Demon of Justice + Chapter 9
Demon with Style

* * * * *

"Father, I have to do something about him! He killed my favourite priest!"

"Now he's your favourite? I never heard you mention him before he died... I think you just want an excuse to go outside the restrictions."

"Nobody asked your opinion, brother. My lord father, please!"

A sneer. "Begging suits you, Sharna. You should do it more often."

"You--!"

=*SILENCE.*=

A pause.

=*SHARNA.*=

"My lord father!"

=*YOU MAY SEND ONE. NOW, GO.*=

"_Thank_ you, my lord!" A triumphant glare at the third presence, and Sharna was gone.

=*...YOU DON'T AGREE?*=

"I have... doubts, my lord father."

The heavy voice darkened. =*REGARDING THE WISDOM OF MY DECISION?*=

"Regarding my brother's abilities, my lord."

A chuckle. =*IN THAT CASE I'M SURE YOU'LL AGREE WITH MY NEXT COMMAND. FOLLOW YOUR BROTHER. IF HE SUCCEEDS, WE WILL HAVE NO FURTHER CONCERNS. IF HE FAILS...*=

"My lord?"

=*WATCH THIS STRANGE NEW DEMON, KRASHNARK. IF SHARNA CANNOT KILL HIM, I WANT YOU TO MAKE HIM YOURS.*=

"As you command, my lord."

* * * * *

Uthmar stood at the end of the trail of giant footprints, looking around at the wide circle of flattened plants; then he turned back to Terrin and Wufei.

"All right. I give up. Where is it?"

They smirked at each other before turning around and going back the way they had come.

"I have to admit, I was wondering why you thought you could keep Nataku's hiding place a secret when he leaves such clear tracks," the dwarf went on, falling in next to them. "Obviously, I was underestimating you," he added dryly.

Terrin chuckled. "Not me, Uthmar; I had no idea what they were going to do when I showed 'em the cave. I thought I'd be spending three hours doctoring the signs, but Nataku didn't leave any."

"Mind telling me how he managed that?" Uthmar asked hopefully.

"Er... no offense, but... well, if Wufei decides to let you know, that's another matter. It's not that I don't think we can trust you," he put in hastily, "it's just that it's not my secret to tell--"

"That's all right. I understand."

"...thanks."

=*Wufei certainly seems to inspire loyalty,*= Torframos commented tentatively. =*And yet, from what the villagers say, he hasn't been trying to...*=

It could simply be that he's willing to fight for them, Uthmar pointed out. After all, he didn't have to do any of the things he's done... save the girls, bring them home, defend the children... He chuckled. *Gunnar would say that it's obvious.

=*Oh?*=

He 'has style'. Of course they like him.

Terrin broke into Uthmar's thoughts, pointing up towards the Spinewall. "Up there."

"Really?" Uthmar squinted. "...what, that crack?"

"Well hidden, isn't it?" the hunter grinned, settling down onto a rock and stretching his legs as Wufei started up the slope.

Uthmar nodded absently, still peering up at the vague shadow on the rock that might be a cave entrance. Torframos? Now can you feel anything?

=*There's certainly a cave there, but... no. Nothing.*=

Wufei sprang up the last few feet, turned sideways, and vanished.

=*Now I can't even feel him,*= Torframos grumbled.

A few minutes passed with nothing happening. Eventually, Uthmar began to fidget. "What's taking so long?" he muttered.

Glancing up towards the cave as he eased one boot off, Terrin shrugged. "Wufei draped a black cloth over Nataku before we left him there; when he finished, you couldn't tell there was anything there unless you nearly walked into him. I guess he's taking it off, and then he has to wake Nataku up... I helped him put it on, so I suppose I should've helped him take it off again, but somehow I didn't feel like climbing up there after he walked me off my legs again. He--"

There was a faint, almost imperceptible rumble through the ground underfoot.

=*All right, _now_ I feel something,*= Torframos announced tensely. =*Something just woke up in there.*=

So Nataku is another demon?

=*...I still can't tell!*= the god said, frustrated. =*It _does_ feel like something new woke up, but at the same time it feels like Wufei... only...*=

Only what?! Uthmar snapped mentally. Stronger? Older? Younger?

=*...Bigger,*= Torframos said lamely.

About to say something rude back, Uthmar lost his train of thought as Nataku began to emerge from the cave.

...bigger? he thought eventually, watching the giant demon walk down the slope towards him. Ye-esss... I'd say 'bigger' would cover it...

* * * * *

Once again, Heero sat by Duo's bed, watching him sleep.

Okay... now what do I do? he thought, reaching out to brush a wisp of hair away from Duo's nose. I seem to have a second chance. This is good. This is wonderful, in fact. But... if I don't work out how to use it, fast, I'll lose it.

How do you prove that you love someone? he thought helplessly. This is not something I have any experience in! Not to mention that I also have to make up for the way I've been treating him...

Quatre said 'decide how you feel and tell him'. I did that. He fell off the ladder. Careful choice of time and place is obviously important.

What else?

...

Heero yawned and leaned on the bed, thinking.

All right, what are all the things I did wrong?

...I ignored him. I yelled at him. I insulted him. I hurt him. I refused to talk to him. I acted as if he wasn't important... I'm amazed he didn't give up on me earlier!

So... to do things right...

I should pay attention to him. I won't yell at him, or insult him. I definitely won't hurt him. If he wants to talk, I'll talk to him. And he's... he's very important. I'll do things for him... find out what he wants and give it to him...

----------

"It's awfully quiet up there," Quatre said uneasily.

"Duo's probably gone to sleep," Trowa pointed out, "and I doubt Heero would be making much noise if that's the case--" He turned around, and saw Quatre's back view vanishing out the door.

"I'll just go check," the blond boy muttered, heading for the stairs; Trowa sighed and followed.

Carefully inching the door open, they peered in.

Heero was sitting in the chair next to the bed, slumped forward with his head resting on the covers, one arm stretched out so that his hand rested limply on Duo's chest. Duo had worked his arms out from under the covers; one hand was holding his braid, and the other was reaching down to Heero's head, fingers tangled in his messy hair.

Trowa reached over Quatre's shoulder and firmly pulled the door shut. "I think we can leave them alone and go to bed."

"Trowa, it's only nine o'clock!"

"So?" He raised one eyebrow. "We can still go to bed."

"...okay."

* * * * *

"I demand that you hand him over for punishment!"

"My lord Yithar," Gunnar said, keeping his voice and expression polite with an effort, "in my opinion, the child has already been sufficiently punished. You did hit him."

"It is not sufficient in my opinion, and it is my opinion that matters here!" Yithar sneered, still sounding slightly nasal though the swelling had started to go down. "This is my land!"

"But these people are not slaves, lord, they are tenant farmers. There are certain legal restrictions on how you can treat them. Moreover, the child's youth is--"

"The Purple Lords have never accepted the Empire's legal system as their own, and you know it!"

"I was speaking, my lord, of the legal restrictions imposed by all the militant orders," Gunnar rumbled, eyes narrowing slightly. "While it's true that the Purple Lords have not officially accepted them, neither have they officially repudiated them. Would you care to be the one who makes that decision for all your relatives... sir?"

"Er... well, I--"

-thoom-

"What was that?" one of Yithar's armsmen muttered, glancing around. They and Uthmar's other men were the only witnesses to this argument; all the villagers had quietly trickled out of sight as soon as it had started, knowing it was a bad idea to be around when Yithar -- inevitably -- lost.

-thoom-

"I heard it too," Cameron said, looking around. "What--"

-thoom-

"YAY! Nataku's coming back!" A sudden flood of children poured through the square, towards the main trail.

"Now you get back here, Keye!" a woman scolded, wiping wet hands on her apron as she leaned out her door. "The rest of you, too! How's poor Nataku supposed to get into the square with the lot of you underfoot?"

"Poor Nataku?!" Karthan asked incredulously, automatically hefting his axe as the heavy footsteps came closer.

-thoooom-

Gunnar looked around and raised an eyebrow as he saw all the villagers emerging from their houses, expressions of delight and anticipation on their faces. "We walked in with their lord, and they looked worried," he whispered to Karthan. "A giant metal demon is about to walk into their village, and they look happy. Is it just me, or is there something wrong here?"

"Not something, sir," Karthan replied dryly, nodding towards where Yithar was sidling behind his biggest armsman. "Someone."

"There he is!" Jarad cheered, bouncing up and down.

The lay brothers of the Order of Torframos took a step back in unison as Nataku's head came into view over the trees. Yithar's armsmen took two steps back... and Yithar scrabbled backwards until he hit a wall, looked frantically around, and dived into the nearest doorway.

----------

Uthmar leaned on Nataku's thumb, watching the village come into view. "I could get used to this, you know," he chuckled.

"Best way to travel I've found yet," Terrin grinned, lying on his stomach with his boots and socks off.

As they came up the last section of trail, a small figure darted out in front of Nataku's feet, nearly getting stepped on; at the last instant, the descending foot jerked up and to the side.

"Whoa!" Uthmar yelped, clutching at the thumb as he skidded towards the edge of Nataku's palm. "What the--?!"

"JARAD!" Terrin shouted, looking down over the edge. "Damn it, that's becoming a habit for that boy!"

<<Not do that!>> a deep voice boomed out, loud enough to make them wince. <<Jarad! Get hurt, not good! Ta ma de!>>

"I want a ride too!" Jarad yelled, not at all concerned that he'd nearly got himself killed. "Please, Nataku? Pick me up, please!"

There was an annoyed-sounding grumble, and the demon lowered his left hand to the ground for Jarad to climb on. <<Terrin, hold!>> the voice commanded, and the hand didn't rise again until the hunter had a firm grip on the boy's smock.

"I see what you mean about him sounding like Wufei," Uthmar commented quietly, barely audible over Jarad's excited squeals; Terrin just nodded and held on.

The instant Nataku's passengers were back on the ground, Jarad's mother ran up. Before she could get her mouth open to start scolding, her son was crowing about his triumph.

"Did you see, Ma? Did you see me?! I was up soooooo high--"

"Yes, and I saw what you did, too!" she replied, grabbing his arm and delivering a sharp smack to his bottom. "Don't you ever do anything like that again! What am I to do with you? You could have been killed!"

"Ow! But Ma, I knew Nataku wouldn't step on me--"

The hatch in Nataku's torso opened and Wufei jumped out. "Not do that!" he yelled angrily, stalking over.

Jarad's bottom lip wobbled as he was confronted by his hero. "B-but--"

"Not run out!" the demon continued, slightly calmer but still glaring. "Not run into fight. Not run in front of feet. Never!"

"But Wufei," Jarad wailed, "Nataku wouldn't hurt me--"

"Not want hurt. Maybe foot hit, you hurt. Sword hit. Not want," he struggled to explain.

"Sir Wufei or Nataku could hurt you by accident," Jarad's mother snapped, nodding her thanks to Wufei as she started to tow her son away. "How do you think poor Nataku would feel if he didn't see you in time and he stepped on you? You have to be more careful!"

"*sniff* I'm sorry..."

Wufei shook his head and stalked back towards Nataku, sputtering something in his own language; Naiya chuckled, hiding a smile behind her hand as she came up behind Uthmar.

"Are you laughing at the child, or Wufei's expression?" he inquired politely.

"Neither," she replied, smiling down at him. "It was what he said..."

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow. "You understood that?"

"Some... I've learnt a few words, and you can get more from his tone. I think that was something like 'Women and children! Aagh!' and then a lot of swear words..."

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