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 33
Memories of the Dead


There was a sense of growing power in that room of illusions, matching the tension among the spectators. In the heavy atmosphere, Duo's grumble sounded loud.

"For information, we're in the council hall. You'll be seeing the Lords of the Jishin discuss Juusan. Then we'll see-"

"Wait a sec. These are your memories for the most part, right?" Svale stared at Duo. "Why the hell did they have you present at such an important meeting?"

"They didn't," Duo growled. "I was eavesdropping." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the window behind him.

With a start, Trowa realized there was someone - rather, the illusion of someone - there. He couldn't see much; the shadow of a crag cloaked a small figure, two blue eyes peeking over the windowsill. He turned to mention it, and saw that the room behind him was now occupied. People were starting to appear one by one, frozen in the motion of heading to the scattered seats.

One of them was only a few feet away from the shaman, who examined the Jishin curiously. The illusions didn’t translate many of their lines for the shaman to read, but Trowa was used to judging people by their stance and their eyes, as well as their aura. These men were quite different in appearance to what Trowa had come to think of as 'normal Duo', and more closely resembled the creature that had faced off with Jusan a couple of days ago: Shi no Kami. There was an air of power about them, wisdom, age...and a certain amount of unthinking cruelty, like the gleam of a cat’s eye on a mouse. They looked quite young in appearance, to be charged with the welfare of their people. But Trowa had the intuition that their appearance was a lie. Jishin must age very gracefully. These men were old. And not just in age; the cumulative experience of their very long-lived race was in their eyes. The feel coming from the room was one of weighty knowledge tinged with weariness.

Most were about Trowa's height and slender; they wore their hair long, flowing or gathered in loose bunches. They were clothed in armour, like Duo had been; smooth, slightly translucent, in blue, white, green, or red...It glowed with their life, their spirit. The designs were simple yet striking: edgings and incrustations of what looked like stylized leaves and vines, or elegant interweaving patterns. Trowa remembered fairy tales, about the Elsire and their glass armour, and their dancing lights...But these men were real. They radiated power, but they also looked worried.

"Okay, spell's starting...now..." Duo murmured. And the figures started to move. Trowa backed out of the path of a man who had been dead for over five years as the illusion headed for one of the chairs. This felt morbid enough without having one of these phantasms walk straight through him.

"Lords." One man with golden hair and a brilliant white and silver armour had stayed standing. "You know the reason for our council."

We're hearing this through Duo's own interpretation, Trowa realized with some shock. He could see and hear the illusion, but there was more, a faint echo of feelings and thoughts. Trowa could hear the men talking in a language he did not know, but the words were nonetheless understandable, translated by the knowledge of the one whose memories they were sharing. The shaman could even taste a few of the boy Duo’s feelings as he spied upon the Lords of his people; something like: 'get to the point, you boring old farts!'. Trowa glanced back at the small presence at the window, now carefully hidden from view. He could feel its trace in his mind. It was young, cheeky, and overbearingly curious. It almost made Trowa smile, but the taste on his tongue was bitter; so apparently, they were not only going to see Duo's memories but relive them to a limited extent. Sure, why not, Trowa thought acidly, what's one more violation of this man's private tragedy.

"Can we believe Juusan’s peace overtures?" The standing man asked gravely. From the faint echoes of Duo’s memories that coloured the picture, Trowa was aware that this man was the Eldest; not a name that actually reflected his age, more an honorary title. He was the leader chosen by the other Lords, who spoke for all their people.

"He has many reasons to want to get rid of us. And no other reason I can see to approach us," the man nearest Trowa said. He was wearing dusky red armour, and his finger was tapping the high armrest of his chair.

"Not necessarily," someone countered. "Remember, he's been travelling towards Centre for years now. He needs to re-source himself, if what we researched about him is true. We have defences on Centre; our presence there was very strong, once. Maybe he's just coming to negotiate safe passage."

"Yes. The only way he knows how," the man in red armour grumbled, but he didn't say it very loudly. Trowa was surprised that Duo had been close enough to catch his words. Then he remembered that the spell also gathered information about the meeting from the memories of the dead, to complement Duo’s recollections. That made it, if possible, even creepier. Fortunately Trowa wasn’t the type to get distracted by the eeriness of witnessing the reminiscences of a bunch of dead people. He listened attentively.

"We don't know for sure that's what Juusan is planning to do," the Eldest asserted with quiet authority. "Our research, as you call it, is more theory and speculation."

"Speculation?" someone objected. "It's pretty convincing. We've been mapping out the extent of his power for centuries now. If he's not the thirteenth aspect of the Source of All Things, then what is he? I would-"

Quatre suddenly gasped and dropped to his knees, eyes dazed.

Trowa was by his side in a second. "Quatre?! Duo! Stop this! What-"

"No!" Quatre hissed, shoving him away brutally. Trowa staggered back into a crouch.

"Do not interfere," Quatre added in a voice so completely neutral it was obvious he was barely aware Trowa was there. "Duo, continue."

"I don't have the choice, this ain't no bloody vid recording..." Duo grumbled in the background. The Lords were still talking, but it took Trowa a moment to tear his eyes and attention away from his lover's profile; Quatre’s jaw was clenched in concentration, beads of sweat on his forehead, he was still on his knees but Trowa didn't think he'd even noticed.

For a moment, he thought his anxiety and hurt over Quatre's actions were interfering with his hearing. Then he realized that everybody else - except for his lover and Heero, who was staring at nothing much - was looking just as puzzled. There was a lively argument going on between several of the Lords, but Trowa could only catch a few words, the rest was incomprehensible.

"Oy! Maxie! What happened to the picture?! The words aren’t translating."

"That's because I didn't and still don’t understand what they were talking about either," Duo growled. His eyes were narrowed as he stood off to one side, near the window where he'd been eavesdropping over five years ago. He was glaring at the Lords. "It's complicated arcane stuff. It's not really important anyway. ‘Juusan is fucking powerful’, is what they could have said in about one second instead of nattering on about it. This research they mention, about his origins...even with the inherited knowledge of my race, it'd take years of studying to fully understand what they were talking about. It's not important. The important stuff is coming up. The bit where they decide to see if they can't find 'a better, more peaceful' way of dealing with the Scourge."

Trowa could almost feel the last words being drilled into his back. He’d said something like that to Duo yesterday, he recalled.

"Oh. Okay." Svale scratched her chin, producing a gritty noise. "Can't you fast-forward it to that bit?"

"No, I bloody well cannot fast-fo-"

"Lords!"

Everybody's attention - the living and the dead - focused on the leader. He'd taken a step forward.

"We can discuss who or what the thirteenth is at a later date. We've received word he wants to send us an emissary to discuss peace. After leaving us well enough alone for millennia, now he wants to discuss peace."

The air of worry and complete suspicion were back.

"The man he'll send will probably be his war leader. His herald. We all know what that means." The leader’s words rang in the sombre silence. "The question is...do we let him approach us - with due caution? To see what the Scourge wants? Or do we opt for immediate and utter resistance? Knowing what that might entail."

"War with the Scourge."

"Yes."

"But to let the herald onto Iwa No Hone-"

"With due caution."

"With whatever caution. That's..."

"Risky. But look at the alternative," someone pointed out. "If we refuse, Juusan might see it as a signal that we intend to interfere with his plans. That is not advisable. Note that he is sending his herald openly, in apparent good faith. He must know we'll be careful and will not let him near enough to harm us. Maybe he is here to discuss peace. To make sure we don't disrupt his trip to Centre."

"We have no such plans anyway; let him do what he wants," a man muttered. He was one of the rare ones to show any signs of age, his dark hair spattered with white, the skin around his eyes as delicate as brittle old ivory.

"If he re-sources, he'll be even stronger. He'll be as strong as he was during the First Cull. That would be-"

"Still not enough to attack us head-on," another cut in. "Not in person. In addition, since he cannot travel much faster than the speed of light, it would take him hundred of years to get here from Centre. We’d have centuries to prepare for his arrival."

"It would be a considerable risk to himself," a tall woman in green agreed. "Juusan knows our power. He's let us live for aeons. He knows we are content to stay on Iwa No Hone and spend our Twilight with our research and our magic"

Trowa felt a surge of annoyance from the observer whose thoughts he was sharing: the restlessness of a very young man who did not feel like whiling his life away with research.

"Why should he risk a war with us, in those conditions?" someone else pointed out reasonably. "Maybe that's all this herald has to say. He can speak with Juusan's voice, after all. It makes sense to send his herald and war leader for such an important meeting."

"Anything less would have been an insult," a tall Lord agreed haughtily.

"I, for one, would have preferred to be insulted," the man in red armour near Trowa muttered. The shaman didn't know if anybody else heard.

The leader of the council looked at the assembled Lords as they talked. Through the echoes of thoughts and knowledge from Duo, Trowa realized that only part of the council was audible. The Jishin were a mythical race, and their bonds went deeper than the roots of trees, both the living and their dead intertwined. Their habits were solitary, but their minds were one, on a level other humans could not understand. The leader observed each speaker in turn...and Trowa could have sworn that for an instant the eyes, grey and hard as stone, flicked briefly towards the window, as if gathering the opinion of someone who shouldn't have been there at all. Trowa thought the Eldest smiled, ever so slightly. Young Duo was listening to the councillors talking about how much safer it would be to not provoke the Scourge and how they should negotiate peace instead. His solid conclusion rang in Trowa’s mind: 'No way! Let's kick Juusan’s ass!'

"Very well," the leader said softly, though no one had made any definitive argument either for or against. At least, not out loud. "We agree that immediate resistance, leading to a very likely war with the Scourge, is not the best option. Let's see if we can find ways of neutralizing the herald so that we can let him approach us safely. We need to be able to block his summoning of Juusan without stopping the link between them; the Immortal Power will want to talk to us directly. Let us reflect on-"

The voice had been slowly fading until it was almost inaudible, and the Lord had frozen in mid-motion partway through his speech. Trowa glanced out the window, but the presence there had vanished. Duo had felt completely fed up with their lack of backbone and had left in a huff, leaving the spell bereft of his memories.

The present-day Duo was silent, staring at the Lords who had, in all innocence, condemned their people to death. Trowa could not make out the lines of his thoughts. He didn’t feel like digging too deeply, though.

The council room vanished abruptly; they found themselves in a long empty corridor, staggering at the sudden change.

"Warn people next time," G muttered, looking dizzy.

Duo said nothing. Was he wondering if he could have done something, said something that could have changed the Lords’ minds? Changed the course of fate?

A scrabble off to one side brought Trowa's attention towards a window. They were somewhere else in the same building. A young version of Duo was scaling the rough-hewn outer wall, heading towards the window, apparently oblivious of the hundred-foot drop below the ledge that was narrower than his small sandaled feet.

The child - fourteen or fifteen, Trowa guessed - reached the windowsill and scrambled over it. The shaman looked at the younger version with interest. Duo was dressed in pants, shirt and an open robe caught by a belt at the waist, all in a blue cloth the colour of the gathering dusk outside. His hair reached his lower back, flowing loose like the Lords'. His eyes...were the clear, innocent eyes of a child on the cusp of adulthood. They contained none of the darkness found within their older counterparts. Understandably enough. His face was as expressive as the Duo that Trowa knew, but this wasn't a mask to hide what crawled beneath it, blood-soaked and torn. Trowa almost smiled as he watched feelings flit across the mobile features. The impish, sinful joy of having done something completely forbidden without getting caught, and the disgust at what he'd heard.

Duo - the adult - stirred. "So, you saw how easy it is to take the path of least resistance, to crawl on your belly and hope the Scourge overlooks you. Now let's skip forward a few months to see what the consequences were, shall we? I hope you guys didn't eat breakfast this morning-"

"Duo!"

Everybody started - the real people present, and the young, illusory Duo as well.

The flesh and blood Duo froze, mouth still open, his face suddenly white.

"Do I even want to know?" The man drawled, crossing his arms over his chest as he approached the boy.

He was a few inches shorter than Trowa. Fine hair the colour of cinnamon fell to the middle of his back. He wore Jishin armour under a loose open robe; it was much simpler than the Lords', blue with violet reflections. His features and eyes were similar to Duo’s. Trowa judged him to be in his mid-twenties, although with the Jishin it was probably hard to tell.

"Oh, Solo, there you are! Hey, I was just wandering around looking for you!" Young Duo's face was a picture. Too bad he wasn't this pathetic a liar when we first met him, Trowa thought dryly.

"Really? Didn't think of looking where I said I would be, by any chance?" The man, Solo, asked archly.

"Ah, I went to the lab but you weren't there so I thought maybe you went with Lord Oderon to the council and that you might be waiting for him so you would be here and-"

"Yeah, yeah," Solo interrupted the breathless explanation. His eyes had drifted towards the window. It was obvious he knew exactly what Duo had been up to. "Duo...oh, let's just go finish your project. The sooner you're a man, the sooner you’ll stop dragging me into your trouble." He reached over and cuffed the boy as Duo slipped by him. It was a very, very light blow, it barely ruffled the unruly bangs of his charge, who nonetheless went 'Ow!' in the very loud voice of the innocently injured.

"Why'd you do that?! I didn't do anything!"

"Yeah, yeah." Trowa had the impression Solo repeated those weary, loving words a lot. Echoes of Duo's memories informed him that this Solo had been Duo’s only kin and guardian. Trowa felt a stab of sympathy for the man. That must have been one hell of a lot of work.

"So, do you think I'll finish it soon?!" Duo broke into a run, passing Trowa. He'd obviously forgotten the cuff, the silent censure and what he'd heard in the council.

"No. It'll take months of feeding it magic before the stone comes alive. Assuming you can do it anyway."

"I'll do it!" was the insulted response.

"I'll mention this again, just for the record, boy; no-one's created a golem in three generations. Even such a small one may be beyond you."

"Yeah, yeah," Duo muttered, in perfect imitation of his mentor. They were at the end of the corridor, but their voices did not grow fainter. These were Duo's memories. Remembering this, Trowa glanced at Duo behind him. He was looking after the departing figure of Solo, his face a mask but his eyes raw with such longing and pain that Trowa had to look away again.

The room suddenly went blank - utterly blank. People gasped again, and G made gulping noises. They were apparently hanging in a grey void; there was no floor beneath their feet.

There was silence for a few moments. An indefinite light barely illuminated the people present. In that light, Trowa saw Svale scutter over to Duo, walking over the floor that no one could see.

"Pull it together, Maxie. Show us the rest." Her voice was loud and bracing, without the insult of pity. Duo stirred and nodded slowly. The mask stayed put.

"Right. This is a few months later," he said abruptly, his eyes still as blind as the nothingness around them.

The picture took a few seconds to coalesce. Then Duo shook himself, and suddenly, with the same sense of disorientation, they were again on Iwa No Hone.

They were in a large open space, a rocky outcropping like a mesa rearing up out of a jungle below. Birds whistled and things in the woods shrieked. This was another latitude entirely, Trowa guessed. The illusion was still just as striking; he could almost feel the humid heat that seemed to belong to the scene.

There were several hundred Jishin in a loose circle all around the mesa's top. Svale, passionate about her research on the mythical Elsire, had told Trowa many a tale about them. They were not a social people. Most of them isolated themselves in their towers, intent on research, or weaving strange spells, or dreaming the memories of past lives. The only times they broke that isolation were for councils, research groups, or to mentor the young, as Solo had been doing with Duo. Or to gather in times of crisis, like this.

Trowa picked Duo out of the crowd easily. These being his memories, the spectators to the illusion were near him. He was standing with Solo, some distance apart from the crowds of other Jishin. Once more, Trowa could feel a backwash of Duo's memories and thoughts, colouring the scene before him as the boy looked at the people around him. Duo was used to this isolation from others; apparently he and Solo were cousins, the only surviving members of an old House that had been one of the last to retreat during the Twilight. They had few allies in the other, stronger Houses of the Elsire, no kin and few friends. And they were quite happy that way.

"I don't see why we all have to toady to this guy," young Duo muttered. From the way Solo rolled his eyes, this wasn't the first time his young charge had said something like that.

"Duo...don't get into trouble," Solo whispered, though they were quite some distance from the nearest Jishin.

"I won't. I just don't see why we can't fight him. He's not all that. He's been around for millennia. He's got to be so old he forgets how to piss."

Solo rolled his eyes again, and then glanced at Duo sharply. "Keep an eye on that thing."

"I will," Duo grumbled, stuffing something back into the inner pocket of his robe. Trowa had recognized the little stone creature that the real Duo had left upstairs today, his 'Imp'.

"Has it learned to speak, yet?" Solo asked. His eyes were worried, fixed on the empty centre of the mesa. Trowa thought he was trying to distract his young charge from the upcoming meeting, or maybe himself.

"A little," Duo answered, though he didn't sound convincing. "He's gotta speak? I mean, real sentences?"

"Yes. Otherwise he's just an animate. A golem must talk."

"Maybe this one’s kinda slow," Duo mused, his eyes shifting towards Solo as if seeing what chance that reasoning had of convincing his mentor.

"This was your choice of a coming-of-age project, Duo. This is supposed to teach you - slowly and incrementally - how to connect to our Soul-mind for information and magic without being overwhelmed by it. Right now, you are only in contact with the departed souls of your nearest kin, a tiny portion of the total knowledge that-"

"I don’t think any of them ever built a golem. They ain’t helping."

"Respect our dead, Duo," Solo retorted, another phrase he was apparently used to repeating a lot. "The well of souls holds every particle of knowledge of our race, and your kin have access to it. They will help you, but you have to open your mind to them, to the way of our departed souls, to integrate the knowledge they are trying to give you."

"It’s all fuzzy."

"That’s because you’re young. You’re still too fixed in the material world to let your consciousness blend with the Soul-mind. You’re still trying to hear them as individuals, not as a collective."

Duo glowered at his feet. In his pocket the creature stirred and poked its head out, and he absently pushed it back in again.

"I told you from the start that this project would be difficult. It might take you a long time, though I guess it is good practice, and an impressive achievement to date. Remember though, you have to finish it properly to gain the right to live as a full-fledged Jishin, to access the entirety of the Soul-mind, earn your own tower, and start your own studies," Solo lectured sternly.

"In a hurry to get rid of me?" Duo muttered. Trowa had the sudden feeling that the curious, vivacious child - born to a senescent race with very few children as it were - had been something of a burden to many of the older, wearier Jishin who longed for quiet in which to study.

Solo was still for a few seconds. Then, without looking, he reached over and cuffed his student. Very lightly. Duo's 'Ow!' rang out over the assembly. It sounded more pleased than aggrieved.

There was a shifting murmur among the Jishin. Something shimmered at the centre of the mesa. A Seer spell, Duo’s memories informed Trowa; it was built into the rocks of the mesa, like a lot of Jishin magic, fuelled by the planet herself.

In the vision, figures appeared. A few of the Lords from the council, the Jishin leader, and another man, dressed like a techno-cabalist.

The fifteen-year old Duo's appearance flickered. The dusk-blue robes he was wearing twisted and hardened. Incomplete plates of blue glass appeared along his upper arms, his torso. The boy was still too young to fully materialize his spirit into armour, the signature spell of his race. Trowa could feel the intense worry and anger echoing from the young mind. 'What a risk! And for what?! We should never let him anywhere near the planet! We should have blown up his stupid herald before he got halfway to Iwa No Hone! If the Scourge wants a fight, we can take him! We're the Jishin! We're almost as old as he is!'

Solo put his hand on Duo's shoulder. "Shhhh, boy. Don't worry. The meeting is being held far from here, on our furthest moon. Even the Scourge cannot strike us at that distance. The Eldest has put his mark of control on the herald as well. The man's will is our captive. The Scourge can communicate through him, and through the Seer spell, but the man does not have the will to summon his master. We are safe."

The words had barely left the older Jishin's mouth -

Jusan.

It was an image, head and shoulders only, floating above the Lords, huge enough for all the assembled Jishin to see him clearly through the Seer spell. He was-

- Trowa's heart seized in his chest in primal fear. No pity in those eyes. No hate, either. Just...inevitability.

The Scourge’s presence swamped young Duo’s senses, even through the spell. He felt the passing of aeons. Time as an almost physical presence. Jusan stood alone in a galaxy of stars he tended like a garden. The humans races that thrived there had less import than insects; some useful, others vermin, according to a logic only he could see. He’d judged the Jishin to be in the latter category. Their extermination held no more meaning to him than the cutting of an infested rose that would spare the rest of his garden.

So he did.

Trowa barely registered the herald's scream of agony, the cries of the Jishin around him as they realized their danger. All those present could feel the struggle of the Lords, trying to keep Jusan from coming through his herald’s now emptied mind and soul.

They could all feel the Lords losing.

The image in the sky spoke. It wasn't speaking to them. It was speaking to itself. In all his countless immortal aeons, Jusan had only ever had one person to truly talk to. He was the only one who existed on his plane of existence, in his realm of time. Entire human races were mere shadows, here and then gone.

"It is done."

Something was happening at the centre of the circle of Lords. There was...some sort of light. But it wasn't. It was rather a darkness that seemed to behave like a light, outlining the Lords in shadow, casting strange reflections around the mesa. The light twisted in Trowa’s senses, and his stomach clenched and heaved.

The Lords twisted away from it in agony. One fell to the ground, his armour tainted with the sickening non-colour. Another, then another-

"No!" Solo grabbed a stunned Duo protectively and vanished.

The scene shifted violently. Trowa was on his knees, feeling even more nauseous. Teleported. Solo had teleported Duo. Where-

The fear and horror were choking him. He could barely breathe. He tried to disassociate the feelings that were his own and those coming from a panicked Duo. His friends were also on their knees, fighting the same emotions. Except for ‘their’ Duo, standing with eyes wide and blind. And Heero.

Heero was looking away, towards a distant light on the illusory horizon, with a naked intent on his face that Trowa had never seen there before. Trowa followed the intent gaze. Over a green carpet of jungle he could distinguish a very small image. Jusan's projection through the Seer spell, he guessed. Heero was looking at it. He appeared to feel none of Duo's fear. His eyes were coldly painting a bullseye on that distant figure. He looked ready for a fight. Trowa, still flattened by the sheer enormity of his perception of Jusan, felt only a sick dread at the thought.

"Where-" the young Duo was clinging to Solo, looking around wildly. Trowa followed his glance. They were in a construct of standing stones, similar to Svale's sanctuary. The stones here were not pitted with age, though; they were white and smooth as bone, curved like fangs or standing tall. Solo had 'ported himself and his charge at the centre of a circle.

"The Gates?" Duo's voice was high-pitched, he sounded like a very young child in his panic. "Are we going to run away?! Can we 'port to another planet?!"

Solo was silent. His eyes were fixed on the distant light.

"Solo?!" Duo tugged wildly at his mentor's arm, trying to get his attention. His eyes were round, his small face white. A trembling lump in his pocket poked its head out, took one look at the light on the horizon and vanished again with a faint, inarticulate whimper.

"What a clever trick..."

Trowa - everyone - blinked and stared at Solo. He was smiling slightly, as if admiring a good move his chess opponent had made. "It's...energy, pure higher-dimensional energy. The stuff of primordial creation and destruction. He really is an aspect of the Source of All Things. I wonder why he's here, in our universe..."

"Who cares?!" Duo screamed, tugging Solo harder. "Let's get out of here!"

"It might be important, Duo. Besides, it's too late to run."

"Too late?! I thought he couldn’t even reach us at all!"

"He imprinted the energy into the spirits of the Lords. And killed them." Solo didn't seem to be listening to his own words; he appeared to be concentrating on something Duo couldn't hear or see. "This power is...something beyond us, beyond any magic. It's the power of sources, the power of the Source of All Things itself, the fundamental energy beyond our dimension, our universe. It's...beyond anything we could control. And it's tainted our Soul-Mind. When the Lords died, their spirits kept the energy Jusan inflicted upon them, and they took it with them to the well of souls. Our greatest strength..."

"But- I can't feel anything!" Duo stared around him wildly.

"Souls integrate into the collective following bloodlines, I've told you that before." Solo sounded strangely scholarly. And resigned. "The Lords' families were the first to be infected, when their kin's souls touched their minds, tried to integrate into the Soul-mind through them. The Jishin of those great houses are almost all dead now. Some are fighting it, as well they can. But when they die, their souls will pass to their nearest kin, and take the infection with them. Our house was pretty isolated from others when we stayed behind on different planets, studying alien races while the other Jishin had already retreated. We're not closely related to any of those who have died...so far. But the Soul-Mind itself is corrupted now. It's...inevitable."

"No!" Duo screamed. "Come on! Solo! Let's 'port out of here! The Gates can take us to any sanctuary anywhere in the galaxy, we can-"

"It won't do any good, Duo. The mind - our minds - our souls - can bridge any gap, instantaneously. It will follow us. Oh..."

Solo stared, with some regret, at his arms. His dusk-blue armour shone in the dying light of the afternoon. Spots of squirming darkness were tainting the clear blue.

"Solo! No!"

Trowa gasped and hugged his sides at the almost physical horror and grief that overwhelmed him.

Solo glanced down at his charge. Duo's immature armour was still clear blue.

"Ah. You're too young. You won’t feel its effects until nearly the whole Soul-mind is corrupted. You only touch your nearest kin in it - but when I die, in a few minutes-"

"No!"

"-then I will infect you, even if the Soul-mind’s corruption itself does not reach you directly. Hmm, it's accelerating exponentially. More and more Jishin are dying, carrying more and more of that power to the Soul-Mind. It's...I can taste it, Duo. It's a power that doesn't belong here, in this universe. It makes no sense, here. It existed before the universe; it created it..."

Solo's voice dropped to a whisper. "Well, if the Jishin had to die, I guess it is somewhat flattering to be killed by something so pure, so powerful..."

"No! Solo, fight it!"

"We are," Solo murmured absently, his eyes still on the horizon. His hand reached blindly and grasped Duo's shoulder, then slid down to take his hand. "The spirit of the dead - they have information on this power; they studied it even as it killed them. It's hard- it's beyond so much of what we mere humans can comprehend..." The darkness shimmered and grew in Solo's armour.

"We're not mere humans!" Duo screamed, shaking Solo wildly. "We're the Jishin!"

"Still human, Duo...we were maybe wrong to forget that...to stay so isolated from the galaxy...we let the Scourge kill countless other races, as if we were not affected...we didn't care...Ah. Someone may have found the key to this strange energy pattern. She's dead now, of course. But her closest kin have inherited her memories and her knowledge. They're trying to fight the destruction, elaborate on her discovery. Complex...Hmm, dissipate it? Is that possible...?"

Duo stared at his mentor, choking back a small whimper.

"It's slowing. But...there are so few of us left, already." The darkness engulfed the back of Solo’s armour, crept down his legs. But it wasn't spreading as fast.

Duo choked. Trowa glanced at the fifteen-year old. The boy was staring at his own arms. Darkness spilled into the clear blue glass of his half-formed armour.

Trowa felt bile rise in his stomach. A reaction to the young man's fear, but also the first effects of the...thing that was killing him. It was...it was...so alien. It was something that shouldn't exist in this universe. It was beyond it. It was...indescribable. Trowa could feel the young mind scream and start to break under the sheer wrongness of what was touching him.

Solo sighed. His armour was breaking now, the non-light eating away at it from the inside.

"It's too late...there are no longer enough of us left. I...see how we can dissipate the energy, now...but it's too late."

"No," Duo's whisper trembled, but he sounded suddenly older. "Don't give up, Solo. Don't you all give up. We're the Jishin. We're the oldest race. We can't...can't let all that just die. All those souls, we can't..."

"I can't do it, Duo," Solo said simply. "I can't...be the last. The Jishin are all one, we can’t- alone- " The armour was beginning to shatter, fall off and evaporate before it touched the ground. Solo's eyes were luminescent, already elsewhere.

He turned towards Duo, reached up and touched his young cousin's hair. "I can't survive our race, Duo. But...the choice is yours, now. I'm sorry. I love you."

The non-light flared, outlining Solo's shape in a flash that seared across Trowa's eyes and mind. Blinded, he still heard the sound of a body falling limply onto stone. And then-

Duo made a noise in his throat. Darkness bled into his armour from Solo’s soul as it touched Duo’s spirit. The plate started to shatter-

His mind flailed under the knowledge-

Don't leave me alone!

But he was. He was alone. No more friendly minds of the living around him, embracing him in the warm knowledge of the power of his race...

He was the last -

...and the spirits of the dead had nowhere else to go - they followed Solo’s spirit and flooded Duo’s young, unprepared mind.

This was not the warm comfort of the Soul-mind, the peaceful dead. It was flooded by the spirits of those recently departed, who had been ripped apart by madness, twisted by despair, who'd seen their race slaughtered.

They tore at him, along with the alien power that was ripping him apart. To Trowa, it was as if a legion of cruel, insane voices were suddenly screaming at him from all sides.

Time froze - power, his own and that inherited by the Soul-mind of the Jishin, reared up and battled the destruction to a temporary standstill. While his mind cracked and spun, lost in a maelstrom he could not control.

In that frozen second, Duo looked upon the destruction of his race-

- he thought about joining them into the darkness -

And made his choice.

‘No.’

The torment of souls and the destructive energy feeding off his mind both shuddered under the strength of that one thought.

‘We were too great to just...die like this.’

Duo stopped fighting it. He threw his mind open to the accumulated knowledge of the corrupted Soul-mind. He felt it rip his inexperienced psyche apart, but that was unimportant. Now. Now he knew it all. The information was there, now, at his fingertips. The pattern to Juusan’s energy that Solo had mentioned, that could beat the alien menace.

‘Twilight or no, we were too great. We were the Jishin. And I am not going to let that be forgotten. We are dead - I am dead. But I am not going to give up. It will be the last thing I- we do. We will go into the darkness, but Juusan will be coming with us.’

There was a flicker, and a sudden flare of the sick corruption. And then it was gone, dissipated into thin air.

Duo was on his knees, next to Solo’s body. Catapulted to an abnormal maturity by the overwhelming tidal wave of all the dead souls into his young mind, his armour was now fully formed, and starting to curl into strange, disturbing shapes. It was blacker than despair. Duo stayed frozen for a few seconds, and then slowly lifted his head towards the light on the horizon. Juusan's presence was growing stronger, searching. Checking his handiwork, probably. Making sure all the Jishin were dead.

Duo's hands crushed the rock beneath them with almost casual strength.

But not yet. No, not yet. That essence that had destroyed them...that had only been a portion of Juusan's power. That...was too great to fight headlong. Duo had now the entire power of his race at his disposal, and their accumulated knowledge of magic, and he had nothing left to lose. But it wasn't sure he could win, even with the strength at his disposal. And he had to take Juusan with him. That was an imperative. The only thing that mattered.

He smiled like death, while the soul of a dead race within him screamed its defiance at the darkness.

Without a single glance back at the planet that had given him birth, the young man spun around and ran to the Gates. A surge of power and the Gates opened. Centre. Juusan was heading towards Centre, to re-source himself. The voices all agreed on that one point. Juusan would want to re-source himself. The Thirteenth Power, the thirteenth aspect of the Source Of All Things, had a plan that was paramount to him. He had to go to Centre to follow it. He would probably eliminate all traces of life from Centre as a matter of course, a pre-emptive strike, just to make sure there would be no interference while he re-sourced himself. It was why he’d eliminated the Jishin as a first step.

But he wouldn’t have the opportunity to reach his source because Duo was going to kill him.

In a flash, the black figure was gone.

Trowa stood up slowly, in the empty room with smooth walls...He shook himself, trying to detach himself from the memories that had nearly overwhelmed him at the end. The sadness remained. The wheel turns, Trowa thought painfully. But the words did not bring their usual comfort. The wheel had stopped turning for the Jishin. That was what the end of a species meant.

He sighed, dispelling the memories that were not his own. He grabbed Svale by the collar as she trotted up to Duo, and shoved G away as the man opened his mouth. Quatre was following him as he marched the two old ones out the door. Chang, looking dazed, spurred himself into motion and followed the shaman without looking back; his face was a cold, arrogant mask but his eyes burned with a darkness that was now familiar to Trowa. Heero was already gone. He'd seen his target; he probably didn't give a damn about the rest.

"I had to do it," Svale sighed very softly. And Trowa knew she was right. Oh, they all knew about Jusan now - Juusan, rather, the Thirteenth Power, immortal guardian of the stars. They knew more about him than they ever wanted to. They'd felt his power to the centre of their souls. And his utter ruthlessness. That was crucial, but it wasn't the only reason Svale had wanted to show them the end of the Jishin.

It had been about Duo. About learning to trust him as deeply as they needed to. About understanding why he'd done to them what he had. Trowa glanced back at the silent figure at the centre of the room. He was still angry at Duo for what had happened to Quatre. But he understood it now, in his blood, his soul, his bones. Juusan was so alien that Trowa knew he would never be able to comprehend his motivations, beyond the fact that the Scourge would destroy all life on Centre just because that was easier and safer for him. But Duo...Duo and his human choices and madness and desire for revenge, those he understood. He could predict how Duo would behave now, because in the same situation, faced with the same loss, Trowa would probably have chosen much the same path.

Trowa pushed G ahead and led the others away. This moment of privacy was his peace offering to the Jishin. The chance to start with a clean slate. He thought that Duo understood this.

They left Duo alone in the room of memories, a small, deadly smile on his lips and blood dripping down his arms and hands from the mutilating spikes of his armour, falling to the floor in a steady, implacable drip...drip...drip...

[chap. 32] [chap. 34] [back to Maldoror's fic]