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

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 32
The Measure of Need


A day had passed. Centre's defenders were rested. Harmony and purpose of intent ruled over the sanctuary.

"You can categorically shove it up your ass, Svale! There's no way in Hell I'm even gonna think about it!"

"Now Maxie-"

A shadow fell across Trowa. Someone spoke. Someone who wasn’t shouting or whining. It was a nice change, although all they said was: "Hello, Barton."

Trowa looked up. He'd felt G's approach across the courtyard; his Vision was fully restored after his rest. He hadn't thought the Warden would need to speak to him though. Trowa's own greeting was abruptly interrupted-

"Shut up, you old bag! I see no reason to subject myself to- if you guys don’t have the brains to listen to those who know, that’s your fucking problem, get the wax outta your ears with a fork but I won't-"

Svale’s hectoring interrupted Duo’s rant, her voice too low to make out the words through the partially open door.

"...Greetings, G. Svale is in the kitchen." Trowa twitched his chin towards the main compound, which held his and Quatre's room, Svale's lair, her study, the big, stone-paved kitchen and communal area, and a few empty guest rooms, simple but serviceable.

"Barton, the whole planet knows where Svale is, after all that shouting. I heard it about a mile away. Is it true?"

Trowa's fingers paused on the crossbow bolt he was feathering. "...What is?"

G leaned forward. "Has-"

"Forget it!! You’re over the line, you old hag-"

"Oh, don't be such a damn drama queen, Maxie! It's not like-"

"Has a last descendant of the Jishin reappeared?" G asked, voice a bit louder to be heard over the shouting. "Has he really inherited the collective souls of his people? Is he here? Svale's message was brief."

Trowa gave G a cursory glance. The long nose and fingers were twitching and the eyes were reminiscent of a weasel with the runs. Ah yes, G had always had a fascination for the Jishin that rivalled Svale's. "He's-"

"I owe you?! I owe you fuck all! I’m the one who’s given you your best shot! I set all this up: Heero, Wing, Zero, Fen, the dampening shield -"

"Yeah, you did, Maxie, by manipulating the crap out of us!"

"Yes, he's all that and he's also here," Trowa answered calmly, checking his handiwork. The line of feathers was neat and straight.

"Manip- You weren’t complaining when I stopped Juusan from materializing!"

"You're listening to him right now," Trowa concluded, selecting another fletch. The runes he'd carefully enchanted into the bolt hummed warmly beneath his fingers.

"...He’s...the guy who's shouting at Svale?" G sounded surprised and vaguely disappointed. If he thought a Jishin would be above all that, he was in for a shock, Trowa reflected.

"Yes. Svale's been trying to talk him into doing something all morning. I've not really been paying attention to the details." He'd been busy replenishing his stocks of enchanted crossbow bolts in case they were attacked again. Jusan might be a few months away, but he could have more soldiers in orbit, or within easy reach. Reinforcements could also arrive from pretty much anywhere in the galaxy in a matter of weeks, ripping Ether ahead of their liege. The sanctuary was vulnerable.

The door to the compound slammed open just as G took a hesitant step towards it. Duo stomped across the courtyard. He veered on spotting Trowa; the shaman was seated on a blanket, his back leaning comfortably against their old well, his fletching equipment laid out in the sunshine.

"Trowa!"

The shaman didn't glance up from his work; if he ever wanted to finish this bolt, he was going to have to ignore these annoying interruptions. He did lift his chin slightly, indicating he was listening.

"Tro, do you trust me?"

"Only within very well defined limits," Trowa replied truthfully, making sure the glue correctly covered the feather's quill and the sinew holding it in place.

"Yeah, yeah, but, like, you're gonna fight with me, right?"

"Fight with you? Or fight alongside you against Jusan?" Trowa murmured, in one of his rare moments of dry humour.

"Are we allies?!" Apparently Duo's own sense of humour had been worn down by a morning of Svale's whining.

"Yes, I guess. Until we defeat Jusan. Duo, meet G. G, meet-"

"And the fact you don't trust me further than you can spit me isn't actually gonna stop you from listening to me when I tell ya how to fight Juusan, right?! I’ve got two tons of knowledge about the Scourge, several lifetimes worth; I’m the closest you have to an expert! You'll listen to my advice on how to beat the bastard, right?!"

Trowa paused as he was about to set another feather, and finally looked up at Duo. "...Is that what the shouting was about?"

"Yeah. The old goat-" behind Duo, Svale began to mutter and wave her staff around, "-wants me to jump through yet more hoops! She wants me to show you all what Juusan’s like, what he can do!"

"That sounds like a good idea. Weren’t you going to?" Trowa asked mildly.

"I was gonna tell you! But she wants- what she wants is way too much and I’ll be damned it I’m gonna- you guys are just gonna have to be content with what I tell you about the Scourge! I can’t lie now, isn’t that enough?! I already gave you all the oath of blood and stone! What the fuck else do you want, my head on a gold platter carried by thirty virgins singing your praises?!"

"The oath of blood and stone?!" G gasped. "Was that performed here? How exactly does it work?"

"Who the hell are you?" Duo countered, hands on his hips. Then he waved in irritation. "Later, later. Tro! Answer!"

"Will it be enough, as far as I’m concerned, for you to just tell me what you decide is important about the Scourge, in order for me to fight him at my best?" Trowa recapitulated.

"Yes!"

"No."

"N-" Duo stared at him as if Trowa had plunged the half-made bolt straight into the Jishin's chest.

"I know you can't lie, Duo," Trowa continued, his tone not particularly hostile but very definite. "That doesn’t mean I trust you implicitly. Look at it from my point of view: you have personally caused me more harm than the Scourge has, to date." He didn't need to say more. Duo's eyes flickered gloomily towards Quatre who had followed Svale out of the kitchen. The healer had been present at the argument, though Trowa had not heard his voice; apparently Quatre was letting things run their course, waiting for one of those nexus points Zero favoured, before acting and manipulating the course of the future. The fact that his lover had been around a very angry Duo had prompted Trowa to settle down in the nearby courtyard to do his work, instead of his room. Duo looked like he’d just realized that now.

"I’ll listen to what you have to say, and I’ll probably follow your suggestions," Trowa continued. "You are an expert, and I know you want to kill him. But that and the oath you swore are not going to let me follow you blindly. I'm pretty damn sure that you're very good at lying by omission. And I don't know enough about the Scourge to be confident that I'm asking you all the questions I should. I'll be fighting him as well as I can, but at the back of my mind, as much as I know I shouldn't let it distract me, I will be wondering what you didn't tell us. I won't be sure there wasn't a better, more peaceful way of handling Jusan. I'll fear that you're still sacrificing all of us needlessly just to satisfy your dead. I'll be wondering if this isn't going to cost me even more this time." He didn't look at Quatre, and he didn't know if the healer looked at him. His lover's lines were nearly unreadable to him since the shield had been cast, Zero adding yet another alien layer to the well-known mind.

He could feel Duo's glare on his head as he bowed it over the bolt's shaft. Then the Jishin spat out a word in an unknown language - not that it needed a translation - and vanished in a small rush of indrawn air.

"Teleportation," G breathed. "A Jishin survivor- the accumulated lore of - simply magnificent."

"His temper could use some improving," Trowa put in mildly. "He'll be back. He's already stormed off once before this morning. Sorry, Svale."

"No, that’s okay, lad," the crone sighed. "You only told him the truth, and what he had to hear."

"I know." Trowa didn’t have a clue what Svale was trying to talk Duo into, but he knew it was important because Quatre had been there, listening, ready to steer the conversation into any direction needed. Trowa couldn’t guess what the healer wanted; so he followed his intuition and his natural inclination to tell the truth, plainly and simply. Quatre knew this, knew him, and hadn’t stopped him from speaking. Apparently he’d judged that Duo needed to hear those simple words too.

Trowa wished the rest of their harmony could be recaptured that easily. He was going to finish these bolts - if people would be kind enough to take their tempers and questions elsewhere - and then he’d see if he could corner Quatre before something else cropped up. They had things they needed to talk about-

"I got news about those power sources we’re after," G announced abruptly. "To supply the spell shield with juice. Is anybody actually interested?"

- and now he had one more important distraction to deal with instead. Talk to him later, then. Always later, Trowa thought, his fingers slowly crushing an inadequate fletching feather. If this keeps up, Jusan will arrive and blow everything to hell before we can talk. Maybe, if we’re lucky, our atoms will drift into synchronous orbit around the smoking dead planet that used to be Centre, and we can finally have it out then.



---



"What are we doing here?" Wufei asked, in a dangerous voice that implied that the answer had better be good.

Trowa glanced at Chang, at the lines of his body and mind. The grumpiness was not entirely feigned, but it was also hiding a healthy amount of curiosity.

In the two days since his arrival, the Dragon had not mingled with the sanctuary’s other inhabitants. Trowa had caught sight of him tromping around the hills and mounds, apparently examining everything attentively, Shenlong's analyser shining its information into his left eye. Svale had kept an eye on him, but she'd been amazingly circumspect, leaving him a few sandwiches where he’d find them and otherwise not trying the slightest bit of her usual molestation. Maybe it was in return for that restraint that the Dragon had agreed to be present today, with only a few growls for appearance's sake.

'Here' did not amount to much so far. After another day of arguments, Svale had apparently won her way. She’d led G, Trowa, Quatre, Heero, Wufei and a very reluctant and hostile Duo down to a room deep within the sanctuary. Trowa had noted Fen's absence, and Svale had supplied that the Phoenix was still not up to public appearances. Privately, Trowa thought it more likely that Fen was still not up to being put into a small room with Duo, but he let the explanation go unchallenged.

The room was one Trowa had never been in before, in one of the areas recently revealed by the sanctuary's reactivation. It was a half-sphere hewn from bedrock, about thirty feet in diameter and empty. The walls were so smooth the granite looked like marble. Trowa spotted faint grooves in the polished floor, an elegant, entrancing pattern that danced by the light of Svale's small lantern. There was no place to sit, so the small group stood around; Svale's air of expectation delayed questions, except for Chang's grumbling. Duo, in his own little cloud of bad temper, kicked at a few dust bunnies and debris and went to stand in the centre of the room. He appeared to be concentrating.

"Okay," he muttered after a few minutes. The words echoed against the rock that surrounded them. "The spell's starting. It'll take some time to get what it needs though. But I'll let it cast the first setting, just to be sure it's working. This thing's antique."

Svale's agreement was cut off by a yelp. Trowa fell to a half-crouch, his fingers instinctively on his knife. He fought off a wave of nausea coming from the conflicting information his senses were bringing him.

The eye that could see beyond the surface of things was telling him he was still in the same stone room beneath the sanctuary.

The eye that could see the mundane world was insisting he was now in a wide, open chamber full of hazy, afternoon sunshine.

A deep whine - Shenlong shot up Wufei's arms and torso as power screamed in the air and its owner stared around wildly.

"Calm down," Svale put in quickly, before Chang could blow a hole in the wall ('which wall?!' the shaman's senses screamed, still deeply lost within their schism). "It's an illusion."

"You could have warned us, you old bat!" G gasped, steadying himself absently against Heero's solid frame. Heero showed absolutely no surprise at the abrupt change in the room around him. Trowa briefly wondered what the silent man was seeing.

"Oh, but it's so much more fun this way!" Svale cackled, scooting prudently away from a boiling Dragon to stand behind Heero as well.

Trowa looked around carefully, getting used to the conflicting views he was seeing. He kept in mind the real limits of the room, and examined the illusion. The chamber they were in was somewhat conical, rising twenty feet above their heads to a rounded point from which faint lights sparkled, suspended in mid air with no visible means of support. Large windows, unglazed and apparently open to the elements, allowed the light to flow in and bring warmth to the cool off-white stone of the walls. There were about two dozen prongs of rock that had apparently ripped themselves up from the floor and fashioned themselves into deep chairs, like strangely helpful stalagmites. A few coloured cushions lent them some comfort, and broke the room's otherwise stern monochrome. In some areas the stone floor had apparently cracked, and plants pulled themselves up towards the sunlight, small shrubs and a few ferns, so incongruously out of place that Trowa had to conclude that this was deliberate.

Duo walked around in a tight circle, looking at the illusion critically. His face was set in its usual relaxed lines but his eyes, as they rested briefly on Svale, were savage. His steps echoed strangely, rasping against granite instead of the softer limestone of the illusion, and when he spoke, the echoes of his voice reminded them all that they were still in the much smaller room, deep underground.

"Doesn't look too bad. The spell's still working, apparently." Duo's happiness knew definite bounds. "Right, the room needs some time to get the rest of the information from my mind."

"Your mind?" Chang asked, his brusque voice sparking new echoes from the invisible walls.

"These are my memories. Not only mine, actually. This is-" Duo gave Svale a sour glance. "This room is built to house a very complicated spell, which connects with a Jishin's mind, and also with those of any Jishin present at the scene through the Tamashii-kokoro."

"The Tamashii-...?" Trowa thought he'd heard the word before.

"The Soul-mind of the Jishin," G supplied. "The well of knowledge formed by the souls of the dead, accessed by the living."

"This spell won't work with normal humans. But it can plug into a Jishin and get all the memories of an event from him and project it as an illusion," Svale chirped in. "It was used as a study tool, so that travelling Jishin could show their peers what they'd seen on other planets."

"It was also used for investigating crimes," Duo ground out.

"Yes, I guess it would be, since the images here cannot be falsified, and anything missing can be reconstituted from all witnesses that were present, living and deceased," Svale agreed with equanimity. "But mainly it was a study tool, and this is where we are going to study Jusan."

Trowa stared at her. Surely she couldn't be proposing that-

"This will show not only image and sound, but should give us some feel for the context as well," Svale concluded. "You have to agree, Maxie, it's a much better way of showing us what you know of the Scourge, rather than just telling us, right?"

Merciful Centre...Trowa closed his eyes briefly, then looking around to see if anybody else had put it together. If they had, they didn’t seem particularly disturbed...

Duo smiled before turning away. It was extremely ugly.

"It'll take a few minutes," he announced, his voice incongruously even and pleasant after that smile. "It'll be mainly my memories. The Tamashii-kokoro is...damaged. The spell cannot connect to it properly at this point in time, not like it used to. It will complete the visuals - fill in the bits of the illusion that I might not have seen, and it will give you an immersive picture, but I don't think it'll tell you that much more. But that's okay. My memories will be more than enough. Oh. And-" Duo glanced back at them, eyes skipping from face to face.

"Welcome to Iwa No Hone," he said softly. "I hope you enjoy the privilege. The Jishin normally kill trespassers."

For an instant the disturbing smile played on Duo's lips again, as he turned back to stare at the empty room around him.

Trowa turned away from that look on Duo's face, and went towards the illusion of one of the windows.

"Careful," Duo said behind him, still in that all-too-pleasant tone, "if you bump against the walls - the real walls - it'll break the spell."

"I can sense them," Trowa answered quietly. He leaned cautiously over the illusory windowsill without touching it. Incredibly, the view that met his eye appeared to be complete in every detail, and the illusion of depth was breathtaking, sweeping his gaze out to the distant horizon. To think this spell was nothing but a study tool (and occasionally a tribunal); the Jishin had mastered magic in ways that left even a mystic like himself amazed.

The window was, to all appearances, situated high up in an old stone tower, grey rock rising organically from a forest canopy below them. The building had no sculptures or decoration as far as Trowa could see, only moss, lichen and ivy at its base. Small trees perched in its deeper crags. The forest around them was oak, cedar, some birch and a few darker splashes of trees that had mutated too far from the original Terran stock to be recognizable. Trowa breathed deeply, but he could not smell the rich growing scents his living eye told him should be there; there was nothing but the smell of rock and dust from the room that contained this illusion. The spell didn't go into that much detail.

There was a grove of massive trees off towards the place the sun was setting. Truly massive. Trowa tried to judge their height in relation to their distance and realized they could in no way be natural. A Jishin Grove, a font of earth-power. In the distance another object reared up through the green canopy, huge, strange, magnificent in its size and sheer oddity. Two curved horns of white rock, hundreds of feet high, flattened near the tip. They looked a lot like the remains of a gigantic ribcage.

"The astral observatory."

Trowa glanced at Chang in surprise; the latter had approached silently, and was looking at the windowsill with some suspicion. Finally the young Dragon leaned over it and poked his head out the large window. Trowa moved over to give him some space, and looked at him inquisitively.

"Observatory?"

"I think it’s how they called it. Don’t ask me how it works. Magic." The word was said with some distaste. "The Jishin don’t - didn’t have a single laser reflector or satellite dish on the entire benighted planet. That was their advanced warning system for anything approaching the planet of bones."

Trowa looked at the 'ribs' rising from the forest canopy, then at a distant mountain range rearing up like monstrous teeth. The planet of bones.

"How do you know this?" he asked curiously

"My people kept information and pictures taken by the delegation we sent to the planet fifty years ago." Chang’s voice was very exact, with a slight aggressive tone to it that appeared to be natural. It sounded hard and uncaring. Trowa tried to find some traces of the passion he’d seen there two days ago. It was there, a banked fire ready to rise up like an inferno from the embers.

"They visited the planet during the Twilight Retreat, some of the few non-Jishin to have ever walked this world. At that time, my forebears were negotiating a treaty with the Lords of Iwanohone to let the remaining Jishin return to their planet without harassment, if they swore to never return to the outer worlds they'd toyed with for so long." The way Wufei spoke, the Jishin had been suing for mercy. Trowa’s eyes flickered towards Duo behind them. It was a no-brainer that the Jishin would have quite a different interpretation to the event. Fortunately Duo hadn't heard the Dragon’s comment or had decided to ignore it.

"My people dug up that surveillance information over five years ago. We were looking into alternative strategies to attack this place," Chang stated as if this was perfectly natural. His eyes were never still, scanning the building, the forest, the observatory, the room around them, noting landmarks and strategic points.

"You were involved in this? You must have been very young," Trowa murmured.

"I am a Dragon." That apparently explained everything. Trowa knew little about the race of mechanists, but he seemed to recall they’d lifted warfare to a fine art and thrived on it. Apparently their education started very early.

"But finally Jusan decided to deal with the Jishin using a more direct approach, one that did not involve my people." Chang had the minor decency to lower his voice and glance at Duo behind them; the Jishin was still deep in thought, some distance away. "Jusan sent his war-leader, his herald at the time. I understand the man went to Iwanohone and summoned the Scourge. His power was enough to neutralize the planet, though the herald didn’t survive the summons."

The last was a mutter, as Chang visibly reconsidered what he’d been told of the incident in light of what he himself had survived a couple of days ago.

"Is he going to show us something?" he grumbled brusquely, glancing at Duo as if looking for a distraction. "Or are we just here to admire the scenery?"

He didn't raise his voice though. None of them did, even when the silence stretched for nearly ten minutes.

Trowa knew why they were all silent. He knew what Svale had, somehow, talked Duo into. All of those present knew what she had asked the Jishin to show them. And even with all the anger and injury lying between him and Duo, Trowa rather agreed with him on this point. Trowa would have told her to shove it up her ass as well.

Yes, they needed to know about Jusan. Yes, it would be hard to rely solely on what Duo chose to tell them, when they still didn't trust him.

But there had been only one instance where Duo and Jusan's paths had crossed before.

Trowa wanted to know about Jusan, but to make a man relive the genocide of his people was going way beyond the pale.

And none of the others...Trowa looked around once more. His eyes lingered particularly on Quatre...None of the others appeared in any way opposed to this.

Somehow, for Trowa, that only made it worse.

Duo didn’t look up as Trowa drew near him. The shaman glanced around the illusory room. Nothing had changed there. Motes of dust were pinned solid in the light from the sun, which was stuck, unmoving, against the sky outside. The plants did not nod in the breeze that might be coming from the window. Nobody occupied the chairs which were the room’s only furniture.

Trowa examined the chairs briefly. Now that he knew where he was, their appearance no longer surprised him; he remembered Duo bringing forth slabs of rock to imprison Wufei with a touch of his hands. Stones and giant groves and titanic bones. The chairs looked like they were set up for some kind of meeting.; tey were in a rough circle, though there was a lack of rigorous symmetry to the arrangement that pleased Trowa. It was like the wild, thick forests outside, the mountains at the horizon...though this was only a memory, he could almost feel the untamed life around them. The Jishin had not believed in conquering their own planet; they’d let it run wild, and ran with it.

"Your home world was beautiful," Trowa murmured.

Duo glanced up in surprise; his eyes were hot and angry, but something in them flinched at Trowa’s words and he looked away.

"Was tough." His voice was short and clipped. "Iwa No Hone was no place for the faint of heart. That pretty forest outside was a testing ground. Even Centre doesn’t have the same proportion of monsters and dangerous spells per square mile."

"And most of them created by the Tricksters themselves," Chang muttered in the background.

"Iwa...no...Hone..." Trowa said slowly. Duo had spun around, teeth bared and ready to flay the Dragon, but that caught him short. "Iwa No Hone? Is that how you pronounce it?"

"Yes. Iwa No Hone."

It sounded more fluent and melodic coming from Duo. Trowa looked curiously at the young man clad in scruffy leathers, with an easy tongue and a raw vocabulary that could put Svale to shame. But when Duo spoke the name of his birthplace, he sounded like a mythical Elsire.

"What does it mean?"

For a moment, he thought Duo wouldn’t answer. Then the young man turned away.

"The bones of the stones." Duo’s voice was rough. Trowa looked out the window again. Bones of the stones. Yes. The planet had been alive to the Jishin. Trowa was close to Centre's life force too, her dream lines, the minds of men and animals. But the Jishin had been closer to the planet herself, her earth, her rocks, and the simple, primordial growing things that lived off of them. When Duo said 'the bones of the stones', he could be saying 'the arms of my mother'.

"It's ready," Duo announced abruptly. Around them, the light suddenly seemed more vibrant, and Trowa heard faint echoes of footsteps and voices, growing nearer.

The Jishin glanced around, as if looking for a landmark. He headed off towards one side of the room, passing near Trowa and a serious Quatre, who'd come to stand near the shaman. Trowa let Duo go by in silence. Because there was really nothing he could say. Duo had agreed to this, he'd chosen to do this so that they could have the knowledge they'd need. Trowa would not insult him with an apology for it, even if that were the shaman’s style; there was really no way to apologize for what they'd asked him to do.

Duo was going to show them just what he knew about Jusan, first hand.

He was going to show them the destruction of the Jishin.

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