Demon of Justice + Chapter 30 (cont)
Nagging will get you everywhere

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"I'm going to swat him," Uthmar panted, glaring ahead to where Nataku's head and shoulders were gleaming above the treetops. "Hard."

Arwen snorted. "Which one? Wufei or Cord?"

"Both."

"I'd advise you to wait until Wufei's back in his own body, then. Swatting him could be a bit painful for you right now, and I doubt he'd even feel it."

"Not if I use Torframos's power to do it," the dwarf growled, eyes narrowing. "He'd feel that."

"Don't you dare!"

"Got a reason why not?"

"Because Cord would never let you live it down if you used your power to swat someone for being irritating after you didn't want to use it against Sharna's cultists," Arwen said reasonably. "And I would never let you live it down either, since you've never let me forget the time I summoned my axe to show off in front of those girls."

"...It still might be worth it."

Arwen rolled his eyes. "All right, it would be setting a bad example for the men. Especially Vaijon. Therefore I order you not to."

"I have seniority!" Uthmar objected, slowing to a trot as the group neared the still demon. Behind them, the armsmen began to fan out in a practiced manoeuvre, not really needing the orders Halvdan barked; those close enough to hear the low-voiced conversation between the two Champions were grinning through their beards.

"Vaijon's still officially my responsibility, which means this matter comes under my authority, therefore seniority means nothing and I get to make the rules," Arwen said triumphantly. "No swatting allowed."

"You're such a spoilsport, Arwen."

"Just returning what you've done to me for years, Uthmar."

Nataku was kneeling in a clear space, an area where the underlying rock was too close to the surface to permit trees to grow. Two-thirds of it was a stony field with areas of scrubby bushes and short grass, unremarkable except for a large freshly-dug hole in front of the metal demon; the other third was a gully, blasted sooty black and smoking.

"Now I see what you meant when you said Wufei and Nataku 'burned clean' an altar to Sharna," Arwen said, dropping the bantering tone from his voice. "This whole area feels wrong, somehow, except for that dip over there."

"You haven't run into a major temple to a Dark god before, have you?" Uthmar asked in a seeming non-sequitur. "Not since you became a Champion, at least?"

"Uh... no."

"Remember that feeling," the dwarf said seriously. "Every Champion can sense a strong concentration of Dark power, but we all do it differently. For me, there's a smell, something like burning and dust. Sir Kieran feels queasy; sometimes he's actually ill after everything's over. You, it seems, get a feeling of something being 'wrong'. We can sense strong Light power too, as an opposite."

Arwen blinked. "So that's why I'm always so comfortable in the Motherhouse? It feels 'right'?"

"Exactly. To me, it always smells like warm spice and flowers -- even when the floors have just been rewaxed and everyone else is complaining that it smells like hot lemon soap."

"And Wufei sees power as puddles of light?"

It was Uthmar's turn to be surprised. "...Yes," he said slowly, thinking hard. I took it for granted that he had powers because he was a demon, but... the ability to clearly sense a god's power is an ability gods and Champions have. I don't think even magi can do it. Why does he have a Champion's power when I know he hasn't accepted Krashnark's offer?

"Where's Cord?" the human Champion asked, cutting across Uthmar's train of thought.

Back to business -- but I'll come back to this later! "I don't see him," he replied, looking around. "If he's gone and got himself into trouble by running ahead, I'm going to swat him no matter what you say."

"If he's gotten himself into trouble, you won't need to swat him," Arwen pointed out. "I don't see any cultists, and he was with Nataku-- uh, Wufei-- so he should be--"

Cord's face appeared above the rim of the hole Nataku had dug, dirt- streaked and grinning. "What took you so long, little man?"

"We decided you and Wufei could handle it all by yourselves, so we stopped for a snack," Uthmar called sarcastically. "Where are they?"

"'They'? Oh, you mean Sharna's bootlickers?" the hradani said innocently. "Like you said, we handled them all by ourselves."

"What?!"

"Well, to be truthful, Wufei handled them," Cord admitted, pulling himself up out of the hole. "That nice little furnace over there--" he jerked a thumb at the gully-- "is where their front door was, and he tracked 'em into it before he broke it down. This little mole hole is the new entrance to their torture chamber or shrine or whatever you want to call it; I guess the lad decided he should make a new door, since Karthan and the others tell me he blocked up the old one before he ever came out to join us and got in Nataku. An' they also tell me that most of these wilderness temples have only the one door to the outside air, which leaves Sharna's bully boys trapped in their own tunnels until they dig their way out. Now how's about a hand getting the boys up out of here? Sharna's hospitality's not so good that they want to be taking their time about leaving..."

The two Champions stared at him for a moment, then turned to each other.

"Can I?"

"As soon as we've got everyone out of there, be my guest."

----------

With plenty of helpers available to lend a hand with ropes and plain brute strength, it didn't take long to get the half-dozen armsmen who'd been captured with Wufei up out of the sacrificial chamber. The hardest parts were bringing up Vaijon, who could only use one hand to pull himself up, and Wufei -- well, Wufei's body. It was immediately apparent even to the few armsmen who still weren't quite sure what had been going on with Nataku and the dragon made of white fire that there was nothing of Wufei's mind left in what looked uncomfortably like a breathing corpse.

Cord scratched one ear and looked uneasily at the limp form, wrapped in ragged strips of bloodstained green silk and a warm coat one of the human armsmen had been wearing over his armour. "I'd not want you to be thinking I'm doubting your word, Karthan, but... are you sure the lad can just pop himself out of Nataku and back into his own body again?"

"No," Karthan said, biting off the word sharply. "I'm not."

"What do you mean by that?" Uthmar asked. "And-- hell's teeth, Karthan, what happened to you?!"

Karthan shrugged, doing a very poor job of trying to look unconcerned as he straightened up... and up, showing that he was now at least four inches taller than the tallest of the other dwarves. His clothes hung oddly on him, too wide and too short; his pants legs were pulling out of the tops of his boots, and the worn place showing where his belt was usually fastened was now a couple of inches beyond the buckle. "Wufei happened to me," he explained, holding his arms out to the sides as if to show off his new body shape. "The priest was starting the sacrifice, and Wufei sort of... went away inside himself. That spoiled the sacrifice. The priest couldn't get him back, so he asked Sharna to, and Sharna messed it up and pulled him right out of his body, which completely ruined things."

"A god made that sort of mistake?" somebody muttered doubtfully.

=*If it's Sharna, I can believe it,*= Torframos muttered in his Champions' heads.

"This is Sharna we're talking about," Karthan snapped, unconsciously echoing him. "Up until then, Wufei had been cut off from his link to me and blocked from using his powers by a hooked chain around his neck -- there was a spell on it, it burned Sir Vaijon when he tried to take it off," he added, speaking quickly. "Once he was out of his body, he was away from the chain, we got the link back, and somehow it pulled him right into me."

"And that did this to you?" Arwen asked.

"It was Sir Wufei who defeated the cultists, fighting in Karthan's body," Vaijon put in, looking anxious. "Afterwards, he spoke to me. He was... in considerable distress; he said that they were beginning to blend and run together, mind and body, and he had to get out before it was too late. He went to Nataku partly because he could not yet go back to his own body, and partly because he believed you would need help."

"I think he got out before we did anything to each other's minds," Karthan went on. Except that we now have a lot more of each other's memories... "I don't know yet if the changes to my body are permanent. The point is, he's been in Nataku a lot longer than he was in me!"

"But he's in and out of Nataku all the time," Uthmar began, not understanding.

"He spends a lot of time linked to Nataku," Karthan corrected him. "When he does it, he's in his own body. It's different this time!"

"If he's all right, why isn't he already back in his body?" Vaijon pointed out. "The chain is off him, he's out of the temple, and he doesn't need to be in Nataku any more!"

"He was acting odd just before he started digging you out," Cord said slowly, looking up at the silent metal figure. "He hasn't said a word since..."

"Wufei?" Uthmar called tentatively.

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**10:43:59.997**
**10:43:59.998**
**10:43:59.999**
**10:44:00.000**
**MISSION PROFILE**
**TARGET: TEMPLE OF SHARNA**
**OBJECTIVE: PRISONER RETRIEVAL**
**PRIORITY: MOST URGENT**
**STATUS: COMPLETE**
**CURRENT TASK: NIL**
**10:44:00.001**
**10:44:00.002**
**10:44:00.003**
**10:44:00.004**

"Wufei?"

**10:44:01.214**
**VERBAL INPUT RECEIVED**
**SOURCE -- EXTERNAL**
**VOICEPRINT CHECK -- UNAUTHORISED**
**ACTION -- NIL**
**10:44:01.215**

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"What do we do?" Arwen said softly, half to Uthmar and half to Torframos. "Is there something we can do? Is Wufei still in there?"

=*I can't tell you,*= the god said regretfully, soft voice seeming to come from a point between them. =*I can't even see them except through your eyes, remember?*=

"He's there," Karthan said definitely. "He hasn't faded, or dissolved, or anything like that, but I can't feel him properly. The link is almost closed, and... it's like he's asleep, or nearly so. I tried to yell at him, but nothing happened."

"And our power comes from Torframos, so it's not likely we can do something he can't," Uthmar said. "This isn't exactly something I can heal!"

"What about Krashnark?"

The two Champions looked at Karthan, startled.

"I'm serious. What about Krashnark? He can see Wufei -- remember Wufei complaining about being watched all the time? He wants Wufei as his Champion! That gives him a link to Wufei, right? Maybe he can do something!"

Uthmar and Arwen looked at each other.

"I'm not sure asking a Dark god for help is exactly something we should be doing," Uthmar began, "but... well, asking a Light god for a favour wasn't something he should have been doing, either. I don't think the normal rules apply here. Torframos? What do you think?"

The being who answered them, however, was not Torframos.

=*Since I'm not waiting around for you to ask, we won't worry about the technicalities,*= said a deep, tightly controlled voice out of nowhere. =*Place him in his seat, and leave the rest to me.*=

"Wh-- what are you going to do?" Arwen stammered.

=*I promised I wouldn't nag him any more. I think it's time to break that promise.*=

----------

Karthan's recollection of what he'd seen in various glimpses of Wufei's memories was clear enough for him to find the concealed switch that would open Nataku's hatch and lower the drop wire, making the task of getting Wufei's body inside possible. It still took the combined efforts of four men, lifting from below and pulling on ropes from above, to raise him up in an improvised sling built of branches and clothes; they were as careful as they could be, but fresh blood was spotting his bandages by the time they had him lying on the floor in the cockpit.

"Can't we just leave him like this?" Halvdan asked dubiously, looking at Karthan and then nervously upwards. "If we put him in the chair, either he'll fall straight out again or the belts will cut into his wounds."

=*I said put him in the chair,*= Krashnark said sharply. =*I may not have time to try this more than once, so everything in here has to be as close to normal as possible. Normal, in this case, means in the chair. He can heal later!*=

If he has a 'later', he thought, hovering invisible and insubstantial as he watched them fuss around the body. My Champion... my future Champion... he has a future! I won't accept anything else!

"Now what?" Karthan asked, stepping back. They'd tried to pad the safety harness, but his borrowed memories hadn't told him how to adjust it quickly, and there hadn't been room for much cloth to be folded between straps and skin. The little they'd managed to fit in was quickly soaking through with blood, and Wufei was slumped sideways, head and arms dangling.

=*Leave,*= Krashnark told him. =*Close the armour behind you.*=

"Do you know how long--?"

=*No. Now leave!*=

As soon as he was alone with Wufei, Krashnark materialised, bending over him. His normal ten-foot-tall materialisation would never have fit in the cramped quarters of the cockpit, so he made adjustments without really thinking about it, ending up with a form that was broader but not much taller than Wufei. If he had thought about it, he would have realised that he had actually made himself considerably shorter than Vaijon, something that would normally have offended him terribly.

"I know you can hear me," he began, looking around at the inactive screens and softly glowing lights. "I know you're in here. You can't get away from me that easily! Did you think that leaving your body would make me leave you alone? You're mine, Wufei, my destined Champion, and if I have my way not even death will be able to separate you from me."

He went on, picking words that he knew would infuriate Wufei, and hoped that he was right about the human/demon being able to hear him.

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**11:07:19.826**
**VERBAL INPUT RECEIVED**
**SOURCE -- INTERNAL**
**VOICEPRINT CHECK -- UNAUTHORISED**
**ACTION -- SECURITY ALERT**

Nataku's computers came to a slightly higher level of activity, preparing various systems for possible action. Inside the half-ruined temple, in the pile of clothes the priest had cut off Wufei, the flat watch he normally wore under his left wristband began to vibrate in a coded pattern.

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I seem to be having some effect, at least, Krashnark thought, eyeing a small screen that was now lit. A block of small characters appeared, filling themselves in from the top line down, then paused as if waiting for something. I hope that's good...

"It's your destiny -- your duty -- to join me, to lead my forces against any fool who would defy us. We can start by crushing those idiots clustered around your knees; they worship the wrong gods, and it would be so easy to do, after all. All you have to do is to stand up and step on them. Of course, if you're going to stand up, first you have to wake up..."

A few more lines of text wrote themselves on the screen, and the whole block scrolled up slightly. Nothing else happened.

That girl he compared me to once, what was her name? Relena? What did he hate most about her? Oh, yes, I remember-- "If you'd just think about it a little you'd see that I'm right," he went on. "You belong as my Champion. Any rational, reasonable person who takes the time to consider my arguments would be able to see that, and so I can't possibly accept any answer other than 'yes'. I'd be doing you a disservice if I allowed you to diminish yourself by not fulfilling your natural function."

More text wrote itself... but this time, Krashnark thought he felt a spark of sleepy annoyance, as if something was grumbling in its sleep.

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**11:09:03.657**
**VERBAL INPUT RECEIVED**
**SOURCE -- INTERNAL**
**VOICEPRINT CHECK -- UNAUTHORISED**
**ACTION -- SECURITY ALERT**

...go 'way...


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Still talking, saying anything that came into his head, Krashnark let one hand slip down from the back of the chair to Wufei's shoulder. Is he warm enough? he worried. He looks pale, and his skin is cooler than the air... is that right? Mortal bodies aren't meant to be without their spirits, and-- He bent closer. Is he breathing properly?

This has gone on too long! I know he can hear something of what I'm saying -- I've got to come up with something that will shock him awake!


"Well, we both know that you were meant to be mine," he said, trying to sound as arrogant and offensive as he could. "It's a self- evident truth that you're just too stubborn and hidebound to admit."

Nothing.

"In fact," Krashnark added desperately, "I'm going to make you my Champion right now. That's all right with you, isn't it?"

Nothing.

"Silence will be taken as assent! If you don't actually wake up and say 'no' to my face, out loud, I'm going to assume you mean 'yes' and do it!"

A burst of angry static came from the internal speakers. < < Damn it, Krashnark, don't you dare-- huh? What'sssszzzzrrrkkkk-- > >

Krashnark lunged desperately at the speakers as Wufei's voice trailed off into static. "Wufei, wake up! Stay awake! You've got to stay awake and get back into your body RIGHT NOW!"

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**11:09:54.298**
**VERBAL INPUT RECEIVED**
**SOURCE -- INTERNAL**
**VOICEPRINT CHECK -- UNAUTHORISED**
**ACTION -- SECURITY ALERT**

...what's... going on...? Krashnark...?


"Get back into your body! Can you hear me? Wufei!"

**11:09:59.854**
**VERBAL INPUT RECEIVED**
**SOURCE --

Shut up!

The soft mechanical voice faded into the background as Wufei forced himself to concentrate.

Back into my body? But... I am in my body... aren't I?


A mental blink turned his vision inwards, showing him circuits drawn in flickering lightning, power plant burning like a muted star, inactive systems barely visible. Overlaying the precise lines and angles was a similar but more rounded form, glowing faintly green- white, feeling more like him than the rest, with thin silver cords spinning out from it; one to the sharp-edged shape drawn in lightning, one somehow through that shape and drifting off beyond vision, one to a small warm-glowing figure a short distance away, and one to--

Oh. He means that body.

There was no particular reason for him to do what the desperate voice told him to... but there was no particular reason for him not to, either.

----------

Wufei cried out, spasming in his seat as he returned to a body in serious pain, and Krashnark caught his shoulders to ease him upright. "Wufei! Don't move, you'll only hurt yourself."

"...Krashnark...?" The voice was a cracked, breathy whisper, but recognisably Wufei's, and undeniably rational.

"Yes?" the god answered, one hand under Wufei's chin to gently help him raise his head.

"Don't... you dare."

Krashnark had to laugh. "Forgive me," he said wryly, "but I had to find something to say that would shake you back to awareness. I promise, that's the only lie I've ever told you. I can not make you my Champion without your willing consent."

"Good." Wufei started to say something else, lifting his right hand, then gasped in pain as the movement flexed muscles around the stab wound in his palm.

"I said don't move!" Still holding Wufei's shoulder, Krashnark freed one hand to carefully lift the wounded arm. "I can't heal you directly, but I can take the pain from you. Shall I?"

Seeming not to hear him, Wufei pawed left-handed at the buckle of his restraints until Krashnark hissed in irritation and reached for it himself, pushing the quick-release button. Well before Wufei would have been able to manage it himself, Krashnark had helped him to stretch out on the cockpit floor in the closest thing to a comfortable position he could manage.

"I thought gods... weren't allowed... to interfere in the world."

"A minor physical action like that doesn't count," Krashnark said dismissively, waving it off. "All I did was release a catch. You would have done it yourself in a moment."

"Sophist," Wufei gasped, managing a faint imitation of his best sardonic tones.

"Stiff-necked masochist," Krashnark retorted. "Are you going to let me ease the pain or not?" He saw the faint flicker of doubt in Wufei's eyes almost before the Gundam pilot felt it himself, and shook his head. "No debts incurred," he insisted. "No 'catch', as humans would put it, no bribe intended, and I expect no gratitude. It's just that... Sharna went beyond what was permitted him, and harmed you in an attempt to harm me. I have the right to go one step beyond what would normally be permitted, and help you, but I will not do so without your permission." He waited a moment, eyes intent, hand brushing a strand of black hair out of Wufei's face. "Will you allow it?"

"I... appreciate the offer," Wufei whispered, eyes slipping shut. "Truly. But I think it would be best if I do not accept."

"But--!"

There was a long, dangerous pause; then the tension drained out of the air, and Krashnark sighed. "There's a fine line between arguing and nagging," he said softly, "and I don't want to break my promise again. As you wish." He stood, reaching to push a button on one of the control panels, and vanished as Nataku's hatch began to open.

=*Torframos's Champions should be able to help you heal, in any case,*= came the grudging admission. =*I'll see you again soon.*=

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