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Trickster's Quest - Chapter 2
A Quest Begins
Part 2

-~-

“Is it ready yet?” Duo asked, prodding the fish speared on a spit above the crackling flames.

“No.  It’s not.” Heero answered.

Duo watched the flames for a few minutes, and then turned to Heero.  “Is it done NOW?” he asked again.  He smiled inwardly—the mocked annoying mood was paying off.  The trip had started to take its toll on the king and he was becoming rather crabby once again, so Duo had taken it upon himself to make the other boy lighten up a little.

Heero rolled his eyes in a gesture of annoyance, but chuckled in good nature at his companion’s constant pleas for food.  He flicked one of the fish off of the spit and onto a piece of bark, handing it to Duo.  The thief took it with a word of thanks and took a huge bite of the fish, only to gasp, eyes watering, and cough viciously as he reached for his canteen.

“Hot!  HOT!” Duo yelped, chugging water for an absurd amount of time before stopping, with a choking gasp.  “Hot.”  Inwardly he prided himself on one of the best bits of acting he’d ever done.  Nobody ever needed to know that he could regulate the temperature of food he was eating.  It might make people wonder.

The three others boggled at him before breaking into soft, hesitant laughter.  Duo, in constant good nature, laughed along with them.

Soon enough, they all had eaten part of the fish.  Heero looked at the two chunks of fish left on the spit and cast a glance around the clearing, looking for Trowa and Quatre.

“They left,” Wufei said, seeing Heero’s gaze and interpreting it correctly.  “Before we even started cooking.  Dhan says they went in that direction,” the ‘bound said, pointing, “but they were rather secretive about it, so they probably want to be left alone.”

Duo raised an eyebrow and chuckled.  The others favored him with a reproving glance, and then went back to eating their fish.

Shortly after they’d finished their dinner, Wufei looked up at the sky, then across at the quick bedrolls they’d brought with them.  “I’d say it’s about time to get to bed, if we’re going to set out early tomorrow,” he offered.  “We’ll set that heat-spell.”

Heero nodded and banked the fire as the two ‘bounds circled the camp with packages of fire-sand, a deep sand that glimmered all the colors of fire.  The special sand came from Zarisnia and Azzirika, and it allowed those without magic to cast heat-spells, which came in handy sometimes.  After that, the two made their way over to their bedrolls.  Heero grabbed his own on the other side of the fire and unrolled it on the ground, climbing in among the layers of cloth.  It was open on both sides and he tucked them in hurriedly before the cold got in.

Duo walked over and set up his own bedroll next to Heero’s.  He climbed in and then cast a pitiful glance at the king.  Heero chuckled and motioned for Duo to combine their bedrolls, which the thief did.

Between the combined bedroll and the heat-spell, Heero and Duo kept rather warm that night.

-~-

The next morning, Duo woke to find himself hopelessly tangled in the blankets.  It appeared that Heero had exited the bedroll sometime earlier that morning, and in the general havoc such an exit caused, had somehow managed to wrap Duo up like a corpse. 

Duo frowned as he jerked and tugged at the blankets, and finally managed to free himself, just in time to see Heero pouring glasses of tea and dishing up bowls of rice for Wufei and Meiran…and to see Trowa and Quatre look up groggily from the bedroll they were sharing.

Duo smirked at that as he staggered over to the fire and collected tea and rice for himself.  He made a face at the odd breakfast fare, but the three people before him were eating it quite happily, so he figured it probably wasn’t that bad.  He supposed he’d have to get used to it, because with only six people traveling, it was likely he’d eat this more often than thick porridge and fruit, which was his standard breakfast choice and what he made when he cooked breakfast for the group. 

Trowa and Quatre staggered over a bit later and after the travelers had eaten their breakfast, they explained the most relevant events of the night before.  Heero frowned, but decided to move on, and try and find a way back to the hideous garden at a later date.

The other five nodded and started to break camp.

-~-

The travelers arrived at the town of Pine Ring a day later, in the evening.  Quatre had predicted that a vicious storm would blow in during the night, so the travelers opted to rent rooms in the local inn rather than risk spending another night outside.

As Heero and Wufei went inside to negotiate rooms, the others remained outside to admire the scenery.  A ring of gigantic, ancient pine trees surrounded the town, rooted thickly with magic.  The trees provided the town with resin and wood from fallen branches, which in turn were just as large as many normal trees themselves, and also with protection from the brunt of storms, much like the one Quatre was predicting.  Soon, Heero and Wufei came out and told their friends that they’d managed to get three rooms.  The respective pairs each took a room and settled their gear.  Heero, Duo, Quatre and Trowa then stabled their horses, though Dhan and Dhati preferred to rest inside the ring, near the bases of two of the gigantic trees.  The townspeople didn’t protest; one rarely protested a dragon’s actions, after all.

After getting settled in, Duo elected that they go try and find the site of the show-troupe they’d seen posters for around the Inn.  The others agreed, and they set off.

-~-

Catherine, a star member of the show-troupe, ran from cart to cart, busy and worried.  Things weren’t going according to plan tonight, and she was getting more frazzled by the minute.

“Cat, something’s wrong!” a boy said, running up to her with an anxious face.

“What is it, Timmy?” she asked him as she tipped some seeds into the cage where they kept the show-doves.

“Tommy’s come down with a cold!  He’s not going to be able to do the act!” the boy said anxiously.  Catherine froze and whirled to glare at the small boy.

“Is he just faking again?  If I have to remind him one more time that the LAST time we had to get a replacement we had three injuries, I’ll…well…” she sighed and turned away.  “He’s not faking, is he?”

“No ma’am,” Timmy replied.

“Get a healer then!” Catherine replied, but regretted it the moment she said it.

“Not enough money for that,” Timmy replied in a sad, anxious voice.

Catherine sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.  This was the last thing they needed; the animals they kept were cutting into all the money they had, and they desperately needed to put on the act Catherine—and Tommy—were employed in.

“Excuse me, do you happen to need someone for a knife act?  Or a trapeze act?” a voice said from the back door.

Catherine froze and spun, staring at what she believed to be an apparition.  There was absolutely no chance whatsoever that a person meeting the criteria needed for the act would show up on her doorstep—

--and yet here he was.

“You have experience?” she found herself asking. 

“Plenty,” he said, “I was in a troupe as a child.”

“Perfect!” she whispered.  “Well, we’ll see what we can do for you…” she replied, as nonchalantly as she dared.  She gave the boy a quick once-over; he was tall and thin, with odd hair, and dressed in the traveling clothes of a beastmage.  None of that mattered, because her hopes had come true.

“Here, lemme tell you about the act.  If you can do it tonight…” her voice trailed off as she began explaining the act to the boy before her.

-~-

Duo looked around in curiosity as they walked.  “Hey, where did Trowa go?”

“Oh, he had something to take care of, he said,” Quatre explained.  “Something about hearing a few doves ask for help or something of that nature.”

“Hm…” Duo muttered.

Just then the group arrived at the stage area for the show-troupe and took seats on a few hastily constructed benches.  Almost as soon as they’d managed to get settled in, the clearing went dark under a mage’s power.

Suddenly, a spotlight lit up the figure of a woman, dressed in a long crimson-colored dress made of some sort of slightly sparkly material.  As she moved, the magelight threw sparks off of the dress, catching the general eye of the viewers. 

“Greetings!” she shouted, her voice amplified by magic.  “I welcome you to this performance of the famous Roving Show-Troupe of the Western Coast of Marenia!  Tonight we have a special treat for you, and we hope you enjoy it!” she said.  With that, she dipped a curtsy, and another light lit up, this time on a tall, thin boy dressed in a jester’s outfit, complete from the tip of his pointed shoes to the half-mask and the jingling bells on his multi-pointed hat.  The travelers compressed a mutual gasp of surprise.

“It’s Trowa!” Quatre said needlessly.

With that said, the act begun.

Catherine turned to look at Trowa, and then tossed a knife up in the air.  When she caught it, it magically seemed to separate into five different knives.  She slipped another knife from a hidden wrist-sheath into her other hand and struck a throwing pose even as a target sprang up behind Trowa, willed into being by magic.

He didn’t move.

She took one step forward and threw the lone knife; it hit the wood with a dull smack as it embedded itself just a few inches from his head.

She tossed a knife to her free hand and threw again, this time missing the boy’s head by less than an inch.  Two more knives followed, lodging near enough to Trowa’s head to make the crowd gasp.

Catherine misjudged the last knife, however, though why, nobody could fathom.  The blade flew straight at Trowa’s chest and Quatre felt his heart leap into his throat.  Fortunately, Trowa managed to dodge enough so that the knife only nicked his side and did not cause a fatal injury.

The crowd gasped in a mix of awe and terror.  They’d never seen anyone move that fast—ever.  It defied logic, and only Heero knew the truth of the matter as he braced a magically drained Duo against his shoulder.  What had proved to be the act of the century was extremely quick thinking on Duo’s part—thoughts born of street life. 

Trowa bowed low, taking off his ludicrous cap and tossing it into the crowd.  A group of young girls near the front caught it and immediately cheered for the brave young jester.  Catherine, lost for plans, succumbed to Trowa’s; he called out the troupe’s animals and they ran among the crowds, never harming them, doing exactly as they’d been told.  The younger children at first shrieked in fright to see a lion amongst themselves, but when they realized that he was being tamed, they actually grew friendly towards the large cat.  While Catherine had never seen the large lion particularly civil, he was now purring like a large, spoiled cat as children reached out to stroke his mane.

The evening ended well, and when it was over, Quatre sought out Trowa.  He found him at the back, returning his clothing to Catherine and getting back his own blue and gold tunic. 

“Trowa, you were great!” he exulted.  “Are you okay?  Were you injured badly?”

Trowa nearly laughed.  “No, I’m fine.  Catherine, this is one of the friends I was telling you about—Quatre, this is where I went.  She needed help.”

Catherine froze.  Obviously the boy was a close friend, and if he held a grudge against her for the near fatal knife-throw—well, he was wearing the green and gold of a naturemage, and he’d have every plant in miles on her, if that were the case.  However, her fears were calmed when Quatre held out a hand with a smile.

“Nice to meet you, Catherine,” he said, offering her a small smile.

“Same for you, Quatre.  I’m—I’m sorry about the knife, Trowa.  I don’t know what happened,” she said hastily.

“It’s okay, I have a feeling we’ll find out the truth of the matter sooner or later,” Trowa said.  “Right now, I’d better get going.”

“I can’t convince you to stay and work for me?” she half-joked.  They really could use someone like Trowa.

“No, I’m afraid I can’t.  I worked in a troupe when I was young but it’s not the kind of life I choose,” Trowa explained.

“It’s a pity,” Catherine said, “We used to have a talented young boy in this troupe, but we lost him in the forest near Port Lunos.”

Only Quatre noticed the way Trowa tensed slightly. 

“Really?” the naturemage inquired politely.

“Yes.  In fact,” she said, in a musing tone, “now that I think about it, he was a lot like you, Trowa!”

Trowa and Quatre, not quite sure what to say, smiled and made a hasty retreat.

-~-

“So,” Wufei said, sitting in the common room of the inn with a map stretched across the table that was shared by the other travelers minus Duo, “we’re heading for Fief Nangana, then?”

“Yes,” Heero said, “they’ve always supplied us with wood, some jewels from the mines, and mostly metal ore and animal pelts.  They should be able to shelter us for a few days at least, if need be; after all, I am the king.”

“A point well made,” Meiran added, “what kind of animal pelts?”

“Bears, wolves, and deer for the most part, with the occasional fox, badger, or raccoon,” Heero rattled off.

“A nice selection.  Dhan and Dhati will be able to eat well there,” Meiran said approvingly.

“About time.  Dhan’s getting picky again,” Wufei said irritably, “sometimes there’s no dealing with him when he’s like that.”

“Well, back to the matters at hand,” Quatre said gently, “we really should get to bed as early as we can, because that way, we’ll be warmer!”

Trowa chuckled and whispered something in Quatre’s ear.  The smaller boy blushed a fine red color and the others laughed.

“It’s a good idea.  I need to check on Duo anyway,” Heero put in, and then vanished.  Quatre and Trowa followed him soon, and Wufei and Meiran stayed behind only to put up the maps.

Heero walked quietly into the room he shared with Duo and closed the door with the art of a thief—or at least a king trying his best to be quiet.  Nevertheless, Duo looked up as he walked in and smiled.

“Feeling any better?” Heero asked, walking to the fireplace and pouring out a cup of willowbark tea before walking over to the bedside.

“Ugh, Bright AND Dark, please no more of that accursed tea.  The stuff’s so bitter I can barely stomach it,” Duo complained upon seeing the cup.

“If you can complain, I take it you’re getting better.  Furthermore, the tea will help with your headaches.  I still can’t see why that much effort drained you so, though,” Heero said, all but forcing the cup into Duo’s hands.

Duo took the tea reluctantly and began sipping.  “Well, I have a theory on that.  Whatever mage misguided Catherine’s knife--”

“A mage misguided Catherine’s knife?” Heero asked.  “How?  Rather, how do you know this and why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

“Well, maybe because it felt that the war god was doing his best to crack my skull open with his axe!” Duo said.  “And as for your other question, I sensed it.  Even a basicmage like myself can sense most normal magic when it’s being used and that knife was surrounded with the reek of magic.”

Heero frowned and nodded for the thief to continue.

“Anyway, my theory is that the same mage that magicked the knife put up a shield to avoid Trowa ducking, and it took all of my power to wrench that shield off AND shove him aside enough.  In truth, I meant to plain knock him over—a few bruises is better than a chest wound, after all,” Duo concluded, taking a sip of his tea.  He shuddered immediately.  “Gods, but that stuff’s nasty.”

Heero nodded and stripped down to a plain shirt and pants, hanging his outer tunic and winter cloak over the back of a chair, then climbed into the bed next to Duo.  The thief put the teacup, now empty, onto the small table on his side of the bed, then concentrated and doused the candles with his magic.  Heero looked at him in alarm—or as much of him as he could see in the flickering firelight.

“Duo, you shouldn’t have done that,” Heero warned.

Duo chuckled.  “Well, didn’t hurt me s’much as I can see,” he said in as cheerful a manner as he could manage.  Heero reached out and pulled him closer and the two soon fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

-~-

The next morning they awoke to the howling sound of wind and the constant, steady swish of snow.  It was also abominably cold in the room despite the fireplace, and Heero got up, not without some reluctance, to throw another log on the fire and attempt to get the room warmed up.

“Guess Quatre was right,” Duo said with a sigh.

Heero soon had the room as warm as he could get it, and Duo struggled out of bed, a bit stiff from magic-backlash, and into warm winter clothing, for he and Heero had stable duty that morning.

Duo regretted the choice even before they got out the door.  They stopped to beg breakfast from the only maid in the kitchen; she promptly handed over two mugs of near-boiling chocolate to drink, and rough sandwiches made from toasted bread and strips of cut meat.  As soon as they’d eaten, she ordered them out.

They made their way out into the swirling white; though the ring of trees did block the worst of the snow, plenty of it still got through.  They were never more glad that there was a wall around the inn yard, and that the stable was nearby.  They stumbled into the building, well heated by horses, and breathed twin sighs of relief as they began to take care of the animals.

Heero got a shock as he opened the top door of Shadow’s stall to give the horse his grain, for scattered among the straw of Shadow’s stall were long, black feathers.

“Duo…” he said, slowly, “Shadow’s a winged one?”

Duo looked over, a slightly alarmed look on his face, and then nodded.  “I kinda forget,” he said apologetically.  “He’s the only black one in the world.”

Heero looked back into the black horse’s stall at those sleek black sides, and no visible wings.  It frustrated him to no end—feathers dropped, but why couldn’t they see the wings?

An agitated snort from inches in front of his face brought his attention back to Shadow—and his apparent hunger.

-~-

The next morning, the group set out for Fief Nangana.  They left early, but were thankful for the fact that the road-care men, who rose earlier even than they, had taken care of the snow on the roads already.  The hooves of their horses broke through only a thin crust, if any, now.  However, despite the rather good condition of the roads, it would still take them several days to reach Nangana.

-~-

Meanwhile, at the aforementioned Fief, peril was brewing.

“That upstart young half-breed,” an elegant lady snarled.  She flipped her long black hair over her shoulder, and then looked at the nearby mage.  “He doesn’t deserve to be on the throne, much less even be regarded as a member of nobility.  Did you know that he’s left Maren City?  Not only that, rumor says he’s hanging on to some unranked thief.  Such a relationship is just out of line for anyone that’s even PRETENDING to call himself nobility.  Can’t you do anything?”

“Well, milady, the sources say that he’s coming in this direction—he may even stop here,” the mage provided.

“Excellent!” the Lady of Nangana said exultantly.  “I must prepare at once.”

With that, she turned and left.

-~-

Three days later, the travelers rode into the courtyard of Nangana’s castle.  The place was ringed in snowy forests and small groups of houses.  The dragons flew off immediately to hunt for food.

“Welcome, King Heero!” they heard a voice say.  Soon, the source became visible; an elegant noble lady clothed in a long, warm dress of exquisite blue material. 

“Lady Nangana!” Heero called back.  To her, his voice was perfectly presentable, but to his friends, who were accustomed to reading his moods, his voice held a touch of dislike.

“You’re all well, aren’t you?  What do you require?  Food?  Lodging?” she asked, her voice sweet, but so sweet it was cloying.  It was an unpleasant voice.

“Lodging, just for one night, though,” Heero said simply.

“Then you shall have it, my lord king,” she said, with a smile.  A few guards collected their baggage as hostlers led the horses away.  The same guards led them to the rooms they’d be using.

The travelers settled in with no clue of what was to happen.

-~-

It was later that night that disaster struck.

It was vague and hazy at first, and occurred just when they’d finished eating dinner.  Each one felt a vague sense of unease that persisted like an itch in their bones.

Unable to place the feeling, Duo walked back up to his room and gathered all of his and Heero’s most important belongings into one pack in case of disaster, for the last time he’d felt like this, Solo had been murdered.

Heero stayed to talk to a noble mage, while keeping a lookout for anything out of the ordinary.  Quatre and Trowa walked outside, uneasy, while Wufei and Meiran walked through the main hall.

Then it all happened.

Archers with crossbows and longbows leapt from their places on the battlements and began raining bolts and arrows at Quatre and Trowa.  Without a single real thought, Trowa called all four horses from the stable, and they had the good sense to grab their saddlebags in their teeth before running out.  Trowa swung up onto Trick’s back and reached out to grab Quatre’s hand even as the horse ran.  Quatre grabbed Trowa’s arm and swung up behind him as the mare galloped full-tilt for the gate.  Trowa felt two arrows hit their mark in his leg and still more thud into the thick leather of the armor he now wore constantly underneath his tunic.  Trick thundered out of the castle, followed closely by Legend. 

“Trowa!” Quatre shouted.  “What about King Heero and the others?  We can’t leave them behind!”

“They’ll meet up with us!” Trowa said.  “Heero, Wufei, and I discussed this!”

Quatre sobered at that even as the two horses ran full-tilt into the forest, vanishing among the trees.

Wufei and Meiran were the next to know; armed warriors raced for them from alcoves in the hall.  Both pulled long, curved sabers from their belts and started slicing and slashing for all they were worth.  They felled many more than hit them, and as they did so, worked their way towards the door.  They soon reached it and ran outside, only to be peppered with crossbow bolts.  Just then, Dhan swooped from the sky like a black comet and landed with a crash, arrows bouncing off of his scales like so much rain.  Wufei and Meiran leapt onto his back gratefully and he flapped up into the sky to join Dhati.

Duo knew of the disaster as soon as he heard the telltale sound of crossbows from outside his window, the very sound that still haunted his most fevered nightmares.  His throat constricted and he instantly grabbed the pack containing his and the king’s most important possessions, as well as Heero’s bow and quiver and his own scythe and ran for the last place he’d seen Heero, only to find the King in a desperate swordfight in the middle of the great hall.

“Heero!” he shouted.  As he shouted, a loud neigh rang through the hall like a string of bells and Shadow raced in, kicking like the trained warhorse he was.  His hooves crushed skulls like melons; blood ran thick onto the carpet as the black horse ran closer. 

Duo braced himself, and once Shadow was in range, leapt onto his back.  He scrambled to stay on without a saddle and finally got a seat on the slick back.  Shadow’s saddlebags hung from a leather strap, which the horse had clutched tightly in his teeth.  Duo grabbed onto his mane, and balanced his pack as best he could as the horse ran across the carpets and stone towards Heero.

“Heero!” he shouted once again.  The king didn’t turn; that was good.  He needed to concentrate on the fight.  Duo got closer, and closer, and at the last second whipped out his scythe and used the sheer length of the pole arm to fell several enemies within its range.  He reached out an arm and Heero grabbed it, coming to rest behind Duo on Shadow’s back.  With that, the horse turned, surprisingly graceful, and galloped back out of the hall.  As soon as they reached the outside, they knew they were in trouble.

The archers had been warned this time and bolts and arrows alike flew down like a deadly rain.  Tsubasa neighed and ran to join her master and the other winged one.  The sheer speed of the horses thwarted many projectiles, and some sort of shield deflected many, though just as many lodged themselves in the armor of the escapees.  Finally, one arrow found its mark.

Duo was leaning as far over Shadow’s neck as he could manage when he felt, rather than heard, Heero’s half-strangled gasp of pain and the subsequent loosening of one arm’s grip.  Duo immediately grabbed both of Heero’s arms in one of his own and hung on to his horse’s mane with a single arm.  They ran out of the castle and into the forest, and just as soon realized they were lost.

“Tsubasa!” Duo shouted, getting the white horse’s attention and drawing her over.  They stuck together until Duo was sure they were out of immediate danger.  Only then did he stop.

He climbed down and pulled Heero down onto the find the king pale and shaking—and suffering from an arrow lodged in his shoulder.

Duo swore as he tore away that part of Heero’s tunic and looked at the wound.  He didn’t know what kind of arrowheads they’d been using, that was the main problem.  He gently tugged at the thing; it didn’t budge, and Heero started sweating in pain.  He wriggled it from side to side then tried pulling it out, to no avail; Heero choked in agony even as Duo deducted that it must be a barbed arrowhead.

“Gods…” Duo whispered.  He closed his eyes, saying a silent prayer to every god he believed in, and then lit a small fire.

Shadow walked over to stand by Duo and whickered next to his ear as Duo took one of his smallest daggers and heated it in the flames.  At the same time, the thief prepared a mixture of herbs and water and forced it down Heero’s throat.  The king’s glazed eyes closed in sleep soon, and Duo finally removed the dagger in order to do his gory duty.

Silently, with the steady hands that had made him an excellent pickpocket, he cut into Heero’s shoulder.  He felt sick at doing it, and cut only far enough to pry loose the arrow.  When it was over, he threw the gory mess away, wiped off his dagger and tied up the wound as best he could, moving away from the king and the horses to empty the contents of his stomach before returning, only to collapse next to Heero as the two winged ones hovered nearby, concerned.

Almost at once, Duo felt memories resurfacing, ones he hadn’t thought of in a long time.

-~-

It was afternoon, and the children left over from the gang were playing in the yards of the temple of the four great gods.  Soon enough, Helen, one of the sisters of the temple, walked out and called for them to come back inside before it got too late.

Just then, one of the little girls that had been in the gang tripped and fell out of the tree she’d been climbing down out of—and broke her arm.  All of them crowded around, and even though Duo tried to heal her, he couldn’t.

Later, after the temple healers had seen to her, Duo approached Helen to ask why he hadn’t been able to use his magical gift to heal the girl, since normal healers could, and did.  She sat him down and started talking.

“Duo, little one, your gift is mostly good for battle and what you used to work as, which was a thief, am I correct?”  When he nodded, she continued.

“With gifts like yours that work that way, you can only really heal someone if you give up part of your energy to do so.  With normal healers, they just give up magic.  But you must use your body’s own resources to bolster theirs until they’re better again.”

“I’d do that for Chrissa…” he said stubbornly.

“That’s just the thing, young Duo,” she said, a bit sadly.  “It has to be the one person you truly love.”

-~-

At the time, he hadn’t understood.  Now he did, all too well.  He leaned over Heero and gently laid himself across the top of the other boy.  Heero was stock-still, barely breathing, and pale.  The snow, which had gone unnoticed to Duo until now, was chilling him rapidly.  Cursing his own idiocy, he cast a heat-spell as the winged ones circled the small area.

-~-

Heero was walking through a world of darkness.  He rather thought that the afterlife would be nicer than this—unless, of course, he was going to one of the hells, which was a possibility.  Just then, he saw light flash ahead and felt his wings spring out unbidden.  Startled, and more than a little frightened, he flapped his wings and flew upwards towards the light.

He was nearly there when another winged figure dropped down to block his progress.  The figure was lean and strong, but not terribly old; his light brown hair that faded to blonde and sapphire eyes gave him away. 

“Father…” Heero choked out.

The late Terrence of Marenia chuckled slightly as he saw the naked surprise in his son’s eyes, and flapped towards him.

“Heero, my son, now’s not your time.  You have to go back,” he told his son.

“No…it hurts…” he said.

“Life will hurt, but you’ve got someone there to help you,” Terrence assured him.  Another figure dropped down as well, this time a woman with long, perfectly black hair and somber grey eyes.  The late Sakura of Marenia turned to look at her son.

“Heero…don’t…it is not yet your time,” she said.

“Mother…” he said, turning to face her.

-~-

Tsubasa suddenly whinnied in an odd manner.  Duo looked up in alarm and he saw that she was facing Heero and pawing at his good shoulder—and even more startling, filmy, see-through, misty wings were appearing from her back.  Almost afraid of what he’d see, he turned to look at Shadow, and found that those same foggy wings were visibly sprouting from his own horse’s back.

He turned to face Heero and saw that his breathing was becoming irregular and that the boy was obviously succumbing to something.  The arrow might have been poisoned—the very thought was awful, but very likely.  Duo slowly gave himself up and hoped that what he was going to try would work.

He sank deep into the pool of his own mind, a deep, calm sanctuary of black, dark purple, dark blue, and other somber colors.  He tugged at a link deep in his mind that he hadn’t even known was there that glowed a brilliant gold.  The answering tug was weak and barely detectable—his hunch was right.  This was his bond with Heero.

Not understanding half the things he was seeing, Duo mentally flew along the tie and into Heero’s mind.  Everything was fading here—memories, sights, sounds, and the colors that had dominated Heero’s mind fading slightly.  He saw them leaking off somewhere and followed, sensing only that he should do so—

--and fell into a void.

-~-

Heero was more than astonished when a filmy outline of Duo, wings spread, appeared beside him.  He was terrified.  He didn’t want Duo to die, and thought so fervently. 

Duo opened his eyes and saw Heero’s dim outline to his left—and ahead of him, two other figures.  Right now, Heero was the important thing.  He turned to the king and sent waves of love and reassurance at him, bolstering him with the pure feel of life and tugging him back towards their bodies.

Heero felt the tugs and felt a sensation of overwhelming pain.  He didn’t want to go back, but he didn’t want to give up Duo either.  At last, he decided that pain and Duo was better than no pain without Duo, and with a last apologetic glance at his parents, vanished with his friend.

-~-

Duo immediately sent some of his health into Heero and felt himself grow weak, nauseous, and pained.  Heero woke up and saw his friend draped across him, looking the worse for wear, and not caring about the stabbing, horrendous pain in his shoulder.

“Duo?” he croaked.

“Heero…” Duo said, rather weakly.  He managed to move off of Heero and lie beside him.  “You had me worried…”

“Shh…I’m back, and I’m not going to give up as easily this time,” Heero assured his friend.  Just then, he happened to look up, and his eyes widened in shock.

“Duo…” he said.

“What?” Duo asked.

“Look…” Heero said, raising his good arm to point.

Duo looked up and was greeted with the sight of Shadow and Tsubasa standing above them, black and white wings fully spread and sheltering them from the night, and from their own fears.



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