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: Sorry for the delay. RL ate all my inspiration in a taco these past two weeks. I did manage to squeeze this out (and not much else, believe me). Enjoy! And thanks for all the helpful reviews from the GWAddiction page! They helped tremendously when it came to beating this chapter over the head and tying it up.

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 35
Not the three fairy godmothers option

" there anything in particular I should know?" Wufei asked Svale slowly as he walked towards the circle of stone columns. Heero had already entered the arena again and marched up to the men before the altar. He appeared to be talking to them; they showed no response, still as statues, the club, spear and huge sword at rest. Heero turned and looked back expectantly at Wufei, but the Dragon didn't feel like running blind into an unknown and potentially hostile situation.

"This type of source is known as a Trial; they'll make you fight for the stone we're after. They'll have conventions for the combat. You stick to them. If you violate the rules of the source, things get really ugly." Svale was talking quickly as she followed Wufei, jumping over the occasional chunk of volcanic rock as if she were on springs. "Do not attack them until they say so, and make sure you do not step out of the circle of stones. Chances are that would be an automatic forfeit. If you lose, they will probably claim the right to kill you."

"Great. Anything else?"

"No. Just beat the crap out of them."

"I can see why we brought you along," Wufei muttered sarcastically, stepping between two stone columns.

The men had been completely immobile, ignoring Heero. But as soon as Wufei stepped into the arena, they hoisted up their weapons.

Shenlong whispered its deadly chant as it cloaked him, the Gundanium energizing to the tensile strength of tempered steel, then beyond. The dragon fang at his wrist coiled, ready. But the men made no further move. Heero turned his back to them, apparently completely unafraid, and walked to Wufei's side.

"The Three Dooms of Crag Kernaucht answer the challenge!" One of the men boomed out. He was the biggest, hairiest one, with the mother of all swords.

"The Three what?" Wufei muttered. Heero stood next to him, arms crossed over his chest. He appeared to find absolutely nothing odd about any of this. Maybe Heero was knowledgeable about sources as well. Too bad he didn't share much; they could have left Svale at home.

"As the challenged, the rules are ours," the man continued to announce. Wufei had the feeling that if he stepped out of the circle, the 'Doom' would freeze in that position, mouth open around unfinished words, and wait for Wufei to enter again to continue. Not really human, he reminded himself. They're just some sort of...of manifestation of a base and foolish superstition. With bloody big weapons.

"Each Doom may choose which challenger to combat," the hairy thing with the sword proclaimed.

"Is that why they needed at least two of us?" Wufei asked Heero - knowing this would probably not interrupt the slow speech of the creature. Heero nodded once, curtly.

"The challenger may choose his weapon. Blade, fist, or magic."

"How did you know they needed a choice of warriors to challenge?" Wufei asked curiously. Heero looked at him oddly, as if that question was completely bizarre. The answer must be obvious to him.

"The loser's life will be forfeit to the winner. The winner will choose his doom!"

He could stop shouting, Wufei thought, a bit tiredly; we're not that far away, and the echoes carry for miles in this volcano.

"If the challengers defeat the three Dooms, the Gem of Courage will be theirs."

That must be referring to the small shining rock on the altar behind them. Yes, this really felt like a fairy story. No wonder his ancestors had decided early on in their conquests of foreign worlds to never set foot on Centre. Crazy place...

"Apparently you have to be in the circle to play," Svale announced behind them. "Me and Maxie will stay on the sidelines and cheer you two on, okay?"

Wufei glanced back. The crone and the Jishin were outside the circle of columns. The latter was sitting on a chunk of rock, looking on with interest as if he expected to be entertained. Bastard.

"Hey, don't look at me," Duo chuckled in response to Wufei's glare. "You and Heero are the designated fighters. I'm the suave intelligent magic-user of the team. Besides, all this ritual combat, feats-of-arms and manly duels, you know, not really my thing."

"Yes, you prefer tricks and traps and stabbing people in the back," Wufei countered coldly.

"The first Doom will now choose his challenger!" the hairy leader shouted, completely oblivious to all the interruptions. It cut Duo's irritated retort, and Wufei turned his back contemptuously on the Jishin.

"The Trial begins!"

A sudden change came over the three men. Their pose became less stiff and artificial. They lowered their weapons, and the eyes that settled on Wufei and Heero were alive and fierce with the lust of combat.

"Such tiny little challengers, brothers," the second hairy one chuckled, a sound like gravel being chewed. "To be asleep for centuries, only to be awoken for that. It's hardly worth it."

"I'll kill them both," the third one announced, taking a step forwards.

Wufei had thought that fighting these- these mannequins would be like bashing through a theatre's props. But now he re-evaluated the situation; these were, in fact, real men, or at least he had to consider them so. They moved naturally, with great ease for people of their height and weight, and they carried their huge weapons as if they were as light as children's toys.

They also looked fairly slow. And stupid. Not too much of a challenge, Wufei judged.

The first man to step forward was relatively smaller than the other two, which still put him at half a head higher than either of the challengers and nearly twice the weight in muscle. He was bald, his long face jutting into a sharply defined nose like an eagle's beak; savage black tattoos decorated his forehead, curved around his eyes. He didn't have any metal reinforcements in his armour, which was lighter than that of his 'brothers'. A chocker of small bones and a tiny animal skull was clasped around his neck and crude symbols decorated the leather armour over his chest. He was the one bearing the spear, clonking its base on the ground like a staff. He surveyed them both slowly. Finally his eyes settled on Heero.

"I accept your challenge, blue-eyed one. Defeat me if you can, or your life will be mine!"

"Could these guys' speeches be any cornier?" Duo muttered in the background.

"They're elemental representations of our belief system, Maxie. You're not gonna ask them to be original as well, are you?"

"Shut up, you two!" Wufei hissed, stepping back to the limit of the circle, to leave Heero some room. He was a warrior, and as such he never underestimated an adversary. The two wits sitting in the peanut gallery should be careful not to distract their ally.

Heero stepped forward and waited. The only sign he was ready was Wing, flowing over his limbs until it was fully deployed. Wufei crossed his arms over his chest and watched attentively. He'd only witnessed Heero's abilities once - when he himself was at the receiving end. If he was supposed to fight alongside Heero as an ally, he needed to have a good grasp of his style, especially since the man was far from conventional as a fighter. The way he waited for an if he had little or no initiative...or maybe he was waiting to get the full measure of his adversary. Wufei remembered how Heero had taken his blows - with almost condescending ease - until he'd seen...something. And then he'd attacked like an avalanche.

The Doom twisted his spear to grasp it before him with both hands; he braced himself, let loose a fearsome shout and ran towards Heero, who just stood there, waiting. Wufei had a few heart-clenching moments to wonder if anybody had taught Heero the proper way to fight a spearman, or even use Wing's beam sabre, hanging unused at his belt. Then the Doom was upon Heero, who dodged out of the weapon's path and its following counterswing. Wufei felt a hiss of air reach him thirty feet away from the swift, deadly thrusts of the spear. Heero seemed to be nearly pinned by each thrust...only to remove himself from the sharp metal point just before it connected with almost taunting ease, like a fly dodging the frustrated thwack of a paper by a particularly slow man.

The Doom roared again, grabbed the spear at mid-shaft and swung it up in a huge gesture, ready to bring it down and impale his adversary. Wufei frowned; there had been at least three ways Heero could have finished the fight then and there with that kind of wide, violent move leaving the man unprotected. Heero had the speed; he'd demonstrated that by dodging the weapon so easily in the first place. What was he waiting for?

Heero moved easily out of the way at the last moment, and the spear impacted the ground where he'd been standing. Instead of shattering, it sunk to its crosspiece into the rock of the arena. Heero took another step back. He seemed to be thinking about something- judging something-

Wufei didn't know how he knew it: something in Heero's stance warned him; a warrior like the Dragon could feel it, if not explain. Wufei knew the exact moment that Heero judged he'd seen whatever it was he wanted to see and decided to kill his opponent.

The Doom hadn't felt the change in the winds of battle; he made another one of those wide, savage swings -

The spear never descended. Heero didn't even bother to prepare a dodge or parry; his fist shot out and smashed into the Doom's face.

The crack of armoured knuckle against bone seemed to shudder through Wufei's bones. The Doom was thrown back several feet; he twisted and fell to one knee, the spear supporting him. His lower face was quickly bathed in blood and his nose was bent out of shape. His eyes were dazed. On the other hand, his skull wasn't crushed. Wufei remembered the strength of Heero's blows all too well. This creature, this ‘Doom', was definitely not human.

"What exactly does it take to win a match?" Wufei asked Svale quietly, keeping his eyes riveted on the adversaries.

"...That depends. They didn't say. Not death, since the winner can choose to kill the loser. Either one of the fighters has to forfeit, or be rendered incapable of fighting. Throwing them from the circle will do it as well."

None of which would be easy, Wufei judged, as the Doom stood up, not looking particularly injured beyond a broken nose.

"You are stronger than you look, little warrior," the Doom spat out, his voice thick and clotted from the injury he'd sustained. "But I, the Doom of the Spear, chose you for a reason. I can see that your body is strong. But your mind is weaker than a child's!"

The heel of the spear struck the ground with a crash that seemed to echo and grow. The ground started shaking, rocks groaning ominously. Wufei staggered and stared uneasily at the volcano around them. What-

Shenlong's analyzer flashed a warning into his eye. The movement beneath his feet was an illusion: an image and a sense of motion imposed on his optic nerves and his inner ear. Which meant a psychic attack. Very primitive, though. The creature might have more magic in store, though...

Heero hadn't even stumbled. Apparently the illusion had had no effect on him whatsoever. The Doom glared at him angrily; then he made a gesture with his hand, as if he were reaching out to crush Heero's head from a distance.

Another mental attack, Shenlong analyzed. A classic, aimed at any flaws in the psyche of-


Duo had surged to his feet behind Wufei, his voice shocked and alarmed. Heero had shuddered and sunk to one knee, eyes wide and his hands at his temples, gripping the wild brown hair as if in pain or confusion.

Wufei cursed and whirled towards Duo. "The buffer! Didn't you teach him how to use Wing's psychic buffer?"

"The what?" Duo asked blankly, eyes fixed anxiously on Heero.

"Wing! You're the one who gave him Wing, didn't you say? Didn't you teach him how to use it?!"

"Use it? I don't know how to use that techno crap- Heero! Get a grip! It's just a simple psychic attack- Fuck, I didn't think Heero had any doubts or fears to feed off of. He's got the psyche of a brick with attitude."

"He's changed a bit since you left, Duo. I think Center did something to him too..." Svale's voice sounded dark with foreboding.

Wufei stared at his ally. It would be so easy- Shenlong had already readied its own buffer, to protect Wufei's mind from a mental attack for a short time, the time it would take for the Dragon to neutralize its origin. His race had fought magic users and mentats for centuries; even the notorious Jishin. This primitive brute was a midget by comparison. But Heero didn't know how to use the more sophisticated aspects of his armour, apparently. Like Duo, Wufei had assumed it would take a hammer the size of the universe to crack Heero's resolve and fighting spirit. But now that he thought about it, he realized that Heero's was the kind of mind where even a small flaw, a tiny seed of doubt, could be a major source of weakness...

While Wufei watched in growing alarm, the Doom had been giving a greasy laughter that was just as theatrical as the rest of it, and twisting his hand about as if he were prodding around Heero's brain matter from a distance. Heero was on his hands and knees, shaking his head slowly, eyes blind, completely helpless.

Instinctively, Wufei fed a few parameters of the problem into Shenlong's inner computer - which instantly came back with an open communication channel to Wing. Wufei blinked in surprise, but then realized that there'd been no reason to suppose Wing's additional instrumentation had been broken just because Heero didn't use them. Could Wufei use the comchannel to communicate with Heero? Tell him about the buffer- maybe even trigger it, if Wing's access codes hadn't been changed? Could he-

But that would be interference. Wufei's tendencies were to fight fair; Dragons were big on ritual duels to establish their hierarchy, and they always obeyed the rules and fought with honour. Helping Heero surreptitiously went against the grain. More importantly, the Dooms might see it as interference. Those brutes probably couldn't tell an ether-carried comchannel from two tin cans tied together with a string. But Wufei's instincts told him that the source, the complex, orderly energy that created and maintained them, might very well pick up any interference on his part, and then-

The Doom roared again - he apparently liked the effect - twisted his spear to a thrusting position, and ran towards Heero, intending to run him through.

Wufei fought to hold himself back - his mind was already halfway through the routine to trigger Wing's buffer through Shenlong and damn the consequences- but it was too late.

As the spear came straight at Heero's heart, time seemed to pause and stutter in horror. Wufei had taken a helpless step forward -

- he saw Heero's lips move -

It might have been the word ‘mission'.

Heero uncoiled, twisted his body around the spear as it brushed by his chest, came up and struck the Doom in the jaw with the full strength of his body uncoiling behind the blow.

The spear slammed into one of the stone columns around the circle and stood there, vibrating. Its owner flew backwards and landed like a bag of meat near the feet of his brothers. He lay there, unmoving.

Heero had fallen forward on his hands and knees again with a gasp, head bowed, his body tense with pain. What it had cost him to momentarily throw off the paralysis from the attack and strike out against his foe, Wufei could only guess.

Wufei took two steps towards him and was almost bowled over by Duo. The Jishin reached Heero's side in the next instant. He hoisted Heero up, slipping one of the warrior's arms over his shoulders.

"Come on, buddy. Let Chang deal with big n' hairy. Let's see if baldy there did any damage to your brains."

"Don't take him out of the arena, Maxwell," Wufei told him softly as he drew near, an eye on the remaining Dooms.

"Huh? But he's hurt! He can't-"

"Shut up, Jishin!" Wufei speared him with a furious glare. No need to advertise their weakness to the enemy. "Leaving the arena is an automatic forfeit, and besides, they need at least two warriors to challenge. If you remove Heero, then-"

"That's right, Maxie. Don't mess with the source," Svale confirmed from the sidelines.


"It's their right to pick an already wounded opponent," Wufei sneered, turning towards the remaining two Dooms. "I guess they'll do so...if they're dishonourable curs, afraid of a real fight." The Dooms had not proven themselves to be very subtle. They might fall for that ploy.

The second Doom had taken a step forward. He showed absolutely no concern for the body of his fallen brother at his feet. The weapon Wufei had thought was a club, from a distance, turned out to be a hammer with a small head and a thick handle; the Doom swung it negligently onto his shoulder. He was grinning evilly. Wufei's heart sank as the man's eyes passed over him to fix on the Dragon's allies.

"There is no honour in routing such weaklings either way," he announced (what he thought of his brother's defeat had apparently not been included in the source's script). "So I will fight for my...pleasure. I choose you!"

"Now just one damned minute, hairy! Heero's not in any shape to play your stupid games. Go and get chewed up by the Dragon." Duo had moved himself to stand between Heero and the big, callused finger pointing in their direction, despite the fact that Heero was recuperating fast and standing on his own now. Heero was looking at his own arm, slung over Duo's shoulders, and at Duo; the look on his face was slightly puzzled, as if he couldn't imagine what Duo was doing. Wufei had the sudden intuition that Heero wasn't used to working with other people or being helped by them. At all. The Dragon filed that thought away to examine and worry about later

"I'll leave this 'Dragon' to my brother!" the Doom boomed back. "If I cannot have a worthy opponent, I will at least have my entertainment."

"You get your jollies kicking wounded puppies, don't you," Duo scorned; the very end of his braid was flicking back and forth like a cat's tail, a dangerous little movement. "Look, Chang here is more than willing to kick your sorry ass, so leave Heero out of it."

"It's not Heero he's pointing at, you fool," Wufei growled, drawing near the Jishin's other side.

Duo stared at Wufei, then at the Doom, then at where exactly the Doom's finger was pointing. "Me?! Waitasec! That's not right. Heero and Wufei are your challengers. I'm just-"

"You stepped into the circle, Trickster," Wufei informed him, enjoying this probably a bit more than he should. "They can choose their opponent, it's their prerogative."

"Yeah, but I only- Nai no Kami, I was just gonna sit this one out." Duo rolled his eyes. "What kind of one-sided fight is this gonna be?"

"Heero and I put up with it," Wufei pointed out dangerously. The Jishin had better not be insinuating that he was that much better than Wufei or-

"One-sided indeed," the Doom laughed in the background, though Duo was ignoring him. "It will be an easy victory, and an agreeable prize for me."

"But you guys enjoy using your muscles more than your brains," Duo drawled, prodding Wufei in the chest with a disrespectful finger. "Personally I don't want to end up covered in dirt, blood and-"

"What do you say, brother?" the Doom threw back over his shoulder. "Shall I keep him after I win? We could use a little bitch around, to serve us our mead and polish our weapons, and answer our needs."

Wufei wondered what kind of weird ‘complex energy source' had judged that the greasy chuckle that followed was absolutely necessary.

"...guts..." Duo finished weakly, though it looked like his mouth was working on automatic. His eyes had gone wide and blank as hairy's words finally registered. The finger stayed still, poking against Wufei's chest.

"I guess I can try to convince him to switch opponents and fight me in your place," Wufei murmured in mock compassion, staring pointedly down at that insulting finger dirtying his armour. "If you're that worried about it."

"Oh, is he yours, then?" Hairy threw in Wufei's direction. "I guess I can fight you for the right to own him, then."

Wufei hesitated, but it was worth the insult of being called the Jishin's owner just to see the look that flashed over Maxwell's face for a moment. The insult would soon be repaid. Hairy's days were numbered. Hell, his minutes were numbered.

Duo slowly looked down at the finger against Wufei's chest plate as if he'd forgotten why it was there. He lifted it leisurely in a ‘wait a minute' gesture. "On second thought...Dragon...I did step into the circle..."

Wufei snorted.

"It's the braid..." Duo murmured. "I get this all the time...Still, it would be rude of me to leave rock-for-brains without a dance partner. So I'll just... mosey on over and see what I can do to keep him, ah, entertained."

"You do that, Jishin." Wufei reached past him, grabbed a scowling Heero by the arm and headed back to the edge of the circle where Svale was jumping up and down, making ‘rah-rah-rah' gestures.

"I wanted to fight," Heero growled.

"Tough. Oh, and Yuy? You and I are going to have a long talk real soon about using Wing to its fullest. Including the helm and sword. You are a strong warrior and you won our confrontation; that gives you the right to claim Wing. I have Shenlong to rely on, now that it is repaired. But if you're not able to fully master a Dragon armour, I will not let you keep it, understood?"

That got him a glare that was as dangerous as the hammer the second Doom was thumping slowly against his palm, but Wufei ignored it.

"So you will be my opponent?" Hairy smirked. "I will allow your man to fight in your stead, if you prefer. Avoid damaging those pretty looks."

"No, no, that's quite alright. The rules are the rules, and you did pick me first," Duo murmured, voice as smooth as a snake slipping over rock.

"You can surrender now," the Doom sneered, hoisting his weapon. "Since the end of this fight is foreordained."

"That is so true. Ah damn, I'm not really into all this hand-to-hand brutality like my two allies are, but still, I'll do my best." Duo rubbed the back of his neck hesitantly, and looked to be about sixteen, if that.

The Doom laughed and charged. He took a contemptuous swing at his apparently diffident target.

Duo dropped loosely to one knee, beneath the blow. His hands hit the ground.

The basalt screamed as it ripped itself upwards. A prong of rock lanced up diagonally from between Duo's hands and bashed Hairy in the stomach. The Doom doubled over it with a wide-mouthed gasp. Another slab lifted itself like a trapdoor swinging shut behind the Doom, and crashed into his back, slamming him even further against the prong that was now holding him roughly upright. His face went red and a strangled gurgle escaped the twisted lips.

Duo stood up gracefully and put a single finger beneath the hairy chin, tilting the face up a bit. Drawing his other hand back slowly.

Black armour surged and writhed over his fingers, forming an armoured glove, heavy and sharp with ugly prongs.

Duo smiled and his voice was still smooth, almost pleasant. "As I was saying, hand-to-hand battle with morons isn't my thing; so just stay still a second and I'll do my best to insure this doesn't last any longer than it absolutely has to."

Wufei realized his lips had twisted into a small, savage smirk; he scowled instead, and glared at the black figure. It wasn't funny. Stupid Jishin. Showing off.

The Dragon stiffened as the third Doom took a step forward. The sword glinted in the pale light. Shenlong's fang was in position in a heartbeat. If that bastard attacked Duo while his concentration was elsewhere-

"Enough. You have won." The third Doom had shown no emotion during either of the previous two fights, or answered his brother's lewd suggestions earlier. His voice was neutral even now.

Duo cocked his head, looking past the heap of rock and dazed adversary in front of him to examine the third fighter and weigh his words. "Oh, yeah, I guess I have at that."

The clawed fist whipped through the air and smashed into Hairy's jaw so hard it shattered the rock behind him. Hairy dropped backwards like he'd been decapitated.

"But as I recall, the winner gets to choose the loser's fate," Duo added coolly. He glanced casually at his glove, and licked a trace of blood from one of the prongs with a cat-like tongue. Then he made a face. "Simulated haemoglobin, bleh. I wouldn't even let my imp drink this shit. Your turn, Fei."

"Wufei," the latter grated out, feeling unaccountably annoyed with the smug, disrespectful, deceitful- he ran out of adjectives. It was true that Duo had just ensured they had won round two out of the three Trials, but Wufei just...didn't like Duo Maxwell. At all.

Duo turned away from his fallen opponent and caught the Dragon's scowl. He didn't move aside as Wufei moved towards the centre of the arena. His cheeks were flushed, his mouth twisted into a deadly smile, his eyes still bright with battle-lust. Wufei glared back contemptuously.

"Gotta problem, Dragon?"

"You couldn't fight one of these puppets without using your magic?" Wufei spat in disgust.

Duo's eyes gleamed and his grin became quite feral. "Nah. You piss off a Jishin at your own risk. You might want to remember that."

Wufei moved forward as if Duo wasn't there - let the Jishin move out of his way. Duo only turning slightly, keeping them from crashing together but still tauntingly, dangerously close. Wufei paused, his eyes locking with savage blue.

"He was indeed rude to you, Maxwell," Wufei agreed softly; Duo's eyebrows twitched and he looked momentarily nonplussed, "but if you hang around on the sidelines with the other old woman, what do you expect."

"Oh, it wasn't the ‘bitch' jab that got my blood boiling," Duo murmured, eyes like daggers. "It was the assumption that I was yours that was insulting,"

"I agree," Wufei snorted. "I do have better taste than that. But these guys haven't seen anybody for centuries," he added with a shrug, overriding Duo's angry retort. "They probably assume everybody's as desperate as they are."

Duo made a strangled noise in his throat and then smiled like he had when he'd trapped the Doom.


"Would you two stop playing footsie and get with the program?!"

Duo looked like someone had socked him with a rubber chicken; Wufei would have enjoyed it if he didn't have the sneaking suspicion he could have been using the Jishin as a mirror in that instant. They both whirled towards Svale, a braid slapping Wufei's shoulder at the speed of Duo's movement.

"You dare, woman-"

"Are you fucking insane, you old-"

There was a discomfited moment of angry silence as they realized they'd shouted at the same time; it was broken three second later by Svale falling off her rock and rolling on the volcanic gravel in fits of laughter.

"Whee! Now I've got Pretty Boy Stereo!" she howled.

Heero was looking at them with narrowed eyes going from one to the other; he looked both annoyed and a bit mystified, as if he didn't understand what the hell they were playing at but was willing to try bashing their heads together to see if that made any more sense. "One of you should pay attention to our last opponent," he growled.

The swish of the big sword behind them did indicate he had a point. With a killing glare thrown at the Jishin - who failed to topple over dead, contrary creature - Wufei spun around and faced their last adversary.

"You! I know it is your prerogative to choose either one of my allies to fight instead of me," he snarled as the hulking fighter opened his mouth. "That's the rules, there's three of us in the arena, all that. On the other hand..." Wufei slowly cracked his knuckles. "On the other hand, I did make the trip to come here and I put up with both the Jishin and the crone the whole way. And I'm rather looking forward to a fight at this point. You're not going to disappoint me now, are you?"

The Doom stared at him. Then slowly he extended his huge cleaver, pointing it directly at the Dragon's chest.

"Thank you," Wufei answered politely, and bowed shortly before dropping into a defensive stance.


Wufei glanced behind him in irritation. "Jishin, if you care about obtaining that stone, you will be silent while I-"

"But-" Duo was frowning. In the rising concentration he fostered while in battle, Wufei noted that Duo's face looked uncharacteristically sullen, but his eyes kept darting between the huge cleaver and Wufei. "Not that I give a damn, right, or anything, but you did notice he's got a sword. Right?"

"It'd be hard to miss."

"You could borrow Heero's? If you get killed, that'll be one less to oppose Juusan," Duo added quickly. Wufei wasn't sure why he'd tacked that last detail to his suggestion; it was understood that the Dragon was necessary for the Jishin's revenge.

Wufei turned his back, bracing himself for the attack as his opponent swished the huge cleaver effortlessly.


He'd have borrowed Heero's sword if he could have; he missed his own weapon, destroyed by Juusan nearly a year ago, and not repaired in the hurry to get Wufei to Centre. But the weapon was an extension of the armour; he'd not have time to reprogram Wing's sabre to use it with Shenlong, even if Heero had agreed to lend it.

"It's just that he looks stronger and meaner than the last two," Duo concluded quickly, as the Doom started marching slowly towards Wufei.

"So am I," Wufei muttered, leaping to the attack before his opponent could charge him with that poleaxe disguised as a sword.

The calm of battle descended upon him, the heart of the storm. The Doom took a step back to brace himself and swung the sword. Wufei dodged the horizontal cut easily - the bastard was fast though. He leapt back from the counterswing, took another step back as the Doom hefted and hauled his weapon at him again.

The rhythm of the battle moved him before conscious thought could; he surged past the next blow from the sword, closed the distance and jabbed the Doom with a quick punch in the belly. It felt like hitting rock, but his opponent did grunt slightly.

The Doom stepped sideways, wrenching himself away, the closeness a handicap to the swordsman. Wufei didn't let him regain the space he needed for a swing, though; he followed the Doom step for step, fists darting and probing.

He narrowly ducked a frustrated blow from the massive hilt of the great sword, aimed at his head. The Doom tried to hit him again, twisting the sword around so that the blade nearly caught him when the hilt missed. Wufei had to step back. The Doom moved his support foot away, aiming to gain some distance and score a real blow-

Wufei darted forward and kicked the leg out from under him.

The Doom staggered and fell to one knee, shoving at Wufei with the sword to get him to keep his distance. Wufei had already stepped back, letting the man get to his feet.

"Wu- what in the name of the everlovin' Tree are you doing?! Kill him!"

Wufei ignored the Trickster's sudden shout. The Doom rose slowly. His eyes, lost in hair and sun-weathered folds of skin, locked with the Dragon's. The Doom nodded slowly in recognition, one warrior to another.

The sword swished from side to side. Wufei didn't let it distract him, but he did note it. That sword...was going to be a problem

The Doom roared his challenge. The sword glinted in the sickening light, cut through a drift of sulphur vapour. The man charged at Wufei like a tank.

The Dragon dodged. He couldn't parry with his armoured forearm, as he would a normal sword; he wasn't sure how Shenlong's energy field and Gundanium plating would fare against a potentially enchanted weapon. His motto when fighting magic-users was: 'don't assume anything'. For example, don't assume that something that looked like a reject from a butcher's shop couldn't cut through the powerful metal/energy combination of Dragon armour. That was a good way to lose a limb. Or a head.

The blade hissed through the air as the Doom tried to catch him in the backswing with the dull edge. Wufei crouched beneath it then jumped - higher, his joined fists hammering against the Doom's shoulder. The creature grunted and flinched - didn't drop the sword though- Wufei used the leverage to gracefully flip himself over his adversary.

He twisted and landed on his feet, behind the Doom - he spun around like a cat just as the Doom, with a growl, whirled around, blade slashing in another fearsome downward cut. Wufei was already braced, kicking out-

His armoured foot smashed into the flat of the blade near the hilt. The violence of the two opposing movements, focused into one point, snapped the blade cleanly in two.

Wufei stabilized into a crouch as the huge piece of metal thunked to the rocky ground, then he leapt forward. His fist stopped short of the Doom's throat.

The two warriors stared at each other, the culmination of the battle in that shared silence and eye contact. Then the Doom dropped the hilt and small chunk of remaining blade, stepped back and saluted shortly, a fist against his chest. "You are the victor."

A curt nod acknowledged the concession. The Doom waited for a few seconds, but when it was clear that Wufei was not going to give him terms for surrender, the creature bowed slightly and- vanished. So did the two fallen Dooms. The source's story was told, the actors were whisked away, probably to awaken again the next time someone stepped into the arena, or maybe not at all...

Wufei looked back at his allies, to see the Jishin march towards him, blazing eyes flicking over Wufei's frame as if checking for injuries.

"What in the name of the nine hells was that?!" Duo snarled. His hair was crackling with furious energy, his bangs frazzled, his puffed-up braid curved up tensely, the end bristling and twitching.

"Fighting with honour," Wufei answered smoothly. "I hope you were taking notes."

"You-" Duo took a noisy breath of air as if preparing for a massive outburst, then he let it out just as loudly in a huffy sigh. "Oh, never mind. You won. Yay. Do something that dumb again and I'll kick your ass."

"Jishin, I'd like to see you try."

"Don't make me come over there, boys," Svale warned them sternly. She was already at the altar, examining their prize. "Maxie, stop flirting and take a look at this."

" going to kill her," Duo announced calmly, eyes wide and fixed on an empty spot of the arena over Wufei's shoulder.

Wufei opened his mouth to add his own dig...but hesitated. Blue eyes met his. Anger and worry and challenge...crumbling into a weighing gaze, then a reluctant concession.

"...need help?" Wufei grumbled, his discipline kicking his pride and battle-fervour back to where they belonged.

"...probably. She's tougher than she looks," Duo answered gruffly, his lips twitching with a self-mocking smile for an instant at the reluctance of their truce, despite being faced with a common foe that could, and probably would, obliterate them both quite easily.

And talking about mutual enemy...

Svale went 'Oooohshit!!' as the two powerful warriors turned slowly towards her. She grabbed the stone on the altar and dashed to take cover behind an approaching Heero. The latter was giving them a strange look again. Though the man was hard to read at the best of times, Wufei thought he looked both puzzled and a bit annoyed, as if he were trying to decipher something in a foreign language he'd just started to learn.

Heero reached back without looking and lifted the prise from Svale's grasp. He walked towards them and handed it to Duo without a word. The Jishin smiled at him slightly, then examined the stone.

"Yeah...yeah, this will do. It'll need some adaptations, but I think we can build a hearthstone outta this, and use it in one of the cirques. Which is nice to know, after all the trouble we went through to get it. Let's get outta here."

"Yes, this place stinks," Wufei agreed, glaring at the imp which had settled once more on Duo's shoulders to make faces at the Dragon, as it always did when he was less than a few feet from its master.

Duo reached towards his shoulder, scooped up the tiny stone creature and slipped it into his pocket with a light admonishing pat on the head. Imp glowered at the Dragon from its new position, and then started making faces again, but at least the gesture had been made. Wufei sighed internally. He and the Jishin were never going to be friends, that was certain. But they had to stop this vicious, undisciplined infighting before it became dangerously distracting. Hopefully his ancestors weren't paying particular attention to what he was doing these days, beyond blessing his quest for revenge. He resignedly followed Duo and Heero out of the arena.

Svale followed the group, looking outrageously pleased with herself behind her wrinkles.

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