Demon of Justice + Chapter 10 (cont)
Hello, Princess

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In the ensuing bustle as Heero was pried out of the kitchen and brought up to speed, and everybody settled down in the lounge room with cups of coffee or tea, nobody noticed the upstairs floor creaking quietly as Duo crept to the head of the stairs.

Who's there? he wondered, sidling down the first couple of steps with one hand on the railing and the other clutching his gun. Nobody's supposed to know we're here-- oh. Relena, he thought grumpily as he identified her voice. I shoulda guessed.

He winced and shifted his weight as a sharp twinge of pain ran up his leg from the injured knee, and carefully eased himself down to sit.

I can hear just fine from here, he thought, clicking the safety on his gun and shoving it into his waistband. I'm not going out there until she's gone, if I can help it! She's nice enough, I guess, but watching her make goo-goo eyes at Heero really gets up my nose.

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Sitting hopefully on one side of the sofa, Relena didn't show her disappointment when Heero sat in the most distant chair instead of beside her; instead, she sipped her coffee and looked around. "Where are Duo and Wufei?"

She knew something was wrong when nobody answered her. Heero stared into his coffee; Quatre and Trowa looked at each other, then down and away.

"...Is there a problem?" she asked tentatively.

"Duo's asleep," Heero said, "and I'm not going to wake him up. He was injured in our last battle and needs the rest. Wufei..." He swallowed. "We don't know where Wufei is."

"He's missing?!"

"He's not missing," Quatre said abruptly, glaring at Heero. "We have to face it sooner or later. No matter what Duo insists on believing, he can't have survived that explosion. We couldn't even find any recognisable bits of Shenlong! Wufei is gone."

"Bullshit, Quatre! He's not dead!" Duo half-fell, half-slid into view on the stairs, clinging to the banister as his leg threatened to give way under him. "There's no way he woulda come through everything that's hit us so far and then get killed right at the end! He wouldn't do that to me! He knows--" Choking, Duo turned and began to scramble back upstairs, then went down with a cry of pain as his knee twisted and slammed into the edge of a step.

Heero got to him first, and Relena stopped short, swallowing past the sudden pain in her chest as she saw the expression on the Japanese pilot's face. Oh. Oh, no...

"Duo? Duo, are you all right?" Heero caught at Duo's shoulders, helping him to turn over so that the injured leg wasn't twisted underneath him.

"Wufei is not dead," Duo insisted through clenched teeth. "He's not!"

"Come on, Duo," Heero said softly, gathering him up in his arms. "Let's get you back to bed and take care of that knee... again. Somebody bring a bag of ice up," he tossed over his shoulder as he rose and started upstairs.

"I'll get it," Relena said quickly, almost running into the kitchen. Out of Quatre and Trowa's sight, she leaned on the bench, taking deep breaths as her fingers tightened around the coffee cup she still held.

That... that can't have been what it looked like, she thought desperately, looking down at her shaking hands. It just can't. Heero loves me, and now that the war's over he can start to show it, and we... we can... She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then straightened up and put the cup in the sink, moving with exaggerated care.

Either that look on Heero's face wasn't what it looked like, or I have been... mistaken. I won't find out which by staying in here.

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"Do you think we should call Sally?" Quatre asked, looking up he stairs with a worried expression. "His knee's not getting better, he keeps doing more damage to it, and he's hit his head twice..."

Trowa shrugged. "It looks like we don't have to be quite so paranoid about hiding any more, at any rate. I'll call her."

"Excuse me," Relena said, squeezing past them with a large bag of ice and an armful of dish towels.

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Reaching the top of the stairs, Relena hesitated for a second, looking around; then she heard Duo's voice coming from an open doorway, and moved quietly in that direction.

"You think he's dead too, don't you?"

There was a pause; then, as Relena reached the door and peered around it, Heero sat down carefully on the bed next to Duo and answered him.

"I don't know." Duo grimaced and looked away, but Heero continued, reaching out towards the other boy's shoulder but pulling his hand back at the last moment. "If I said I was sure one way or another, it'd be a lie. It doesn't look good, but--" he shrugged "--it doesn't add up, either."

"What do you mean?"

"We didn't find any pieces of Shenlong. Quatre said 'recognisable pieces', but we would have recognised them no matter what shape they were in; I sure as hell know the difference between Gundanium and steel or ceramic armour. So, we didn't find any bits, and neither did OZ. That means either Shenlong is in one piece somewhere, or it was vaporised, and if that explosion had been enough to vaporise a Gundam the rest of us would have taken a lot more damage. I don't know where Shenlong is, but I don't think it's in pieces on the battlefield."

"...so, what about Wufei?" Duo asked, so softly that Relena almost didn't hear him.

"I don't know," Heero said again, tentatively covering Duo's hand with his own; when Duo didn't pull away, he picked the limp hand up, holding it between his own. "He's nowhere near the battlefield, I know that -- we or OZ would have found him if he were -- but I don't see how he could have got out of scanner and screamer range so fast. Whatever happened, we will find out. We sent the doctors all the data we had; maybe they'll have an idea."

The two boys fell silent, and Relena leaned back, out of view if they glanced towards the door.

It was what it looked like, she thought, dazed. He has the same look on his face now.

Duo. Heero's in love with Duo. How is that possible?! He never said anything-- he never showed any signs--

Her eyes widened as a sudden realisation hit her. He never said anything about me, either. He never showed any signs of being in love with me... but I just thought that was because he couldn't let himself show it until the war was over and he had time to relax...

Maybe I was half right, at least.

Squaring her shoulders determinedly, Relena fixed a polite, concerned smile on her face and stepped forwards, tapping at the door. "Heero? I've brought the ice..."

* * * * *

The priest trembled with mingled fear and ambition, lying prostrate in front of the giant statue. "It is finished, my Lord, summoned and bound as you commanded. Have I done well?"

=*It will do,*= came the answer, echoing in the priest's head. =*You know the target; send it out as soon as night falls. Succeed, and I'll make you my Archpriest.*=

"Thank you, my Lord! I won't fail you!"

The mental voice darkened. =*You'd better not. I won't tolerate anything less than complete success.*=

"It is my one ambition to serve you, my Lord." The priest hesitated, then continued. "My Lord... I understand that a Champion of your enemies is with the target?"

=*What of it? With my help, you should have summoned a demon that can take care of them both. Unless you did something wrong...*=

"No, my Lord, I assure you! It's merely that the Champion may be able to sense the approach of our demon, especially since--"

=*I'm aware of that,*= the god's voice snapped petulantly. =*I will shield its approach.*=

"You relieve my mind, Lord, and I beg pardon for troubling you with my concern. May I withdraw, to prepare?"

=*Go.*=

"Thank you, my Lord Sharna."

As the priest backed out on hands and knees, the dancing shadows cast by the tall candles around the altar made the huge stone scorpion seem to move.

* * * * *

For perhaps the tenth time, Gunnar watched Uthmar stand up, twitch at his belt, pace restlessly into the center of the square and gaze southwards, to where a section of the Spinewall humped itself up into rough hills; then he jerked at the axe slung over his shoulder and stamped back to his seat.

"Is something specific bothering you, m'lord Champion," Gunnar asked sweetly, "or do you just have ants in your revered breeches?"

Uthmar glared half-heartedly at his second-in-command for a moment, then jerked back onto his feet and started pacing. "Something's wrong," he growled, glaring at the hills, tinted gold by the late-afternoon sunlight. "Something is badly wrong, I know it, but damned if I can work out what!"

Gunnar sat up straight, eyes narrowing as his hand automatically dropped to his own axe-haft. "Can you get any details?"

The dwarf Champion shook his head impatiently. "Only that something stinks, somewhere in that tangle of hills to the south. I can't get-- hm! It's fading... Torframos?" Can you tell any more about it?

=*Only that my favourite nephew is meddling,*= a disgusted mental 'voice' responded.

Sharna.

=*Who else? It's beginning to look as though he regards the Spinewall as his personal playground. One of his priests just did something big, but I can't tell what; there's probably a properly consecrated temple down there, and its shields are blocking us. The trace faded because Sharna put some of his personal power into hiding it.*=

Why didn't he hide it from the very beginning, if he can do that? He's not taunting us, is he?

Torframos snorted. =*I doubt it; he's too much of a coward. He probably just forgot, until somebody reminded him.*=

Not the brightest of the Dark Gods, I take it.

=*Quite the opposite. I love my brother Korthrala, but even he admits he's no thinker. Compared to Sharna, Korthrala's a genius.*=

Uthmar grinned, hitching at his weapon-harness again. So, what are the chances that whatever-that-was has something to do with 'Sir' Demon Wufei and his big friend?

=*Excellent. Almost certain, in fact; Sharna has to be miffed about losing that other priest.*=

Right. "Gunnar," he snapped, turning back towards the tables outside Gwent's inn, "put the men on alert, get all the villagers in from the fields, and pass the word to Lord Yithar's guardsmen. The Scorpion is stirring up something, and I doubt we'll like it when it arrives."

"Yes, sir!"

"I," Uthmar continued, nodding his head towards where Wufei was examining Nataku's armour in the last of the daylight, "will try to explain the situation to our friends."

"Better you than me, sir," Gunnar said cheerfully.

"Oh, shut up and get going!"

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After about an hour of earnest explanation, involving a lot of drawings scratched onto scraps of parchment, elaborate gestures, and enlisting Naiya's help, Uthmar was reasonably certain that Wufei understood that he was excited about something to the south.

"How's it going, sir?" Gunnar asked politely.

Uthmar threw up his hands, tossing his stick of charcoal down in the litter of parchments on the table. "I give up. I give up! He just doesn't know enough words, and I can't teach them to him fast enough."

"The drawings aren't helping?" Gunnar picked up a handful and peered at them, holding them close to the lantern.

"You try drawing a picture that will explain 'An evil god is annoyed at you for killing his priest and seems to be planning something, so watch out'," Uthmar grumbled.

"You may be getting too complicated, sir..."

Uthmar passed him the stick of charcoal and folded his arms challengingly.

"Right." Gunnar raised an eyebrow at his chief and picked one of the sketches out of his handful. "Wufei did this one, didn't he?"

Naiya leaned over for a look, and nodded. "That's the priest that summoned him and Nataku."

Gunnar quickly sketched a shadowy scorpion with something man-shaped on its back above the priest's head, and laid the drawing in front of Wufei. "Priest," he said clearly, pointing, "to Sharna. Uthmar is priest to Torframos," pointing to the golden pick embroidered on Uthmar's surcoat and then up at the sky.

"I'm a Champion, not--"

"Close enough, sir, shut up. Torframos is a good god. Sharna is an evil god, bad. You--" he pointed to Wufei, then Nataku "--killed the priest." Ripping the picture up, he tossed the pieces away over his shoulder and grinned. "Now Sharna is angry. Sharna is there--" he pointed south, towards the hills, invisible now in the dark "--and will come here, to get you." Screwing his face into a ferocious scowl, Gunnar pulled out a knife and threatened Wufei with it, then stepped back. "Understand? I hope I didn't insult his intelligence too much, sir..."

Wufei frowned. "Sharna's people fight?"

"Maybe people. Maybe demon. Fight, yes."

"Understand." The small demon nodded determinedly and got up, stalking off towards Nataku.

"'Sharna's people fight'. Why didn't I just say that?" Uthmar said incredulously. "'Sharna's people fight'. I've spent an hour trying to explain gods and temples and revenge!"

"You're welcome, sir," Gunnar said brightly.

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