Demon of Justice + Chapter 20 (cont)
Trust

* * * * *

"He wants you to be his Champion," Uthmar repeated flatly.

"Yes."

"This is not good."

"I'm not exactly ecstatic about it myself!" Wufei snapped back, then winced and lowered his voice again. They'd returned to camp, so he'd been able to get at his medical supplies, but the painkillers weren't making much of an impression on his headache; it looked as if he was going to have to wait it out. Discussing the cause of that headache couldn't wait, however, so he and the two Champions of Torframos had found a private spot a short distance from the camp. "I don't know where he got the idea I'd want to be his champion, though. Even if he's been watching me somehow -- which shouldn't be possible, if what you said about your god not being able to sense me at all unless one of you is looking at me is accurate -- I don't think I've been acting like a good prospect for recruitment."

Uthmar and Arwen exchanged looks, hesitating for a moment, before Arwen replied. "Er... the way you act wouldn't necessarily have anything to do with it. Neither would the fact that you don't want to serve him."

"Gods don't just pick Champions from their most devout followers, Wufei," Uthmar explained.

"If they did, Vaijon would have become one years ago," Arwen muttered.

"They look at our souls and see something... different about us," the dwarf continued, glaring briefly at his fellow Champion. "Torframos once told me that it's like seeing a spark, the same colour as his power. It's what lets him act through us without destroying us. If Krashnark offered to make you his Champion, then something in your soul matches his nature."

"Which also means he probably can see you," Arwen added.

"...Great," Wufei said after a long, shocked pause. "That's just what I needed to hear. Part of my soul 'matches' a Dark God. Do you have anything else morale-boosting to tell me about this?!"

"It's not as bad as it might seem--" Uthmar started.

"What do you mean, not as bad?!" Wufei almost screamed back. "I'm being stalked by an evil god because he likes the way my soul looks! How would you feel?!"

"Terrified," Arwen said bluntly. "Uthmar's right, though, it could be a lot worse. Sit down and listen, okay? There's a lot you need to know."

Wufei took a deep breath and held it, fighting down the impulse to keep shouting, and rubbed at his temples in a futile attempt to ease the pounding headache. He didn't let out his breath and speak until he was reasonably sure he could do so without losing control again. "Arwen," he said carefully, "at this point I don't think there's anything you could say that would make me feel better about this."

"Krashnark isn't actually evil."

"...What?" Wufei blinked at him, then shook his head, grimacing. "Wait a minute. He's not a Light god, so--"

"I mean it. He's a Dark god, yes, but all that means is that he was born into the Dark pantheon and serves his father, Phrobus. Hells, Phrobus was born into the Light pantheon, but that didn't make him good! Krashnark is ruthless, and he can be cruel, but he's also honourable. He's the only Dark god that the Light gods actually respect. Wufei, that's probably why you 'match' him well enough to be a possible Champion!"

Wufei finally took Arwen's advice and sat down, leaning back against a tree and taking several deep breaths as he organised his thoughts. "You're right," he admitted. "That is better than it could be."

"Definitely," Uthmar agreed. "You could have attracted Fiendark's attention; he's easily amused by anything that upsets his siblings, so the fact that you destroyed several of Sharna's servants might have got him interested in you. Or, gods forbid, Phrobus could be after you himself."

"That still doesn't mean I like the idea of having any Dark god even know I exist!"

* * * * *

"You'll change your mind soon enough," Krashnark predicted, 'watching' the conversation through a shimmering image he'd called up. "I'll give you a little time to calm down, and then..."

All I have to do is wait until he comes around to my way of thinking, he thought complacently, and keep talking to him in the meantime. We're too alike for him to reject me forever. Given enough time, he'll like me.

I already like him... but, after all, I can see everything I need to know about him in one glance, he mused, changing how he looked at Wufei and smiling as the emerald-green fire of Wufei's soul became visible. A deep red spark bobbed within the green, flaring and dimming unpredictably as Wufei gestured and spoke. He's perfect. It'll take him a while to realise just how perfect he is for me... and the way I mishandled our first meeting will make it longer.

Never mind. I can wait.

* * * * *

"Excuse me, sir?"

"I'm a lay brother, not a knight, Sir Vaijon," Gunnar said, twisting to see the tall, golden-haired human standing behind him.

"Nevertheless, you are my superior in the Order," Vaijon said stiffly. "'Sir' is therefore appropriate."

You've just got to pigeon-hole everybody, don't you? Gunnar thought behind a bland expression. And it really bothers you that a mere lay- brother dwarf does outrank you."If it makes you happy," he drawled, and watched with amusement as Vaijon flinched a fraction of an inch. "What do you want?"

"The... ominous feeling earlier," the knight-probationer said slowly, choosing his words with care. "It occurred while you and the Champions were out of the camp, responding to the... ah... apparent danger to the demon Wufei. I assume you were aware of it?"

Probably more so than you, boy."Yes."

Vaijon paused for a moment, until it was clear that Gunnar wasn't going to volunteer any information, then continued. "We have received no explanation of either happening, sir, apart from 'don't worry, it's been taken care of for now'. Might I inquire as to the cause of these events?"

"You know, Sir Vaijon, that's the most convoluted way I've ever heard someone ask 'what the hell happened?'," Gunnar said dryly. The knight-probationer stiffened indignantly, face reddening. "I was brought up, sir, in the belief that a certain formality of manner is appropriate when addressing one's--"

"Yes, well, that's all very well in court," the dwarf cut him off, "but in the field it's better to get your meaning across quickly and damn the flourishes. Karthan!"

"What?"

"Ask Wufei to ask Uthmar if we're making what happened public, will you?"

----------

"I need a better idea of what gods exist and exactly what they do," Wufei was saying, rubbing tiredly at the back of his neck. "It doesn't do me much good to ask 'who was that' after a deity pops into view and does whatever they came for. You mentioned-- eh?" He cut himself off and frowned for a moment, then managed a weak chuckle. "Uthmar... Karthan says Gunnar is 'trying to adjust Vaijon's attitude'."

"Are they fighting?" Arwen asked, worried.

"No; just talking."

"That's worse," Uthmar said darkly. "More effective, probably, but worse."

"Gunnar wants to know if he can tell Vaijon what happened, or are we going to try and keep it a secret?" Wufei finished.

"...Now there's a question," Arwen muttered. "Uthmar?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"You're senior. I bow to your superior wisdom."

"There's a first for everything." Uthmar snorted and turned to Wufei, becoming serious again. "I think it's really up to you, Wufei. Which would you prefer? You're the person most affected by this, after all."

Wufei sighed, leaning his head back against the tree and closing his eyes. "It won't make it any easier for people to trust me... but... if we try to keep it a secret and it gets out, that will be much worse. Won't it?"

"Yes," the dwarf sighed, sitting down next to him. "And it won't be an easy secret to keep, if Krashnark decides to come talk to you in person again."

"I got the impression that that's exactly what he intends," Wufei muttered. "Besides which, I don't like lying, even by omission." "We don't have to tell everyone, though," Arwen suggested. "We should tell the men, I agree-- and Sir Terrian, when we eventually reach the Motherhouse. They need to know, especially if it's going to happen again... but there's no real reason to tell anyone else, is there?"

"Go on," Uthmar said, and Wufei slitted his eyes open to look at them. "We trust you," Arwen emphasized. "If we couldn't, I think we'd know. That's part of what being a Champion is about; you're a demon, and if you were an evil demon, we'd sense it. Members of the Order will take our word for it-- or they should if they want to stay members!"

"Softly," Uthmar warned, but he was grinning behind his beard.

"Telling people in general will just make them distrust you for no good reason," he finished. "If we can keep the knowledge within the order for a while-- without lying, yes-- that gives you a chance to build up trust. If you have a reputation as a good, honourable man, it will be much easier for people to accept it. Right?"

Wufei managed the ghost of a smile. "I suppose it might work. We'll tell them."

----------

Karthan raised one eyebrow as Wufei's agreement reached him down the link, and suppressed both a sigh and a smile. Trust Uthmar to be out of the way when Vaijon reacts, he thought back.

...I haven't seen enough of him to have a clear idea of how he'll take it, came Wufei's reply. He's the 'Golden Boy' type, yes?

That's a perfect description, Karthan snorted, rolling to his feet and dusting himself off.

And he's going to take this badly? Wufei asked, resigned.

Badly? Karthan scooped up his axe and swung it over his shoulder, hooking it onto his weapons harness. He's not going to 'take it' at all. He's going to hear the word 'Krashnark' and... what was it again? Ah, yes. Four hundred years of Almerhas blood, honour and tradition will rise up and demand that he, as an Almerhas of Almerhas, take 'proper action'. In the process, that four hundred years of Almerhas bushwah will negate what intelligence he possesses. To be fair, he added, shrugging his shoulders and stamping his feet to make sure his boots and weapons harness were properly settled, he is intelligent. He just doesn't use it very often, because his Almerhas history and training almost always provide a 'proper' response without him having to think.

Judging from your preparation, the proper response is going to be violent.

Probably. He's certainly not going to consider the fact that you could defeat him without working up a sweat-- assuming he realises that fact. He probably doesn't. It's been a long time since he's lost a fight, and he doesn't really think of the possibility any more.

That is stupid, Wufei thought disgustedly. Under the right-- or wrong-- conditions, anyone can lose.

I know that, and you know that, but he is an Almerhas of Almerhas.

Why do I get the feeling that I'm going to grow to hate that phrase?

Because you have a low tolerance for inane repetition? Karthan scratched at his beard, hiding a grin behind his hand as he felt Wufei's mingled amusement and exasperation, and then stretched. I should tell Gunnar he can tell Vaijon before his well-bred Almerhas patience evaporates... and then I get to try to keep him from storming off to kill you, long enough for Gunnar to pound some sense into his head.

Wufei's mental 'voice' was concerned. You could leave this until we get back... then the Champions could tell him directly.

If you're not right in front of him when he hears, he can't go for your throat, Karthan pointed out dryly. You might want to start back now, though."Go ahead, Gunnar," he called out, taking a few steps sideways to place himself directly between Vaijon and the path the Champions and Wufei had taken.

Gunnar looked consideringly up at the tall human, who was waiting with at least the appearance of patience for his query to be answered, and apparently decided to give him the short version of events. Very short.

"The ominous feeling was Krashnark being annoyed when Prince Wufei turned him down."

For about five seconds, Vaijon just stood there, blankly looking at Gunnar and waiting for the rest of the explanation. Then he realised there was no more to it... then he finally processed what Gunnar had actually said. To Karthan's surprise, there was no outraged bellow; he just stiffened, eyes widening, then narrowing, glittering angry blue. He even nodded sharply to Gunnar before spinning on his heel and stalking towards Karthan with his hand on his sword hilt.

His family really did drill manners into him, didn't they? the dwarf thought incredulously, holding up empty hands and hoping he wouldn't have to pull his axe. "There's no need--"

"Stand aside," Vaijon snapped, pointing his free hand. "I won't listen to you if you try to dissuade me from my clear duty! You've been tainted by that demon and are not to be trusted!"

Hells. I should have seen this coming."Your 'clear duty' is to support Torframos's Champions in their decisions and actions, Sir Vaijon, and they have accepted Prince Wufei as an ally!" Karthan retorted, emphasizing Wufei's rank in the hope that it would help.

"If you think I'll believe--"

"The whole point is that Prince Wufei refused," Gunnar rumbled from behind Vaijon. "Weren't you listening?! The Order of Torframos has a duty to support such a courageous warrior, not try to kill him!"

"And whose word do we have that he did refuse, other than his own?"

Vaijon shouted, whirling around to glare down at Gunnar. "Krashnark would hardly have been that angry if he hadn't!"

"Besides which, I don't think he could have hidden his new status from two other Champions if he had said 'yes'," Karthan snorted.

"Exactly," Arwen's voice came coldly from behind him. "His Highness, Prince Wufei has the full confidence of both Sir Uthmardanharknar and myself. He carries no taint from Krashnark's attempt to recruit him, and is not, himself, a threat. Have I made myself clear?"

The watching lay brothers and knights all nodded and rumbled quiet agreement-- doubtfully in a few cases, but it was still agreement. Vaijon spun around again to stare open-mouthed at his commander, and Karthan choked back a badly-timed snicker as he wondered how long it would take before the knight-probationer got dizzy.

"But, Sir! If he--"

"Have I made myself clear, Sir Vaijon?"

"How can you trust him if a Dark god wants to recruit him?!" Vaijon screeched, flinging out one hand to point wildly at Wufei.

Unfortunately, his position at the time meant that the easiest hand to point with was his right... the hand that was still clamped on the hilt of his sword. Only Karthan's reflexes saved him from being struck in the head as he snatched up his axe and turned away, feeling the axeblade thump against his back as he blocked the accidental blow, and Vaijon was left staring aghast at what he'd almost done.

"I'll tell you one thing, Sir Vaijon," Karthan said into the frozen silence, slowly settling his axe back into place. "I trust him not to forget about innocent bystanders."

----------

NOTE: * For those who don't know: a haka is a Maori concept where you line up in front of your enemy and try to scare the living daylights out of them by stamping and chanting and making faces... it's a heck of a lot of fun, actually. If you've ever seen the All Blacks play, that is a haka, only they have to get by without the spears and facial tattoos.

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