AUTHORS: Mel and Christy. You can't kill us or you'll never find out how this ends!
WARNINGS: TORTURE. Ewwwwwwwww. Yaoi, angst, sap, language, some OOC, AU...
PAIRINGS: 1x2, 3x4, 5x?
DISCLAIMER: 'Gundam Wing' and 'Oath of Swords' would be ours if we were named 'Bandai/Sotsu' and 'David Weber', but we aren't. Just playing with them, honest!
FEEDBACK: Still want it. Hand it over!

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!>>

Demon of Justice + Chapter 27
Out of Sight, Out of Body

"Now, it's understanding I'll be if y'tell me to mind my own business, seein' as how things are a tad busy right now," Cord said conversationally, blocking a sword strike with his axe, "but would y'mind tellin' me how come you and th'lad there aren't glowing yet?"

Uthmar snorted, not taking his eyes off his own opponents. "Because using Torframos's power against a pack of perfectly ordinary mortals would be as good as murder, which Champions aren't really supposed to do," he answered shortly, grunting as he cut one cultist down and twisted to block a cut from another. "We'll glow for demons, mages, and spell-casting priests."

"I think I'm seein' your point," the giant hradani mused, kicking his momentarily distracted opponent back into the press of cultists, probably with a few broken ribs to keep him occupied. The first green-clad soldier who lunged forwards into the gap went down with an arrow in one eye, and Cord had a second to turn and nod his thanks to Naiya and Terrin, who were standing on top of the baggage cart with bows. "It wouldna be fair to take an unfair advantage against plain ordinary people, is that it?"

"Essentially," Uthmar agreed, wondering where this was going. There was a dangerous glitter in Cord's eyes, and an edge to his voice that didn't go with his calm delivery...

"Then would y'do me the favour of explainin' just how goin' down under three-to-one odds can be considered fair?" Cord rumbled, smashing a cultist to the ground with an overhand stroke.

Uthmar had to admit -- privately, at least -- that he had a point. Normally, he would have said that forty-five fighters, two of them Champions, would have been more than enough to handle whatever forces were protecting a hidden temple to a Dark god, and normally he would have been right... but the one thing he could be sure of at the moment was that the situation was not normal. If things had been 'normal', his armsmen wouldn't have been surrounded by over three times their number of well-armed cultists and backed into a tight defensive ring around the cart and their nominal 'noncombatants', who were proving to be surprisingly good shots.

At least they didn't hit us until after we were all up, awake, and armed for the march... "It's the principle of the thing," he said, a little weakly.

"Principles, is it?" Cord said derisively. "From what I've seen, little man, principles are the things that'll get you killed when your enemies use 'em against you! All else bein' equal, if one side's got principles an' the other don't, it's the side without 'em that'll win -- and y'can hardly argue that things are equal here!"

Uthmar opened his mouth to argue, but the hradani wasn't listening any more. The dwarf on his other side went down as a sword point found a weak spot in his armour, and he dragged the wounded armsman out of harm's way, blocking the stroke meant to finish him off.

"Now, you just sit here quiet until-- well, if it isn't the Jester t'the Gods," he chuckled, leaning Gunnar back against one of the cart's wheels and gently probing his wound. "Didn't recognise you with y'helmet on. I'm thinking there's no need to be in such a hurry to go and take up your new job, lad!"

Gunnar winced, but managed a lopsided grin. "Actually, I was rather planning to stay here. Somebody's got to keep all the rampant egos around here in check!"

"Aye, well, if the Champions'll just get their thumbs out, we might be able to manage somethin'," Cord grumbled, turning to go.

The dwarf stopped him with a hand on his arm. "While I understand that principles can be a bit of a pain," he winced, "sometimes literally, and personally I agree with you that the current odds are a good argument for relaxing those principles... sometimes, all else being equal, principles are the only way you can tell which side is which." His smile faded. "Our situation isn't what I'm worried about right now, though."

"Oh? And what would you be worryin' about, then?"

"Wufei," Gunnar said grimly. "He hasn't come back, and Nataku's just sitting there... and our opponents have hardly even looked at Nataku, like they know she can't do a thing to stop them. They've done something to him, I'm sure of it."

"Aye, that's not good, but--"

"It's worse than 'not good'!" Hissing in pain, Gunnar slumped back against the wheel, hand pressed to his bloodied side. "I can think of two possibilities, both damn nasty. One, he's a demon, and was originally summoned by a priest of Sharna. Judging by what Naiya and Rami told us, he broke free before they could perform the second sacrifice and bind him into obedience. I don't think they can continue the process with a different priest, but what if they can? What if they're planning to do the second sacrifice now? Two, and more likely..." He took a deep breath. "What if he is the sacrifice? Think about it. There's probably more power and potential wrapped up in him than in anyone else in this world. If a priest of Sharna gets his hands on that sort of power... what d'you think he's going to do with it?"

"...Nowt we'll like," Cord said eventually.

"'Aye'," Gunnar agreed, mimicking Cord's accent dryly. "Which is why we have to get out of this mess and help him. Fast."

"Which means it's time to ditch the Phrobus-damned principles," Cord growled, ears slanting backwards. "I'll just be borrowing this then, if y'don't mind," he added, switching his logging axe into his left hand and picking up Gunnar's double-bladed war axe in his right.

----------

Uthmar traded blows with a succession of opponents, swearing under his breath as one after another ducked backwards, pulling out of reach to take a breather as another cultist stepped in to take their place. They're just working to hold us in place and wear us down, not trying to kill us immediately... and I'm not even managing to seriously wound many of them, let alone kill them! he fumed, slashing in vain at one more retreating figure. I don't have time to evaluate one fighter's style and find an opening before he pulls back and I've got to start again, and I don't have the brute strength necessary to smash through their defences in one or two blows, unlike Cord.

A niggling, guilty thought popped up in the back of his mind. But I would if I just used some of Torframos's power...

He shook his head, dismissing the idea, and chopped at his next opponent's legs. That's not an option, no matter what Cord says. And speaking of Cord... the way he fights, it's damn clear that he's not just an ordinary smith and forester! Not that I really thought he was. Hradani aren't the most feared and hated race on this world for nothing, and Horse Stealer hradani are--

A deep-throated bellow came from behind him, almost a roar, and he barely had time to duck out of the way as Cord charged straight past him into the thick of the enemy forces, striking right and left and leaving a trail of shattered bodies behind him.

--more frightening than the rest, Uthmar finished, watching wide-eyed as the enemy forces fragmented around the hradani. I've never actually seen hradani in battle, but I'd heard... oh damn! He's gone berserk, he's not watching his rear and they're coming in behind him--!

Without thinking about it, he reached for Torframos's power and charged after the hradani, blazing golden fire surrounding him.

* * * * *

Wufei hissed in pain as the priest carved another line into his stomach, and then cursed inwardly as a quiet laugh let him know he'd been heard. Worse than the pain, though, was the slow pulling sensation, as if each slice, each drop of blood, was taking something out of his soul... and the huge stone scorpion looming over him was starting to glow faintly green.

"I'm impressed," the priest said in an almost friendly voice, cutting slightly higher this time as he drew some sort of pattern on Wufei's skin. "That's the first involuntary sound you've made. You're not struggling, either... I don't suppose you're actually enjoying this, are you?"

"Hardly," Wufei snarled. "I am not a masochist."

"I thought not, but it was worth asking," the priest mused, wiping up a trickle of blood with one finger and licking it off. "Hmm... interesting. I'm not sure whether you really do taste slightly different to normal humans, or whether I'm imagining it."

"I have no idea," Wufei said shortly, and closed his eyes, concentrating. The cutting started again, darts of pain across his inner thighs, but he dismissed it from his mind.

It's not important, he told himself, reaching inwards. An illusion... the world is an illusion. My body is an illusion. Pain is an illusion. I can simply refuse to perceive them, and leave them behind...

----------

Muttering under his breath, a quiet echo of the prayers being chanted by the worshippers behind him, the priest made another delicate slice into the meat of his victim's thigh. Blood welled up, dribbling across golden-tan skin in beautiful patterns, and his smile widened as he drew in the power flowing from the wounded body--

--and then faded, as the spread-eagled demon abruptly relaxed and the power flowing from him dwindled to nothing.

Eh?! What's going on? As long as he's alive and able to feel pain, he shouldn't be able to block me-- He hasn't died, has he?! Alarmed, he reached out to feel the sacrifice's throat, hardly feeling the sting as the hooked chain caught on his skin. The demon had looked strong, but you never could tell about a person's heart, and then there had been that embarrassing incident with the girl who'd turned out to be a spy, carrying poison to save her from questioning... it had saved her from something else, and totally ruined the summoning ceremony. The memory of Sharna's fury made him wince.

A strong, slow pulse beat under his fingers, and he frowned. "What are you doing?" he asked lightly, none of his alarm showing in his voice as he twisted the boy's head to face him. Even if he's passed out, that shouldn't affect... eh? What has he done to himself?!

The face looking back at him was slack, eyes almost shut and unseeing, a complete contrast to the angry, resentful, alive features that he'd been laughing at only seconds before. "Come on now, wake up," he said, slapping the demon's cheek. "You can't hide like that... wake up!" A second, stronger blow had no effect either, and the quiet chant behind him faltered as the cultists realised something was wrong.

One of the underpriests moved forward, swallowing nervously. "My lord, is there--" He flinched back, out of arms' reach, as the high priest snarled and slashed the slender knife across the sacrifice's chest, gouging a deep furrow through skin and muscle until the fragile blade twisted in his hand and snapped.

"He didn't feel it," he muttered, staring into the demon's face and searching in vain for any reaction. "He's alive, and not unconscious, yet somehow he didn't feel it... and he has to, or this will not work! What did he do?!"

----------

As several former members of OZ -- including Lady Une -- could have told the priest, torture will get you nowhere if your victim can put himself into a trance. Wufei was only distantly aware of his body; he felt no pain, and although he could still see and hear what was going on around him, it seemed about as real and important as an old black-and-white film, out of focus and echoing faintly. If someone he trusted told him it was safe to come back he would be able to hear and respond, but until then he could just drift in soothing warmth...

* * * * *

Still rubbing idly at the prickling spot on his stomach, Duo turned his attention back to Quatre's voice.

"...probably be best to have a group overseeing it, I think. If there's one qualified person in charge, we can avoid arguments about who has jurisdiction over what, and if they are then answerable to a committee there shouldn't be..."

Another dull pain moved across his abdomen, and Duo lost track again. What the hell? he thought, fingers moving to the new spot under his blanket. I can't feel anything there, and it doesn't hurt any more or less when I touch it, so what's--

Another pain, this one below his ribcage, made him jump slightly. Another, and another...

"But who would be best for the leadership position?" Relena's voice broke through his distraction. "And what title should they have? I realise that question may seem trivial, but believe me, some of the people I have to convince to vote for this will panic if it sounds at all 'Napoleonistic' or 'aggressive'..."

Duo tried to pay attention, but a sudden prickling, burning feeling up and down his inner thighs made it difficult. He barely managed to suppress a wince.

"I think-- Duo, are you all right?" Trowa's concerned voice gave him an anchor, and he looked up to see everyone watching him.

"Yeah, Tro... s'okay. I'm just a little stiff and sore. Keep going, I'm fine," he replied, forcing himself to grin. He squirmed on the bed slightly, then let out a relieved sigh as the pain suddenly faded.

"If you're sure," Heero started, leaning forwards to stroke his boyfriend's cheek.

"It's fine, Heero; I just needed to get more comfortable, I guess," Duo replied, leaning briefly into the caress. "We were trying to decide on who should head this 'peacekeeping group', right?" At everyone's nod he continued: "Well, I know this is going to sound kind of flaky... but what about Lady Une?"

* * * * *

Down on his knees, forehead pressed to the side of the bloodstained altar, the high priest prayed desperately. My lord Sharna, forgive me, but something has gone wrong. I--

=*I can tell that!*= an angry voice spat in his head. =*You should have him screaming for mercy by now, and he's not even twitching! What are you doing about it?*=

He has somehow withdrawn into himself, I think, my lord, the priest continued. I am ashamed to admit my failure, but nothing I can do to his body will wake him. I have tried to retrieve his mind with a spell, but it slips through my grasp like water and I fear this is beyond my powers...

=*So you want me to fetch him back myself,*= Sharna muttered sulkily. =*I have to do everything for you, don't I?*=

I did try, my lord, but my abilities are naturally immeasurably inferior to yours, the priest said soothingly, flattering his god with the ease of long practice. He'd relaxed slightly; when Sharna started sounding pouty instead of angry, it usually meant that the dangerous moment had passed. If I am to complete the sacrifice and deliver his soul to you, I must humbly beg your indulgence and assistance.

Sharna didn't bother to answer, but the feeling of his presence vanished from the priest's mind, telling him that the conversation was over. He could feel power gathering around the demon as he stood up, and smiled at his underpriests. "Fetch the stronger knives," he ordered, rubbing sticky blood from his forehead. "Our subject will be back with us soon, and this has delayed us more than enough; the time for delicacy is past."

----------

A thin wisp of green fog coiled out of nowhere in front of Wufei, and he felt a pang of unease even through his tranced detachment. Nothing was supposed to be here in the dark with him. Nothing could be here with him once he'd withdrawn from his body, wasn't that what Master O had told him...?

The tinge of negative emotion made the dark warmth around him waver, threatening to break the trance, and Wufei automatically let it slide from his mind, sinking deeper into nothingness. Nobody had come to get him, so he was supposed to stay where he was. Stay in the warm dark until someone he trusted called... Duo came to get me last time, he remembered fuzzily, and would have smiled if he'd retained awareness of his mouth. Duo came and called me. Maybe he'll call me again?

The fog-wisp shifted, curling towards him, and he regarded it with a mental frown. I'm pretty sure that's nothing to do with Duo...

Searing pain shot through him as it touched him, shattering the trance state as if he'd never achieved it, and he found himself staring up at the glowing stone scorpion with his own scream echoing in his ears.

"Welcome back," the priest crooned, tracing the knife in his hand across the ragged slash across Wufei's chest, smile widening as he gasped and shuddered. "Yessss, it's not easy to maintain composure if you think the pain's over and then it starts again, is it? A technique I've used to advantage in the past, and you did it to yourself, oh dear... and things are about to get a little more serious."

"Go to hell!" Wufei choked out, trying to regain control over his muscles. I will not struggle helplessly, damn it, I will not scream again-- I refuse to give this bastard the satisfaction!

"Not until I die, dear boy, and as long as I make myself... useful... to my lord Sharna, he'll see to it that I live a long and healthy life."

The Chinese teen managed a laugh and a twisted grin. "Oh? The priest I killed was being 'useful', but he didn't look very healthy by the time I left. Sharna didn't do a damn thing for him, so why do you think he'll bother lifting a finger for you?"

"Because your death and sacrifice could be a greater triumph than any of his priests have managed since the Fall of Kontovar," the priest told him smugly, and drove the short-bladed knife straight through the palm of his right hand.

----------

Vaijon flinched, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment before forcing himself to open them and keep watching. I can't turn away from courage like that, he told himself, feeling sick. I can't refuse to bear witness to it, even if I know I'll never be able to tell anyone what I've seen.

I can't refuse to watch him prove I was so wrong about him...

----------

Wufei tasted blood and realised that he'd bitten through his lip in his efforts to keep quiet. He jerked involuntarily at the increased pain as the priest twisted the knife before pulling it back out, but managed to stay silent except for harsh, ragged breathing. And that's all he's getting, he promised himself grimly, glaring up at the ceiling. If I can push myself back into trance, and go deeper this time -- so deep that nothing can reach me, not a friendly voice, not Sharna, nothing--

I'll die. I'll die without ever waking up.

Somehow, now that he'd made that decision, he was calm again.

If I can manage it, they won't get what they want. That priest won't get any more power, Sharna won't get whatever he gets out of a sacrifice... well, he may still get the satisfaction of having had his brother's chosen Champion killed, but at least it'll be a flawed triumph. Besides, I have the feeling Krashnark will make him regret it soon enough.

Heh. I'm depending on my annoying stalker to avenge me. How stupidly ironic!

Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the darkness behind his eyelids, trying to dismiss the pain and the sound of chanting from his awareness. It was harder than before, but he'd proven in the past that he could achieve trance despite drugs and torture, and this time the drugs weren't a factor--

A faint green smudge curled into view, and the sense of Sharna's presence intensified. =*But I am,*= came the vicious thought. =*You aren't going anywhere. I pulled you out of there once and I can keep you from going back! You're mine now, and nothing is going to prevent me from taking your soul!*=

My what?! Wufei thought incredulously, shocked out of focus. I've made no bargains with you, I'm not one of your servants-- you have no right to take anything!

=*You're in my temple, on my altar, being cut to shreds by my priest, and that gives me all the rights I need,*= Sharna gloated, green smudge brightening and starting to expand, throwing out tendrils of sickly light. =*I hold you here, he kills you... and I win.*=

Over my dead body, Wufei told him, and the priest paused uncertainly in his work as his victim's mouth twisted up into a wry smile. Literally.

[cont]