Chapter 58: "Danse Macabre"
Wufei felt strangely out of touch with reality as he fled down the halls, running as if the devil was breathing down his neck. Running had always been his own form of therapy. Once his body and lungs found the rhythm, he could run without stopping for what felt like forever. He had always used running as a way to distance himself from the world and let his mind wander. Now, even in such dire circumstances, his mind drifted, detaching itself from the fear and desperation, the shouts and battles going on even in the halls. Heero kept pace easily beside him, face grim.
It was out there for everyone to judge, now, thanks to Kushrenada. Not everyone might believe it, but enough of his people were now at least suspicious of the relationship between their young Lord-to-be and his Primary. They couldn't do much to Wufei; they needed him. But where did that leave Heero? Wufei wasn't the undisputed leader yet. What would happen when his grandfather woke up? Would he banish Heero from the colony? Would he look at his grandson with disgust and disappointment in his eyes from now on? The thought hurt more than Wufei was willing to admit.
They rounded a corner and practically ran into a handful of soldiers who had escaped Duo's mindless violence. Heero shot one of them in the chest, but that was the last of his ammunition. Wufei barely noticed; neither did he stop his head-on charge. He crashed into the first man, bringing up one knee brutally into the soldier's crotch and slamming his elbow into an exposed throat. Then he was spinning, sword sweeping out to the side and slicing into another man's abdomen. The man screamed as his insides bubbled out, and the smell made bile rise in the back of Wufei's throat, but there was no time to stop or think, because someone was blocking his next blow with a rifle and trying to catch him in the head with the butt of the gun.
He jerked his head to the side, and the blow only grazed the side of his temple. Pulling his sword back, he jerked it forward, sinking the blade into the man's stomach and trying to tune out the man's scream.
He turned to deal with the last one, but Heero's strong hands were grabbing and twisting-- SNAP --and the man's neck was broken.
Dodge the bodies, don't slip on the blood, run run run as fast as you can...
The men who stood guard outside the dragon's room were stretched out on the ground in a puddle of their own blood. Wufei was two seconds away from stepping over them and reaching for the door when Heero grabbed his shoulder, finally snapping his attention back to the real world.
"Wait," Heero said quietly, breathing deeply from their run. "Someone might be in there." He took a sword from one of the guards and nodded.
Wufei took a few steadying breaths and pushed the doors open all the way to let some of the light inside. Half of the room was still covered in shadows, and if there was someone in there with the dragon, he couldn't see. Exchanging a quick glance with his lover, he cautiously made his way inside. He jerked his chin to the left, and Heero nodded his understanding. They separated, Wufei hugging the right wall and straining his eyes for and ears for any sign of movement.
Slowly his eyes began to adjust to the dim light, and the figure of the jade dragon loomed up in the darkness. There was a soft clunk from the base of the statue, and he paused behind a pillar, glancing around warily.
Whoever it was, they had to have seen himself and Heero enter. Now the question was how many men were in here, and why weren't they shooting into the dark yet?
He almost jumped as a familiar voice called out to him, loud in the open room.
"I know you're there, Fei," Shen called mockingly. "Come out where I can see you."
Wufei hesitated, tightening his grip on his sword. Shen didn't know exactly where he was, or he would have attacked by now. He crept a bit closer, trying to pick the man out of the shadows.
He was crouching in front of the statue, fiddling with something, glancing around warily. "Come out, Fei," he shouted. "Quit hiding like a coward." He got to his feet, sword in hand.
Wufei took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the pillar. "You're a traitor, Shen," he said quietly.
The older man's eyes darted towards him, following the sound of his voice, and he sneered when he finally spotted him. "Where's your whore, Fei?" he taunted quietly. "I know he came in here with you."
"What are you doing, Shen?" Wufei demanded, struggling to identify the strange box at the foot of the statue.
"I'm striking this colony a blow they won't easily recover from. I'm showing them that nothing-- not their leader or their stupid beliefs in their gods --can save them from the inevitable."
"Get away from the dragon, Shen," Wufei commanded.
Shen laughed, lifting his other hand to show him the small box he was clutching. "Come over here where I can see you better. And tell your Guardian he'd better do the same unless he wants this chunk of rock to explode in a million pieces."
Wufei slowly took a few steps forward, unease growing. Jesus, it's a bomb. "Don't do anything stupid, Shen."
"You're the one who's being stupid, Fei," Shen growled, eyes narrowing. "You'll doom your people just because of your idiotic pride." He lifted his sword a bit. "Throw your weapon aside. And tell your Guardian to show himself."
Wufei licked dry lips, glancing around for any sign of his friend. Heero still hadn't appeared; did he have a plan? He took a few more steps, lowering his sword. "Why would you blow up the dragon? It's just a statue."
"You don't believe that," Shen sneered. "And neither do half the simpletons on this backwater colony. They actually think the soul of a god is in this statue. They probably think its invinsible, too. So its destruction will be a better message than anything Kushrenada's silver tongue can come up with." His grip on the little box tightened. "Drop your sword, Chang."
Wufei reluctantly forced his fingers to relax, letting the sword fall from his hand. The sound of the blade striking the floor was loud and sudden, almost making him jump.
"Now kick it away."
Wufei punted the hilt, and the blade went spinning away, out of sight in the shadows.
Shen walked over to him, holding his own sword up threateningly and glancing around. "Come out, Guardian," he shouted. "Unless you want me to cut his throat."
"You were my father's closest friend," Wufei said hotly. "Why would you do this?"
Shen laughed harshly. "We were like brothers," he admitted. "A long time ago. But he was a fool. He refused to listen to reason. Even as he died he refused to cooperate. Hard-headedness must run in the family." He cocked his head to the side, mouth stretching in an unpleasant smile. "As well as infidelity."
Wufei stiffened at the implications, struggling to control his temper. "You're a traitor and a liar. What makes you think I'll believe anything you say?"
"Your father was as loose with his romantic morals as you are." He paused, lip curling in disgust. "But you would rather take a man to your bed than your intended wife," he spat. "It's a disgrace and a scandal. Do you really think, even if this hadn't happened, that your sickening relationship would have remained a secret? How supportive do you think your people will be, now that they know?"
"You'll never know what they think," Wufei said quietly. "You won't be alive to see it."
"Oh, please," Shen snorted, but Heero was already moving.
He shot out from behind a pillar, silent as a wraith, sword lifted for a killing blow.
Shen caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and whirled, swinging his own sword in a desperate counter-move, a snarled curse on his lips.
Wufei's heart froze in his chest, and he leapt forward. "NO--!"
Heero's sword missed, but Shen's scream echoed around the room as the blade sliced through flesh and bone-- his hand, still clutching the detonator --fell to the ground with a muffled thud.
Shen stumbled backwards, a sob of agony in his voice as he pressed the stump of his hand against his chest, staining the material crimson. "DAMN YOU!"
Heero took a wavering step towards him, lifting his sword again. He hesitated for an instant, wobbling. Then his grip slackened, and the sword fell from numb fingers, clattering on the hardwood floor. He took another half-step forward, then fell to his knees abruptly.
Shen swung his sword back, aiming at the young man's vulnerable neck, but Wufei was already throwing himself forward in a full-body tackle.
Shen grunted as Wufei's weight slammed into him, and both men tumbled to the floor. Shen twisted and spat like a trapped animal, trying to throw Wufei off and get enough room to swing his sword, but his missing hand encumbered him.
Wufei reached up quickly, seizing Shen's wrist and pinning the sword to the ground while his other hand fumbled at his waist. Shen jerked his head up, cracking his skull against Wufei's, and for a moment Wufei saw stars.
Shen jerked his arm free, but Wufei's reaching fingers had already found the hilt of the dagger Duo had lent him shortly after he'd realized only his Guardians would be expected to walk around armed.
He yanked the dagger free and drove the blade in between the older man's ribs, all the way to the hilt.
Shen's eyes widened in horror and pain, and he gave a gurgling noise. He gasped and coughed, trying to yell, and blood shot from his mouth, hitting Wufei in the face. Wufei gritted his teeth and glared down into the man's shocked face. Ruthlessly, he gave the blade a hard twist.
Shen made an animalistic noise, releasing his sword and reaching up to grab Wufei's throat. His grip was weak and inefficient, and Wufei shook him off. His hand was coated with blood, making it difficult to keep his grip on the dagger, but his heart was thundering in his ears with fury and adrenaline, and he barely noticed. He pulled the dagger free and sat up so he was straddling the dying man. He raised his weapon for another blow, but Shen gave a sudden convulsive shudder, let out a raspy sigh, and went limp.
Wufei sat frozen for what felt like an eternity, hand shaking, dagger still upheld as he stared numbly down at the man's body.
He almost jumped at the quiet voice, turning his head sharply.
Heero was still kneeling, one arm wrapped tightly around his midriff as he stared back at Wufei, eyes glazed with pain. "He's dead."
Wufei dropped the dagger and scrambled over Shen's body. He slid onto his knees and managed to grab his lover's shoulders just before the other boy toppled over. "Shit-- Heero--" Terror quickly rushed up to drown his previous fury. "Let me see how bad it is--"
Heero refused to take his arm away, face white and lips pressed together firmly. He shook his head once, glancing towards the statue. "I'm fine," he managed to mumble. "Do what you came here for."
"You're not FINE," Wufei snapped, horrified at the amount of blood covering the front of the other boy's clothes. "We need to get you to the infirmary--"
Heero's head nodded forward, eyelids fluttering as he fought to keep his tenuous hold on consciousness. "Don't be stupid," he breathed, eyes unfocused.
"YOU'RE being stupid!" Wufei shouted, feeling the sharp stabs of panic beginning to eat away at his composure. He tugged at Heero's arm, and managed to pry the loosened grip away. His stomach twisted itself up in a cold knot at the sight of the horrible gash just below the Guardian's ribs. "Shitjesuschrist," he gasped, automatically pressing his hands against the wound in a clumsy attempt to staunch the bleeding.
Heero's head fell forward heavily onto Wufei's shoulder.
"Heero!" Wufei reached up to shake the boy's shoulders, struggling to hold him up, but there was no response.
"Fuck, shit, this isn't happening," said a high, desperate voice that couldn't possibly be his. He carefully laid the other boy down and practically tore the seams of his shirt as he pulled it hastily over his head. Bundling it up into a tight ball, he pressed it against Heero's wound, holding it in place with all of his weight. His throat was dry and his heart was banging in his chest, and his eyes felt hot. Panic and denial were eating away at him, making him shake so badly it was hard to keep the makeshift bandage in place. He lifted his voice so that it rang against the high ceiling and bounced back at him from the walls.
Duo had decimated most of the forces Treize had left behind. The ones who had survived were fleeing in terror, and Quatre was nearly bowled over as he re-entered the great hall.
His old friend was no longer in the room, but it was easy enough to follow the trail of dead bodies-- friend and foe alike --that led to the back exit behind the psuedo-throne. It was a door usually used solely by the colony's Lord and his family, but it was how Kushrenada and his daughter had escaped, and it was the exit Duo had evidently followed him through, if the splashes of blood and the gaping hole that had once been a doorway were anything to go off of.
Stepping carefully over the bodies and holding his sword tightly, Quatre dashed off down the narrow hallway that would eventually lead to the main hall. One could reach the Lord's bedchambers this way, and also follow it all the way out to the grounds. Quatre wasn't sure which possibility was worse-- Kushrenada making it out to safety and possibly escaping altogether, or having Duo loose on the compound. Would he kill the innocent civilians outside the gates just to get to ruyi?
Up ahead he could hear shouts and the sounds of a swordfight, and lengthened his stride.
Kushrenada was nowhere to be seen, but someone had managed to slow Duo down. A handful of ragged palace guards were grimly facing off against Duo, but they were being forced back slowly but surely. Five of them had been knocked aside already, dead or wounded. Junbao stood at the front of the remaining guards, barring Duo's way with his sword, face unafraid.
The boy went still, then turned slightly to regard the panting blonde with dispassion.
Quatre felt a chill as he met the other boy's cold eyes. This close, his friend was almost unrecognizable. He had never seen such a cruel expression on the other boy's face. His skin crawled as he stared in disbelief at the way Duo's ears were slightly tapered. Then Duo raised a hand to point one clawed finger at him, and the blood of those who had gotten in his way reached almost to his elbow. "Winner," Duo said as if in belated recognition. His voice had an odd quality to it that made it seem as if the building was not large enough to hold onto it. "If you're here to stop me, your life is forfeit. That's the only warning I'm going to give you."
"Duo..." Quatre stayed where he was, licking dry lips. "I'm your friend. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Duo's not here right now," the other boy said mockingly. "Leave a message." He turned his back, focusing on Junboa again.
"Duo!" Quatre stepped forward quickly. "Please don't do this. Don't hurt anyone else!"
"Tell them to get out of my way," Duo suggested.
Quatre hesitated, flicking a desperate glance Junbao's way. "Duo, if you get your hands on ruyi--"
"I'll bring this palace crashing down around Chang's head," Duo finished calmly. "And I'll tear apart every member of that cursed family with my bare hands." He bared his teeth in defiance. "They thought they could seal me away forever. Keep me trapped in this... prison of flesh and bone." He spread his arms and looked down at himself in disgust. "I spent centuries in the form of a mortal child." He studied his hand with detached interest. "Interestingly enough, the seal began to slowly weaken the day I came into contact with a strange little boy on L2... This body finally began to age." He laughed harshly. "I should have known known the presence of a descendant of Chang would have such an effect."
Quatre blinked, confused. "Are you talking about when you first met Wufei?" he asked hesitantly. "What do you mean you started to... 'age'?"
But Duo's attention was back on the men stubbornly barring his way. "Move aside," he commanded.
"Duo, DON'T," Quatre shouted, lifting his sword slightly and spreading his feet in a ready stance. "If you have to fight someone, fight me."
Duo turned to stare at him incredulously, then threw back his head and laughed, a sound that made Quatre's stomach twist in fear. "You think I won't kill you just because you were friends with Duo? You really are as stupid as you look." He turned to face Quatre fully, mouth stretching in an unholy grin. "Though I suppose slaughtering everyone Chang has ever loved will be a nice touch. After you, I'll hunt down your stone-faced boytoy Barton. Then--"
"Then Hilde?" Quatre snapped harshly. "Would you really hurt her, Duo? You loved her once."
Duo faltered for a just an instant, smile fading. Then his eyes narrowed, and Quatre's hopes crumbled. "She's just a mortal girl. And what's growing inside of her has nothing to do with me-- that was Duo's mistake, not my own."
Quatre's jaw dropped. "Growing in... Oh my god. Duo, you didn't--!"
"I'm growing tired of you referring to me by that name."
"You would murder your own child?" Quatre shouted. He gritted his teeth, holding his sword up defensively. "Duo would never say that," he said hotly. "Duo would want Hilde to be safe, no matter what. I won't call you that anymore-- Sun Wukong. But I can't let you hurt anyone else."
"Have it your way." Then the other boy was leaping forward faster than thought, clawed hand slashing out.
Quatre swung hastily to deflect the blow, but Duo merely ducked past the blade.
Quatre gasped in fear. He's too fast--
Then an incredibly strong hand was wrapping itself around his throat, and he gurgled in fear and surprise as his feet left the ground.
Duo held him up in the air easily, laughing coldly. "You never were much of a fighter, Winner," he sneered. "Beg for your life, and maybe I'll just tear out an arm instead of a lung."
Quatre slashed at the arm with his sword, but Duo didn't even bat an eye as the blade cut into him. He reached up with his other hand and wrenched the sword out of Quatre's grip, throwing it aside. He shot a quick glare over his shoulder when Junbao moved as if to attack. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Junbao hesitated, face twisted in frustration.
Quatre gasped for air, clawing at the hand at his throat. "D-don't," he wheezed.
"I can't hear you," Duo taunted. "Start begging, Winner."
"D-don't.. hurt Hilde," Quatre managed to wheeze.
Duo's smile froze in face, then abruptly his expression shifted into something fierce and angry. "Always the martyr," he growled, and slowly began to tighten his grip.
Something like a sigh sounded in the cooridor, soft like a breath of air, and Duo hesitated, cocking his head to the side as if listening to something no one else could hear. Suddenly he released Quatre, and the other boy fell to the ground in a heap, coughing roughly.
"You crafty old bitch," Duo muttered, eyes unfocused. Before anyone could stop him, he was leaping over Quatre and bounding off down the hall, back the way he had come.
"Hilde, don't go, please, I don't know how to shoot a gun, it's too dangerous out there--"
Hilde gave up trying to interrupt her friend's frantic babbling and put a hand firmly over the other girl's mouth. "Relena," she snapped, "calm down. I just showed you how to use the damned thing. Just aim and pull the trigger, and for god's sake, make sure the safety's off. And besides, I think everyone's a little too busy to go looking for a handful of girls and a wounded Guardian. You'll be fine."
Relena pushed Hilde's hand away, eyes wide with fear. The gun Hilde had pressed into her unwilling hand shook in her grip. "You can't go out there!" she insisted. "It's a war zone! And Quatre told us to stay here--"
"I don't care what Quatre said!" Hilde interrupted hotly. "I'm not just going to sit in here waiting for someone to rescue us. I have to try to get through to Duo before he hurts anyone else."
"He isn't Duo anymore," Trowa spoke up from where he was still sitting against the wall, ashen-faced with pain. "He's Sun Wukong, and all he feels right now is hate. You won't get through to him; he'll only kill you. You're a tie to his mortal life, and he'll resent you for it."
Hilde swallowed hard. "Maybe," she admitted tremulously. "But I have to try. Besides, I'm worried about Wufei."
"Stop her, Lady Mingzhu," Relena pleaded, turning to the older woman.
Mingzhu glanced up from where she was tightening the makeshift bandage on Trowa's knee, expression grim. "You'll get yourself killed if you go out there. A battle is no place for a woman."
"Says you," Hilde retorted. "I can look after myself. Besides, it sounds like most of the fighting has stopped. Aren't you worried about your own nephew?"
Mingzhu stared at her for a long moment before looking away. "Fei would never forgive me if I allowed you to get hurt," she said quietly. "Nor would his grandfather, the sentimental fool."
"What does Wufei's grandfather have to do with this?" Hilde asked in bewilderment. She held up a hand and shook her head. "You know what? Never mind. I don't care. Nothing you say is going to keep me here."
Relena dodged past her and put herself between the other girl and the door. "Don't go, Hilde. I mean it. I'll fight you if I have to."
Hilde managed a small smile. "I'm not getting into a cat fight with you, Relena."
Relena lifted the gun with shaking hands, face determined. "I'm doing this for your own good, Hilde. Please, just go sit down. Quatre will be back soon--"
Hilde swung her arm suddenly, and Relena gave a startled yelp as the gun flew from her hands and went skittering across the floor. Shouldering past the other girl, she pulled the door open, pausing briefly in the threshold to send her friend a quick, encouraging smile. "I'll be back. I promise."
"Hilde, don't!" Relena reached for her, but the door slammed in her face. She made as if to open the door again, but Mingzhu's sharp voice froze her in her tracks.
"Don't go after her." Mingzhu finished with Trowa and got to her feet, going to retrieve the gun. "You are the last person here we can afford to lose. There's nothing we can do for your friends now but wait." Her voice lowered, almost inaudible. "And pray."
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