BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AMDOBELL

HEAVEN AND HELL: 46. "Catalyst"
Thursday, July 29, 2004

"Inara escapes with the Shepherd's help but there is still one last thing she wants from the Captain. River unleashes an unusual attack but the fallout is not exactly what any of them expected."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2437    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "CATALYST" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY" PAIRING: RIVER/MAL. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "CRY BABY". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "Inara escapes with the Shepherd's help but there is still one last thing she wants from the Captain. River unleashes an unusual attack but the fallout is not exactly what any of them expected." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"CATALYST"

A "Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

She felt her breath catch as they entered the ship. Shepherd Book immediately went over to the pilot's chair and ran quickly through the pre-ignition sequence, checking the controls and making sure they were clear for take off. Inara was oblivious. She hurried over to where the Captain lay insensate on the floor. Could see where the Shepherd had redressed his leg but the brace had not been reattached. It lay like a bright metallic husk beside him. She noticed how bruised and swollen the bloodied left leg was and understood. Carefully Inara checked him over then rested a hand over his heart and just stared into his face. Had he guessed? If he recovered would he remember? It had been so long ago. She had been so young and he so naive. Still shining with a faith that had no cracks in it. A boy lit up inside with a truth that would one day betray him. No. Better if he did not know. If all the cares of the past slid into oblivion. Let not one of them trouble his waking heart.

Only when the iron grip on her mind had fractured had the memories begun to trickle back through her consciousness. Memories that brought a painful and expensive release. Malcolm Reynolds had been with his father, the market a lively and bustling affair on that far flung world out on the Rim. They had gone to buy livestock not realising she was a horse of a different colour. A child of the slave trade dressed as fair game. Her family had sold her rather than risk the exposure threatened by the Guild. Her gift discovered whilst still in kindergarten, the best early schools money could buy. She had not known then where that coin had come from. How her modest parents had been able to aspire so high. Their success bought with her future. Their safety with the coin of her flesh. So long ago now. A distant world so different from the one she had grown up on. Her parents not wanting to risk any of their circle of elite friends guessing the truth. They told everyone she had been sent away to study on one of the Core planets. Individual tuition. The best of the best. And their friends had congratulated her parents on their devotion, their good sense and suspected nothing.

She could not remember the name of that *lese* world but she remembered the laughter freezing on a young and carefree face. A slender youth standing aghast at the parade of women being sold by lot. He had slipped passed his father and tried to stop it. Even at fourteen - that awkward age of youth, that no man's land of puberty - he had known it was wrong. That people were not goods and chatels to be bought and sold but free. Owned by no man nor woman. A glimpse only had she seen of his angry and horrified face. Offended for her. Shamed that he could do nothing to help. His father berated for lack of parental control and she had watched in numb surrprise as they were ejected from the market place as if they were the criminals. And she had forgotten. The new lies fashioned in her memory were shiny, full of a silky rich deceit that had kept her in finery and coin ever since. The Alliance making her body a sullied temple dressed in silk while they crafted something even darker with her blossoming mind. Binding her to them with their lies. Tears pricked her eyes and emotion clutched her heart. She knew he had not recognised her when she came aboard his ship any more than she had recognised him. Neither his face nor name struck a chord, yet something within her had been drawn to him. Some instinct sensed that here she could find a home. The nearest thing to a safe haven. Only when the memories broke free did the truth hit her swift, hard and with all the impact of a world turned to dust.

Inara was so lost in reverie that the Preacher's voice startled her. Even though he had not turned his head she felt as if he were looking right through her heart and soul. "You cannot go back, Inara."

His mild words jolted her back to the present. What did he mean? Was he referring to her life as a Companion or as a Spy? Or...before? No. He could not know still less have guessed. It was impossible. She realised he was not talking about the past but the present. "*Wo zhidao*. The Director is dead."

"But the House lives on." Said Book softly.

Inara bowed her head, fighting back the threat of tears. Gently she touched the Captain's cheek. He was so cold and still and the deck beneath him was so hard. Such had been his life for so long and it wasn't fair. It was not fair at all. Surely one of their stories should have a happy ending? If not hers then his. She smiled softly, a distant sadness consigned to the Black. Pretending she was taking his pulse Inara opened her mind and began to slide into his. Needing to reassure herself that her secret was safe. Her thoughts probing carefully like someone picking a lock. He was vulnerable now and she might never get the chance again. Even though she had lost everything, self preservation was a very selfish gene. If she could not save herself perhaps she could repay a distant kindness and save him.

* * * * *

Dizzy Doyle was not drunk. His kind could not get intoxicated but it did not stop him trying. Everything was going to be so shiny. The time was finally approaching when they would reclaim what was theirs. He did not know it for an Alliance fiction any more than Pepper and the others. They played their parts and readied themselves. Tents being taken down, ordnance stored away. Ships made ready. Men primed for the moment when the man who would lead them to victory appeared. He was not impatient exactly but excitement ran through the vast sprawling camp like a forest fire. Trestle tables laid out with food of all descriptions groaned under the weight of excess. The soldiers ate sparingly, drank but mouthfuls and passed the bottles on. To the casual eye they seemed to be eating, drinking and making merry. Only closer study showed it for the elaborate sham it was. The why of it mattered not. For this moment they had long awaited and they intended to celebrate it in style.

Within the tank the mercenary floated and bobbed gently, eyes closed, breathing deep and regular. The intubation regulating the strong beat of his heart while the endless flow of nutrients kept him in peak condition. Almost ready he would wake soon. Outside a kind of low key frenzy was beginning to ripple through the camp. Not all the soldiers were reanimated, one or two were genuine Browncoats caught up in the lie and longing only for it to be true. Blinding themselves to any inconsistencies for the dream of overturning the Alliance *hundan* who was intent on ruling the known 'verse. If they failed, freedom failed. The math was simple, the cost was not.

Charlie and Lenny were watching the festivities, Pepper moving between the press of men and women. His face illuminated from within. An excitement that was almost palpable and made believers of them all. It was almost time. He raised his head and craned his neck the better to see the vast ocean of brown that swayed and swelled to a common theme. He was about to turn and order Turner Watts and Slim Redding to go and get Jayne when something wet splashed his face. Frowning he looked up, surprised to see a great black cloud lowering over them and spreading even as he watched. "What the good gorram....?"

Another heavy drop of water fell, the raindrops multiplying as the heavens above him opened. He threw back his head and laughed. They were being christened! The irony of it appealed to him. If this was not a blessing from on high what was? Seeing him laugh others joined in until every face was wreathed in wet smiles, upturned faces catching the silver glimmer of water and letting it cool their hot and dusty skin. It took a moment for the pain to register. Something in the water burning through them like acid. Porter Knowles looked confused, his sleeves rolled up, his thick hairy arms beginning to peel. He looked at his arms and watched the skin peel back, the flesh suppurate and redden into shiny hot blisters as heat bubbled up where the water had soaked through the pores of his recycled skin. The remnants of a nervous system cried out in agony then the signals reached his brain and he screamed.

Laughter turned to an horrific spectacle, bodies falling, writhing in agony. Others tripping over them in panic but not knowing where to go or what to do. Orderless and leaderless they milled and trampled one another as their bodies began to break down and fall apart. Ruby red blood hissing like steam as it vented from the split weeping flesh. Muscles exposed hung then began to disintegrate, hair hanging lank and brittle before crumbling into a wet dust that quickly formed a sludge coating the mounting pile of remains. The few who were not reanimated crawled through the dead and the dying, their screams indistinguishable from their hideous colleagues. Some got to shelter but most did not make it. Those that did were now infected. Dying by inches instead of yards. Throats hoarse from crying and screaming. River had calculated the death rate with alarming accuracy. It took exactly four hours and twenty minutes for over two thousand to die. By the time the fifth hour arrived the vast plain where an army had stood and cheered and defied all comers to withstand them was no more than a nightmare scenario. A camp of the dead.

River insisted they wait another five hours for the air to clear and had Wash bring Serenity in low over the terrible mass of broken bodies. The vast open grave a weeping sore. Simon stared aghast, tears in his eyes at the sheer scale of the carnage. Kaylee was openly crying and had to go and be sick. She could not look any more. It was hard for the Sheriff to take it all in, his deputies feeling more than a little nauseus and uncomfortable. They all gave River Tam a wide berth. Zoe hardened her heart to the sight but Wash was visibly upset. Tyrone Garvin wiped tears from his face and stared at River. "How could you?"

River did not look in the slightest discomfitted. "How could I not?" She said calmly. Not knowing that her very demeanour was unsettling to them. They could have accepted it better had she been upset. "Them or us," She said practically then jumped down from the table on which she had been sitting. "I chose us."

No one could argue with that but it left a bad taste in their mouths. Zoe needed to push passed the shock, do what had to be done as quickly as possible so they could leave. She looked at River. "Where's Jayne?"

"Inside."

"Inside where?" Asked Simon.

River pointed to a low concrete building. "There."

Wash looked ill. "Is he alive?"

A brief look of irritation passed over River's face. "*Qu*. But hurry, he's waking up now."

In silence they landed, Wash glad to have something to do that meant he did not have to exit the ship. Happy for once to let others have those thrilling heroics. This was one story he did not want to tell his children. River insisted they go EVA to prevent being contaminated. No one argued or questioned the resident genius's instruction. Once suited up Simon grabbed his first aid kit and followed his sister down the ramp with Zoe close behind. Tyrone Garvin and Andy Crowther decided to go with them, both checking their ammo before leaving the ship. Sheriff Bowman looked sad but accepted that it was perhaps the lesser of all evils. Yen Mah opened her eyes and gave him a soft unexpected smile.

"You okay, *bao bei*?"

"Coming home."

He nodded. "Yup, they're off to get Jayne now. Don't you worry *nu haizi*."

She shook her head. "Not Jayne. Mal."

The Sheriff's heart missed a beat. Hope almost flatlined. "You sure, *fengmi*?"

Her smile dazzled him with joy. "*Qu*. Needs love and rest and no more ghosts."

He was not sure what to make of that last comment but for now was just grateful that the Captain would soon be back where he belonged. In the meantime, curiosity drew him to the cargo bay as Zoe and the others returned. His mouth dropped open. Jayne Cobb was being physically carried prone between them. The man was dripping with some thick clear gel that clung to his skin and clothing. There was something coming out of the back of his neck and tubes coming out of him in places where the sun would never shine. He winced for the big man and hoped they had not saved a corpse. Yen Mah looked up at him and squeezed his hand. "Alive, still sleeping."

"That a fact?"

"*Qu*," Said Yen Mah seriously. "When he wakes you may wish he sleep long, long time."

The Sheriff had no idea what to say to that. Then River was instructing Simon on the best way to decontaminate Jayne, using the airlock to flush the gel from his body as they stripped his clothing from him. Simon was worried they would get infected. "The suits will protect us. Like the gel protected Jayne."

He paused from his cumbersome ablutions to look at her through the visor of his suit, waiting for her head to turn so he could look her in the eye. "If that's so why are we still wearing these EVA suits?"

"Because we had to carry him through those who were infected. Have to clean the suits too before we go back on board. Like Zoe, Ty and Andy. Risk may be low Simon but we have to be shiny."

Something about the way she insisted made him look at her harder but she did not elaborate or explain. A couple of hours later they were done and called for help to carry a now naked Jayne to the infirmary. Wash was careful not to get too close. "Is he safe?"

Simon nodded, pleased to be out of the restrictive suit. He also had a problem with claustrophobia, not that he intended to let the others know that fun little fact. "Yes, he should be."

"Should?" Said Wash warily. "So he could still be contaminated?"

It was River who answered before her brother could. "*Fang xin*. Jayne is cleaner than you now."

Wash shivered. Zoe gave a tolerant smile and patted his arm. "You can wash up later, *bao bei*."

He raised his eyebrows, eyes sparkling. "Are you gonna help me?"

"No one else."

They were about to leave the infirmary when River spoke. "Better tie him down Simon, he's waking."

Wash knew he should not ask but he just had to. Being a founder member of the Nosy Parker Club he just had to. It was his bounden duty. "*Weishenme*?"

River helped Simon tighten the straps pinning the mercenary's arms to his sides and immobilising him to the infirmary bed. "They altered his brain."

Silence fell so thick and heavy as a sense of shock rooted them all to the spot. Oddly enough River reacted with a smile.

"It's just a switch. On. Off."

"Will he," Wash paused and glanced at Zoe then looked down at Jayne. Simon was covering him now with a sheet to hide his nakedness. "Will he be *Jayne* again?"

She nodded, as solemn as an undertaker. He thought there was a trace of sadness in her voice as well but with River you never knew. "*Qu*." She looked up and gave everyone an apologetic look. "*Duibuqi*, can't work miracles."

Wash laughed, Simon looked offended then found himself smiling and looking guilty about it as everyone burst out laughing. The humour lightened the terrible doom that had been hanging over them all like a modern day Sword of Damocles.

* * * * *

The Shepherd was not sure what to say. He had noticed the Companion's concern for the Captain. It was understandable, the man had almost died. Still could he supposed though given the way his vital signs had been improving that was unlikely now. What the man needed most of all was rest.

"How long until we reach Serenity?"

He thought about it, doing the math in his head while watching her tend the sleeping man. Wondering if she realised how much she gave away. "If they're where we left them another six hours."

A small frown pinched her brow as she looked up at him. "What do you mean *if*?"

Book shrugged. "I don't have to tell you no one will be rolling out the welcome mat for either of us."

"And the Captain?"

The Preacher smiled even though he knew a reckoning was approaching. "Oh, I think they'll be more than happy to see him." He paused. "Are you going to tell him?"

She thought she had misheard but the constriction of her heart said not. "Tell him what?"

"How you really feel."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Inara, there's no one here but us."

Inara glanced down at the Captain but he was still out of it.

"He can't hear you."

She was not so sure about that. Had heard that the last sense to leave you was your hearing. What if it was the first sense to reawaken? She could not take that chance. "It doesn't matter. I will not be staying."

Shepherd Book raised his eyebrows. "Inara..."

"Don't try to talk me out of it. We both know too much has happened that can never be forgiven."

"God forgives."

"I'm not talking about God and you know it."

"The Captain will forgive you." He said quietly. "And in time so will the crew."

There was a long, long silence before Inara Serra spoke again. "What about you?"

"I am free of my demons now."

She seemed amused. "Just like that?"

"Sometimes that's all it takes."

Another long pause. Her voice dropped to a thoughtful whisper, one hand absently brushing the Captain's fringe from his pale face. "What about mine?"

"Well now, I could help with that. Or you could just find someone to listen."

She lifted her eyes and looked straight at him. In that moment she knew he knew. Not the details but certainly the gist of it. As she gazed at him something shifted in his eyes and she realised he would not speak of it. A rush of gratitude almost made her look away but she didn't. The years of hiding were in the past and she had no intention of revisiting it any time soon. There would be a price to pay naturally but for the first time she began to think it would be worth it.

* * * * *

A dark rolling sea gripped him in its' shifting tides. He felt himself tugged and pulled then tugged again, his stomach heaving in response then little waves lapped hot skin and took away the fever bright heat that assailed him. The murmuring surf resolved into quiet hushed voices. A small cool hand touched his brow as a thought popped into his head. *Love you, ai ren. More than you could know*

*River?*

*Qu*.

*Gorrammit, thought I'd died an' gone to diyu*

The voices ended abruptly as he opened his eyes. Zoe smiled, Wash grinned, Kaylee was so happy she couldn't stop crying. Only Yen Mah gripping her hand stopped her from weeping all over the Captain. Sheriff Bowman held one of the Captain's hands in his, a warm happy smile on his face. Simon Tam finished checking on Jayne and joined them, happier than he could put into words to see the Captain regain consciousness.

"You had us all worried for a while, Captain."

"I did?"

His voice was a bit slurred but Simon noticed his eyes were clear, no sensitivity to the light and he seemed to be fully cognisant. The Sheriff moved over a bit to give him room to take the Captain's pulse and check him over but none of the crew left the infirmary. Whatever Simon had to say to the Captain they wanted to hear. No one noticed Inara and Book slip into the infirmary to listen. On the other bed Jayne Cobb snored softly. "You were unconscious for almost three days."

He frowned slightly. River smiled down at him and his heart stopped. She was so gorram beautiful. Zoe was amused at his distraction and almost pitied the doctor. Any chance he had of getting meaningful conversation out of the Captain had gone straight out the airlock with the presence of River. Simon cleared his throat drawing Mal's attention back to him. "*Ni hao ma*?"

"*Hen hao* for a dead man."

"You weren't dead." Simon corrected him.

"Felt like it." The Captain murmured but they could tell he was feeling happy, a silly smile slopping all over his face no matter how many times he tried to look serious. He looked up at River and positively beamed with quiet joy. *Marry me, xin gan?*

*You know I will*

*We still got us a Preacher?*

River smiled tenderly at him. *Qu. Inara came back too*

That surprised him. He started to frown but River gently smoothed the frown off his face with her hand then kissed him. Wash made a sappy face. "Aw look, *bao bei*, isn't that sweet?"

Zoe smacked him on the arm then gave the Captain an apologetic smile but he hardly noticed. He was about to say something when River took his hand in hers, kissed the palm then placed it gently over her stomach. His eyes searched hers for an explanation while everyone in the infirmary held their breath. A look of shock stunned his senses as he felt movement beneath his hand. The curve of River's belly more pronounced than normal. His mind stumbling with realisation as he joined up the dots, his eyes widening, his heart thundering like a runaway train gathering speed taking all his dreams with it. *Wode ma, River, you pregnant xin gan?*

Her happy smile said it all. The Captain whooped and pulled her down so he could hug her. Zoe laughed and blinked back tears. Wash kissed her, Kaylee was beaming from ear to ear but wasn't sure why except everybody looked so gorram happy and the Captain wasn't going to die and even 'Nara had come back. Though how that was all going to pan out she had no idea but seeing the happiness on the Captain and River's faces gave her hope that the worst was over.

Simon started to shoo the crew out of the infirmary when the Captain tried to sit up. The Sheriff and Zoe helped him sit, River puffing pillows up behind him like a fussy little matron. He was beaming all over his face, the sight made his crew all kinds of happy. They had rarely seen him so full of joy and many of them wondered what it meant. He even looked passed them to where Book and Inara stood awkwardly just inside the doorway and waved them over. "If you're gonna gorram eavesdrop you gotta be a lot closer than that."

"We weren't eavesdropping Captain we just didn't want to intrude."

Zoe's smile slipped. She still had not forgiven them and was not happy that they were on Serenity. But it was the Captain's call. She was quite prepared to hide the bodies if he decided to shoot them.

"Not intrudin'," He said softly. River sat on the bed and kissed his cheek. Mal looked for a second at the two former spies. "I would like an explanation though."

The Shepherd cleared his throat and decided he might as well go first. If nothing else it would give Inara time to decide just how much to tell the Captain. "You know most of my story now, Captain. What you don't know is why I came back. I never intended to hand River or Simon over to the Alliance. It was my fault she was taken, my discovery that caused so much pain and hardship to so many. I never intended it to be used in that way but it was a long time ago. I was young, ambitious, foolish and totally trusting of the Alliance back then. They represented order, authority and honour. It took time for me to realise the truth and even then I didn't want to admit it. My research had been academic but they wanted to see it work in practice so they chose suitable test subjects." He broke off and found it difficult to meet the Captain's eyes. Oddly enough River did not look angry just sad. Somehow that made him feel even worse. "I'm not proud of what I did but I decided to find River, protect her if I could, and observe. Only by watching would I know whether or not I would have to intervene."

Simon looked aghast. "How could you? We all trusted you!"

"*Duibuqi*."

The Captain looked at Inara. "What about you? Kind'a surprised to see you back on Serenity."

"So am I."

He raised an eyebrow at the admission. Before Inara could explain River spoke. "Taken, broken, used. War makes victims of us all."

Simon looked worried. "River?"

The Captain put an arm around her. "*Fang xin*, doctor, River's fine."

He looked like he wanted to argue but Inara had started talking now and all thought of interrupting flew out of his head. "I was sold as a child when the Alliance found out I had some psychic ability. They wanted me and others like me for a programme they were running. I didn't know, my memories were tampered with - altered." Mal frowned but did not interrupt. "I believed the lies I was told, considered my work as a Companion to be a respectable calling not realising what it really was."

"You betrayed me." Mal said quietly, heart aching with the pain of it. "Betrayed my crew."

She nodded and looked down at her hands. "*Wo zhidao*, Mal. Don't think I'm proud of myself because I'm not."

"Book called you the Mother of Sorrows. Queen of Poisons or some such. Tried to kill me a time or two."

"That is true but I was being manipulated."

"And now you're not?" Asked Zoe icily. Wash squeezed her hand, whether in solidarity or to caution her not to lose her temper it was hard to say.

Inara looked at Zoe, saw the pain in her eyes and knew that Mal was right. It was not just him she had betrayed but his crew. "No, I'm not."

"Now this is what I'm not gettin'," Mused Wash as he tilted his head to one side. "You say you're not bein' manipulated now but how do we know that? I mean, you fooled us once why not now?"

"I don't expect you to believe me but somehow I was jolted or shocked out of the conditioning." She paused and swallowed hard, this was more difficult than she had imagined. A touch on her hand made her look up in surprise to find Kaylee holding her hand, such love and forgiveness in her eyes that tears started to roll unheeded down the Companion's face. "I started to remember. It was painful. Shocking. The shame of it will probably never leave me."

"Why did you come back?" Asked Simon quietly.

"I don't know, penance perhaps. But I know this, I lost my family the day they sold me. This is the first time since then that I've been anywhere that felt like home. If you tell me to go I'll go Captain but if I can stay I'll do everything I can to make it up to you." Her eyes locked on the Captain's for a moment then slowly moved from face to face. "To make it up to you all."

A profound silence fell. For several minutes the only sound was of people breathing. Then there was a slight creak and a voice they all knew spoke, breaking the spell that hung over them. "Did I miss somethin'?"

They turned to stare at the mercenary as he sat up and began to yawn. A quiet ripple of laughter filled the room. "No Jayne," Said the Captain, his voice warm with amusement. "You didn't miss a thing."

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*lese* = crappy *wo zhidao* = I know *hundan* = bastard *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bao bei* = precious/treasure *nu haizi* = girl *fengmi* = honey *weishenme* = why *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *duibuqi* = sorry *diyu* = hell *ni hao ma* = how are you? *hen hao* = very good *xin gan*/*ai ren* = sweetheart *wode ma* = mother of God

COMMENTS

Friday, July 30, 2004 1:04 AM

KISPEXI2


Oh, that was lovely. Such a moving, beautiful ending. I have so enjoyed reading this story, I feel a bit sad now that it's over.

Inara's story was really painful, made all the more intense by the contrast and parallels with River's.

And as for me thinking I knew what was going on right back in Chapter 1 - hah! Di'n't know a damn thing.

Friday, July 30, 2004 4:20 AM

BRITCHICK


This was supershiny Alison
I don't know how you managed to juggle and keep all these balls in the air at once.

Im so pleased that our crew is all back together again, wonder where you'll take them next?

Friday, July 30, 2004 5:47 AM

AMDOBELL


Folks, this is *not* the last part. That will be posted soon. This is the penultimate chapter. The last one is always flagged Conclusion. Thanks for the shiny comments, so much appreciated. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, July 30, 2004 6:42 AM

KISPEXI2


*Not* the last part?! See, just when I think it's safe to breathe again .... gorramit, I'm away next week.... *gnash*

Friday, July 30, 2004 6:44 AM

GUILDSISTER


Felt like it was wrapping to me too, but you have too many dangling plot and character elements yet to go.

"She was quite prepared to hide the bodies if he decided to shoot them." Good line!


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YOUR OPTIONS

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The vessel was shiny, sleek and black with nowhere near the bulk of an Alliance ship. Something about the way it moved through the Black was more than a little creepifying.

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The man sighed like the weight of the of the 'Verse was on his shoulders but unlike anyone else he looked like he could carry the weight.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 8. "All The King's Horses"
Without warning something came through the opening and rolled with a metallic clang across the ground before exploding.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 7. "Friend or Foe"
Then he found himself falling, the whole world silent as in slow motion the hordes of *diyu* came to swallow him up and everything disintegrated in fire, blood and pain.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 6. "Friends You Choose"
It was a sound he recognised from the War, didn't forget the sound of a man drowning on his own blood.