Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Adventure, Humour, AU
Pairings: 3x4, 2x5, eventual 1x2x5
Rated:NC17 - for language, lots of violence, yaoi, sexual content
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to its 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

AN: Well, this turned out earlier than I thought! A whole week earlier. Proof that encouragement -and a few threats - can do wonders!

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 29
Justice

"Juusan-sama! How nice of you to join us!"

There was a very interesting silence in the circle of stones for a few seconds. The kind of silence you find at the heart of glaciers.

Trowa, eyes fixed on Jusan’s tall form, lifted his crossbow and wondered if he should even bother. Then he felt a hand on his wrist.

"Don't bother."

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking."

"No." Quatre was staring at the tall man twenty feet away. "I meant, look at him. At the lines."

Trowa was tired. Bone tired. He'd been fighting hard, using his Sight to its full extent, and it had all been for nothing and they were all going to die. What was there to look at-

Wait a second...

"That...can't be Jusan," he muttered. The lines of power and intent were...absent. Maybe the Scourge was just too big to comprehend?

"It's not him." Duo threw over his shoulder, his eyes still fixed on the man. "It's just an illusion. He's projecting an image of himself through his link with 'Fei."

"I didn't know he could do that," Fen commented softly, eyes narrowed at the figure who was ignoring everyone but Duo. "Was that the second thing you told us about? That we didn't know about the herald link?"

Duo face-faulted then looked sheepish. "Erm, okay, there's three things you don't know about the herald link."

"Idiot." Fen muttered.

"Wufei." Jusan's voice was soft yet commanding and cut any reply Duo might have made.

"Wufei, I know you can hear me now. Look at me." Jusan repeated.

The Dragon was still visibly suffering from his resistance to the mark of control, which was smouldering like an ember on his forehead. He'd leaned forward again to rest his hands on his knees and steady himself. His face was set in harsh lines of pain and drying blood streaked across the copper of his skin. He blinked on hearing his name and looked up slowly.

"...Jusan? What-...what-...I didn't summon you-"

"Wufei, listen carefully. This man is stopping you from hearing my voice through our link, with his damned Shihai, but now that I've materialized my image, he cannot stop us from communicating. Summon me, Wufei. Use the medallion I gave you, to boost the herald link. I will break that mark of control over you, and then kill him very, very slowly."

Wufei started to move. The mark of control flared and then burned steadily; Chang’s face twisted with pain, but also with the furious stubbornness that Trowa was starting to associate him with. Slowly his hand lifted towards his chest. Trowa realized he had a small flat disk on a chain hanging from his neck, over the white silk tunic and Shenlong’s metal. As the shaman looked at it more closely, he saw the nasty little warping of energy patterns around the medallion...some of them sinking lines like hooks into Chang's crown chakra.

Trowa lifted his crossbow then remembered that if he shot the Dragon, it would trigger an explosion that would destroy the sanctuary, as well as all of them. Besides...Shenlong’s energy fields were crackling fiercely. Even with the mark of control on him, the Dragon was still very, very dangerous and wouldn’t be easy to kill or restrain.

"Duo...do something!" Quatre hissed. "Can we remove that necklace?"

"That would be inadvisable." Jusan said softly, proving this was, in fact, two-way communication. "That medallion is connected to my power and a manifestation of my will. If you want to die now, rather than later, you can touch it if you want."

"I'll pass." Quatre answered coolly. "Duo, I don't know what clever plan you have, but now would be a good time to-"

"He can't do anything," Jusan affirmed as if it were a universal certitude. Trowa's hands clenched on the crossbow, feeling pretty useless. "None of you can do anything. It was clever to try a mark of control...little worm." He was talking to Duo who was staring back at him, face set. "But your tricks cannot defeat Wufei’s will-power. It is why I chose him as my herald-"

Duo burst out laughing. "Oh, Juusan, for an immortal Power, you sure are easy to manipulate!"

Jusan's face showed not the slightest hint of any doubt. "What do you mean, Trickster?"

"I mean, oh powerful Juusan-Sama, that maybe you should be wondering since when do I have a mark of control on my Dragon." Duo purred, walking towards Wufei. The latter had his fingers three inches from the medallion, his face contorted with effort and enough anger to ignite the oxygen around him.

"What does it matter to me?" Jusan's voice was undisturbed, as Duo drew up before Wufei.

"You lack foresight." Duo lifted a gloved finger to his forehead, resting it against the black leather thong that wrapped around it and danced down among the strands of his braid.

Wufei's glare could have cut holes in steel plate, though he said nothing, all his concentration on moving against Duo’s will. The mark of control was an angry fire-red, fresh blood was dripping down his face, but his fingers inched closer to the medal around his neck regardless.

Duo removed the finger he'd had against his forehead and touched it to Wufei's. "Here, Dragon. This belongs to you."

"I don't know what tricks you-" Jusan was interrupted by Wufei falling to the ground bonelessly.

"Wufei?" Jusan still showed no signs of...anything. This was a mental projection, Trowa reminded himself. It would probably only show what its owner wanted it to. If its owner felt anything at all.

The Dragon was gasping - finally on his knees, Trowa thought absently, boy is he going to be pissed off about that. The young man sounded like he'd been fatally stabbed. His head was bowed, his hands digging into the meagre turf of the circle as if he were drowning in air. Duo had stepped to the Dragon’s side, and was looking down at him intently.

"Wufei." Jusan still sounded so calm. "I do not know what he's done to you, he's still blocking your thoughts from me. But I can free you. Summon me, Dragon. Now!"

"J-..." Wufei's lips moved soundlessly. His entire body convulsed, one massive shudder. "Ju-..."

"Yes. Summon me, Wufei."

"Ju-san....g-...go...to...hell..."

That interesting little silence was back. This time it had been visiting the molten hearts of stars.

Wufei slowly lifted his face. His breathing had evened out. And there was a new look in his eyes. His emotions were fractured and muddled in Trowa's vision. Despair, buried in fury. Pain, overlain with resolve. Loneliness, shouldered aside by stubborn self-reliance. Hurt, strangled by contempt. That last solidly directed at Duo, no surprise there.

Trowa heard a small groan next to him. He glanced at Quatre, who'd gone as white as a sheet, staring at Wufei. He didn't know if it was Zero or his lover's empathic abilities that were causing him to shiver. Maybe both.

"Wufei." Jusan's lack of emotions was getting...annoying, Trowa decided, as he put his arm around the healer, wanting to somehow share the burden and knowing he couldn't. Jusan made an adequate target for his frustration.

"Go...to...hell..." Wufei whispered again, his voice cracking.

"What are you doing to him, worm?" Jusan glanced up at Duo. He didn't even look curious.

"Well, nothing, now!" In contrast, Duo was showing his usual range of smugness and cheerful good humour. "You got to ask, what did I do, the first time I met Dragon-boy here. Back when he attacked Heero. And I rescued him and healed him and generously saved his life. You remember that now, right, Wufei? All those memories back where they should be?"

"Fuck you!"

"You're welcome. You seem to be feeling a bit better. I know that was a lot of screwing around I did in there, I'm sorry."

"Like hell..." Wufei muttered. He was still staring down at the sod, grasping it as if he were feeling dizzy.

"Yeah, you're right, not sorry. You see, oh Thirteenth Source - oh don't be shocked, we know who you are; we did do a lot of research on you," Duo added quickly, though Jusan had shown absolutely zero emotions or surprise at the appellation. Trowa wondered if Duo knew the Scourge so well, that he could guess what Jusan was feeling, or if the braided man maybe didn't have quite all his dominoes in a row.

"You see, when Wufei came here to get Wing back, he wasn't doing it for the pride of his race,” Duo continued, scoffing. "That's something I made up, based on some of the stuff I saw in his head when I was healing him. It sounded daffy to me but he seemed to think it was really important, so I built on it."

There was something like an animalistic growl from the kneeling Dragon. Trowa hoped Duo had kept his mark of control active, because Chang looked ready to kill everybody on the planet out of sheer fury.

"But in reality, Wufei was looking for Wing for quite a different purpose. To get really, really strong and mean. Well, meaner. It turns out, 'Fei and I have something in common. And I never thought I'd ever have anything in common with a Dragon, but that's beside the point. You see, he wants to kill you!"

"Justice..." It sounded like the word had been dragged from the deepest part of the Dragon's soul.

"Yeah, he calls it justice, but mainly he wants to kill you," Duo said, with a dismissive wave of his hand that nearly knocked Imp, flying up to him, out of the air.

"Justice." Wufei had straightened from his slumped position and put his hands on his thighs. Sweat, blood and pain-filled tears were marring a strikingly handsome face, but the look in his eyes as he turned towards Jusan - a core of pride and almost holy anger - gave Trowa a sudden touch of respect for the man.

"Is this about your people, Wufei?" Jusan's voice had changed slightly when addressing his herald. It sounded...warmer? More...real?

Wufei slowly lifted a hand, his eyes still fixed on the image of his master. Trowa, Fen and even Quatre stiffened as the fingers drifted near the medallion. But the hand passed over it, and wiped the bloody smear from the Dragon's mouth.

"Yes. It's about them." The voice was hoarse but sounded calmer now.

"I thought we'd been through all this. The rules of your own people say that you should follow your conqueror."

"Ah well, that was some more shit I made up for your benefit, Juusan, and carefully placed in his mind!" Duo laughed gleefully, lacing his fingers at the back of his neck in a familiar gesture now. "I can't believe you bought all that claptrap!"

Trowa was looking at Wufei - looking at the emotionless Scourge was pointless, and looking at Duo made his fists itch a bit, as all this was reminding him a bit too much of what Quatre had gone through. He saw the Dragon stiffen violently and twitch, but the black eyes stayed fixed on Jusan despite the provocation.

"I would have followed you if you had conquered my people honourably." Wufei’s voice was quiet but intense. His hands had fallen back on his thighs. He looked as inflexible as a rock. "I will not follow a murderer who slaughtered them like a coward."

"I fail to see the difference." Jusan replied calmly.

"You would!" Wufei spat, then regained that preternatural calm that spoke of more anger than he could ever show. "You attacked our home planets first. You did not meet us in battle. You massacred our loved ones - you attacked our wives and children! You killed non-combatants. The Dragons came rushing back to help - from the four corners of the galaxy where you had sent us! We were disorganized, thinking only of saving our families. You exterminated us one by one as we arrived, ambushing us, waiting for us to land on our colonies or home planets and then destroying them with one massive blast. How is this honourable?!"

Jusan said nothing. Trowa was ready to bet his life and his next five incarnations that the creature had no concept of the meaning of honour. Or of shame.

"So it was all a lie," Jusan concluded, turning towards Duo. "I'm impressed, worm. I didn’t find the slightest trace of the removal of these memories in Wufei's memory, and I never guessed the reasons and beliefs I examined were false, when I tested his loyalty to me."

"Yeah, well, you know, they're fairly primitive brutes!" Duo did his elbows-up shrug. "What passes for a mind in your typical Dragon is pretty damn easy to manipulate."

Once more there was that twitch from the Dragon, but his eyes remained on Jusan.

"I see." Jusan said, turning towards the Dragon again, dismissing Duo.

"Oh wait! I've not gotten to the best part yet!" Duo exclaimed. He seemed cock-a-hoop, but Trowa noticed the tightness around his eyes and the bead of sweat that trickled down his neck. The shaman glanced quickly at Heero behind him, measuring the power levels accumulated in the circle. A few more minutes yet. Duo, he gathered, wasn’t trying to brag. He was desperately buying time, and, from the stress lines trembling around his tree of life, he wasn’t sure it would be enough.

This puzzled Trowa - the Dragon was definitely not going to summon Jusan now, so what was frightening Duo? Weren’t they home and dry...? The twanging tension of the lines around them, tangling with Centre’s very fate, seemed to indicate that they weren’t even close. Something bad was about to happen...

"I do not need your explanations," Jusan replied; he did not bother to glance at the braided man. Duo's eyes narrowed. "You forget that I have a mind older than even your race, and an intellect greater than the aggregated sentient minds of the galaxy-"

"Yes," Duo murmured, "and most of it has calcified from boredom aeons ago. Admit it, Juusan. You screwed up." The joker's mask had slipped. Duo's eyes were cruel and cunning.

"Wufei." Jusan ignored Duo again. "Do not pay attention to this...mad creature. You are being manipulated-"

"I'm well aware of that," the Dragon growled.

"Summon me. I promise you, I will kill him, then release you from our link. If you still want your revenge, then you know where to find me, but do not let the machinations of this foolish, desperate worm make you do anything-"

"You will not kill him," Wufei stated firmly.

There was the smallest instant of silence and Trowa wondered how puzzled Jusan must have been by that remark to let that second pass. "You are willing to let him live?"

"Hardly.” Wufei got to his feet slowly and brushed his grimed hands on his armour. And he finally looked at Duo with eyes that were clearly measuring what size grave would be needed. Duo's eyebrows twitched. "I am going to kill this vermin. He used me, he...abused my mind in a moment of weakness, ripped out my memories when he’d promised to help me, and sent me crawling to my worst enemy. He's going to die, Jusan, in a worst way than you could ever imagine."

"I'd like to see you try..." Duo muttered, but Wufei had already turned back towards Jusan.

"You, however...betrayed the trust of my people. And you committed a crime beyond any imaginable. You destroyed not only our clan, but our future. Taking out the Maxwell trash is personal-"

"Oi...”

"Killing you is Justice. That is all I have to say."

"Isn't he sweet!" Duo grin looked a bit forced and his eyes had narrowed dangerously. "Such simple convictions. Mind like a marble.” Twitch from the Dragon.

”But he was useful to my plans,” Shinigami continued, looking at Jusan with that old, cruel expression again. "I knew you might send a herald to Centre; to eliminate anything that could possibly harm you before you even set foot on the planet. Until Fei showed up, I had no idea how to counter you if you did that! But then this lovely Dragon-" a small growl that Duo ignored "- just fell into my arms, and I had this brilliant idea! I know you employ some of his people still. And you needed someone strong to be your herald! I was willing to bet that if I sent him back, all primped up and begging to serve you-" once more that twitch, but Duo ignored that too "- you couldn't resist. What a magnificent herald, ne? All ready to serve. It was a gamble, but...what did I have to lose? If you sent someone else as herald, we were all screwed anyway, whether Fei was on our side or not!"

If Jusan was listening to any of this, it wasn't apparent. He'd probably figured it out already. "Wufei, we are running out of time. Is that your final word? You will not be my herald?"

"No," Wufei ground out. He reached up to the chain around his neck and yanked it off without touching the medallion. Jusan watched it fall to the ground and sighed - the first sign of emotion Trowa had seen him make; regret.

"Well, you leave me no choice. I will not let this annoying shield be cast, and I have no time left to persuade you."

"He's too stubborn for that, believe me!" Duo chuckled. "He’s more hard-headed than -"

They never heard what Duo's comparison would have been. The Dragon suddenly screamed, a horrible noise ripping from his throat like a death-cry.

Trowa's heart hammered wildly in his throat, and Quatre cried out and tottered, clawing at his temples. Trowa steadied him instinctively. He didn't need to ask what was affecting his lover. The contortions of the lines of fate were screaming in his brain almost as loudly as Chang. It was there, right in front of them; Centre’s immediate and impending doom. For Quatre, the patterns of death and destruction closing around them, seen through Zero’s magnifying lens, must be crushing.

"What's going on?!" Fen shouted. He’d sunk to one knee. Chang had fallen onto his back, clutching his head, that scream still tearing from his soul-

"You bastard, Juusan!" Duo hissed. Trowa winced as the lashings of fury from the braided man’s mind stung his raw nerves.

Duo didn't wait for Jusan's answer. He was already on his knees besides Wufei, and had placed a hand on the Dragon’s forehead.

The horrible scream suddenly cut off. Black eyes blinked, blind still, and the powerful frame was trembling, almost convulsing.

"Shhh." Duo's mouth was still twisted with anger. "Won't last long." He glared at Jusan. "I didn't think you'd actually do it. You've lost! The shield will be cast in only a few minutes! Give it up!"

"I've not lost." Jusan was unmoved, watching dispassionately as Wufei chocked and writhed.

"What-...what are you doing, Duo." Quatre gasped. He had his head in his hands, and lines of pain were carved into his forehead, blue eyes blinking dazedly. But the destructive power that had been surging through Wufei had stopped, Trowa realized.

"He's trying to force his way through the link!" Duo snapped. "I'm blocking him."

"Force-...his way-..."

"It's something he can do with the herald link, though nobody knows this. Well, no-one but us."

Duo didn't say who 'us' referred to. Trowa, looking at Duo's heart chakra, jagged with nearly insane hatred, somehow doubted the braided man had meant himself and Jusan, or was referring to the tiny stone creature clinging precariously to his shoulder, who'd been making faces at Jusan since it had landed there.

"We learned first-hand that the herald link is not as consenting as the Scourge pretends it is,” Duo continued, as if the words were burning his throat. "I guess he'd find it harder to get volunteers if he told them they could end up like this." Duo glanced down at the shivering man he'd propped up against his knee and chest, while he kept the black-gloved hand on Wufei’s forehead. Trowa could see strange lines crawling around that point of contact; Duo was using his shihai and physical touch to do...something.

"The herald can summon Juusan and become a conduit for his power, once he accepts the link. Or Juusan can barge his way through it and take possession of the herald. Destroying his mind and soul in the process." Duo put another hand almost protectively around the Dragon's shoulder to keep him from sliding from his position as the young man shuddered.

Jusan was - no surprise there - unperturbed. "Yes. That is unfortunate. I really did not want to lose Wufei. But I have no choice. And since you are still blocking my link, I will have to destroy your mind and soul first. That is something I do not find unfortunate at all," Jusan added.

"Keep on trying." Duo smiled. But the jester's grin was a bit ragged. Trowa noted that Duo was under considerable strain, his tanned skin was pale with a sheen of sweat on his forehead.

"How long do you think you can last, little worm? The high lords of your race tried to block me like this, five years ago. They lasted only a few seconds before I crushed their minds like glass and destroyed you all." Jusan spoke softly, with an edge of menace.

"You're an idiot, Juusan." Duo's grin was starting to resemble a skull's. But the fire in his eyes was only growing. "You took us by surprise last time. There were only a dozen Lords there to stop you. Powerful, granted, but nowhere near enough.”

"And now I'm facing a mere child."

"Now you're facing all of us..." Duo whispered. And his voice had changed.

So had his appearance. His skin-tight clothes were flowing in that strangely organic way Trowa had noted last time. But they didn't form his sleek battle-suit, or his ragged leathers.

Quatre made a noise in his throat, something between distress and revulsion, and Trowa tasted the edge of death and madness that was finally piercing through the mask; the real Shi No Kami. Besides them, Fen gasped. A whirr of grey shot away from the changing figure, darted behind Quatre and clung to the healer’s jerkin, peaking worriedly at its master over his shoulder.

Duo's body was encased in darkness. In places, it looked as sleek and solid as a scorpion's carapace, in others it drifted, transient as pyre smoke. It grew, it writhed...Trowa could feel the power exuding from the near-sentient thing and its master - but he could also feel the power of Jusan that Duo was opposing, in the battle-ground of Wufei’s mind. The shaman realized this was Duo's last stand, his final defences revealed, his ultimate bid to stop Jusan from coming through and fully materializing here, on Centre.

The...thing that cloaked him - it wasn't armour, like Wing and Shenlong. It had echoes of Duo's pattern, like a faint clone of his soul, simpler...and twisted...It slithered down his braid like a snake. Reared protectively over his head. Shaping itself into a helm, Trowa thought, then gasped and recoiled as a jagged ebony fang darted down - and sliced into Duo's face. Duo smiled like a corpse. Other prongs, on his shoulders, his wrists, were also rising, spiking, and sometimes turning on their owner and drawing blood.

"I see." Jusan sounded completely analytical. "You must have been young when this happened. The toll on your mind must have been considerable."

"Juusan..." The voice...it had...echoes. And it was as cold as crypts. Trowa shuddered. Then it was just Duo's voice. "Worry less about my mind and more about your ass, Juusan. I'm about to hand it to you."

"Really." Jusan glanced at Wufei - who cried and curled up further, trembling, in the protection of Duo's arms. He didn’t react to the odd shape of the creature holding him, or to the spikes on Duo's wrist that eagerly snatched at his clothes and pierced his skin. Trowa wondered how much he was aware of the titanic battle taking place in his mind, trying to rip it apart, and felt a stab of pity for the man who'd planned to kill them all.

Duo had hunched over painfully when Jusan had renewed his attack - but the armour that protected and hurt his body seemed to rise to the challenge. His braid was almost encased in chitin-like darkness, its end curving up into a scorpion's tail. The spikes twisted, grew, forming strange, knotted shapes; like the lines of a protective charm, Trowa suddenly realized. Blood trickled down Duo's face from the shard plunging over one of his eyes to carve his cheek - a strange symmetry to Chang's efforts to resist him earlier. His eyes were almost shut in pain but the power was still there, opposing Jusan every inch of the way.

"I don't get it..." Fen muttered. He was sweating, tracking with his mind, like Trowa and Quatre, the invisible struggle unfolding before them. "If Maxwell had this kind of power...if he could block the herald’s link from the start...why go through all that? Why let the Dragon punch him? Push us around?"

"The question...immortal one..." Fen's head shot up and he stared at Jusan, who was looking calmly at Duo while his mind cruelly pounded the young man. "The real question you should be asking is...how long can he block me..."

"Aah...ahhhahaha..." Duo's laugh was almost a cry of pain, but he still lifted his head. "I-...know-...the answer-..."

"Yes, you do. Another twenty seconds, I'd say," Jusan murmured.

"Wrong! The answer-..." Duo gasped in pain and then grinned like a demon. "The answer is-...long enough!"

His hand shot away from Wufei's shoulder to point behind Trowa and Quatre. The lovers turned to follow the gesture -

Heero, on his knees in the circle behind them, twitched. Then gasped and threw his head and arms back in a gesture of release.

Something...moved....

Only a small fraction of the released power leaked from Svale's circle, but it was enough to knock them all off of their feet.

And the entire planet reverberated, an intense rolling peal of thunder that started in the sanctuary. It flattened them, a pressure wave that then rolled out over the hills and into the distance.

The silence...well, this silence had been through hell and back and was cowering behind one of the sanctuary’s stones, wishing to be left alone, please.

Trowa was the first to recover. Unlike Svale’s first experiment with the shield, there had been no agonizing build-up of power, slowly squeezing his head in a vice. This time, it’d just crushed him quickly and cleanly. He thought the headache was there to stay, and he’d probably be handing it down to his children, assuming he ever had any. But at least he could move, and think, and worry.

He gasped as he felt Quatre in his arms. His lover was - Trowa's vision was warped, as if he were looking at the world through someone's borrowed glasses, but he could tell something wasn't right with his love. Quatre's lines were jangled and severely misaligned. As he watched, they slowly gathered into something approaching their normal pattern but they were still...off, out of synch.

"Too much...too much...Zero...shut up....shut-....shut up shut up shut-" Quatre whimpered.

Trowa glanced around him helplessly. Fen was sitting up, but his eyes were so wide that his ice-blue irises were rimmed with white, and a glance told Trowa he'd be no help. Heero was, no surprise there, crumpled into a little heap in the centre of the circle and Trowa just hoped he was still alive.

Behind Trowa, the Dragon was sitting up, shaking his head and looking dazed. Surprisingly, he seemed the better off. Duo, next to him, was curled up into a foetal ball, clutching one hand over his head and the other to his stomach. His eyes were screwed shut. The armour that had previously carved and covered him was now a melted puddle of shadow painfully dragging itself together to form a rough cloak.

And Jusan was still there. Trowa stared at him for a horrified heartbeat. Then realized that the image was fainter, and flickering. And the coils of power reaching out to crush them had disappeared.

Finally Trowa glanced at the sky.

Someone had spilled oil in the puddle of blue above the ragged clouds. It shifted, writhing like aurora borealis, only faintly discernible but present, on a scale so big it made his mind ache. The iridescence would be cast like a net around the entire planet.

"Focus." Quatre's voice sounded suddenly clear. And as cold as a computer’s. "Reroute. Neutralize that area. Turn - turn that down. Cut-...There. Functions restored."

Quatre straightened up and calmly glanced around. Too calmly. Trowa felt a shiver of pain in his overburdened mind as he noted how completely Zero's patterns were covering his lover's.

"What happened?" he whispered.

"The shield spell." Quatre answered, his voice devoid of emotion. His eyes were darting around, weighing everything they saw, fitting it all into a coherent pattern - Jusan, Duo, the recovering Dragon, Heero, Fen, the sickening sheen in the sky. "It caused a power surge in Zero. Then it reduced its mana input, but it also made its control erratic. It’s become hard to manage without added functionality."

Trowa just stared at him.

"It's all right." The healer had neatly fitted him into the pattern along with the others, but seemed to have noted his distress. "This shutdown of certain functions will only last until my mind can assimilate the changes in power and probability calculations."

"Oh," Trowa said, since something appeared to be expected of him. Quatre's reassurances, if that was what they were, had been said in the same tone of voice as an analysis of the chemical composition of the human brain.

"Duo. Are you alright?" Quatre asked, turning away from the shaman.

Duo had unrolled himself a bit. "Oooooh....that's a fucking kick in the nuts..." he muttered."I think 'm gonna throw up..."

"What's wrong with him?" Trowa asked weakly.

"Duo's spirit armour and mindset are entirely magical," Quatre answered, still in that same, analytical tone. "Any magic user on the planet will be feeling the effects of the dampening field right now. The more powerful they are, the worse their magical abilities will be compromised - their mana pool randomly reduced while their control only gets weaker and more erratic. This results in power surges, spell misfires and severe disorientation. Anyone more reliant on technology will be relatively unaffected."

He was looking at the Dragon as he spoke. The young man had staggered to his feet and was standing before Jusan's image, shaking with the after-effects of his ordeal...or maybe with fury.

"What is it you hope to accomplish...Jishin..."

Jusan's voice was hard to hear, it echoed and crackled. Chang suddenly straightened up and took step back, as he probably realized his enemy was quite out of reach for now.

"Well..." Duo sat up slowly and with visible pain. He looked a bit green, but the smile was back in place. "I'm hoping that when you come here...you'll feel a hundred times more shitty than I feel right now...It's a fate I would wish on my worst enemy..."

"I should have exterminated you all when I had the chance." Still so...unemotional. He's not human, Trowa reminded himself. He doesn't know what emotions are, perhaps. Wait...Jishin?!

"Yes. Yes, you should have." Duo slowly got to his feet, apparently recovering. "But you missed me. Pity, right? You killed all the Jishin in one fell blow but you missed a miserable little snot-nosed fifteen-year-old kid. But that’s the kicker, isn’t it. You never deal with just one Jishin. Because of the way the souls of our dead pass to the living. As long as just one of us remains...the memories and powers of the previous generation - all of the Jishin who ever existed - will end up in the survivor’s mind. You’re facing all of us, Juusan Sama. The concentrated power of an extremely powerful race.” Duo smiled predatorily.

"I exterminated all of you - bar one - once, I’ll do it again.” Jusan announced calmly.

"We’ll be right here. Waiting.” Duo’s eyes gleamed with the chaos of a multitude of souls screaming for revenge.

"And what do you hope, Jishin. Do you think that this- " Jusan gestured towards the shimmering sky "- will stop me? It won't. It will barely slow me down while I kill you all in a manner that has not been seen since the First Source created this universe. I will be here soon, worm. I will be here in a few months - the blink of an eye for a creature such as myself -"

"Yes, and for every second of that time, you'll be afraid," Duo whispered, a mad grin on his face. "You can't know for sure what the shield will do to you. You can't be sure we can't keep you from your Source. You can't be sure we won't kill you, Juusan. Welcome to the passage of time, immortal one. Hope it makes you die a million times over. It still won't be enough."

Trowa looked away from that insane smile, echoing with the vicious hate of a legion of the dead, to find that Jusan had disappeared. His last tenuous hold on his illusion had finally been eaten away by the interference from the shield.

Or maybe he'd felt a touch of fear...

Duo turned towards them and clapped his hands. "Right! Now we have to get busy! Not much time left, as the Scourge so kindly reminded me. Wow, that was close though! He was a hell of a lot stronger than I thought he’d be. Stone and bone, if he’d stopped all that talking just one minute sooner- good thing he’s rather fond of you, Dragon! If he hadn’t been so hesitant to destroy you...if he’d tried to possess you right away, instead of jawing on about it, we’d all be dead!”

Duo’s voice was loud in the silence of the sanctuary - no birds sang, no insects hummed, they’d all been cowed by the world-shaking sound. Trowa’s senses, especially his Nightwalker vision, felt dull and difficult to use. As if the shield, arching lazily across the ionosphere, was drowning them in some imperceptible white noise. Centre’s lines were thrumming like gigantic guitar strings. His head still ached. He noticed the Dragon had stiffened, and stopped staring at the empty space where Jusan had been, to turn towards Duo slowly.

"We have a chance, now,” Duo continued, smiling fiercely and rubbing his hands. "The shield will cut down the Scourge’s power considerably. And I think there’s a few more tricks I can pull on that miserable bastard. To start with, I’ve arranged quite a welcoming committee. Heero will fight him because he wants to keep Wing. Fen- if you want that stone thingy back, you’ll have to help us. Wufei, well, that goes without saying. Quatre - Zero should tell you-"

Wufei burst out laughing. It was a strange sound in the muffled silence beneath the scintillating sky, fey and wild. It sounded like a release, a shout of liberation.

He was still smiling fiercely when he turned and threw himself at Duo, Shenlong crackling with furious energy.

[chap. 28] [chap. 30] [back to Maldoror's fic]