Source Of All Things + Chapter 11
The sword hilt similarly clung to Heero's side as if magnetized to his body. The last piece fit in the dark curls above his ear, also clinging mysteriously. Duo stared at it astonished, and tried to tug it off. It wouldn't give.
"Er, Howard, how's he supposed to wash his hair?"
Everybody - apart from Heero who was examining the wrist guards, oblivious - swivelled to stare at Howard who had wandered out from the cockpit.
"Who the hell is driving this thing!?" Svale squawked.
"A nice guy called Mr Auto Pilot." Howard sneered, jerking his head back towards the instrument panel of the planet-hopper. "As for your question, Maxie-"
"Yeah, whatever, to answer your question, who cares about his hair? Though in this instance, the weapon will deactivate and detach itself after awhile. I've only input a partial activation code. I'll be here to input the code again if he can convince me he can use Wing, and then, if he defeats Jusan, I'll give him the means to activate it himself. You understand that, Heero?"
Heero looked up slowly to face the dark sunglasses. Howard didn't flinch from those dark blue eyes.
"You don't own Wing until you save Centre from the Scourge. And survive. Until then, Wing will deactivate regularly, and I am the only one who knows how to get it working again at that point. No offence, lad, but this is a means to an end for me, it's not a free lunch."
Heero frowned. Then he said slowly: "Jusan." It wasn't a question, it sounded like he was searching his memory for a meaning to attach to the word.
"Yes, Jusan, the Scourge. You've heard of him, right?"
" You haven't? Did you grow up under a rock or something? Man, if you don't know who he is, we're going to have a problem, you -"
"I will kill him."
"Uh?" Howard's hair seemed to twitch upward in surprise.
"I want Wing. I will kill him to have it."
"You... really don't know who he is, do you ." Howard wasn't asking a question. He looked at Trowa who shrugged slightly. Both Trowa and Svale had asked Howard if he was sure he wanted to lend Wing to Heero; they couldn't understand why he was handing such an apparently powerful artefact to someone he'd just met. The old technologist refused to explain his reasons but he seemed quite adamant that Heero should wear Wing. And now Heero seemed adamant to keep it, even if it meant opposing Jusan, with nothing but a few strips of metal to protect him.
Duo looked uncertainly at the armour. With some effort. Heero had stripped to put it on and Duo's eyes kept wandering. Trowa had been sitting on Svale for the last ten minutes of the trip.
"It doesn't look like much." Duo muttered. The protection offered was pitiful.
"It's a thing of great beauty." Howard's voice was dead serious. "And a thing of great terror in the wrong hands. And the death sentence of an entire race. If you think of it like that, it doesn't seem so puny."
"What? What death sentence?" Quatre glanced up in surprise.
"Wing was the Dragons' finest creation, and they made many things of greatness."
"That's a technologist's opinion if there ever was one." Svale snorted.
Howard ignored the interruption, his eyes distant behind the ever-present sunglasses. "Wing and the other mechas of its generation were what caught Jusan's attention. It was his toughest fight to date, but he exterminated the Dragons for having built them."
Quatre stared in horror at the thin strips of metal, which, in his eyes, would not justify taking one life, let alone an entire race.
"Yeah, he kicked the crap outta the dragons." Duo muttered. "I'd feel sorry for them if they weren't a bunch of hyper-active, conquest-bent savages."
"I second that sentiment." Svale growled. "Not that I want to see Jusan eliminate anybody, but I can't feel all that sorry for the Dragons. They served him at one point, before they got a bit too smart for their own good. Some would call it karma."
"Some would call it a tragedy... " Howard whispered, eyes sombre as he looked at Wing. "One of the youngest races, and I grant you they had a lot to learn about diplomacy, but so inventive, strong, and beautiful. They'd given me hope for the future of the human races. And Jusan just squashed them before they even had a chance to fulfil their potential."
"Well they don't call him the Scourge because of his sparkling personality." Svale grumped. Then she looked thoughtful. "I never understood why he took out the Dragons, though. Jusan seems to want to exterminate magic users, not Technos."
"We were kinda puzzled too." Howard grunted. "And worried. Very puzzled. But mainly worried." Howard was the head of the techno cabal on Centre, one of its powers in the galaxy, and didn't like to feel like a target.
"No kidding. So, are we there yet? Wherever 'there' is?" Svale whined.
"Just about." Howard had offered to take them to a place where Heero could safely test out Wing, but had not said where they were going.
Duo leaned towards Heero. "You sure you want to do this, buddy? It sounds bloody dangerous, the way Howard talks 'bout it."
He realized his hand was on Heero's naked shoulder, and that the sombre one was looking at it. But Heero glanced away before Duo could snatch his hand back. He didn't seem to mind... Duo left his hand on Heero's shoulder, more a gesture of encouragement than a pass. Heero did seem to be warming to him a little, which was good.
Something in the cockpit beeped and Howard ducked back. A few minutes later, the ship dropped steeply and landed with a bump, and the ramp opened to-
"By Tintula's tits, you took us to the Mater!?" Svale screeched, surging through Trowa's legs to stare outside. "Are you nuts? Why here?"
The Mater was the core of Centre's harsh, wild soul, a place of powerful, primeval magic. The sky was dark and roiling from the permanent thunderhead covering the region, vicious whirlpools of clouds twisting in gunmetal grey coils. It echoed the tortured earth beneath, heaving in frozen waves of broken rock, ravines, cliffs, cracked columns of once molten granite, and the ancient maws of extinct volcanoes. A few dark grey-green shrubs clung to the writhing landscape for dear life, battling the ever-blowing wind. A crackle of thunder echoed over their heads. The place reeked of wild power, sudden death and barely leashed destruction.
Howard raised his voice a bit to be heard over the keening wind. "He's gotta be able to use Wing when it matters, Svale, and the whole of Centre will be like the Mater when Jusan gets here. If you'll allow me to wax lyrical for a moment, I'll remind you that the Scourge is a sinkhole of raw force, a cataclysmic power of evil, and the entire planet will ring like a bell under his feet. Okay, I'm done now. Right, Heero, follow me." Howard trotted down the ramp nonchalantly. Heero stepped after him. He was wearing only Wing and a tight pair of black shorts that Howard had dug up on his ship, but he didn't seem to feel the bite of the cold, dessicating wind. Duo shivered for him.
"Now lad, let's get down to it. I'm going to teach you how to use Wing. It's not going to be easy, it'll take awhile." The Techno mage turned away to face the others who'd followed down the ramp. "You guys can go and wait in the ship if you like, this part will be long and boring."
"Why couldn't we do this back at the sanctuary?" Svale whined.
"Because I didn't want any Jishin interference with Wing while the boy gets used to it." Howard snapped back. "The Jishin had a lot of wards against high techno artefacts like Wing and this is going to be hard enough as it is, it's not an easy weapon to control, or even activate." Behind him, Heero was looking intently at the wrist guards, frowning a bit. Something stirred, the band covering his chest seemed to settle a bit as if he'd shrugged his shoulders.
Howard looked suddenly morose. "Tell you the truth, I don't know how well he'll do. I can barely understand Wing myself. "
"Er-" Duo said, looking behind Howard.
"It's technology that seems to cut at a tangent to physics and most of techno knowledge."
"He may not be able to activate it at all, as far as I know. Using gundanium mecha is a rite of passage to the Dragons -was a rite. A Dragon's mecha was as important to him and his social class as a Jishin's spirit armour. Using it is a trial of strength and power, especially for a high-class-"
"H-Howard?!" Duo yelped. Quatre gasped.
"-piece like Wing, what is it?" Howard glared at Duo who was staring at something behind the older man's back.
"Howard is it supposed to be doing that?" Duo squeaked.
Howard turned slowly.
Heero had stepped away a bit, and lifted his arms straight out at his sides, head tilted back slightly and eyes closed in concentration. But there was something like a small pleased smile on his face.
The bits of gundanium fastened to his skin were twinkling and almost writhing, and small trickles of what looked like molten metal were running down his chest, over his back, up his neck and twisting delicately over his arms, in an almost sensuous slither, joining the portions of armour together.
"... fuck... " Howard muttered.
The movement accelerated, and the metal coagulated into plates of armour over Heero's chest, back, groin, upper legs and shoulders. The wrist guards had extended to cover his forearms. His upper arms were bare, as were his legs up to mid-thigh. The metal solidified and the armour looked almost normal, but there was a feeling of tension there, of potential.
Heero took the sword hilt from a metal sheathe that had grown around it, cocked it, and with a noise like wind tearing paper, a ragged beam of light flared from it, a small eruption of flames. Heero nodded, satisfaction and savage joy in every line of his body. Duo felt a shiver go through him, fear mingled with a healthy dose of lust. He chose to listen to the former rather than the later. He wasn't suicidal, and Heero was definitely more interested in Wing than he was in Duo.
"Wing. We are going to get along very well." Heero said with a voice of finality.
Howard finally closed his jaw with a click. "Yeah, lad, looks like you are. Right... well, if you want to try it out, feel free to play around. There's plenty of stuff here to blow up and we're the only living things around for miles."
Howard made a vague gesture out towards the heart of the Mater.
"Now the sword is pretty obvious, but as for the shield, and the energy- hey?!"
Heero was striding away, his boots clicking rapidly on the rock.
"Hey lad!" Howard called after him, waving his arms in agitation.
"Give it up, Howie." Duo sighed. "He's got that look in his eyes, he's not going to stop for anything now. He'll figure it out."
"Heero, avoid any markers! There're a lot of sources out here!" Svale shouted at his back.
They were all silent, watching Heero's armoured figure get smaller and smaller.
Svale scratched her wrinkled chin. "Man, I hope he doesn't stumble into a Source... though maybe the Judgement of God would be a good way of telling us we're doing the right thing... "
"Why should some aggregate stuck in a conduit be a judge of what I am going to do with the most powerful weapon around?" Howard growled, still staring after Heero.
"Howard, we're in a region of many powerful sources, please watch your words. They're Gods, not-"
"They're aggregates! Pseudo-human wish-fulfilments! The only thing that matters on Centre is the sources, which is why Jusan is coming here."
That was a long-time technologist grind. There were Sources on every planet in the galaxy but the strongest and the greatest number were on Centre. They were little areas that escaped all natural laws, the playground of Gods. It was dangerous to enter a source unprepared so humans marked them out with stone markers and warnings, and appeased the Gods within them with offerings and prayers.
Which was all bull, according to the technologist cabal. They knew that Sources were not mystical or holy places; they were breaches into a dimension of absolute power. The sources themselves were only a tiny crack into that place. A few pitiful humans who wandered into uncharted sources got stuck like flies in amber, warping into whatever the source wanted to, expressing its type of magic. If no creature could be used, and the source's power was strong enough, accretions from the overall psyche created pseudo-humans to fulfil fantasies and myths; Gods, born from the subconscious needs of humanity. But they were only a conduit for the real power, as far as the Technos were concerned. Which didn't mean they couldn't get very, very cross with pagans.
"Er, Gods, Howie, you know, not to be pissed off?" Duo muttered, glancing around nervously.
"They're only immortal and all-powerful within the confines of their sources. Otherwise they're just normal humans, or non-existent. Your boy Heero is ten times as powerful as a sourceless God, and you know it. Why should I send him into a Source to be judged by one in those conditions? Their accidental existence does not give them any kind of superior moral judgement."
"Oh boy, I can just taste the lightning bolts already." Svale's yellowy eyes glowered, looking around carefully.
"Bull. They don't care, as long as I don't bother their power supply, or interfere too much with the credulity -sorry, belief- that gives them a mental toe-hold into the human psyche. It's not even that they do all that much with it anyway, just let us borrow a few pitiful magical tricks. Most of which can easily be rivalled by techno machines. And in exchange for the ability to pull rabbits out of hats, these Gods decide they're allowed to tell us how to live our lives and fill our heads with stupid myths and legends and-"
"-and a sense of what being human actually means. All your machines can't give you that, Howard." Svale said quietly, and Trowa nodded slightly.
"Their influence is subtle, I grant you, but without it the human races would lose their way, become empty and soulless, barely better than computers. Leave the Gods alone, Howard."
"Don't growl at me, you old dog, I know you know I'm right." Svale thumped Howard on the head with her ever-present staff. "If you really believed all that heretic gumph you spout, you'd let Jusan come here and wipe out Centre, and all the sources and Gods with it! He's wanted to for centuries, I know, he seems to hate magic, sources, gods... He's a techno wet dream come true!"
Howard bristled. "He's an aberration himself, he uses magic to exist, where does he get off saying what Tao men should walk?"
"Well, we agree on something then."
In the distance a sudden blossom of fire was followed by a rumble.
"Shit!" Duo muttered and sprinted towards the smoking remains. He heard Trowa right behind him, and Howard shouting at them to not get too close.
They climbed a sharp scree slope, a few black rocks sliding down it, their sharp clatter the only noise now.
Heero was standing past the top of the scree with the sword in hand, staring at some rubble which, Duo realized as he watched a slab of rock crumble from a smoking edge, had once been a thick stone pillar. Heero's pose reminded him of... yes, the way he'd been acting back when the bandits had attacked him; concentrated on Trowa's sword, shaking it and swishing it as if it were broken.
Well Wing was apparently working for him just fine. The flames crackled and burned through the air with every swish, and Heero was smiling almost lovingly at it.
He flicked it once more, sharply, and the flame flared and died. Heero dropped the sword casually at waist-height, and it leapt and fastened itself back to the sheathe Wing had created for it. Then Heero cracked his knuckles. The wrist-guards responded by sending tendrils of metal shooting up his hands to build into strong mailed fingerless gloves. Heero flicked his hands out a few times before him, inspecting the result, then made a fist and, faster than either spectator could really comprehend, knelt and brought it crashing into the ground.
The rock beneath their feet rang like a bell and the whole Mater seemed to shudder around them. The granite beneath Heero's impact buckled and cracked. He slowly stood, examining the mailed glove covering his hand.
He flicked the hand again, and the glove slunk back into the wrist-guard like a banished puppy. He held the arm out still, and something seemed to hover over the wrist-guard, a presence, slightly warping the air like a permanent heat-wave in the coolness of thunderborn winds. As Heero moved his arm, something whined a bit in contact with the air. Heero nodded, satisfied, then turned and walked back towards the ship, leaving Duo and Trowa to catch up with him, eyes wide in amazement.
Howard and Svale were arguing about some obscure mythological point, and Quatre was trying to stop them from hitting each other, when Heero drew near.
"Ah, so, what do you think, lad?" Howard turned from Svale with a frown and rubbed his pate.
"It's not fully functional." Heero snapped, glowering at Howard who took a step back instinctively.
"What? Man, you can tell? I must say I'm impressed, kid. Yeah, there's a few things missing or broken. It was on a planet that Jusan destroyed, it was stolen by a mercenary band, and passed from hand to hand a few times, you're lucky it's even that good."
Heero was glowering at Wing. So it was Duo who asked: "Can you fix it, Howie?"
"It seems to work pretty well to me already." Trowa murmured, remembering the feeling of the ground bucking under Heero's fist.
"Yeah, but it's got to be one hundred percent for Jusan... " Svale muttered, looking worried.
"Well... " Howard scratched his head. "To tell you the truth, this is the first time I've found anybody who can activate it anywhere near full capacity, so I don't know what's missing. I'll examine it now and see. Some stuff I can cobble together. But some things... and the stuff we'll need, hm, not going to be easy to get, it's not the stuff you buy at the local pawnshop."
Keen eyes behind the dark glasses flitted over Duo, Trowa and Quatre, as well as Heero. "There are some things I'll need help getting. The hard kinda help, if you see what I mean. The kind of help that ends up with someone's bones getting broken. But if we all work together... well, arcane and techno hand in hand, what can go wrong?"
Then he corrected himself. "Plenty actually. But at least we'll rock!"
Howard had declared he'd stay with them -bar some side trips to pick up pieces that could be used to tune Wing- until Jusan's arrival. He turned down the offer of a room in the Jishin Sanctuary on account of it being primitive, drafty, and 'giving him the screaming wiggins'. He was holed up alone in his ship. He was used to using the cramped quarters as a home away from home, it was no problem, and he had plenty of tools handy there. The high-techno locking mechanism on the door also brought him a certain peace of mind. He scratched his head as he adjusted a precision lens over his eye and bent over Wing's headpiece.
A slight breeze made goose bumps run up his spine.
"What's up... Maxie?" He snickered without turning around.
"Don't you start... "
"Ah, suits you."
"No thanks, don't swing that way." Howard put down the piece of mecha and swivelled in his chair to look at the dark figure perched on his fold-out bed in the ship's cabin.
"So... Heero. What do you think of him?" Duo asked quietly, eyes distant.
"He gives me the creeps!"
"Spoken like a true technologist. I find him a compelling mystery, myself." Duo smiled, a feral movement of the lips. His eyes were serious though. "But I know why he gives you the creeps, as you say. He does something that most techno pagans like yourself would qualify as blasphemy."
"Uh?" Howard slipped his dark glasses back onto his nose as if they could help him figure out what Duo meant. He was fairly used to the young man's tendency to being cryptic.
Duo looked at him curiously. "You didn't notice? I did. But I've been hanging around him for awhile. He never asks a question... "
"What do you mean?"
"He never asks a question. Ever. Not even in a roundabout way. It's as if he... " Violet eyes narrowed and gleamed in darkness. "It's as if he never learned to reach out and share with others, their knowledge or anything, as if he's always been alone... "
"Now I'm really creeped out." Howard puffed his cheeks. "Mind you... " His eyes watched the black form. "Maybe I'm the one not asking enough questions here."
"What do you mean?"
"Five years ago a young whippersnapper still wet behind the ears comes up to me and tells me from the pinnacle of his fifteen years that he's the notorious Shinigami that had burst on stage a few months before." A face, still young, watched him with eyes older and crueller than time, eyes that had made him quite certain the youth was telling the truth even back then. "He provides me with some interesting artefacts to study, asking me some very strange questions in return. Then he brings me -for free!- the biggest prize a techno of my level can ask for; Wing, the best of all Gundanium mechas. Just like that. 'Study it, Howie, tell me what you can about it' - not that you ever showed any interest in my results- 'just be ready to give it to the person I tell you to'. And now I find myself handing over the greatest weapon there is to some weird-ass pretty boy who can't even ask a question. I should get my head examined. And I should question you."
"You're a smart man, Howard. You already know most of the answers."
"Yes. Yes I guess I do. Hope you're right about Heero, lad."
"Oh, so do I, Howard. So do I."
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