minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, etc): --- -------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback or dream starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
thoughts (and the occasional sound effect): *Tadah!*
some more sound effects (little ones!): -tadah!-
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): < < Tadah! > >


AUTHORS: Mel and Christy, A.K.A. the Demonesses of INjustice.
WARNINGS: Yaoi, angst, sap, language, some OOC, AU...
PAIRINGS: 1x2, 3x4, 5x?
DISCLAIMER: We don't own 'Gundam Wing' or the 'Oath of Swords' series, or the characters and settings we've borrowed from them. Everything else, we made up and own, OK?
FEEDBACK: Is always welcome.
APOLOGY: You'll get one when we feel like apologising for something. Until then, you're SOL, baby!

Demon of Justice + Chapter 30
Nagging will get you everywhere

Quatre set his plate down on the coffee table and sat back, stifling something that could have been either a hiccup or a tiny burp. "Oh dear," he said, tugging at the waistband of his slacks. "I shouldn't have had that second slice..."

"You don't sound very repentant," Duo snickered, scraping up the last mouthful of his third slice of icecream cake. "Admit it; indulging yourself once in a while won't kill you. Or you either, Pretty!"

"The only problem with that idea is that 'once in a while' can very easily become 'all the time'," Relena sighed, eyeing the cake's devastated remains, visibly tempted. "Then it might not kill you, but it can make you need a whole new wardrobe."

"We're going to revamp your wardrobe anyway," Duo pointed out. "Trust me, you'll burn off enough calories in our raid on the shopping district to make sure your dress size won't change! And even if it does, that's what the filthy rich have tailors for."

"I am not filthy rich," she sniffed haughtily, drawing herself upright in her chair. "All my money is scrupulously clean. That's what banks have coin washers for." The corner of her mouth quivered slightly, but she got it back under control as she leaned forward to cut another, smaller slice of cake. "Naturally, Pargan has the bills dry-cleaned before he irons them..."

Heero and Trowa had been maintaining deadpan expressions throughout this, but Duo made the mistake of glancing at Quatre and collapsed in laughter, pointing helplessly at the blond boy's half-incredulous, half-horrified expression. "Oh! Oh, ye gods, 'Lena, that's a good one!" he sputtered, doubling over. "Oh, oh, and I can just see Pargan wearing a frilly apron while he irons a laundry basket full of credit notes! Admit it, Q-bean, she had you going there for a moment!"

"I'm just not used to Relena making that sort of joke," Quatre protested weakly. "Especially not deadpan. I mean, if it were you, Duo--"

"But it wasn't me, which is what makes it so good," Duo grinned. "I couldn't believably make that sort of joke, even if you weren't used to me pulling your leg. 'Lena can pull it off just fine. Picking the right joke is just as important as timing and all that. You have learned well, Grasshopper," he intoned pompously, winking at her.

"You've been an excellent teacher, Sensei," she replied, batting her eyelashes.

"The Earth Sphere government would be shaking in its collective shoes if it knew the interim Vice-Foreign Minister was taking lessons in mental guerrilla warfare from an ex-terrorist," Trowa pointed out dryly, depositing his plate on the table and sliding one arm around Quatre's shoulders. "Not to mention the fuss if they found out you've been asking four ex-terrorists for advice on peacekeeping, 'Lena. You did say some of them would have conniptions if the head of the peacekeeping force had an aggressive-sounding title, after all; if you mentioned us, they'd probably die of shock!"

"Well, they're going to have to get used to the occasional shock," Relena said tartly, hiding her surprise at hearing someone other than Duo casually abbreviate her name. "Especially if I take Duo's suggestion and nominate Lady Une as the peacekeepers' head officer. After all, she probably deserves to be called an ex-terrorist far more than you do! She deliberately targeted civilian populations on more than one occasion, whereas you Gundam pilots only went after military targets and did your best to limit collateral damage and casualties. The only reason you've been called terrorists more than she has is because she was in uniform."

"And because she never actually pulled the trigger when she was targeting those civilians," Heero shrugged, seemingly indifferent. "She just threatened to."

"You mean you defused her nukes, and blew up Wing before she could shoot the colony, and then Kushrenada rained on her parade and made her act nicer," Duo snorted, digging a finger into Heero's ribs. "Which proves my point--"

"Which one?" Trowa wondered innocently.

"The one about how she was doing it all for Treize. All the really bad things she pulled were at the beginning of the war, before he yanked her back under control and told her to be 'more elegant'," Duo explained patiently. "If she accepts that leading the peacekeepers would be the same as working for Treize's dream of system-wide peace, and she has clear restrictions on what she can and can't do, she'll work her butt off and do a damn good job. Hell, she nearly stopped us..."

"Hm." Quatre raised an eyebrow. "Good point!"

Relena raised her voice slightly, cutting across a faint snort from Heero and a quiet chuckle from Trowa. "If the mutual admiration society could take a short break...? Duo, you don't have to convince me that Lady Une is a good choice to head the peacekeeping force -- which we are going to have to find a name for soon, preferably something catchy and confidence-inspiring. I did some thinking last night, and a little fast investigating, and Une really does seem to be the best candidate. I even think I can convince the rest of the interim cabinet without having to yell myself hoarse more than once or twice."

All four pilots looked at her incredulously. "...You must have one hell of an argument in mind, Pretty," Duo said in an awed voice. "Do tell!"

"Oh, don't look at me like that, it's nothing stunning!" she told him, mildly exasperated. "It's just a matter of laying out the facts. One: The peacekeeping force will almost certainly be a paramilitary organisation, with more powers than a civil police force but more restrictions than a purely military force. Not only is it the best setup for what they'll need to do, but believe me, it's the only setup that the cabinet will be able to agree on. Between the hawks and the doves and the people who just want to agree on something so we can move on..." She grimaced. "I'll propose it, the people who want to get something accomplished will seize on it as an acceptable compromise, and the die-hard radicals will be outvoted.

"Two: An organisation this important can not have a complete novice as its first commander. In the future, we'll be able to appoint new commanders from within its ranks, but for now, we'll have to choose somebody with experience in a related field; either a senior military officer, or a senior police official.

"Three: I managed to speak briefly to three experts on military history and five business management experts last night."

"You have been busy," Trowa murmured.

"I was lucky," she sighed. "All but two of them live in time zones where our late evening is their office hours, and the other two are night owls. I caught them all awake, and in cooperative moods. I presented the situation to them as a rather vaguely defined hypothetical case, and they all agreed that when you are setting up an 'in-between' sort of organisation, like this one, you should start with someone who's familiar with the broader range of capabilities -- in this case the military powers -- and have them set up the organisational structure while keeping the necessary parameters in mind. Apparently that's easier than it is for someone who's worked under narrower restrictions to, um, 'spread out' and make proper use of the wider powers they aren't used to. Therefore, we need somebody military.

"And four: the main objection to Lady Une is that she was a major figure in OZ, correct?"

"Well, yes, that and the fact that threatening civilians is hardly proper behaviour for an officer!" Quatre protested.

Relena shook her head. "Hardly anyone knows about that. As Heero said, she didn't manage to follow through on those threats, and as Duo said, she behaved much better after Treize Kushrenada made his views on the subject clear. Did she ever try something similar afterwards?"

"Ah... no..."

"Do you -- any of you -- think she is likely to do something like that again?"

"I wouldn't've suggested her if I did," Duo shrugged. After a pause for thought, Heero and Trowa shook their heads; then Quatre sighed and capitulated.

"She practically venerated Kushrenada, and I doubt that's changed with his death. If anything, she's now less likely to do something he'd disapprove of than she was when he was alive."

"Good. You see," Relena said wryly, spreading her hands, "as far as I can tell, just about every other plausible candidate is also a high- ranking member of OZ, or an ex-member of the Alliance military -- which is just as bad, if not worse -- or dead. Or some combination of the three."

"Well, my first choice was actually Kushrenada, but I doubt we could get him to run the organisation through a Ouija board," Duo piped up cheerfully.

"Heero, could you duck, please?" Relena asked sweetly, then pulled a small cushion out from behind her and threw it across the coffee table. Smirking, Heero ducked obligingly, and the cushion hit Duo full in the face, nearly ricocheting into the remains of the ice- cream cake before Trowa rescued it.

A faint smile curling the corner of his mouth, Trowa handed the cushion back to her with a bow. "In the interests of preventing this from degenerating into farce," he began, "I suggest we--"

"That's it!" Quatre exclaimed.


"That's the perfect name!" the blond insisted. "Preventers. It puts the emphasis on preventing trouble, instead of putting it down after something happens."

"Hn." Heero nodded judiciously. "I like it."

"I love it," Relena agreed. "And it should even go some way towards reassuring some of the twitchier cabinet members!"

* * * * *


And people say the Chinese Water Torture is maddening, Wufei thought sourly, listening to the computer clock counting off the milliseconds. I'd be twitching by now if I had skin to do it with!

Somehow, even though he was managing to keep his personal perception of time close to normal, so that a second felt like a second and not several minutes, he could 'hear' each individual millisecond tick over, not just as an anonymous click but as a quiet mechanical voice stating the full time. Like listening to a speaking clock that's been sped up a lot. 'At the third stroke, it will be...'


...even though logically I can't possibly be hearing -- and understanding -- a time-check every millisecond. It's not as if I need that level of accuracy. Not even Heero tries to time his plans that closely!

A faint staticky noise came from Nataku's speakers, the closest Wufei could come to growling under his breath. I will be very, very glad once I get back into my body. Very glad. As soon as I've got my body out where I can get into it, and the others are safe, and the cultists aren't a threat, and that chain is off me--Another staticky noise. I don't believe that I'm acting as part of my own rescue party. Gah! If this were a mission, Duo would be commenting on how screwed-up it's--


What the fuck?!

Luckily for everyone near Nataku's feet, Wufei had found the independent subroutines that handled normal movement shortly after he'd got the Gundam to stand up. This meant that instead of him having to direct each step, Nataku was now walking on automatic pilot... and nobody got squashed when he reacted in startlement to the latest surprise the computers had sprung on him.

That was another computer alert -- a mission log this time, not a systems check -- but where'd it come from? I certainly didn't write it!

A moment's thought supplied the answer, as a few more milliseconds ticked by.


Nataku's computers do have the capacity to run a search and gather related bits of information together in whatever format is required. If that search was triggered by me thinking of this as a mission, that explains why it brought up a mission profile. Still, it can only run a search on its own data banks, and I haven't entered anything into them... about... oh.


I think it's treating my memory as one of its data banks. Which means my connection to Nataku is closer than I thought. Which could mean that I'm going to start having the same problems I had when I was sharing Karthan's body.

Which means I'd better get this finished and get back where I belong fast!


...Oh, shut up.



Uthmar could hear one of the dwarven lay brothers behind him, deep voice 'encouraging' the rest of the men. "Come on! Double-time it! We've got people to kill and people to save, and if you bunch of lily- livered halflings can't keep up, Sergeant Karthan and the demons will get fed up with waiting and finish the job before you get there!"

"That's Halvdan, isn't it?" Arwen asked, jogging beside him.

"Uhuh," Uthmar grunted affirmatively.

"We should probably recommend him for sergeants' training," the human Champion mused thoughtfully. "He doesn't quite have Gunnar's style, or Karthan's flair with words, but he does have a certain... how should I put this..."

"I could kick your ass along this trail faster than you're moving it!"

"...forceful authority?"


"I'd save the conversation for later, if I were you," Cord suggested in a polite voice. "I'm thinking the little man is needing all his breath for running."

"Not quite all," Uthmar corrected him shortly, not glancing aside from his intent concentration on the faint trail they were following. "Saving enough to fight."

"Ah, there, y'see?" the hradani smiled. "At most, talkin's third on his list of things to use air on right now."

"Mine too," Arwen admitted. "Still, it was coming in handy for number one on my current list of things to do with my mind."

"And that is...?"

"Thinking about something that is not endless variations on 'bad things we might find in Sharna's temple'. Oh, and also not 'what the hell did we think we were doing, taunting a Dark god?!'."

"From my point of view, there was no 'we' about it," Cord grinned. "That was all you two, and quite impressive it was as well."

"Don't remind me," Arwen groaned. "I still can't believe I joined in..."

About to respond, Cord looked up and flattened his ears. "Now what's got into Longshanks there?"

Nataku's steps had been slow and fairly short, keeping the towering Gundam down to a pace the troop of humans and dwarves could maintain, but now it was accelerating, long strides taking it ahead.

"Wufei?" Arwen called anxiously, speeding up himself. "Wufei, wait! We can't keep up if you go that fast!"

< < I have to hurry, > > came the response.

"Why? Is something-- no, of course something's wrong," the Champion muttered, shaking his head. "Ridiculous numbers of things are wrong. Is something else wrong?" he rephrased, raising his voice again. "Something new?"

< < No. > > A pause, and then a faint crackling noise. < < Not exactly something new. I need to get back into my body soon. That's all. > >

"Yes, but if you get there ahead of us we can't help-- gah. Looks like he's stopped listening."

Cord nodded, eyeing the receding Gundam with something like professional interest. "That big metal body's got a good turn of speed, too, no matter how ponderous it looks."

"There's no way we're going to be able to keep up," Uthmar said, managing an exasperated voice through his panting. "If he runs into something he can't handle alone -- if there's a wizard-priest or another demon -- there won't be a damn thing we can do to help!"

"I don't know how much help I'd be against a demon," Cord said mildly, "but there's never been a wizard born whose magic will work properly on a hradani who's given himself to the Rage. And I can keep up."

"You can what?!" Arwen sputtered, almost falling over as he twisted to stare at Cord while still running. "How can you keep up with that?!" One hand waved at Nataku's back, moving further away with each step. The trees on either side of the path weren't far enough apart to allow the hulking machine to pass unobstructed, but they weren't slowing its passage any more than long grass would slow one of the soldiers; Nataku was breaking branches and even pushing trees down when necessary, forging ahead without a pause.

"Th' lad's clearing me a nice path, isn't he?" the hradani said cheerfully, one ear flicking up and down. "I'd be a fool not to take advantage of it, now wouldn't I?" And with one last ear-flick he was gone, loping along in the Gundam's wake with surprising speed.

The human Champion watched him go, looking as if he felt vaguely cheated. "How the hell does he move that fast without looking like it's an effort? How the hell does he move that fast at all?! His legs aren't that much longer than mine!"

"Yes they are," Uthmar growled. "Now stop being jealous and concentrate on running."



Disengage energy analysis mode,
Wufei thought, focussing his thoughts in the mental 'direction' that would send the command to Nataku's main processor. Scan local coordinates, motion and energy detection, and display map.


The requested map appeared with what felt like an almost smug -click- , and Wufei raised a mental eyebrow. So easy it's beneath you, hmm?


There was a fair amount of motion visible on the contoured terrain map, small animals making good time away from the large disturbance in their territory, but no tracks large enough to be human (Humanoid, Wufei corrected himself) except for one coming up fast from behind.

Rear camera on. Zoom in-- oh, it's Cord. So all the cultists must already be back in the temple; they can't have run far and fast enough to be out of range in the time they've had. Sharna's filthy green energy is all over the place, too, which is another reason to think that the temple entrance is here somewhere. I wasn't able to get a clear idea of its location when I was brought in, but that doesn't mean I can't find it again!

Clear map overlay; switch to infrared scan, personnel temperature range, and display.


And... there it is.
Wufei felt quite smug himself, looking at the slowly fading heat trails that showed where several dozen warm bodies, more or less human-sized, had moved not so long ago. The faint individual trails blended into one another, becoming stronger as they clumped together like the tributaries of a river, finally merging into one strong trace that ran down into a shadowed, rocky gully... and stopped.

Hm. Somehow I don't think they all grew wings and flew away. Therefore... replace previous overlay... aha. Lots and lots of Sharna's energy at the spot where the trace disappears, looking rather like that revolting green goo Duo put in Heavyarms's gun ports once. I don't have to think for very long to work out what that's doing.

"Wufei!" Cord came to a stop near Nataku's feet, not even breathing hard despite how fast he'd been running. "Have you found something?"

< < The entrance is here. > > Wufei pointed, curious to find out whether the hradani might be able to see something the scanners couldn't pick up.

"Here? Are you sure?" He stepped up to the edge of the gully and then hesitated, peering into the dimness. "I can't see it," he muttered uncertainly.

< < I'm sure. It's hidden, but it's there, and the soldiers went in. > >

"If you're sure..." Cord began to take another step forwards, then abruptly shuddered and took two quick steps backwards, hands clenching on the haft of Gunnar's double-bladed axe. "Phrobus's black balls!" he swore, ears flattening. "I've no notion what it is, but there's something about that gully I don't like at all, at all!"

< < I think it's telling you that you aren't welcome, > > Wufei told him, unfolding the Dragon Fang from Nataku's right arm with a thought.

"Aye, well, hradani haven't been welcome anywhere in this world for over a thousand years," he said grimly, "and that hasn't stopped us. D'you have a plan, lad, or are we just going to rush in there and kill anyone who tries to stop us?"

< < I don't think I'd fit. This should work nicely, though; stand back. > > And the Dragon Fang dipped down and spat flame.

The thin grass and low, scrubby bushes in the gully blew away as ashes and smoke in the first seconds, and the earth between the rocks began to glaze over. Wufei was feeding the crackling white energy into the flamethrower, holding the focus of the flames on the main concentration of Sharna's energy, and could see the sickly green clot eroding under the assault.

I don't have that much fuel left for the Dragon Fang,
he thought, vaguely worried. I'm not sure whether I can use that strange energy to fuel it if there isn't some 'normal' flame to act as a carrier wave, or guide, or whatever--


That was not a request for an update, damn it. Still... 23% gives me about three minutes of flame at full intensity, and I'm using it at less than half strength. It shouldn't take more than another ten seconds to finish this, so--


Thinking of time brought the soft murmur of the computer clock back to the forefront of Wufei's awareness, and he wrenched his mind back to the task at hand with an effort.

It's getting worse. It's almost hypnotic now, not just irritating, but I can't afford to get distracted. I have to get this done!


Yes, I know. The last large clot of green energy shrivelled into nothingness under Nataku's fire, and a rock outcropping that had been behind it began to shimmer as Wufei shut the flamethrower down. At first it seemed to be nothing but heat waves, the same as the ones rising from every other inch of scorched ground, until a sudden ripple of blackness wiped away the image of the rocks and replaced it with an angular doorway. The stone above the opening had cracked and settled slightly, splitting the scorpion carved into it in half.

< < Ah, > > Wufei said, satisfied. < < You should be able to see it now, Cord. > >

The hradani peered cautiously out from his hiding place behind Nataku's foot, then jerked back with an oath as the waves of heat radiating from the blasted rocks threatened to burn off his eyebrows. "Aye, well, since I don't think I could look that way for more than a second without my eartufts catching fire, I'll have to be taking your word for it," he said sarcastically. "And it may have escaped your notice, bein' all metal as you are now, but I'm thinking that the other lads and I might just be having a bit of trouble getting to that door."

One hard strike from the Dragon Fang finished the job the fire had begun, shattering the stones and collapsing the entranceway. < < We're not going to be using that door, and-- > >


< < --we're not going to wait for the others. > >


Somehow, that last change to the mission profile seemed important. Wufei couldn't take the time to think about it, though. The mission itself had priority.


Deploy seismic sensors. Run sonic mapping program, subterranean mode; display map.

Cord watched, bemused, as Nataku paced off a large triangle, driving a long metal spike into the ground at each corner before stalking off to one side. "An' how is that going to be helping us?"




About to punch into the ground to provide a shockwave for the sensors to read and interpret, Wufei paused as his forward camera automatically highlighted something moving by his -- Nataku's -- feet.

"Wufei! Lad, are you all right in there?"

**ACTION -- INDETERMINATE** **10:26:19.011**

There was no pressing need to respond to the query -- Cord didn't have a clearance or a 'need to know' classification that would entitle him to mission and fitness reports -- but there was no pressing need to not respond, either, since he wasn't tagged as hostile.

< < ...Cord? > >

"Didn't you hear me? What are you doing?"


< < Echolocation. > >

Cord looked baffled. "What's that when it's at home?"

< < Priority task in progress. > >



< < Proceeding with primary objective. > >

The small figure at Nataku's feet fell over and vocalised noisily when Wufei struck the ground to create the necessary shockwave, but as there seemed to be no information content in the sounds made, Wufei ignored it.


The complex of tunnels and chambers making up the underground temple showed clearly on the sonar map, easily distinguishable from the well- defined layers of rock beneath a thin skin of soil. Two areas of collapse showed up as blurred patches, one where the temple entrance had been, and the other where a tunnel widened into a large open space--


Smoothly, Nataku started to dig.