Demon of Justice + Chapter 28 (cont)
Dragon Rising

* * * * *

Head throbbing, Karthan/Wufei collapsed to his/their knees, barely aware that the last surviving cultists were scrambling desperately out the door. The shadowy armour around him/them flickered and warped, temporarily reshaping itself into something less like Nataku and more like a real dragon, before a desperate mental effort wrenched it back into what part of him/them insisted was the proper shape and then banished it. Dazed and searching for something stable, a memory that could be reliably identified as more 'his' than the rest, that part of him/them wondered briefly if such a thing as a 'real' dragon did actually exist--

(--I've seen one -- they're only old stories -- faced it down with my axe and -- river dwelling, guardians of clouds -- two armsmen at my back -- king lives at the bottom of the ocean -- remember the look in its eyes -- emblem of my clan and -- that was no animal's expression, it -- I've always been proud to call myself a Dragon, but -- was thinking about whether it could -- they don't exist in my world -- take us down and decided -- I can't be remembering -- we weren't worth the trouble -- this, it's not my memory!--)

"Stay back, you id-- sir! There's no way to tell what's happening to him!"

The urgent, hissed voice cut through the swirling confusion, and he/they looked up into Sir Vaijon's worried face. "Sir-- sirs?" he said uncertainly, reaching out with his good hand as if he wanted to support them but wasn't sure whether they were safe to touch. "Are you-- both-- all right?"

"No," he/they choked out together, closing his/their eyes as the blond knight-probationer seemed simultaneously too tall and precisely in proportion to him/them. "We-- I-- he can't-- too close--"

The sleeve of his/their shirt pulled oddly as he/they brought a hand up to rub at his/their face, and he/they opened his/their eyes again to blink perplexedly at it. The laced cuff that should have been snug around his/their wrist seemed slightly too large, somehow, and had slid back up his/their forearm, baring a couple of inches of skin that should have been hidden, but the sleeve was still pulled tight from the shoulder--

Part of him/them blinked uncomprehendingly at that, but another part froze in horror, realising what it meant, and that difference in reaction gave him/them the momentary separation he/they needed to pull apart again, becoming separate minds instead of the blended Wufei/Karthan. With a wrench, Wufei took control of their shared body again, gasping out what he had to say as quickly as possible.

"I have to get out of here," he said urgently, head snapping up to look at Vaijon once more. Karthan's beard tickled again, and he seized on the sensation, using it to remind him of the differences. His body, not mine -- I mustn't get used to it, mustn't get comfortable again! "Out of him. Our minds are running together, we-- I-- we can't stay separate, and I think the energy I used is starting to change his body to be more like mine--"

Vaijon's blue eyes widened, almost comically. "Ah. Yes. A serious problem. Can you get back into your own body?"

"No. Still blocked," Wufei gritted out, head swimming as Karthan's sudden realisation/shock/semi-hysterical humour hit him. (--you mean now I'm really tall for a dwarf?! Torframos save us, for once the Almerhas of Almerhas has grasped a situation immediately and Gunnar isn't here to see it--) "Don't have time for you to find a safe way to get that thing off me. Have to--"

"You can't just, ah, hover around bodiless, the Gods only know what would happen if you tried that! Can you, ahhhh, can you go to somebody else? Perhaps if you were in a human, there would be less problems because the body would be slightly more similar--" Vaijon swallowed, hard. "Can you, ah, possess me?"

"Can't. No link... and the more similar the more dangerous, I think..." He swayed dizzily, sliding perilously close to becoming 'them' again, before he dragged his attention back on target and focussed grimly on staying 'him'. "I'll go to Nataku. I think..." Greenish fire flickered in his eyes for a moment, and then was gone. "I think they need help up there, anyway. I'll block the entrance before I go, stop the remaining Sharna-worshippers from coming back... get you out a different way... do you still need help with the chains?" he asked fuzzily, trying to plan with a mind that seemed to be full of echoing thoughts, his own and Karthan's, back and forth and blending and... No!

(--I'm a dwarf,--) came Karthan's thought, struggling just as hard as him to stay separate. (--I grew up in Dwarvenhame, in the city of Mountain Heart, under White Horn Mountain, not in a metal box floating in nothingness! I am not him!--)

Not just a box, Wufei thought back, a little wistfully. It had its own sun, and trees, and even fields of flowers... Meiran's flowers... (--that's my memory, me, Chang Wufei! I am not him!--)

"--managed to get one of Jens's hands loose," Vaijon was reassuring him when he managed to focus again, "and he turned out to be far better at picking locks than myself, so--"

"Not to mention that I remembered which of those bastards had pocketed the keys after the dog brother who chained us up handed them over," Jens put in over his shoulder, "and he was one of the ones you did in during the fight... uh, m'lord Wufei?" he finished tentatively, obviously not sure who he was addressing.

"Good," Wufei managed to say, fighting off a flood of Karthan's memories triggered by the sight of the tall armsman's face. I don't want to know that he has three children, I shouldn't know, that's not mine-- "Get everyone clear of the door," he gasped, lifting his right hand and swinging it towards the entranceway, Nataku's image flickering back into view around him. "I have to go now!"

The Dragon Fang shot out the instant all the armsmen were clear, warping partway into something with scales that bit viciously at the rock above the tunnel entrance, ripping at it until it collapsed and sealed them in. It coiled back rather than folding, shadowy image settling in loops around the kneeling dwarf, and white sparks crackled over its surface as it melted into a new shape, briefly becoming Nataku, then Wufei, before it disappeared.

Now how do we get you out of my head? Karthan thought, sounding slightly tired and definitely stressed. I don't have any idea how I got you in!

Push, Wufei suggested dryly. While I pull on my link to Nataku again, just... differently.

(--how wonderfully specific--) Let's get to it then. I like you, Wufei, but I don't want to look like you!

* * * * *

"This was such a brilliant idea!" Uthmar yelled at Cord, not caring that he obviously wasn't listening. "Absolutely wonderful! What will you come up with next, swimming in full plate armour?! Taking on a cavalry charge naked, perhaps?!"

The huge hradani ignored him, furry ears lying flat against his head as he snarled and hacked down another cultist, and the dwarf Champion swore under his breath. Damned stupid thing to do, charging into the middle of them like that! I had to call on Torframos's power just to stay alive long enough to protect his back, and now we're cut off-- not to mention that he probably wouldn't go back to rejoin the others even if we had a clear path to them--

=*Something's happening,*= Torframos interrupted his thoughts suddenly.

--eh? What is it? Eyes narrowing, Uthmar scanned the battlefield, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Not that much is really out of the ordinary for such a confused mess of a fight, that is... Has one of Sharna's priests turned up, or-- don't tell me we're going to get hit with another demon!

=*No, that's not it,*= Torframos said tensely, and Uthmar could feel him looking through his eyes for a different perspective. =*It's not Sharna's power I'm feeling, but I can't tell exactly what-- Oh. Of course.*= There was a half-amused, half-exasperated laugh. =*I should have remembered. If something's going on, and I can't tell what... Wufei's up to something.*=

Wufei! He's all right?! The dwarf dodged sideways, tripping a cultist charging at Cord's back and killing him without really paying attention, attention fixed elsewhere. Where's he been?! I felt something wrong, just before we were attacked, but I couldn't pin it down and I haven't exactly had time since to check--
Torframos cut him off again. =*Maybe you should have made time,*= he said slowly, voice distant as he concentrated. =*Something's still wrong...*=

* * * * *

Karthan could feel Wufei straining against the link holding their minds together, pulling harder on his link to Nataku, and felt his own body grit its teeth in response, then a wave of frustration from Wufei's mind.

(--No, that won't work -- I have to separate myself from his body, not keep controlling it! This isn't a physical effort, anyway, it shouldn't need a physical response--)

Whether it needed a physical response or not, it was getting one. Karthan was crouched on hands and knees, muscles twitching and jerking as the white energy leaked over into him from the link again, and he could feel his pulse hammering as if his heart was trying to break out of his chest.

(--Not good. Not good at all! At this rate he's going to have a heart attack, and--)

If you keep worrying about me,Karthan thought at him, we'll be stuck together for good. Stop thinking about me! Think about Nataku-- think about how it felt when you were fighting that demon! Concentrate on getting into Nataku instead of on getting out of my head, and we might actually get somewhere!

...all right. I'll try again.

----------

Watching Karthan anxiously, Vaijon didn't realise he was holding his breath until his chest started to hurt. Nobody spoke, nobody was moving... they were all watching the dwarf crouched in the middle of the floor, shuddering. It had been nearly two minutes since he had blocked the doorway -- no, Wufei had blocked it, Vaijon corrected himself -- and the lack of visible progress was starting to worry the blond knight-probationer.

Jens stirred finally, shifting his weight as if he was going to step forwards, then flinched away as a few sparks crackled down Karthan's arm. "I don't mind tellin' you, I don't like the look of that," he said uneasily. "...Sir. It looks like they need help, but damned if I know how to help 'em!"

"Wish we had one'a the Champions with us," a dwarf grumbled, and the other armsmen muttered agreement. "They'd know something to do."

"If we had a Champion with us, we probably wouldn't be in this situation in the first place," Vaijon snapped back, hiding a wince at the unintentional reminder that he wasn't one. Why not me?! came the familiar, hurt thought, but this time he pushed it away impatiently. "And since this is most certainly not a situation that's happened before, I doubt they'd be any more prepared to handle it than we are!" Straightening up, he glanced around, and frowned as he realised that his initial impression had been correct; all of them were gathered around, watching Karthan.

Of all the foolish, thoughtless-- no, the fault is mine, he corrected himself, stiffening his spine. As a nobleman, and the only officer of the Order present, it is my responsibility to see to the proper disposition of forces. I can't expect peasants to feel the same sense of responsibility... "We may not be able to help directly, but that is no excuse for standing around! We need to arm ourselves and guard the entrance, in case the cultists attempt to clear a path and re-enter. We should also do something for Sir Wufei's body!" he added, feeling a sudden pang of guilt. I can't believe I forgot that! "If he does not succeed in going to Nataku, perhaps we can help by clearing the path for him to return to his own self, but he can hardly do so if we allow his body to die for lack of attention! --And don't touch that chain with your bare hands!"

"Got it... sir," Jens nodded, shooting a quick glance at Vaijon's seared right hand. "We'll see to it." He turned away, waving the other armsmen to him as he began to assign tasks, but not before the knight-probationer caught a faint mutter. "Looks like the flagpole's back, stuck in there right an' proper. Pity, really..."

Vaijon's opened his mouth to deliver a scathing reprimand--

--and a sudden explosion of white light sent the armsmen scurrying in all directions, scrambling desperately away from the sizzling arc stretching from Karthan to -- and through -- the cavern wall. Vaijon fell backwards onto his rear, throwing up an arm to shield his eyes, and squinted through his lashes at the glare. He couldn't tell whether it was just an illusion caused by the dazzle making his eyes tear up, but it looked like something was pulling itself out of the dwarf's torso...

A narrow, fanged head swung out and clamped its jaws onto the arc of energy as if it were a rope, and Vaijon could see translucent, scaled hide bulge and shift as the muscles underneath it tensed, straining to drag the rest of its body free. It uncoiled from around Karthan's torso as it pulled itself loose, seeming to rip through his skin and clothes but leaving them unharmed, and Vaijon gaped in mingled horror and amazement as one long talon struck out, clawing grooves into the stone floor as it added its strength to the effort.

Dear gods -- is this what Wufei really looks like?!

The long, snakelike body finally finished uncoiling, plumed tailtip flicking out from between Karthan's shoulderblades, and the white energy outlining the glassily see-through creature subsided slightly, light dimming. Vaijon blinked his eyes clear, lowering his arm, and just had time to see that the line running through the wall was now linked to the creature, with a second, thinner arc of energy linking it to Karthan, before the monster coiled in on itself, outlines blurring, and resolidified... into Wufei, floating a few inches above the floor, right hand clamped on the thicker light-arc as if it was a lifeline.

"Told you... you just had to concentrate... on the right thing," Karthan gasped out, finishing with a shaky laugh as he twisted his neck to look up at the insubstantial demon. "Your ancestors chose the right symbol... or maybe they knew something you don't... huh? I wasn't even looking at you... and I still saw that!"

Wufei grimaced, expression a mixture of exasperation and relief, and seemed to say something; Karthan snorted and shook his head, letting himself slump to the floor.

"Get your glowing arse into Nataku... before something else goes wrong," he said acidly, rolling onto his back and going limp, closing his eyes. "I'll be fine."

The small demon's spirit looked unconvinced, but nodded. Drifting slightly away from the sprawled dwarf, he glanced over at Vaijon for a second, burning eyes sending an unmistakeable message. 'Look after him.' The knight-probationer swallowed, nodding back, somehow certain that although there was no implied 'or else' threatened in that look, there would be serious consequences in store if he failed at this task. He hid a relieved sigh as Wufei nodded back, apparently satisfied, and turned towards the wall, tightening his grip on the brighter cord of light. A careful tug sent him drifting again, sliding smoothly away and slightly upwards... and then he shot forwards, form starting to shift into the long snaky beast again as he dove head-first into the wall and vanished. The thinner light-cord running into Karthan sparked a few times, then abruptly faded, dwindling into a sparkling silver thread before it vanished.

Jens broke the stunned silence following his departure, clearing his throat a few times. "Well. I dunno 'bout you lads, but Sir Wufei didn't need t' go through all that for my benefit; I was already impressed."

Karthan wheezed out another tired laugh. "You should have seen it from here..."

"Rather not," muttered the same dwarven armsman who'd expressed a wish for a Champion's presence, coming forwards to scuff one toe carefully at the seared claw-marks in the floor. "That white lightning-magic looked like it hurts."

"Oh, no," Karthan said softly, opening his eyes again. "That's not the problem at all. It's scary as all hells, and it felt like it was going to kill me, but it didn't exactly hurt... in fact, I think it even fixed the cuts and bruises I picked up in that fight."

"Helpful stuff," the other dwarf said conversationally, crouching down next to him and looking him over. "So what is the problem?"

"Oh, it's helpful all right," Karthan sighed, stretching one hand out in front of his face and staring at it -- a surprisingly slender, long-fingered hand for a dwarf to have. "Too bloody helpful by half!"

* * * * *

Heero jumped as Duo stirred and murmured in his sleep, then lightly stroked his boyfriend's back. He had been twitchy ever since the episode earlier this afternoon.

Duo had slept through the rest of the plan-making, and each time he stirred, everyone would fall silent. Finally, everything had been worked out, and Relena, Quatre and Trowa left, all insisting 'call us if you need us' as they went. Heero had woken Duo for dinner, but the braided boy had barely kept his eyes open long enough to eat and clean up before he fell asleep again. Now it was 11 pm, and Heero was still awake, watching over the boy in his arms.

Well, I guess that dream wasn't just a one-time thing, he thought. I'll have to watch out... be aware that it could happen again. I just hope all of his 'contacts' with Wufei aren't as upsetting! What really happened, though? There must have been some sort of fight... Duo couldn't remember anything but the pain, then the feeling of Wufei being all right. At least he got that much... It would have been bad if he didn't get that relief...

The Japanese teen's eyes closed as his mind slowly drifted, until he jerked awake as Duo shifted in his grasp, sniffed and mumbled something again.

"Shh... Duo. It's all right. I'm here, it's just a dream," he murmured, running his hand down the other teen's arm.

Duo squirmed again, then said quite clearly, "The world is coming to an end."

Eh? What? Heero blinked, then slowly smiled. "Oh, really? When?"

"Next Wednesday..."

He snorted, then chuckled quietly with relief. It wasn't a nightmare. It was just... Duo.

* * * * *

Trowa fell into bed, glad they finally had the new house completely in order. Now, when Duo was allowed to come home, everything would be ready for him.

Duo... now there was a twist. The tall ex-pilot thought back over the strange events of the afternoon and shook his head. I still only half believe it, I think. What are the odds? I never thought Wufei was dead, not really, but Duo 'channelling' him is a bit much to accept... He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "Except for the fact that Quatre confirmed it..."

"Confirmed what?" the shorter blond asked, walking out of their ensuite bathroom and tossing his robe on the footboard. Trowa blinked, not having realised he had said the last bit out loud. Raising the sheet and blanket for his lover, he waited until Quatre had joined him and wrapped him in his arms.

"Quatre," he said hesitantly, "this afternoon..."

The blond sighed. "I know. I almost don't believe it myself... If I hadn't actually 'felt' Wufei, I would have said they were both crazy and needed professional help. As it is, half of me wonders if I'm not the one who needs it." Reaching over his lover's body, he turned out the bedside light. "But, I did feel him, and I know it wasn't some hallucination... any more than Duo's reaction was. I think we'll both agree that there was no way Duo would have faked something like that, even if he could have. So, members of the jury, we have to conclude that Chang Wufei is alive, in some alternate dimension, and can contact Duo Maxwell... as hard as that is to believe."

Trowa pulled the shorter teen over on top of himself and kissed him lightly. "You know, I've always thought it was a bit arrogant for most of the human race to assume that we were the only sentient life in the universe. And, along that line of thought, we have the Doctors' word that alternate dimensions exist... with sentient beings in at least some of them. If there are alternate dimensions, why couldn't one contact the other somehow? Radio waves travel billions of miles through space, eventually... why can't some other form of energy travel to other dimensions?"

"In other words, whatever form of mental energy it is that I pick up on."

"Right."

There was silence for a moment. "And some green, scaly alien on a distant planet could be watching The Roadrunner, or Rocky and Bullwinkle, on our radio waves from hundreds of years ago?"

"Hn. It's a valid theory. ...Or, some green, scaly alien in another dimension could be picking up your thoughts, and treating our daily lives as a particularly riveting soap opera."

Quatre laughed and hugged the darker-haired teen. "I love you, Trowa Barton..."

* * * * *

Lightning struck. Sideways.

Fighters scattered in all directions as white energy shot out from Nataku and grounded... somewhere... beyond the trees to the northeast. Naiya and Terrin threw themselves flat as the crackling bolt shot directly over the wagon they were standing on, thin tendrils licking out from the main arc but never quite touching either of them.

"Phrobus's black balls, what in the hells is that?!"

Uthmar shot a split-second glance over to his left, where the voice had come from, and then went back to staring at the impossible thing. He could feel the power radiating from it, like strong sunlight beginning to burn his face, and it was just hanging there... "Nice to see you're back with us," he growled.

"Nice to see you finally got serious," Cord growled back, moving up to stand beside the Champion but prudently staying clear of the flaming golden aura still surrounding him. "And you didn't answer me at all, at all, little man. What is that thing, apart from the biggest excuse for a man's takin' to drink that I've ever seen?"

"I'll be in line ahead of you at the bar," Uthmar muttered under his breath, and shook his head. "It's magic. Bloody strong magic, that doesn't seem to be doing anything except making us want beer. Apart from that... your guess is as good as mine. Torframos?" he added, flicking his eyes briefly upwards. "Anything to add to that?"

=*I want a drink,*= his god replied grimly. =*I wasn't sure before, because Wufei never used much at a time, or for long, and there's that strange dampening effect he has that keeps me from feeling him, but... That's wild magic. And where he's getting it from--!*=

"Wufei's doing it?" Uthmar sagged slightly, relieved. "At least it's not something we're going to have to fight... Is this something to do with what you felt him doing before? What's he doing with all that energy?!"

=*Nothing, as far as I can tell! He's just... holding it! Maybe he's planning to do something soon, but calling up that much power and then not using it straight away is like -- like cutting down an entire forest and setting it on fire, because you might want to warm your hands later and it would be handy to have a fire then! And how in Orr's name did he get a link to the boundary between worlds?!*=

"The what?!"

"You know, little man, some of us can't hear whatever it is that's so surprising," Cord began pointedly.

He never got to finish the sentence.

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