NO DOMINION: 10. "Allies And Friends"
Thursday, September 4, 2003

"Atherton takes his pound of flesh. Meanwhile two crews are in a race against time to enact a rescue."



SUMMARY: "Atherton exacts his pound of flesh. Meanwhile two crews are in a race against time to enact a rescue." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. 'Enterprise' and its' characters are the property of 'Paramount'. No infringement of copyright is intended.


A "Firefly"/"Enterprise" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Inara wanted to take her shuttle, Captain Archer insisted one of the shuttlepods would be better. Trip watched the by-play and gave Kaylee a sidelong glance. His slow southern drawl descended to a light whisper. "Kaylee, why's Inara so insistent? No offence but shuttlepod 1 is better equipped plus it's got a little firepower."

She turned to look him in the eye. "That's just it, Trip. Atherton knows Inara. If she goes down in her shuttle it'll be what he expects. If she goes down in one of your shuttles it'll set off every alarm in his head. Nothing'll warn him quicker or louder that she's up to somethin'."

He nodded, it made sense. But perhaps there was another way. "Cap'n?"

"Yes, Commander?"

"I was thinkin' maybe Inara's right." At the Captain's attempt to interrupt Trip held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Just hear me out Cap'n, okay?"

Captain Archer nodded.

"If Inara goes down to the surface as planned we can go down in shuttlepod 1 as back-up. That way if things get too dicey we can get her out again."

"But not before we get the Captain out." Kaylee added quickly.

Trip did not look at her but nodded so she knew he was agreeing with her. Jayne scowled, Zoe looked impatient. Wash was troubled. He still did not like the idea of Inara walking into the lion's den. "Won't Atherton know somethin's up the moment you send him a wave, Inara? After all, you and he didn't part on the best of terms."

She gave him a dazzling smile and Captain Archer had a glimpse of the kind of powerful persuasive abilities Companions had at their disposal. She looked so calm, serene. In perfect control. "I won't be going in alone."

"No," Said Jayne, gripping Vera tightly in his hands. "We'll be with you."

She shook her head and let a small smile hover on her full red lips to take the sting of rejection out of her words. "I will have Lord Warrick with me."

For a moment they just stared. Simon Tam had inched his way slowly out of Serenity, ears stretched to catch as much of the conversation as he could. River stayed halfway up the ramp where she could take advantage of the shadows. The Preacher looked from Simon to the ramp and felt a mite concerned. Hoping the Tams would not do anything foolish and jeopardise everything.

Zoe's eyes narrowed slightly. "Are you sure you know what you're doing, Inara?"

"I could say the same for you." She replied without spite or rancour. Inara swept her eyes over them all, taking in the doctor as well. "At least my plan has merit."

"So does ours!" Growled Jayne.

The Preacher interceded before Jayne could throw them into a heated quarrel. "I think it's a good idea."

All heads turned to him. "We might have difficulty explaining your technology Captain Archer. Besides we are familiar with Inara's pod and it will be the expected mode of transport to the surface for Inara to take from a Firefly class transport. Your shuttlepod's firepower, limited or otherwise, would raise questions none of us would be willing or able to answer. It will however be a powerful and welcome resource to fall back on. Can't do that if they know up front what we've got and what we haven't."

Wash's expression brightened. "*Dui*, good thinking Preacher." He smiled at Captain Archer. "You'll be our Ace in the Hole." The Captain frowned. Trip was grinning. He really liked Wash. "Fancy that, Cap'n, our very own ace in the hole." He mused.

He shot his Chief Engineer a look that clearly warned him not to encourage their reckless guests. Trip wiped his hands on a rag and handed the rag to Toby Weiss.

"Looks like you'll need someone to pilot shuttlepod 1 Cap'n. I can do that. We can't give 'em Travis 'cause he's needed on Enterprise."

Lt Reed was not about to let the incident prone Engineer go alone. "Captain, if the Commander is going down I should go down as security."

Trip rolled his eyes. Sometimes the Armoury Officer acted like his own personal bodyguard. It used to amuse him but the joke was starting to wear thin. Captain Archer resisted the urge to groan out loud in frustration. He was beginning to feel as if events were sliding out of his control and he did not like it. Oddly enough it was the Preacher who voiced his reservations.

"With respect Captain Archer, not everyone can go down to the surface."

"What ya sayin', Book?" Sneered the mercenary. "'Fraid you'll be left all on your own?"

"Not at all. We need to look at this logically not emotionally."

The Captain looked at Sub-Commander T'Pol but she gave no reaction. So far her interaction had been minimal but he knew better than to assume she was not paying attention. Now he felt the need for her input. "Sub-Commander?"

"I suggest if we are to help this crew Captain we let them make their plan then augment it with a small select crew of our own."

"Armed of course." Put in Lt Reed.

He was ignored but knew they had accepted his prompt. Many times Trip in particular had swanned off to some supposedly friendly planet or first contact only to have the whole thing turn out the opposite to what was expected. Sometimes with painful results. Helping others was one thing, endangering their own crew was another. To him, the safety of Enterprise's crew came first and foremost. The decision might be the Captain's but his job was to ensure that any decision he did make would not be fatal.

Zoe looked at Inara, some silent agreement passing between them. She squeezed Wash's hand then stepped up to the Captain. Trip thought she looked like one of those Amazon women. A strikingly handsome woman and a fighter from head to toe. "Captain, we thank you for your assistance. Myself, Jayne and the Preacher will go with Inara in her shuttle."

The Captain nodded. Not questioning why they felt the need to take a Shepherd with them. Some details he did not want to know. "I'll send Commander Tucker, Lt Reed and Sub-Commander T'Pol as back-up in shuttlepod 1..."

Simon Tam stepped alongside Zoe. "I'll come with you."

The Captain gave him a quizzical look.

"I'm a doctor." He explained. He gave Zoe a guarded look. "Just in case... well, just in case the Captain needs me."

"We have a doctor, I'm sure Dr Phlox..."

Zoe shook her head. While she was grateful for the help of the Enterprise Captain and crew she wanted people she trusted round her. She nodded sharply to Simon. "Okay, you can come. Let's hope we don't need you."

He nodded and darted back to Serenity to get a medkit only to be met on the ramp by a solemn River holding a kit in her hands. Sometimes her responses chilled him. This one warmed him. He gave her a soft smile and took the bag. "Thanks, *mei mei*"

She nodded, her eyes large and luminous. He wondered if she truly saw him. "Hurry, Simon." She whispered.

He looked at her in concern. "What is it?"

Her look became distant. She flinched hard and bit her lip. Eyes widened in an echo of pain. "Go."

"Perhaps I should go with Inara...?"

River shook her head. "Doesn't matter how or with who. Just hurry. Last one out the door will be too late."

He shivered at her words then told her to go back on Serenity. He moved away from her, whispered something to Kaylee who nodded and inched her way back to the ship. The Preacher frowned at River but she ignored him. Then suddenly everyone was moving. Wash did not like being left behind but recognised his place was with Serenity. Trip and his engineering team had fixed the Firefly but for now it was still safely ensconced on Enterprise and he could not go anywhere until Serenity was free again. For some reason Captain Archer seemed reluctant to do that until the outcome of their mission on Persephone was known. He was not sure how he felt about that. Conflicting emotions making him feel unsettled. On edge. He sensed Captain Archer was a good man. A sympathetic and honourable man. But he also feared he lacked the single minded grit to make it out in the Black. The man was 'too nice', 'too affable', to be a really effective fighter. He just hoped they would never have to find out.

* * * * *

Biv could feel his concern deepen. Atherton Wing was staring at Captain Reynolds with the kind of single minded determination that chilled him inside and out. In that dark implaccable gaze he saw the Captain's death. Bloody and painful. He did not deserve this but Biv did not know what to do. His hands began to shake. Then Atherton tore his eyes away from his captive and smiled at him. The doctor felt his legs go weak with fear. That smile. It could freeze the sun. Atherton stepped through the doorway, closing the door behind him and recycling the lock. The Captain frowned slightly, not concerned for himself but for Biv. Suddenly he had the awful feeling that as free as Biv imagined himself to be he would not outlive him by long. There was something very sick about Atherton Wing.

He watched the man approach him. Almost flinched in sympathy when he paused alongside the good doctor and stroked the tip of his bone whip gently down the side of the man's face. Anger welled up inside him. "Leave him alone!"

Atherton turned to him with a broad disingenuous smile on his face. He stepped up to the side of the bed and looked the Captain up and down. Slowly. "Now the waiting ends, Captain."

"What made you so gorram twisted, Atherton?"

A tick flickered under Atherton's right eye. "You are going to cry for me, Captain."

"I don't think so."

Atherton leaned close, his free hand drawing slow patterns down the side of his face. His smile widening as the Captain growled in barely checked anger. "It will be good to have such a 'responsive' subject."

"*Qingwa cao de liumang!*"

For a moment his tormentor paused, looking at him in a way that made his skin crawl. The hand was replaced by the tip of the whip, the thin white bone drawn slowly down the Captain's right cheek, the thin bone turned to draw the razor sharpened edge down over his cheek drawing a thin crimson line of blood. The Captain could see Biv trembling behind Atherton, tears of sorrow, shame and apology in his eyes. He did not flinch. Did not give Atherton that satisfaction. Atherton knew he would not and the thought that this man would resist him every inch of the way was exciting. A delicious anticipation building up in him as he switched to the other cheek. "I could cut out your eyes with this whip." He said conversationally. "Honing it to such razor sharpness is an art form, did you know that Captain Reynolds?"

"You are one sick *tamade hundan*."

Oh yes. Atherton wanted to make this one last. He toyed with him for a moment or two longer then turned and called Biv forward. Captain Reynolds frowned. Worried for the man. What the hell did Atherton want with him? Why didn't he just let the poor man go? He watched as Atherton removed a special electronically coded key from his pocket and handed it to the doctor. The man was shaking so much he almost dropped it. Atherton put a hand around Biv's shaking one. An almost solicitous act until you saw the look in his eyes. He knew exactly how much this was hurting the old man. "Undo the manacles, Biv."

Biv wanted to shake his head. Refuse. But knew any defiance on his part would be taken out on the Captain and he did not want that. He stumbled over to the wall above Mal's bed and reached out to the deep set rings and activated the device. The Captain heard the lock cycling and then his hands came free. *Wu de ma* that felt good. Biv went to rub his wrists to free up his trapped circulation but Atherton pushed him away. Before Mal could say anything Atherton whipped him across the face. Stunned he cried out in unexpected pain, the action opening up a gash in his right cheek that was deep and bled furiously. Biv wanted to go to him but his feet were rooted to the spot. Tears bright and sparkling like falling stars trailed down his cheeks. Mal saw the old man's distress and bit back an angry retort for his sake. Stiffened his spine and simply glared at Atherton. The dark promise in his eyes needing no interpretation.

Atherton waved the whip at him. "On your feet!"

He was slow to obey. His body weakened and not as responsive as he would have liked. He rubbed his wrists and got to his feet. What now?

Atherton indicated for him to go over to the single window. It was on the opposite side of the room to the door. The window had a wide embrasure and was high, about five foot from the floor. He frowned at the unusual placement but said nothing. It was not a large viewpoint. He supposed the pane was made of some kind of toughened glass. Weird but the way it was set into the wall was more like a defensive viewport than something to let in the light and the sun. He frowned and gave Atherton a quizzical look. The man enjoyed his momentary puzzlement then addressed Biv again. "Fasten him."

Biv took a step back towards the door. His voice choking in his throat with words he could not form. Fear in his eyes, head shaking. Atherton's look darkened.

"Do it or I will show him by example. An example I will make out of YOU."

Even though he did not know what it meant Mal could not let him touch Biv. Not again and certainly not for his sake. "Biv! Do as he says, *dong ma*? None of this is your fault."

The man was crying again. Looked so fragile and upset that Mal longed to rip Atherton Wing to pieces but he did not dare do anything that Biv might have to pay for. That was how sick Atherton was. The torture of innocents was like an apperitif to him. Atherton began to raise his whip hand, Biv scurried forward on wobbly legs that barely supported his frail form. He looked at Mal for a moment, lost in the Captain's eyes. A world of sadness laid out before him. So much he wished he could have said. Done. All irrelevant now. This man was going to die and he could do nothing to stop it. Nothing to prevent the bite of the bone whip. The pleasure Atherton would get from doing this. Captain Reynolds gave him a firm look. Not accusing. Just willing Biv to do whatever he had to do without shame. "*Duibuqi*." The gaunt doctor sighed through trembling lips.

"It's not your fault, Biv. *Fang xin, pengyou*."

Biv gently coaxed the Captain to face the window and raise his hands above his head. Mal looked up and saw what he had missed before. Two heavy rings embedded into the wall above the embrasure. So. This was how Atherton intended to do it. Give him a glimpse of the freedom he could never have while slicing the skin and flesh off his back until he cut him down to the bone and bled to death. So much for honour. He let Biv lock his wrists in place. Willed himself not to let any of his anger spill over to the poor man. It looked as if this was killing him and that gave him a strength it was hard to quantify. Atherton's sneering voice sounded in his left ear. Too close for comfort. A vibrating blur against his damaged nerve endings. "So, you made a little friend out of the doctor, did you? Thought he could save you? How truly pathetic you are, Captain."

"At least I have friends, Atherton."

He felt something sharp bite into his back then rough hands ripped the shirt from his back. "Had, Captain. The operative word is past tense."

"You wouldn't know about things like that would you, Ath?"

Another thin white flash arced through the air behind him and cut across his right shoulder blade. The sound it made was a swish hum through the air before it bit. He gritted his teeth and jerked at the pain, blinked at the sudden sting in his eyes. He would not cry, gorrammit. Let the piece of *gos se* go to hell. "You took what was mine!" Hissed Atherton.

"Can't take what is freely given, Ath."

Another humming sound then the thin razor sharp bone cut long and deep, a swathe of crimson from the back of his neck to his waist. He sagged slightly in his restraints before straightening his back and biting down hard on his bottom lip drawing blood. The view out of the window was of beautifully manicured grounds. The lawns sculpted into forms that were all kinds of pleasing. Hedges trimmed and winding like less formalised mazes, a bright profusion of flowers enlivening a greensward that drew and rested the eyes even as the bright blue sky reflected the planet's sunlight as if through a clear prism. He tried to concentrate on that. Anything but the debilitating pain and agony that was building as Atherton increased his strokes of the whip, the bone sinking deeper into his flesh. He thought he could hear someone weeping but his concentration was not what it was. Perspiration ran in rivers down his face blinding him. His vision a blur. River. He thought of Simon Tam's sister and a touch of sadness moved him deep, deeper than the caress of the whip. Deeper even than his compassion for Biv. River. A true innocent in a wicked 'verse. It was not fair what had been done to her. The life she was forced to live while her brother fought any way he could to deliver her from the mouth of madness. Simon did not really understand why he had let them stay on his boat. He should not have to explain it. He was the Captain. That should be enough. Now he would be unable to protect her any longer. It hurt that he could not see her safe. Find the *wangba dan* who had done this to her. Help Simon find a cure.

The others would help and that was a comfort to him. Having lost one family he was determined not to lose a second. He felt himself sag. Consciousness a sick carousel dancing before his dimming eyes, his balance all shot to pieces, swaying against the manacles that held him upright. He thought he heard something. Then a hand was gently caressing his bloody cheek. His eyes were closed. Memories swimming like a fickle tide drawing him back and forth, now the water getting deeper. Colder. Pulling him down. He could feel the wetness on his face. Soon it would close over him and he could rest. Something rough touched him. Silently he cried out or supposed he did. Perhaps it was all a dream? A nightmare of false imaginings? Whatever it was something was lapping at his consciousness and giving the pain a run for its' money.

Biv wanted to take him down but Atherton refused to allow it. Had pocketted the key and told Biv if he wanted he could tend the Captain. He was not allowed to dress his wounds. Atherton wanted to take a break, get something to eat and have a wash. Then he would be back. He had tried to talk to Captain Reynolds, gloating and needing the response of his anger but he had been carried away. Too many strokes of the whip to a man already weakened from earlier beatings from Caleb Johnson had rendered all hope of conversation a moot point. He would have to take care if he wanted to draw this out properly. After all, the Captain would die when 'he' chose and not a moment before. The final power of life and death was in his hands and he would give it up for no one.

Atherton's step was crisp and bouyant as he strode away from the room. Hearing the lock cycle behind him a smug smile gave his handsome features a semblance of charisma but it was only skin deep. He barked orders as he went to his quarters, servants hurrying to disrobe him of his bloodied clothing, too well trained to comment or show any curiosity. A word spoken without due care could easily be a death sentence. Or worse. He was stripped off while another servant ran his bath. Precious oils scenting the water as warm vapour clouds steamed the elegant bathroom. He was in a good mood. His exertions had given him a fine appetite. He clapped his hands together and ordered a meal to be brought to his room then went to bathe. His chosen lovelies attending on him hand, foot and finger. They smiled and stroked him when he indicated it was his wish, their careful poses not allowed to falter. Behind the grill of wary eyes they watched him preen himself and knew the price of this good mood would have been high. The head girl hid a shiver, using the movement to propel her lathered sponge across Atherton's back. It was as he was exiting the bathing area, his body dried by several hands with thick warm towels that a servitor knocked on the door.

He nodded to his manservant and finished dressing just as the door opened. "Your pardon, Lord Wing, you have visitors."

Surprise flashed on his face. "Visitors? Who?"

"Lord Warwick Harrow and the Companion Inara Serra."

For a moment he was completely speechless. What in the nine hells were they doing here? At 'his' estate? He would have bet everything he possessed that he would never see the lovely Inara Serra again. His heart sped up at the thought that perhaps she had changed her mind. Decided he was the better man. Then a scowl contorted his features. If that was so why was she with Lord Warwick? A man who barely tolerated him? A man who had offered his services up to Captain Reynolds no less, taking it upon himself to be the man's second in that ill fated duel. Suspicion clouded his thoughts. The messenger knew better than to interrupt him. "Did they say to what I owe the pleasure?"

The messenger shook his head. "No, sir. Do you wish me to tell them you are otherwise engaged?"

He shook his head. "No." His curiosity was well and truly roused now but he would need to be cautious. He wanted Inara, always had, but he was not stupid enough to believe that she was here because of an overwhelming desire for his company. No. He had seen the looks that had passed between her and the Captain. A thought stung him with sudden revelation. Did she know the Captain was here? Was it even possible? No. How could she know? Anyone trying to follow that trail would find it petered out at Caleb Johnson and the man was fanatical about covering his tracks. So. Why was she here? And why had she brought Lord Warwick with her? Or did she intend to try to re-open their former association but feared he would not accept her? Had she enlisted Lord Warwick to make her suit more acceptable to him? It was what he hoped not what he expected to be true.

"Have them shown into the reception room. And bring wine. Three glasses."

The man bowed and left. Moments later another servant arrived with his meal. Atherton looked down at the exquisite array of tender meats and young vegetables. A slow smile curved thoughtful lips. He would eat his repast and join them when he was good and ready. This time they would wait on him.

* * * * *

It felt odd being guided down by the rather upright doctor. In some ways his manner was reminiscent of Lt Reed but there were also a lot of dissimilarities. Trip followed Simon's instructions to the letter. Simon having been fully briefed beforehand by Inara and given a little advice from Wash. He kept thinking about River's words. They were like nails driving through him and piercing him with pain and uncertainty. He was worried. Even though River did not always make sense to him he suspected it was because he was not smart enough not that she was talking nonsense. River was not simply gifted. She was a genius. A rare talent that had somehow made her a target for the Alliance. What had they been trying to do with her brain? The lessions were many, the procedure repeated again and again and again. He could not get that schematic out of his head. It was Lt Reed's voice that brought him out of his gloomy reverie.

"Mr Tam, are you alright?"

His head jerked at the formal address. "Um, yes, and the name's Simon. Just Simon."

The Lieutenant gave him a nod. Trip smiled at him. The man was strung tighter than a drum. "It's okay Simon, we're gonna help get your Cap'n back."

Simon looked at Trip for a long moment then let his gaze drift to that of the alien Sub-Commander and Lt Reed. He resisted the urge to shudder. He did not know these people yet they were trusting themselves to their care. The Captain's life hung in the balance of that judgement. "Thank you. "

"You're welcome."

He stared again at Trip. The man seemed sincere. Almost boyish to his young but weathered eyes. Captain Reynolds had once told him 'nothing ages a man like experience' and the longer he stayed on Serenity the more truth he saw in that statement. He noticed there was a kind of aching darkness in the southerner. A pain that never slept. He swallowed slowly, realising he had been staring. Dropped his eyes and tried to think of something to say but the words would not come. It was T'Pol who broke the awkward silence.

"You are a doctor?"

His head jerked up again. Bird-like. Eyes bright, sharp, intent. Missing nothing. Lt Reed could see the intelligence in those eyes. Wondered what the man was thinking. "Yes, I am."

"You expect your Captain to be injured?"

His breath caught. The alien certainly did not pull her punches. "I hope not but," He shrugged. His uncertainty was somewhat disarming. "I want to be ready just in case."

"So who exactly is this Atherton Wing?" Asked Lt Reed.

Simon took a breath. He did not really like talking about the Captain's business when he was not present but he supposed these people needed the background. Especially as they were now on the perimeter of the Wing Estate awaiting the signal from Inara to go in. They could be here minutes or hours. "He's a member of the nobility here on Persephone. Inara is a Companion as you know. Companions have a select client base. They chose who they spend their time with."

"Spend their time with?" Asked Trip. T'Pol shot him a warning look but he ignored her. "Are you saying that she's a..." He could not say the word. "That she sells her body to men?"

It made Simon want to laugh. Why did people get so hung up on that? "Yes, she's a whore - a high class prostitute you might say only in our 'verse it's a respected profession." He paused and felt the need to amend that slightly. "Um, at least among most people."

Lt Reed lifted his head slightly. "Most people?"

He felt decidedly uncomfortable now. "Well, the Captain mostly."

The three Enterprise crew exchanged a glance. Curioser and curioser. "Are you saying your Captain doesn't approve of Inara?" Asked Lt Reed, careful to keep his voice neutral and not judgemental in any way.

"Um no, not at all. Captain Reynolds doesn't approve of Companions taking the moral high ground. He calls them whores. Calls what Inara does whoring but he seems to consider her seperate from her profession." He was frowning now, as if realising that made no sense.

"I do not understand why she would want to help rescue your Captain if they are enemies." Said T'Pol.

"Oh no, no, they're not enemies. They're..." He struggled for the correct words. "They're friends."

"Friends?" Said Trip, clearly trying to hide his amusement.

Simon shot him a very cold look. "I do not see what this has to do with plans to rescue the Captain. I am sure if your curiosity is still affecting you that you can ask them yourselves once this mission is over."

Trip put his hands up. "Woah, calm down, we meant no offence Simon. I apologise if anything we have said was out of line."

Simon nodded warily. "Just so long as this subject is not raised again, *dong ma*?"

Lt Reed frowned. "*Dong ma*? What does that mean?"

"It means 'understand'."

"Oh, in that case yes, we understand." * * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*dui* = correct *mei mei* = little sister *qingwa cao de liumang* = frog-humping sumbitch *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *wu de ma* = mother of God *dong ma* = understand *duibuqi* = I'm sorry *fang xin* = ease your heart *pengyou* = friend *gos se* = crap *wangba dan* = bastard



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His head still ached from the rutting probe but after the men had satisfied themselves that his story was true a thousand questions peppered the air like machine gun fire.

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.

Personally she didn't care if Serenity was towed off to a junk yard and stripped into spare parts. She had promised the ship to Jer and his crew as a bonus but it looked like scavengers had beaten them to it.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: 2. "Counting Chickens"
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.

What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.

If it was too gorram wet to hunt for rabbits what in the nine hells was his son really hunting? And was it something on four legs or two?

The man was in a terrible condition, his pulse weak, and for some reason he was soaking wet which did nothing to staunch the blood soaking through his clothing and seeping from the poorly tended wound where he had been shot.

THE DICHOTOMY SERIES: 9. "All The King's Men"
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.