Pro Patria Mori

by Rhicy

Alternate Universe

Exhausted muscles corded in stark relief across Vin's chest, his abdomen muscles straining as Vin fought the pain that surged through his body. Fire raced across his shoulders and neck as Vin struggled to keep his head up. Strangled gasps forced their way through locked jaws, his eyes closed tightly.

Mangus had his clawed hand under Vin's back, lifting the upper-half of his body off the floor, using Vin's own weight to agonisingly press the black claws into Vin's back. It was not the physical pain alone the tormented Vin. Mangus had his minute eyes shut, his concentration bent on his magic as it scarred Vin's soul.

Some part of the soul was resisting all Mangus's efforts to feed on it. A few hours ago Mangus had withdrawn his magic, thinking he had finally sucked all the power he could from Vin. The human had lain deathly still, it's chest barely moving and Mangus expected to see it's reduced soul flee the weakened body. Instead, his link to Vin's soul had surged as renewed strength had flowed into the mortal frame. The soul was not completely tapped, unseen well-springs feeding the faltering soul

Mangus had watched fascinated as the soul re-newed, not growing stronger, simply providing enough to remain in the physical body.

Now Mangus tried to find an entry way into these hidden depths - depths that hinted at far more power. Mangus knew he could merely wait for the soul to strengthen again but he was an impatient being and wanted all the power - now!

As Mangus probed the soul unconcerned by the pain-racked body slowing impaling itself on his claws, he hit a solid wall. A golden force prevented his further exploration and Mangus sent black magic spikes to pierce the wall. The evil magic was simply absorbed by the force, ripples expanding across the surface, like water. Mangus tried again and again until an magic induced intuition hissed in his black heart. 'Its name.'

Mangus whispered, "Vin," and the wall shuddered but did not give in. "Vin!" he shouted and still the wall resisted, weakening partly but preventing his entrance.

Tiny blood shot eyes snapped open and studied the mortal twitching on his hand. Vin was unconscious, beyond any comprehension or willing resistance, his head hanging back, long hair trailing the dirt covered floor.

Uncharacteristically gentle, Mangus withdrew his claws and laid the body down. He covered Vin's face with his hand, and felt the soul flowing, growing. Near death, Vin's body was guided back to the land of the living, the hidden wells surging in his heart.

Mangus tightened his hold on Vin's head and said, "Time to wake up Vin, we need to have words."

+ + + + + + +

The gourd shattered with a sickening crunch, pale orange smoke tendrils rising from the remains, growing into billowing clouds, rising to the roof of the feasting cavern.

Buck clutched the sword blade buried in his midriff, roaring as he pulled it free and sank his own bright green sword into the gaping maw of the muscle-bound demon in front of him. Black blood oozed down the hilt as the enchanted blade did it's work.

Buck felt rather than heard his brother's fighting beside him, fending off the mass of demons while he opened his gourd. A magical demon had materialised behind the front presented by four furious green blades, and attacked Buck as he prepared release the first part of the spell.

"Come on! Time to go!" Buck shouted over the noise of snarls, roars and growls. "You just have to smash the damn things. Come ON!"

+ + + + + + +

A shade of difference in the black depths, drew Chris's weary eyes. His demon blade was glowing faintly. A demon was near. Vin's call was also growing stronger, urgent as if the distant captive sensed Chris's approach and was urging his brother to hurry.

Chris did just that, breaking into a light trot, guided by his brightening sword and Vin's desperate pull on his soul.

+ + + + + + +

Consciousness flooded back and as Vin opened blue slits, his soul-weary eyes saw Mangus's face close to his. Barely able to react, Vin merely tried to return to the quiet depths of unconsciousness that were calling his name.

Pressure on his jaw, drew the slits open again, and Vin felt a brief flare as Mangus unlocked his jaw. Days of tension and pain had tortured the muscles around his jaw and neck, and Vin struggled to stop the scream that wanted to burst forth as he opened his mouth. Dry and cracked lips were wetted by an even drier tongue. Cool liquid was forced into his mouth, blissfully wet against the damaged tissues and muscle. Mangus did not allow Vin too much water, just enough to moisten ill-used muscles. He continued to slowly slip water into the willing mouth, Vin's eyes watching him warily, expecting at any moment to have to pay for this unusual kindness.

Satisfied, Vin would be able to talk, Mangus set the water down. Short painful breathes were pulled through the mouth as the starved body fought to live. Mangus took a moment to study Vin's condition. Despite days of starvation and torture, Vin's body still looked fit and lean - if not approaching thin rapidly. Old and new scars, cuts, slashes and bruises covered the muscled body. A few ribs were beginning to show, and Vin was struggling to breath, ligaments and sinews stretched in an effort to live.

"I'll give you this, mortal. You are a fighter."

Vin ignored Mangus, trying to get a grip on the pain that still attacked him.

"Tell me your name!" Mangus demanded. Confused eyes opened, crinkling at the corners as Vin stared at Mangus. "N .. name?" Vin croaked.

"Yes! Your name!"

"T.told you already."

Mangus snatched a handful of hair and pulled Vin mercilessly upwards, "No! There is more. Tell me!"

Confusion looked back at Mangus and Vin braced himself as he saw Mangus raise his claws, the blackened points already covered with his blood.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan fumbled with removing his gourd from it's position at his back. He jerked his dagger across the twine holding the stubborn thing in place, dropping his sword to do so.

"Nathan!" Ezra's yell turned Nathan around in time to see a small demon launch itself towards the dark-skinned man. Snatching up his fallen sword, in a smooth movement, Nathan met the flying creature on one knee, his sword impaling it as the demon dived at him.

Nathan turned to thank Ezra, only to see Ezra pay for taking the moment to warn him. A overgrown demon slashed it's jagged claws at Ezra's back, shredding the fine fabric and slicing into an even finer friends muscle. An expertly thrown knife embedded itself into the attacking demons eye, stopping the killing blow as Ezra fell to his knees in shock. With his eyes on his bleeding comrade, Nathan hurled the gourd onto the uneven floor, purple smoke rising to join the orange clouds that swirled above their heads.

+ + + + + + +

"Touch him and I will tear you apart. Slowly." A voice as cold and as angry as an ice-storm, cut through the cave, halting Mangus from slicing into Vin.

At the entrance of the cave, stood a tall, blond soldier, dressed completely in black, silver metal studding the black chest. Icy green eyes tore into Mangus and Chris hefted up his bright green demon-blade.

'Chris!' Vin's soul-shout struck Chris like a blow. Mangus felt Vin call out the interloper, but did not hear the name.

"Friend of Vin's?" Mangus laughed, shaking Vin in response, "Well he's mine and there is nothing you can do about it."

"Wanna bet?" Chris drew his dagger and stepped forward to meet Mangus, who dropped Vin, rising to confront the human foolish enough to think he stood a chance of surviving the fight.

+ + + + + + +

Moving with a calmness he did not feel, Josiah severed the rope tying his gourd to his back. Blood ran down the gourds smooth surface, as a minor cut on Josiah's hand made his grip slippery.

In the smokey atmosphere of the cavern, strange sights floated around the five men. Souls trapped in the soul globes around the cavern, escape their confinement, fleeing the pits rising like an army of the dead, spirally up towards the roof. JD and Buck struggled to keep the demon's back, while Nathan quickly tied bandages around a protesting Ezra.

Josiah lifted his gourd, and smashed it against the wall, dark blue smoke rising to join the purple and orange billows swirling overhead. As the last of the smoke dissipated, Josiah watched in horror as Nathan tried to fend off a towering demon. Josiah let loose a thunderous roar and charged the creature, barrelling into it, too late as it's black sword entered Nathan's chest. Buck and JD stepped in finished off the demon, and then urged their companions on. Dark red blood spread across Buck's midriff, his eyes free of pain as the battle-rage swept him up in a frenzy of adrenaline.

"NO Time! Just two more!"

+ + + + + + +

The two combatants met in a clang of metal against steel, as Mangus materialised a black sword into his hands and began to battle Chris in earnest.

A furious silence fell over the pair as they ranged back and forth, trading blows and thrusts. Mangus made up for his lack of skill with raw strength, while Chris's expertise saved him from being over-powered, slipping underneath blows that would have cut him in two. Dwarfed by the 8 foot demon, Chris fought like a man possessed, holding his own against the magical and physical attacks hurled his way, the demon-blade absorbing any trickery.

Vin managed to roll on his side and watch the battle, feeling his soul strengthen in the presence of his brother. He felt Chris's exertion in the battle and sent his support flowing along the bond, receiving in return additional strength which his soul flared in response to.

Snarling in disgust, Mangus pressed his attack, as he felt Vin respond to his opponent, resisting his hold.

"Prepare to die, little man."

+ + + + + + +

Bright green smoke obscured his view as it escaped his gourd. JD clutched his demon-blade tightly, searching for signs of his friends. The murky air was growing thicker as more smoke escaped, joining it's fellows spiralling swiftly in the cavern's roof.

Somehow all of his friends were fighting, despite the very serious wounds they sustained. Ezra and Nathan were practically joined at the hip, as each helped the other fight off the demons, thrusting and parrying the claws and swords sent their way. Buck and Josiah stood like mountains, unmoveable against the tide of evil that surged at them, hefting demons back in the horde, massive axes and war-hammers laying waste.

JD shouted that he was done and immediately the four men watching his back stepped back, retreating to their next position. A wounded demon thrust itself on Josiah's upturned axe, hissing in delight as it's blood began to eat away at the metal. Repulsed Josiah tried to push the thing away from him, but not in time as it seemed to explode, spraying it's acidic blood over the monk.

Roaring in pain, Josiah charged into the front line of demons, spreading the acid to their skins as well, causing a wail to rise above the snarls and growls. JD raced forward and helped Josiah retreat, careful not to touch the burnt man, wincing at the sight of blistering skin.

+ + + + + + +

Mangus took a sickening step back, as he retreated from the skilful attack. Unable to use his magic and the human's exceptional ability with the sword, swayed the balance of the fight and now Mangus appeared to be loosing.

He continued to retreat, as the human pressed his attack. The demon's mind raced trying to think of some way to defeat his opponent. Surely the stupid thing realised that even if it killed him, that wouldn't save Vin.

'Wait. Vin.'

Chris wondered at the sudden smile on the demon's face and hesitated for a split second before continuing his attack.

+ + + + + + +

Somehow the five wounded men had managed to fight their way into the centre of the cavern. Avoiding foul pits and open fires, their ferocity had surprised the demons, who fell back before the unified front of humans. Circled back to back, Ezra's brother's created a wall of death, swords and axes swinging in unison, preventing the demons from overwhelming them.

Ezra lay gasping at their feet, protected while he opened the last gourd. The complicated words, flowed out of his mouth as blood red smoke shot straight up into the cyclone of magic above the fighting horde. As the words died on his lips, Ezra found himself saying a phrase he half- remembered from a time long ago, sending a thrill down his spine, "Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Patria Mori, or rather I should say, Pro Fateria Mori." A ghost smile flittered across his face as he clambered to his feet, his legs trembling with exhaustion.

"Now what?" He roared at his brothers.

"Now we stay alive until whatever happens - happens!" Josiah shouted.

Ezra looked at the array of snarling demons before him, each and every one eager to sink it's claws into him. Smiling wickedly, Ezra raised his voice, as he blocked a claw determine to gut him, exhaustion fleeing his tired limbs.

"Hey Buck, maybe JD could tell them that three legged dog joke?"

"What in the hell for? They sure ain't gonna die laughing!"


"I was hoping they would feel sorry for us, you know having to listen to those of kinds of jokes all the time. And well, let us go in sympathy."


"Not a bad idea Ez! Go ahead JD! Slay them with your humour."

"Go to hell, Buck! You too, Ez!"

"I thought that's where we were, Brothers."

"Nah, Josiah, Hell would be having to listen to JD non stop every day for eternity. We live in Hell, all the time!"

"Better than smelling you everyday. It's like living with some kind of animal!"

"Any idea when this thing is going to start working?"

"Don't know. Maybe Buck needs to add a bit more to the all foul smelling gas up there!"

"Real funny, Nate! I'll have you know I've been declared a lethal weapon. My ass is pure dynamite."

"So fire away Buck, we need all the help we can get."

"NO!" coursed three horrified voices, "This place stinks enough as it is."

A monstrous boom interrupted the cheerfully bantering brothers, who paused in their battle with the demons, as every head turned to study the roof, the smoke circling into a giant mass, a black hole in the centre.

"Is that it?"

+ + + + + + +

The link joining Mangus and Vin was like a chain, and it pulled at Vin's soul as Mangus moved around the cave, fighting Chris.

Mangus managed to shove Chris away from him and in the heart beat before Chris moved back to renew the fight, Mangus sent the spirit form of his claws towards Vin, which ripped at his soul.

The unholy scream that split the air, stopped Chris in his tracks. The painful scream sliced through him and he turned to see Vin writhe on the floor as some unseen hand tortured him.

Forgotten in the moment, Mangus materialised an insidious dagger into his hand and stepped towards Chris, the blade snaking upwards as if eager for the taste of human blood.

+ + + + + + +

The entire cavern shook as the giant maelstrom began generating a portal, sucking the demons into it's black abyss. Shrieks rose as small demons flew up towards the roof, before disappearing into the maelstrom. Larger demons tried to fight the incredible pull that was dragging them upwards. Those demons closest to the exits, raced to escape.

Forgotten in the panic of trying to escape the maelstrom, the five brothers sank to the ground, adrenaline no longer able to keep their wounded bodies upright. The men could feel the drag on their bodies, but it was not nearly as strong as it appeared to be on the demons. A strange light glowed in the cavern, empty soul globes shattering in bursts of colour.

JD pulled his hand away from his stomach and noticed for the first time, the blood that covered his hand. He looked up to find Nate and what he saw dropped his jaw wide open. A soft purple glow surrounded Nathan, who was trying to stem the flow of blood from his chest wound. JD noted with a shock that all his brothers were glowing. Buck seemed to be on fire, his bright orange aura flickering around him like flames. Josiah pulsed a dark blue, his white hair a stark contrast to the colour around him. Ezra's red glow was almost indistinguishable from the blood covering him. That was until Ezra gaped at JD, his aura spiking in response.

"JD! You're all green!"

JD raised his hand, and saw that surrounding the blood on his fingers, danced a lively green glow. JD looked down at his bent knees and chest, and saw the same glow.

"And I'm red!" Ezra gasped.

Another horrendous crack ended the startled revelations as a massive hole spilt the cave wall, shrieking demons being drawn through the hole up into the maelstrom.

The feasting cavern rocked as the pocketed floor split in half, more demons being drawn into the maelstrom.

"We have to get out of here!"

"How Buck?" Nathan shouted and pointed at the cave walls. None of the tunnels were there. "Some demon must have tried to seal the cave. That's why the walls and floor are splitting!"

"So what! Is this it? We're going to just sit here and wait to die!"

"I don't think Nate meant that Buck. Just that it's going to be a little difficult to get out of here."

"Oh. OK. Ready?"

Nods greeted the question and five brothers pulled eachother up, latched on a partner and began to make the stumbling way forward. Blood mingled as mortal wounds seeped, and oozed, chests heaved and stuttered as they fought to breathe. Hands and arms tightened in support as legs stumbled and shook, threatening to topple the mass at any moment.

A resounding crash stopped the little group, alone in the cavern save for the demons flying upwards towards their new home. The unseen roof shook again and a disheartening rumble rattled the cavern.

The stronger demons were now being dragged into the maelstrom, their magic insufficient to halt their journey. Snarling in anger, a group managed to wedge themselves in a smaller gap, stopping their reluctant flight.

Malicious eyes studied the small group of humans, the bright souls drawing the demons attention. One particularly clever demon realised he might not be able to stop the spell bent on sending him back to the demon dimension, but he could try to take a little something for the road with him. Sending out spirit claws to catch the souls, the powerful demon was joined by his companions.

Gasps of shock exploded out of JD and Ezra as they felt the claws sink into them. Weakened by their injuries, the pair fell to their knees, dragging their brothers with them. Wide pain-filled eyes met Josiah's and he instantly knew what was happening, when Nate also let out a shocked gasp, as the claws attacked him.

Josiah touched his stricken friends, his blue aura surrounded hand, mingling with the aura glowing on their shoulders. "Hang on, Brothers!"

Buck bit back a shout as he too felt 'something' attack him. "Blasted soul-stealers! Hang on Kid!"

Each of the five brothers touched eachother, mingling colours and blood. Above them their attackers lost their fight with the maelstrom, sailing towards the black hole spiralling in the airy cavern's roof. Another rumbled announced the end of the roof's fight as well, as the mighty cavern, began to collapse under the strain of the maelstrom.

Massive boulders hurtled towards the floor and the five humans huddled there, fighting their own battle.

"Don't give in Brothers! Fight them! It's nearly over." Josiah's voice was barely heard over the sound of the cavern dying.

As the twisted demons attacking them entered the black hole, the remains of the roof landed on the floor and five magnificent souls burst forth, ripping themselves free from the spirit claws, disappearing in the bright flash, as the rest of the cavern collapsed.

+ + + + + + +

Chris grunted in surprise as he felt the blade slip between his ribs and into his chest. Dark red blood welled at the hilt of the knife, streaming down the demon's hand in tiny red rivers. Chris blinked as the pain registered in his brain and saw a triumphant glee grow on the demon's face, as it felt his blood run down it's arm. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Vin struggling to sit up, his weakness making the task an impossible effort. Chris saw Vin's eyes widen in shock at the sight of all the blood between him and the demon.

A heart-wrenching cry of "LARABEE!" tore itself from Vin's throat, echoing in the cave, rebounding off the walls, swelling to a dull roar in Chris's ears. Chris had never heard that name in his life, but as it assaulted his ears, it sounded out a sure remembrance and recognition in his soul. A thousand voices seem to shout that name in his head, calling to him and he felt his soul respond a hundred-fold.

Mangus stood transfixed as the name echoed in the cave, feeling Vin's soul reach out to the human before him, ancient ties searching for their other half. Black magical instincts hissed dire warnings to him to prevent the completion. Unsure on how to do so, Mangus ripped his blade free, sending Chris to his knees, clutching the wound in his chest.

Mangus took a step back, uncertainty delaying his reactions. Vin continued to struggle on the floor, trying to reach Chris. Mangus suddenly felt reluctant to kill the mortal on it's knees before him. It possessed a soul as vibrant as Vin's, perhaps he was strong enough to bind it to him.

He gestured at Chris, his magic crackling at his fingertips, trying to grab hold of the human's soul. Vin, linked to Mangus, felt his intent and absolutely terrified that Chris might experience the agony of feeling his soul being devoured, Vin let out another shout of, "LARABEE!" desperate to warn him.

As Mangus reached out to Chris's soul, the half-remembered name echoed again, and Chris's soul flared in response, hurling Mangus away from it. Chris gazed in amazement as Mangus landed with a dull thud a few metres away, and Chris felt a power surging through him, calling out to ... what? It was responding to that name and Chris turned confused eyes to Vin, seeking answers.

Dull, weak eyes met his, as if something vital had been drained and Vin seemed to be weakening by the second, struggling even to draw breath. Vin mouthed the word, "Chris," too weak to summon the breath to speak.

"Vin," Chris gasped, fighting the pain in his chest, yearning to reach his brother, but unable to gather himself to move. Mangus bolted to his feet with a roar once he had regained his senses. He was about to rush Chris when a thunderous crack split the wall behind him, freezing everyone in the cave.

Chris felt a tiny breath of air breeze by his face, drawn to the new opening. A distant howling could be heard deep within the hole and Chris could feel a distinct pull from the crack, as it sucked the air out of the cave. Mangus snarled at the hole, feeling a different magic than his own pulling him towards it.

Within minutes of it's initial appearance the crack had produced a giant maelstrom within the cave, sucking everything towards it, but particularly Mangus.

'It must be the spell. The boys did it.' Chris thought, even as he latched onto a handy rock outcropping on the floor as the power of the wind increased. Vin was unable to find a handhold to prevent his gradual slide towards the crack, moving by inches on his back. Mangus however was actively fighting the drag as the spell sought to draw him into the gaping hole.

Snarling madly Mangus lost his footing and tumbled towards the crack. In a desperate act of malice, he grabbed Vin's foot, determined to take Vin with him. Incredibly in a life and death moment, Vin managed to grab hold of a piece of uneven rock, stopping his slide. Mangus's weight jerked his leg cruelly but Vin held on. Dipping into reserves he didn't know he had, Vin clung to his handhold, muscles straining to maintain both his and Mangus's weight.

Chris launched himself forward the moment he saw Vin's predicament. He rolled towards Vin and was brought to an abrupt stop when his wayward right foot was caught between a narrow gap in the floor. Pain arced up his leg as ligaments screamed in protest at the abuse, muscles stretched unbearably. Chris immediately looked how far he had to go in order to reach Vin. He was a heart-breaking foot too short. Vin's outstretched arm was trembling in exertion, straining to hold on, and Chris couldn't reach him.

The force of the maelstrom was too great for Chris to even contemplate trying to move back and loosen his foot. The wind whipped his hair in his eyes, causing the icy-faceted green depths to tear, as Chris looked at Vin. Besides he was rapidly running out of time, as Vin's grip weakened, bloody fingers starkly white as they held on for dear life. How he had been able to hold on this long was a miracle in itself.

Chris stretched as far as he could, narrowing the gap by inches, but still falling too short. The uneven cave-floor now clear of debris shuddered briefly. Pain-filled blue eyes locked onto his, willing him to reach them, save them. Idly Chris noted that the scar beneath Vin's left eye was gone. Mangus was not helping Vin, the demon continued to twist and writhe, fighting the maelstrom, making it even harder for Vin to maintain his tenuous grip.

Desperation lent Chris a burst of strength and he launched himself forward just in time to catch Vin's hand as he slipped. The burst of agony from his foot assured Chris he had caused some serious damage. But he had Vin.

Without an anchor, all three were being drawn inexorably toward the crack, Mangus's talonned feet already partly inside. Chris whipped out a bloody hand and desperately sought a handhold, anything! Luck seemed to be on their side, when a quake ripped through the cave, as the rock walls began to crumble under the pressure of the maelstrom. After hundreds of years of dark magic permeating their every granules, the caves of Kelltor were destined to follow the demon hordes into a dark abyss.

A sharp, angry shard of stone broke through the cave floor, directly in front of Chris, and he was able to wrap his body around the rock. Their slide halted, Chris, Vin and Mangus hung stretched out in a battle of wills. The spell's determined drive to draw the demon into the crack fought Mangus's desperate hold on Vin while Chris maintained his tight grip on his brother's hand, determined not to let go.

Mangus gave in first, relishing in the fact that his link to Vin's soul would rip it from the physical body he no longer needed, and drag the best part with him. Vicious claws released the mangled foot and the foul demon was drawn into the crack.

Vin felt an immense tug on his soul as the demon's magic pulled it with him. Bright spots danced in front of his eyes, and he felt himself slipping away, the feel of Chris's hand on his own fading as dark claws sank into his spirit. He tried to hold on but couldn't stop the sensation of leaving his mortal frame until a harsh, grating voiced snarled, "Vin Tanner, don't you dare let go!"

It was like a spring had sprung itself closed. Instantly Vin could feel Chris's nails biting into his hand, sweat and blood mingling between their palms. He blinked his eyes to clear his vision, and felt Mangus's pull lessen but not disappear.

Still linked to the mortal dimension, Mangus twisted halfway between his new home and the portal, frustrated by the fight being waged at the other end. He called all his now considerable magics together and shouted, "Vin!"

In the wind-tossed cave, Vin screamed as Mangus's call ripped him from consciousness and his grip loosened. Raw panic clawed at Chris's heart as he felt his life pumping out of the hole in his chest. Determination would only keep Vin secure for a few minutes, as Chris's weakening body betrayed him. As Vin's scream cut through Chris and his hold loosened, a voice from the very depths of Chris's soul burst forth, faint memories stirring as it yelled, "TANNER!" to his brother.

An unknown well was opened and renewed strength surged through Chris, melding his arm to Vin's, anchoring the failing soul. Absolute determination not to lose Vin after everything they had been through glowed in jade green eyes and Chris growled, "I ain't letting you go Tanner!"

Beneath his determined grip Chris could feel Vin's fluctuating pulse and knew time was running out for both of them, as his own heart struggled to beat and pump rapidly escaping blood to his body.

Hanging in limbo, Mangus roared, "VIN!"

In that instant, Chris's heart stopped and the incandescent form of Chris Larabee lurched free of it's broken body, snagging the arm of it's brother-soul. A brilliant white figure, the consummate warrior of a thousand life-times, clung to it's weakened brother. Vin's soul had been ripped free from his physical form, reduced to a mere shadow of it's previous brilliance by Mangus's feasting. But Chris Larabee had no intention of letting Vin Tanner go anywhere.

No longer buffeted by the physical winds of the maelstrom, Chris Larabee had only Mangus's hold on Vin to contend with. Setting his jaw, standing firm and gripping Vin with all his might, ripples of silver steel patterned across his aura as he fought Mangus.

Caught between two determined forces, Vin felt as if his soul was tearing in half, as his heart longed to join Chris, but Mangus's firm hold kept him in place. Unable to withstand the incredible pressure in his weakened state, blinding despair overwhelmed Vin and he called out to his soul-half, "Larabee!"

Acting purely on instinct Chris Larabee did the only thing he could, he stepped forward and embraced his brother. The twin souls pulled the other into themselves, merging in a blinding flash, the double jolt of union severing Mangus's link to Vin, hurling the demon into a distant dimension.

Within the incandescent warmth of the dual-light, a single voice was heard, "I got your back, pard."

+ + + + + + +

The Void.

In that quiet place between dreams and awareness, spins the infinite possibilities of time and space. Existing beyond and above all 'reality' the void touches everything and nothing, a space in a vacuum that encompasses the mighty cosmos and resides within the drop of dew on a rose petal.

The Void.

It waited. Spinning around itself in anticipation. Waiting. Stars and galaxies drifted by like leafs on a cool summer river, beautiful in their passing. Breathless expectation hung, waiting.

A blinding flash boomed into the Void, repeating itself three times, before finally depositing five ragged souls in a heap. Groaning, they pulled themselves up and stood uneasily in the sudden silence.

"Everyone intact?"

The bright little green soul was patting himself down, checking that he was all present. "Think so Nathan. Everything seems ok."

"Ah JD, hate ta be the one to tell you, but your butt's missing."

"WHAT!" JD swung around trying to see his behind, unable to quite get his head turned far enough.

A deep red hand, stopped the frantic twisting, an all-too familiar Southern drawl greeting four ears, "Mr Dunne, Mr Wilmington is merely pulling your leg. You do indeed have a hole located near what would be your nether-regions in physical form, but it is a rather small hole, not nearly as large as Buck would have you believe."

"Damn. Thanks Ez. Are you ok?"

A suffering sigh escape the red soul who lifted up a ripped arm and said, "Relatively speaking yes. I am here with the four of you and not currently 'visiting' somewhere - else. I think I can accept this minor wound in the light of previous circumstances."

"Good, because I want to know where in the hell Chris and Vin are?" Buck demanded, as he held a large tear in his leg closed, hoping it would soon begin to mend.

A couple of seconds ticked by, the five souls waiting anxiously. Nothing happened.

"Shoot! Where the hell are they?" Buck's voice had a note of panic in it. Time flew faster in the Void, a matter of minutes could be years in the physical world. Seconds were hours, and eventually days.

"Buck." Josiah's voice was slightly startled, wonder and awe colouring it. "Look." Buck along with Ezra, Nathan and JD looked at where Josiah's hand was pointing. The Void was not moving. Tiny galaxies and large planets, hung frozen in a tableau of reality. Usually the universe spun around the Void, and now it seemed to be ... waiting.

"Why isn't it moving, Josiah?" JD asked, turning around in a complete circle, noting the entire Void was still.

"Not too sure JD. Maybe .. because of what happened it's waiting according to the last world's time. The Void is ... just as anxious as us to get Vin and Chris back."

"Surely then, moving at normal speed would facilitate their speedier arrival. Not drawn out like this."

Josiah shrugged, confusion making his blue aura flicker with white as he pondered the problem. "All we can do is wait."

"I HATE WAITING!" Buck exclaimed, pacing the Void, waving his arms in the air. "I'm a stud of action - not waiting!"

Nathan and Ezra merely tended to eachother, lifting a couple of snags beyond their reach, back into purple and red auras.

The minutes ticked by with agonising slowness, the five souls eventually moving together, drawing strength from the close proximity.

Buck was about to burst into another furied pacing frenzy when a resounding boom echoed in the Void, hurling a bright white light into the Void.

The globe of light pulsed before the five stunned souls, filling the Void with it's large presence. Incandescently bright, the white globe contained swirling lights within it's centre and outer edges.

The very middle of the globe had gold lights dancing in a slow rhythm, their movements careful and studied. At the edges raced silver streamlets, arcing around the golden centre, a hint of desperation to their frantic movements.

The five soul-brothers watched the globe, speechless in the light of what hovered before them, because they could sense both Vin and Chris within the globe. Chris was emanating such fear and determination that he overrode any emotion from Vin.

Josiah managed to pull his entranced gaze from the ball of light and noticed that the Void was moving again, as if it felt all was well. "What's happened to them?"

The question was not voiced by any one in particular, reflecting all five souls concern.

Nathan blinked and said, "Maybe Vin was so weak, this was the only way Chris could bring him back."

"How'd Chris even know that? We don't remember anything about the Void whilst we're alive," Buck muttered.

"I'd tend to disagree. I recall Chris mentioning that the dimensional walls were very thin in our last life. The demons presence evident of that. Not to mention our own perchant to remember incidents that were not from our present memories."

"And tunes and words. Damn, it all makes sense now!" JD exclaimed, bouncing slightly on his feet, "No wonder we got strange looks sometimes."

"Hell, kid - you always get strange looks, especially with that damn hat."

JD pulled a face at Buck, his attention once again focused on the globe. "Think they'll come out of it?"

Silence answered him, as his brothers wondered the same thing. "Wish we could do something," Nathan whispered.

The globe spun serenely, the silver streaks no longer frantic, seemingly settling towards the golden centre. Time seemed to drag for the five souls as they waited, thousands of questions being asked in their hearts, eager for the pair of souls to emerge and answer them. After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the globe stopped and the two coloured lights collected into separate halves. Anticipation hung heavy in the air, tension underlying the immediate silence.

A white pulse began to beat in the centre of the globe and a blinding light ignited in the Void. Once the light faded and the five souls could see again, they were shocked to see two pure white souls standing before them.

As white as the driven snow, the pair radiated a completeness unprecedented.

"Reckon we made it pard."


JD and Buck stared at eachother, 'Who was who?'

"Fellas," spoke on of the souls, pleasure streaking across the Void to the five souls.

Drawn by bonds forged a thousand lifetimes ago in a dusty western town, the seven souls stepped towards eachother. And as the five brightly coloured brothers, touched the white pair, they knew. Knew that Vin and Chris stood before them as complete as before, only sharing ... something. 'A soul?'

"Told you we'd make it." Chris said, his fear disappating now that all Seven were present.

"That you did, Chris, that you did."

"It is good to have you back, Vin." Again no one in particular spoke that phrase, instead it echoed from Six very grateful souls. The gratitude and love that Vin felt from his brothers was heart-warming to his soul that had undergone the very tortures of hell for his brothers. 'Do it again in a heartbeat' came the silent reply, this time all Seven hearing the unspoken thought.


The end ... until a new beginning?

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