress had been cut from the sheer rock of a massive cliff. Parts of it had crumbled but the central building was still intact. The road ended twenty feet from the door and plunged into a massive ravine. A drawbridge allowed access to the open gate. From the way the chains were rusted to the pulleys, the bridge had been lowered for ages. The gate was metal streaked with rust, permanently jammed agape.

They stared up at the massive building. Crenelations, buttresses and bastions melded with the cliff far above their heads. Half way up the sheer face of the main walls, a man-high heraldic shield, which had once proclaimed to the world who owned the imposing fortress, had long crumbled into oblivion, leaving the place nameless and soulless. It didn't look friendly.

"Right, remember, we're just asking. No violence." Trowa said sharply, looking severely at Heero, who ignored him, and at Duo. The later nodded slowly, eyes on the grim grey rock looming above them, seemingly cowed. He didn't look like he was going to start a fight. Good.

At the same time as the group entered the hold's forbidding portal, another set of doors opened and closed behind a lone, wounded Dragon, sealing his fate.

*

The EM curtain isolated the bay from the harshness of outer space, sealing in the cold, thin air smelling of engine fuel, exhaust and metal. The stubby-nosed Etherripper rested on a landing platform, like a cheap toy in the echoing vastness of the bay meant for drop-ships carrying thousands of infantry troops.

A circle was forming around the small vessel, disparate armoured shapes forming dark splashes against the gloom of the dimly lit bay.

The hatch of the 'ripper hissed open and unfolded into a gangway, and a proud figure descended to the shadow-ridden platform, his eyes a much deeper darkness.

Many in the circle of predators shifted and gaped, recognising him, but none dare break rank.

Wufei walked to the edge of the platform, ignoring the many eyes on him. He dropped off it lightly, scorning the stairs, and headed unerringly in the direction of the bay's exit. His people had helped build this vessel, and he'd been a frequent visitor to the Libra in the past five years, he knew where he was going.

He didn't stop as he approached the edge of the circle hemming him in, even when a man a good two heads taller than his slight frame, heavily armoured in gleaming Gundanium, took a few steps to get between him and the door.

"Where do you think you're going, Chang? I won't-"

Wufei barely flicked a finger; a wave of force picked up the burly man and sent him staggering sharply back, where he tripped and fell over a box of spare parts. The box cracked and broke under the weight and bolts clattered and rolled on the metal floor around him.

The circle flinched, hesitated. Wufei carried on walking as if nothing had happened, idly nudging a few bolts away from his path.

"Who the hell is this clown!?" An officer further down the line shouted. He was also tall, with a striking blond mane of hair set in three braids. Glittering techno shields covered lean, rangy muscles. His tattoos proclaimed him to be from the tribes of Makesh. They were known for their bravery in combat and their berserker fits in battle. They weren't known for their intelligence or survival instincts.

Wufei's steps slowed marginally.

"Come on, you idiots! What are you waiting for?!" The man snarled, gesturing towards the lone figure, then glaring at the men around him. Who were taking a few steps away from him and from the white-clad bloodied figure. The man blinked.

"What are you cowards doing?" He snarled. "Why are you -" The circle around him was widening quickly.

"Because they're Dragons." Wufei said quietly, flexing a wrist without looking at the Makeshi officer. "They know I won't kill one of my own kind, however tempting." His scathing eyes were resting on the Dragon he'd felled as the muscled brute groaned and rubbed his back, sending a few more bolts clattering across the floor. The man flinched beneath the ebony glare.

"Own kind?" The blond stared at the wrist rising towards him. "Wh-"

"You however are fair game."

The dragon clamp was already flying as the disinterested words lost themselves in the bay's vastness.

One of the Dragons moved forward, idly wiping away a splatter of blood and less identifiable substance from his scale armour; damn, he'd not moved away from the loud-mouthed fool fast enough, he was good for a shower now, and with water rations short as they were...

"Cha- lord Chang? Erm, what- what do you want here?" He ran after the figure disappearing through the bay's door. Drawing up just behind him, the warrior's practiced eyes noted with amazement the damage done to the high Dragon's armour, visible through the torn and bloody white tunic. Chang had apparently met someone nastier than he was, and it hadn't been Lord Jusan. Wonders never ceased.

"I need to see Jusan." Wufei said, the words dragging themselves out reluctantly.

"Er, I need to- I mean, I serve-I will have to ask- I-"

"He already knows I'm here." Wufei snapped. "If he wanted to stop me, he would have. He certainly wouldn't have relied on that pathetic display back there. Is that all the Dragons that have rallied to Jusan's command?" Wufei swung back and speared the Dragon warrior with a scowl.

"Er no, there are two groups on missions right now. There are three hundred and fifty eight of us altogether, sir. Erm, but no-...you are the only high Dragon left."

Wufei's eyes were like shards of glass. "I know." He said, and he wondered if he was really going to be able to go through with this. But he had to. Rally to strength.

Strength. It was the Dragonís war-cry, the theme of their short, bloody history. They had never conquered other races for profit or glory but to strengthen their children, sharpen their teeth on the bones of war. And if the conquered were strong enough and had fought well, then their elite could join the ranks of the Dragons too. They were expected to. Rally to strength, join the ones who were strong enough to conquer them, to master them. It was the order of things. They werenít slaves, they fit into the clan in whatever position they deserved. The Dragons were not picky about race and provenance and birthright and blood. All that mattered was strength, which was determined by carefully ritualized duels. That and the type of Gundanium armour they were strong enough to wear determined their place in the hierarchy of the clan and nothing else. If the armour mastered was one of the rare Gundam mechas, then they were high dragons, the lords of the clan, the future war leaders.

Rally to strength. The Dragons had served Jusan for several generations before Wufei was even born. When it came to strength he was the power in the galaxy. They served him as mercenaries, attacking the planets he indicated. Jusanís motives were always a mystery, there was no real rhyme or reason behind most of his attacks that the Dragons could discern; he wasnít really interested in the plunders that rewarded the other mercenaries he hired. Neither were the Dragons, they were more interested in testing their strength and recruiting the best of the conquered into their ranks, growing stronger. All in all it was a good arrangement.

...Had been a good arrangement.

And then Jusan had turned on them, with, as far as Wufei could see, little provocation. Apparently the development of the new generation of Gundam mechas such as Shenlong had displeased the Scourge. The clan had been warned to stop. They refused. They were hired by Jusan but they had not sworn allegiance to him. Their duty was to themselves and to what could make the clan stronger. The Dragon elders assumed that Jusan would not compromise the relations he had with his most efficient strike-force just because he didnít like their armour. It didnít make sense.

And theyíd developed Wing.

And Jusan had come upon them like the Scourge he was.

And now the Dragons were the conquered. And Wufei was left reeling in the void which had once been populated by his wife, his family, his clan. Adrift, he only had two things to cling to.

The rule of his people ≠ rally to strength. And get Wing back...

//Wing?//

Both Dragons tensed, Wufei's lips curling automatically into a snarl.

//Wing, is it? Is this the reason for your visit, Wufei?//

The ebony-haired dragon swung away from the other warrior and marched with firm steps towards the command centre. Fuck you Jusan, keep out of my goddamn thoughts! He snarled mentally.

//Then you will have to hurry here so I can talk to you in person...// The mental tone was gentle, almost caressing. Deliberately taunting, Wufei thought, though with the Scourge you could never be sure. Jusan did like his head-games.

//It's about the only thing that really amuses me anymore.//

Jusan!!

//Oh I'm sorry. Did I intrude? I can't believe I'm being so rude to my guest. If I can call you that, after you barged in on my ship, killed one of my officers, and started tromping around the place like you owned it. You're right on the limit that separates guest from intruder, my dear Wufei. And since the last time we met you threatened to...how did you put it? Stuff me down a black hole? You can understand why I'm-//

"...somewhat curious about what could be going through that fascinating mind of yours." Jusan finished as Wufei slammed back the doors to the inner sanctum.

They stared at each other for a few seconds, then Wufei stiffly and reluctantly bowed his head a scant whisker. Significant, nonetheless. Jusan's eyes lost nothing of the gesture.

The sanctum was pretty much as Wufei had seen it last. The walls were the same undecorated metal bulwarks as the rest of the ship. There was no furniture, apart from Jusan's chair. Objects were strewn here and there, in no order the human mind could comprehend. Their owner however wasn't human and was very particular about anyone touching his collections, finding his own kind of sense in the apparent chaos. Apart from Jusan's curios there were no decorations or attempt to make this room, which he rarely left, homier. Jusan had no need for comfort or luxury, hell he didnít even need a physical form. Yet he had always materialized when he was with Wufei, something he rarely bothered to do for most of his servants or enemies. Although he was glad to not have to deal with a disincarnated power-house of arcane force, Wufei wasn't sure he appreciated the distinction. He wasn't sure he appreciated anything about how Jusan had treated him, from the first moments Jusan had insisted a fifteen-year old Wufei, among all the Dragon mercenaries that worked for him, serve him personally, to the fact that he was now the only High Dragon left in the galaxy after the Scourge had wiped out his clan a year ago, sparing him.

Wufei tore his eyes from the objects strewn across the room - mechanical puzzles for the most part, Jusan's passion, along with collecting souls - and fixed his gaze on the tall form sitting in his high-backed chair in the centre of the sanctum, chin in one hand as he watched the unexpected visitor. Jusan always chose the same physical form, at least when Wufei was around. A tall sandy-haired man with a patrician face and calm clear eyes crowned with slightly spiky eyebrows that added a touch of the demonic to his appearance. But only a touch. The Scourge preferred to look civil.

"So, Wufei." He seemed to caress the name rather than speak it and Wufei felt his hackles rise in a well-remembered wave of resentment. He'd served Jusan personally for five years, as his attachť, his liaison to the clan, his personal killer and as a war council when he'd gotten older. He'd never gotten used to the creature or his strange mannerisms though, they riled him as much as the first day they'd met. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"You've already read it from my mind." Wufei snapped, glaring. The warrior who'd escorted him had fallen to his knees in front of his master, and was staying there until he was given leave to rise, but Wufei had never bowed to Jusan and, outside of his slight earlier acknowledgement, wasn't going to start now. He wasn't going to be polite either. Not to the creature who had murdered his father, his Meiran and his race after countless years of their serving him loyally.

Jusan's eyes dropped ever so slightly. "Yes, that will always be between us, won't it..." He said softly. There was something like sadness in his tone. More head-games, Wufei thought savagely.

"As such, I'm surprised to see you here, Wufei." The tone was serious now, and straightforward. Eyes watched him carefully.

Wufei took a deep breath, released it slowly. Reminded himself that he really had nothing to lose.

"Except your life, Dragon..." Jusan whispered in answer to the thought.

As I said. Nothing.

"That's a bit nihilistic even for you, and that's saying a lot, you were hardly a bundle of laughs to begin with. Why are - what happened to Shenlong?" Jusan's eyes were suddenly focused on the metal visible through Wufei's ruined white tunic.

"I found Wing. It has fallen into the hands of one who is your enemy. A particularly strong one. He did this." Wufei said without further delay.

"Who?" Jusan's eyes were suddenly very careful. Wing was no joke.

"I honestly don't know. His name is apparently Heero?" Wufei raised an eyebrow but the name seemed to mean nothing to the Scourge. "He's on Centre."

Jusan's body was an act of will and as such under his absolute control, so no emotion was apparent on the handsome face. But Wufei thought he felt a slight...unease in Jusan's aura. A strong enemy wearing Wing on Centre. Even Jusan had to feel a prickle of alarm at that combination.

"I will have to look into that. Why are you here?" It showed how much Jusan was concerned if he was willing to skip his usual games to get to the point.

"I want Wing." Wufei said, in a restrained voice that seethed with passion and fury.

"Wufei..."

"If you help me get Wing I will swear my allegiance to you." There, he'd said it. Behind him, the kneeling Dragon shifted, tensing in sudden fervour. The lower class Dragons who had survived the massacre, and had chosen to rally to the one who had conquered them, had lost much in the way of pride and honour. To have Chang Wufei, the last high dragon, the bearer of a true Gundanium mecha, join them and lead them...it would be a revival, a resurrection.

Jusan was silent, and Wufei could feel a slight probe ripple the currents of his thoughts. Normally the touch was not perceptible, unless its owner wanted to dig.

"I find that...surprising. Though not as much as I would have thought..." Jusan's finger caressed the hilt of the sabre he always materialized at his side. It was one of his toys and Wufei knew it well, very well. He tore his eyes away from it and focused back on Jusan's steady gaze before memory could rise up and murder his resolve.

"I want my race to survive. For that, I need Wing. Shenlong is too damaged." And Wing was the pride of his race, the banner, the new heart the Dragons would need to regain their strength and honour, but he didnít feel like admitting those reasons to Jusan; odds were the Scourge would not understand them anyway. "I will...accept your rule under those conditions, as the Dragons who already serve you do. Our clan rallies to strength. You destroyed the high Dragons, but you did so in single-handed combat. You proved yourself the strongest. The very tenets of my race say that I owe you my allegiance as such. If you help me get Wing, I will swear myself and the remnants of my people to you, to your service. We will comply with your requests, we will only develop the mechas you grant us, you won't have to cut us down again." Out of fear we'll get too powerful for you. "In exchange I want my people to be able to grow, to develop, to continue in the traditions that made them what they are." Even if it costs me my soul.

"But you'll have Wing..." Jusan's hand smoothed the material of the clothes he wore, vaguely reminiscent of a uniform, in pale blue and gold.

Wufei knew that was going to be the stumbling block...and the next words came out of his mouth unbidden, as if someone had prompted him.

"And will you fear me then?"

There was a coiling in the air, like a snake drawing itself up to strike. Jusan stared at him, unreadable. Wufei realized the quandary that his remark had put Jusan in. If the Scourge decided Wufei could actually be a threat to him with Wing, then Wufei's life was forfeit. But that would be such a dreadful admission to the creature, to admit that a single mortal, however armed, could endanger him...The Dragon felt his heart sing as he realized he'd finally reached a position where he could wring what he wanted out of Jusan and the galaxy itself. Or die honourably while trying, and rejoin Meiran and the ranks of his fathers. Either way, he came out ahead, he thought darkly.

"I guess those terms might be acceptable..." Jusan stood slowly, and took three graceful steps towards the dark-haired young man. The Scourge put his hands behind his back and bowed his handsome head for a few seconds, and then said in a near whisper: "Wufei...you know that I will have to -"

"I know." Wufei snapped, straightening his back and lifting his face proudly. "Get on with it."

The air seemed to rustle and solidify around Wufei as the Scourge approached him; Jusan's aura was nearly tangible this close up, and he was actually hiding the greatest part of his strength and his power in an attempt to seem less threatening, more human. Wufei did not know why he bothered. He always saw Jusan for what he was; an insanely powerful creature, with enough magic to put civilisation to the torch and an attitude to match...yet no more worthy of awe, respect or politeness than the next weapon of mass destruction.

//I think that's why I like you...// The thought caressed him gently, echoed by a finger lingering over exotic features, caramel skin. Wufei did not flinch or even appear to notice the finger brush his face up to the forehead. The hand followed the finger, unfolded lightly on to the line between golden daylight skin and the night of Wufei's tightly bound hair.

Pain...

And more. It was like every spec of his nervous system was being ripped out, flayed, then stuffed back into his aching body, his screaming mind. At least the Scourge was making it quick; Wufei didn't want to linger in the thoughts and the memories being ripped from his mind as they were scrutinized and judged. Meiran in a field of flowers, torn body still as it had never been in life-...the towers of the colony that had been his home, burning, such bright flames-...the feel of Jusan's sword against his throat as Wufei threw his life away on the infinitesimally small chance of killing the Scourge, the murderer of his family, of his race-...the horror and the shame as he not only failed to even score a blow on the powerful creature, he wasn't even killed for the attempt-...Jusan's clear blue eyes and slight smile as he let him go...It all passed in a flash.

Wufei bent slowly at the waist, only his will, stronger than any Gundanium armour, keeping him on his feet. From a long way away he saw his hands grip his thighs as he bent over them, straight-legged, shuddering and sobbing under the onslaught of the Scourge, but still standing...

The force scouring his mind for any hint of treason, of duplicity, lingered over his memories of a few weeks back; on the image of Heero striking him down like a force of raw destruction...on the way Wing meshed and bound itself to the stranger...on...on...Wufei blinked tears from his eyes, wondering why something seemed to be missing. Jusan poked and prodded, images flashed by; an apparently young man with old eyes behind a strangely weightless waterfall of bangs, crossbow swinging -...innocent blue eyes, hair like sunlight and a spirit to match, hauling on horses' reins -...and-...and-...and-...a thief, a scavenger - nothing to worry about - eyes like - never mind - hair flowing like - unimportant-...Jusan dug deeper and Wufei's heart squirmed in his chest as if trying to rip away from the pain of the flesh and mind, but still he stood standing.

The pain had eaten away at his cells; he was now a creature of agony in the shape of a man. As the pain ebbed, he felt as if he were disintegrating. He could barely feel his feet - but he was still standing, he kneeled for no-one. A hand brushed his aching head, soothing - what-what did that remind him of-...he'd forgotten-...how could he forget-...? The hand dropped to his shoulders, straightened the body he could barely acknowledge or control.

He felt the hand brush his throat harrowed by screams, and a warm glow soothed some of the rawness of air rasping into his lungs. Something nudged his legs behind him; Jusan had materialized a chair for him. He swayed as the hand dropped down the length of his chest to his abdomen. The black spots were fading from his eyes, and Jusan, face impassive and eyes strangely guarded, swum into view.

"Shh, it's over. Apparently you were telling the truth, Dragon." Wufei realized that his white silk tunic had been repaired, the hand stitching the cloth as if it had never been torn, wiping out blood and dirt and making the snowy material shine. "You do not have the strength of mind to hide anything from me, and you have no duplicity anywhere in your feelings."

You should know - Wufei's thoughts were as raw and painful as his throat - you dug into them deeply enough.

"Yes. I'm...sorry. You understand that I had to be sure...The pain will fade in a few minutes. Here, sit down."

Wufei slowly bent at the waist again, bracing himself against his hips, legs apart and locked at the knee. "...F-...fuck you...Jusan."

A brief smile flashed across the cold lips. "Have it your way then and stay standing. I swear by my eternal life, Wufei, you are the most pig-headed member of an extremely stubborn race. You." He addressed the Dragon warrior still kneeling behind Wufei. "Prepare a room for Lord Chang, and then go tell the men they have a new war leader."

"Repair Shenlong." Wufei rasped.

"Sorry, what?" Jusan looked back at him urbanely.

"Don't need a room. Repair Shenlong. I'm going back to Centre."

"Wufei, you've barely arrived! What's the hurry?"

Wufei just glared.

"Prepare the room." Jusan said firmly to the man near the door and then walked back to his seat.

"Donít get excited." The Scourge told the fuming Dragon. "I need time to repair Shenlong. And we have time, Wufei." Jusan sighed, eyes dimming. "We have months before this ship will reach Centre."

The reason why the galaxy was still intact was because a powerful magical mass like Jusan could no more zip around the Ether than a black hole could leapfrog a small sun. Any attempts to rip Ether with Jusan aboard ended in a mighty sub-spatial mess and a thoroughly destroyed ship. The Scourge was reduced to inching along subluminally. This meant that though he had been travelling for years and was now quite close, in spatial terms, to Centre, he would still not arrive for quite some time.

"I'm not waiting aboard the Libra until you get there!" Wufei snarled, straightening and glaring. "My Etherripper can be back on Centre in four weeks-"

"I know you're in a hurry to get a rematch out of that 'Heero', Wu-"

"I'm not serving you until I have Wing, Jusan!"

The Scourge sighed with a show of weariness. "Very well, very well. So you're not my war leader, you are my guest for the next few weeks, until I can repair Shenlong and you can go back and pound that local yokel into Centre's dust."

"Will it take that long? To repair Shenlong?"

"Yes, I think it will. It is badly damaged, and it takes time for me to mesh my magic to technology. Shenlong is one of the best mechas there is. I don't want to ruin it by being too hasty." Jusan sat back, knowing full well the import of that argument with the fiery Dragon.

Wufei grunted and his shoulders slumped a bit.

"I suggest you rest now, my friend." Jusan's voice dropped, became gentle. "I think you are wearier than you know. One of my servants will show you to your quarters. We can examine Shenlong tomorrow."

Wufei nodded sharply and turned.

"It is nice to see you again, Wufei..." The voice was even softer and was perhaps drowned by the echoes of the closing door. The Scourge smiled slightly at the metal. The smile remained for a few seconds as the body of the tall, sandy-haired man slowly faded from sight, and the air rippled with power as Jusan returned to his shape of an immaterial well-head of energy, dreaming eternal dreams of creation and destruction.

*

Trowa had positioned his chair so that he sat between the tall, thin agitated figure in front of the fire-place and Heero and Duo. But he didnít think he need have bothered. Heero, the furthest away, practically stuck in a corner, had never seemed that interested in the zero system to begin with and now looked thoroughly bored. Duo was sitting right next to Trowa, awkwardly fingering the delicate china cup of tea Fen had thrust into his hands, looking wide-eyed and doubtful at the restlessly pacing figure.

Fen spun around once more, and his muttering got momentarily louder: "...don't care that it's Juusan-...one of the powers...he won't destroy his own origin..."

Trowa sighed silently. Fen was apparently even more senile - or at least distracted - then Svale had made out.

After entering the keep they had trailed through the echoing empty corridors, looking for the place's last inhabitant. The fort was immense but most rooms were empty, full of dust, debris and cobwebs, some were even caved in. They found Fen by following the well-worn trail of footsteps in the dust of the corridors. The tracks led them deep into a large room near the base of the cliff, far from any trace of the outside world. A fire burned in defiance of the daylight and warmth outside, and it was appropriate; the room was possessed of a chill and darkness that knew nothing of sunshine and summer. Two tall candle holders struggled to bring a bit of steadier light than the crackling fire. The room was the only one they'd seen that was furnished. Books upon books were stacked through the room and piled messily into crude wooden shelves. Charts and faded tapestries hung on the walls, their meaning erased by time and darkness. A long high table occupied one of the sides of the room, strewn with equipment suited, Trowa's arcane knowledge informed him, for magical research of the highest order. There were also a few wrenches, screw-drivers, a computer and a set of nano controllers, techno tools that looked oddly out of place among the rest. The centre of the room contained six mismatched chairs and stools, and a small, sturdy wooden table that had the remains of several meals on it. Hard rations, Trowa noted without surprise. He doubted Fen got out much. Shopping was probably a yearly event.

Fen had greeted them without surprise as if they were regular visitors, served them lukewarm herbal tea without further question, shoved a plate of slightly mouldy biscuits at them and then, when Trowa had managed to ask him about zero, had gone off to mutter to himself aggrievedly for about thirty minutes now.

Trowa heard Quatre sigh, then saw the blonde quickly look up, embarrassed. Fen hadn't noticed. He was a tall man, and still ramrod straight, but he looked more than old; he was antiquated. His skin was pale and translucent like old ice, carved into lines and wrinkles like a craggy glacier eaten by wind and the passage of seasons. His hair was sparse and white, and fell in a thin veil over his shoulders to tangle and knot in the collar of the old-fashioned and hole-ridden velvet tunic he wore, which might have been red, a very long time ago. His eyes were as blue as ice caught in sunlight, but yellowed and vague with the years. Trowa could not guess his age - he still moved fairly well, though with a creak of muscle and sinew - but 'old' he certainly was.

"So, this zero thing-" Duo tried to interrupt the mutterings of the man and Trowa glared at him. Duo gave an apologetic half-shrug to the shaman. Well not that apologetic, he was obviously bored and wanted to get on with the object of their visit.

"Do you even know what the zero is, boy!?"

Fen was suddenly a few feet from Duo, a finger like an old bone pointing at him. Duo started so badly he sloshed tea onto his black leathers.

"Wh-"

"The zero system is one of the finest arcane creations of the Jishin! Do you think I should be handing out artefacts from the Tricksters like they were party favours?"

Duo rolled his eyes with a 'not this again' look, and snapped: "Who cares who it belonged to, that's not important, we need it to-"

"Not important?! Not important?! Do you know what the Jishin were, boy?"

"Do I know? No. Do I care? No-"

"The Jishin were the twilight people, the race of Tricksters, the nightmares haunting the night of all the younger races, the walkers of shadows! They were-"

Duo whimpered as Fen turned back to rant at the gargoyle on the side of the fire place. "Why do they always assume I want to hear this shit?" He asked Trowa in a pitiful tone.

"You look like a good listener."

"But I'm not! I'm a good talker, I grant you, but I'm not a -"

"Shh."

"The Jishin were old beyond what most races can comprehend." Fen was now staring at Quatre's left ear. The young healer squirmed a bit under the intensity of the glance, but he did look interested. "They were as powerful as their own gods, whom they tolerated only to fight them and curse them. Their arcane knowledge increased exponentially with every generation. Do you know why, boy?" He was now speaking directly to Quatre right shoulder.

"N-no." Quatre stuttered. "Why?" He added gamely and took a hasty sip of tea, looking, Trowa thought, achingly young and nice and polite (and arousing but that was Trowa's point of view, as always...).

"Because of the Soul-Mind they shared, the Tamashii Kokoro. Every Jishin that died rejoined the tamashii of the Jishin, and every new Jishin that reached puberty accessed that repository of memories and awareness. So the knowledge of the parents was passed directly to the children, who shared it with the other members of their generation. It worked mainly along bloodlines, but if a bloodline died - and many did, their race did not have many children - then the mind reached for the closest Jishin and melded into the tamashii through him or her. No knowledge was ever lost, but preciously passed on."

"Wow." Quatre's intelligent eyes widened. "So they never had to learn what the deceased generation already knew? They inherited the knowledge wholly? That is a powerful ability. That's amazing in fact. I never knew this."

Fen's watery blue eyes suddenly focused on Quatre, and he stared into the bright face as if seeing it for the first time. The craggy planes creased into something like a smile.

"Yes, not many people do, young...what's your name?"

"Quatre Raberba Winner." Quatre nodded politely; they had already introduced themselves, but he repeated the courtesy anyway.

"Better known as Rabbit, hey, Tro?" Duo snickered softly besides the shaman who ignored him; they'd quickly established that Fen was slightly deaf.

"Well, Quatre Raberba Winner-"

"Just Quatre, please!" Quatre smiled like the sunshine that never penetrated the dusty old room of the inner dungeon that was Fen's lair (Trowa felt his heart quiver, and wondered if it would still do so fifty years from now when they were both older and wiser, and guessed it probably would).

Fen smiled back. "Very well, Quatre. And you must call me Fen." Duo snorted softly and grinned into Trowa's glare. "That's not my real name, of course. I lost that, oh, ages ago. I had several, in fact, since I..." old eyes looked suddenly very vague "...I...changed, I...I don't remember. But Fen will do. Where was I?"

"You said the Jishin inherited the memory of the generation that preceded them." Quatre said, ignoring Duo's donít' encourage him! gesture.

"Ahh yes. The Jishin....powerful race..."

"How come nobody's ever heard of them then." Duo muttered, clonking his teacup on the ground, infusion untasted.

"What was that?" Fen tried to focus on the man sitting near Trowa. "Never heard of them? Well, that's not surprising. The Jishin were not conquerors, they weren't invaders and pillagers and destroyers that marked the pages of history with blood and fire. They didnít much care for enslaving other races. But they had a foothold on every known planet of the galaxy, even though very few people knew this. The Jishin were, above all else, curious. They were seekers of knowledge. They created enclaves, Sanctuaries, on every inhabited planet their arcana could reach. This allowed them to travel instantaneously across space from the Sanctuary to Iwa No Hone, their home planet. Inside the Sanctuaries they studied the races around them, most times in secret, learned what they wanted of their magic and their ways, and added this data to the pool of knowledge of the Tamashii Kokoro of the Jishin."

"Really?" Quatre looked puzzled. "They don't sound bad at all, then. I mean, if they didnít conquer anybody - and it sounds like they could if they wanted to-"

"Indubitably." Fen snorted.

"- and all they did was study people...why did you say they were nightmares?"

"Because the curiosity of the Jishin did not take into account things like mercy, or kindness, or basic humanity." Fen elaborated kindly, like an elderly professor addressing a well-meaning but misinformed pupil. As the old man turned back to the fireplace, Quatre gave Trowa an amused glance but his eyes as they returned to Fen were kind and attentive. Trowa felt the quiver again, and smiled. Besides him Duo slumped into his chair with a small groan.

"The Jishin were cruel, not for cruelty's sake but just because they never bothered with limitations, their own or others. Several powerful magical races have been created uniquely by the interference of Jishin upon normal human beings, out of pure curiosity. Several dead races too, if you see what I mean. And a lot of weird and wonderful monsters. Iwa No Hone is a hotbed of creatures that should exist only in nightmares. The Jishin didn't care; they let them roam free, on the assumption that a Jishin would could get killed by something their race had created probably didn't deserve to live anyway."

"Oh." Quatre said, eyes widening and looking slightly horrified. Trowa wanted to go over and slip a hand in his, he knew how the healer felt about such cruel and careless disregard for life. But Duo was shifting and muttering about 'boring old coot' under his breath, and the shaman thought it best to stay where he was and glare the younger man into submission, or at least silence. Behind them, Heero's eyes had gone glassy and he was apparently in the suspended state he liked to adopt on occasions when he sat on rocks and stared at nothing. Maybe it was some form of meditation...

"You have actually heard of the Jishin, Quatre, though you probably don't know it." Fen continued without noting the healer's reaction. "The stories of their race permeates our subconscious, inhabits our folklore. The Tricksters, who swap babies for monsters in the night. Who walk the shadows. Who dance under the stars, appearing as coloured lights to travellers -"

"Oh I know that legend!" Quatre said enthusiastically. "Someone stops at a mound at night, even though he's told not to, because he sees coloured lights, like fairy lanterns swinging about. When he goes into the mound he's transported to the world of the Elsire, and then he marries a princess, or falls asleep for a hundred years-"

"Or ends up strapped to a gurney and dissected by curious Jishin, more likely." The old man snorted, though he smiled fondly at the eager face. "Falling asleep for a few years might be an option. Or returned to his home with the head of an ass instead of his own. He wouldn't marry a princess, the Jishin didn't have much truck with other races. But the coloured lights are correct; that would be their spirit armour."

"The glass armour of the Elsire!" Quatre gasped in sudden excited comprehension as myths and Fen's explanations merged in his mind.

"That's what legend called it. Actually it's not glass, it's not even a material, itís the materialisation of the spirit of the Jishin who wears it, an outer shell that protects his mind and heart, if you will. It's very powerful. And fairly beautiful and striking which is why it stays in legends. As did many facts about the Jishin; their capricious nature - capricious may be a better term than cruel, they were rarely malicious by intent. Their beauty has also passed into myth. And the Last Journey."

"Is that real too?" Quatre stared. "I heard that legend as well; how the Elsire of the Twilight all left the fairy mounds -" in the back of the room Duo muttered something nasty about 'fucking fairy nonsense' "-and travelled back to the land of evergreen to live out their dying days in peace."

"Not in peace." Fen sighed. "Their race was getting old and tired, I guess. They were so ridiculously powerful, maybe they ran out of challenges...they retreated, abandoning their Sanctuaries one by one, to return to Iwa No Hone, their home planet, their mother. A cruel, harsh place, but fascinating and wild as they were...They worshipped their planet more than their gods, they were close to the earth, to stones and rock and green growing things. But they weren't destined to end out their days in peace. Because of Juusan-sama." Fen's voice dropped and darkened and he suddenly spun to spit in the fire.

"That thrice-bedamned force of nature...even he didn't dare attack the Jishin openly. It cost him big, but he got them through treachery. Tricked the Tricksters. I hate him...but-" Fen seemed to pull himself in from a long way away. "But I can't let you have the zero system. It took me years - I'm talking decades here - to control it. Not master it! Merely get to the state where I can link to it without going stark raving mad." Trowa's eyebrows shot up in alarm. The idea of a stark raving mad Heero was even less appealing than Jusan. "I had to use an old mecha I found knocking about-...I think it was mine at one time-...I can't remember." Again that vague look in old eyes. "It's very good, now, I've boosted it with magic and my knowledge of technology in my spare time. Zero helped me see where to best apply my knowledge, and Epyon helped me to control zero, a bit of a cycle. But I have years and years of studying to do before I can master it. The idea of hooking it into a modern Dragon mecha and giving it to an untrained whelp -" his eyes wandered off in Heero's direction, but the dark-haired man was oblivious - "is ludicrous and the attempt will do more harm than good. Trust me."

Damn. Trowa sighed and stood. Quatre gave him a relieved smile and stood as well, keeping a careful eye on Heero.

"Well, thank you for the time, Fen, and for the tea." The shaman said politely.

"And thanks for telling us about the Jishin, that was fascinating." Quatre smiled. Fen returned it, eyes focusing on the healer.

"It was a pleasure, young man. I guess I donít get many visitors nowadays...I'm not sure...I can't remember...Won't you stay for tea?"

"Oh gods." Duo said. Trowa glared at him then turned towards Fen.

"No thank you, we have to get going. We have a long road ahead of-"

"Is that the zero system?"

The question came from a totally unexpected quarter for Trowa, who'd been keeping an eye on Heero and Duo. But it was Quatre who had asked the question as he pointed at a pedestal near the fireplace. There was an object like a harp that had suffered a dimensional accident, silicate material and wires strutting out in all directions. Trowa had thought it was statuary, or possibly something broken, but from Fen's startled look Quatre had guessed right. The young healer looked incurious about it, though, he was staring blankly at the pedestal itself as if it were more interesting.

"Why yes. Actually itís the container. Zero is an arcane pattern, a spell if you will. I've imprinted it on my mecha as well."

"Oh." Quatre frowned slightly at the pedestal, he looked like he was trying to listen to something that was at the cusp of his hearing. Then his face smoothed.

"Well thanks for everything, Fen." He said, and smiled and nodded. Fen stepped towards him, put a friendly hand on the slender shoulder and nodded back, ready to walk him to the door.

"That's quite all right, young one." Fen looked down at the bright face, the wide, innocent eyes. "I was glad to-"

Quatre lifted a hand and let loose a powerful mage-bolt at point blank range straight into Fen's chest.

[chap. 16] [chap. 18] [back to Maldoror's fic]