It wasn’t until later that night that Heero finally managed to catch up with Duo, and that was only because the boy had stopped to create camp. By the time he landed, Duo had cleared away the snow and had a good fire going, where he roasted some left over meat from a few rabbits he’d shot the previous day.
Heero landed and vaulted off of Tsubasa’s back, using only one arm. He wobbled his way over to the fire, a bit dizzy both from traveling with an injury and from the rather turbulent flight he’d so recently been on.
“Here, sit down until your stomach settles,” Duo advised, slapping the ground next to him. He’d managed to clear away an area with some dead dried grass underneath it, so as not to churn up a mucky mire of mud.
Heero sat, rubbing his injured shoulder absently as he watched the crackling flames. He heard Duo chuckling and looked over.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s just—no, never mind,” Duo said, frowning a bit and prodding a piece of rabbit meat to see if it was cooked well enough yet.
“No, tell me,” Heero said.
“Fine. I was just thinking about how much you’ve changed since I met you,” Duo said. “When I first met you, you were impossible. You weren’t so bad that first night, but it’s probably because you were injured and then half-drunk. The next time you showed up on my doorstep, I was ready to call you evil. You glared, you were mean,” at this Duo mimicked sobbing into a handkerchief, “you called me funny names, you pulled my hair, and worst of all,” he paused dramatically, “you bet against me with the young thieves!” with this, the thief king shook his head in a mock dramatic manner. “Truly awful, I say.”
Heero chuckled slightly. “I admit I was pretty bad, but who was I to know better? From the day my parents died I was trained to be a militaristic king, to rule my people fairly, but knowing how to fight. My parents preferred a peaceful rule, but…” Heero paused, realizing something didn’t quite compute. “…they vanished, that one training master and the old mage. I never thought about it, until now. Where did they go? They know a lot about my training…”
Duo looked at Heero in alarm. “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner? That’s a potential danger! What if they defected to Zarisnia?”
Heero sobered greatly.
“Look, I’ve made you all evil and quiet again,” Duo said. “Let’s worry about that when we have to, but for now…” Duo said, lowering his voice suggestively and half-tricking Heero. When the king turned to look at him, Duo laughed and held out a piece of rabbit meat on a stick. “Let’s eat!”
Heero rolled his eyes and took the meat, biting into it gratefully. It wasn’t the best, but it was much better than it could have been. After all, they could have been eating tree bark, or something equally nasty.
After they finished eating, Duo spread out the blankets as Heero banked the fire. The king climbed into the blankets alongside Duo and the two snuggled up.
Heero glanced into Duo’s face, barely visible in the dim firelight. “I’m glad you decided to save me,” he murmured sleepily, “you make life interesting.”
Duo was touched, and gently brushed Heero’s bangs out of his eyes. The two soon fell asleep.
Dhan and Dhati were out flying by moonlight, trying to catch some large fish out of the ocean, something neither one of them were particularly good at, but tried anyway, simply for the sport of things.
That was when they spotted the boat. The banners and markings were of two crossed swords and a pike of gold on a green field.
-Where’s that from?- Dhan asked. Like Wufei, he’d never bothered to learn court markings outside of Marenia’s and Zarisnia’s.
-Sword Islands,- Dhati replied calmly. She took a closer look, then backwinged. –We really should go tell Wufei and Meiran.-
-Yes,- Dhan said, flying back towards Port Lunos. Dhati followed.
The next day, Quatre and Trowa left the Tower of Truth, Legend and Trick tacked up in fine blue and silver gear. They had food aplenty in their packs and warm bedrolls to sleep in, all thanks to Sylvia.
“You will come back and see me, right?” she asked. “It gets really lonely out here.”
“I promise,” Quatre said. “We have the map you gave us, so we can’t miss!”
“And even if you didn’t have it, YOU could find it any day, since you’ve been here now,” she said. She waved them off with a smile.
Toki looked up at Quatre as they left the tower, and Quatre dropped him a piece of pastry, a human treat he’d become rather fond of.
“If you keep eating those, you’re going to get fat,” Quatre warned the wolf. Toki just shook his head and grinned.
“You’ve spoiled him,” Trowa said with a smile.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Quatre said, as if offended.
With that, the boys rode on. Three days later, they arrived outside Port Lunos, to find Wufei waiting for them.
“Wufei!” Quatre shouted, guiding Legend over to the ‘bound. “How are you? Is Meiran okay? Is King Heero here yet?”
“I’m fine, yes, and no,” Wufei replied.
“I think he may be soon,” Trowa said blandly. Quatre looked at the beastmage in confusion and Trowa pointed slightly to the northeast of the path they’d been on.
The naturemage gasped, for there were two figures flying through the air—two HORSES! The winged ones were flying! Their wings were visible, and they were flying! Quatre, still on Legend’s back, sent the horse into a gallop to meet up with the two boys. Toki followed along, barking sharply.
Duo leapt off of Shadow’s back before the horse even landed, but Heero waited until Tsubasa was fully still before vaulting off of her back. Trowa rode up, and Wufei followed, and the five didn’t notice that they’d gathered a crowd as they greeted each other.
“King Heero! I was worried,” Quatre said.
“I’m fine, don’t worry,” Heero said.
“Then what about your arm?” Trowa pointed out.
“I helped with that!” Duo piped up.
“QUIET!” Wufei said loudly. “We need to--”
“Excuse me for interrupting,” a female voice said, “but I would like to speak with the king.”
The boys split apart and gasped at what they saw. It was a female unicorn, with a coat that glimmered a twisting shimmery blue color, and a long horn with one single blue stripe running from tip and curling along with the horn all the way to its base.
“I am Ayahreen Moonlight, the Princess of the Unicorns,” she explained simply. “King Heero,” she said, taking three steps forward and driving her horn into Heero’s shoulder—more specifically, into his wound.
Duo’s eyes widened in shock; so did Quatre’s. Both Trowa and Wufei looked on in baffled confusion.
Ayahreen stepped back and removed her horn from Heero’s shoulder. The shirt wasn’t even torn, and there was no blood on the point of her horn.
Heero flexed his arm, moving it perfectly. The unicorn had healed his wound.
“King Heero,” Ayahreen repeated. “My father wishes to speak with you, and I came to offer an invitation to speak with him this afternoon, one candlemark after noonday.”
“I accept this invitation. I will be there,” Heero promised.
Ayahreen nodded and left, her hooves clicking on the stones.
The crowd cast looks at the king, ones of admiration, and a few of awe at the winged ones. Finally they dispersed, and Wufei nodded to the four.
“I’ll show you to the inn,” he said simply.
Heero and Duo chose to lead Tsubasa and Shadow because of the lack of tack, and children gazed at the procession in wonder as they passed. It wasn’t often you saw two horses with wings, Duo mused. Hell, if his life had progressed normally, he would have bet that he’d never see even one.
“How long until noonday?” Heero asked Wufei.
“Just about one and a half candlemarks,” the ‘bound replied. Finally they arrived at the inn, which appeared to be a nice establishment. They procured two more rooms and stowed away their things before cleaning up. Then they met in the common room downstairs to eat the noonday meal.
“I can’t wait,” Duo said, in between huge bites of what he considered to be ‘real food at last’, “to see the unicorn king. You are going to let me go with you, right, Heero?”
Heero hadn’t really planned on it, but due to the boy’s almost begging tone, he found no readily able way to refuse. “Of course I am. I need someone to carry my shield, after all,” he said.
Quatre exchanged a look with Trowa. Both of them knew quite well that Heero had just made that up, and both thought it hilarious.
The boys all finished their meal and said hello to Meiran, who was on her way down the stairs when they finished. She had decided to eat a late noonday after looking over some charts and maps.
Heero pulled on thin silvery plate armor, for appearance more than anything, and the armguards Duo had given him. He belted on his sword and settled the crown on his head, feeling it slide into place as if it was part of his head, rather than a separate thing. It was somewhat unnerving.
Duo dressed in black from collar to toe, adding the royal crest necklace as his only ornament. Heero nodded in approval and handed him the shield, resplendently blue with its silver cougar rampant.
“Let’s go,” Heero said simply.
With that, the two boys exited the inn and made their way to the tree-lined tunnel that lead to the unicorn’s court. They were led inside by a guard unicorn whose coat glinted with a pale jade color, and down the long halls of trees.
The trees that grew around them were of all kinds, but mostly deciduous, and growing as if it were summer, not winter. This baffled Heero—and Duo—for not even snow was underfoot. In fact, it was rather warm inside. They decided that it must be some special kind of Unicorn magic.
They soon arrived in the largest area, which had rooms partitioned off by tree trunks and vines. It was a mysterious place, full of the shimmering silver of unicorn coats and the low, hushed, musical murmurs of their voices. The guard led them to a dais at one end of the area, on which stood a large unicorn with a dark maroon haze drifting mysteriously over his silvery coat. This must be the king.
He was two hands again higher than normal unicorns, a tall and powerful creature. Besides the maroon coat, he had bright green intelligent eyes and a horn that was twisted maroon and black, with no white visible. That in itself was rare.
Heero unlatched his sword, scabbard and all, from his belt, and placed it before him, kneeling. Duo laid down the shield next to Heero and crouched behind him.
“Welcome,” the unicorn king said. “Why do you crouch before me like a lost servant? We are kings, and should be equals, so let us talk as such. Stand.”
Heero stood, gathering up his sword. Duo took up the shield once again.
“I am King Epyon, and I welcome you to the court of the unicorns,” the unicorn said formally. “Shall we go to a more private area where we may discuss matters better?”
“That would be excellent,” Heero said, nodding.
“Follow me,” Epyon told them, walking off. They followed and he led them down a hall and into a room with a thick bed of leaves on the floor and shelves filled with various things.
“Why have you come to Port Lunos? It must be important,” Epyon said, settling down on the leaves.
“Are you aware that there is a great deal of magicpure underneath here?” Heero inquired.
“We knew of it, but were not aware that anyone else did,” the unicorn said with a sign. “Is it Zarisnia?”
“Yes. We have come here, with the crown, to try and contain the magicpure. Understand that we’re not going to try and take it away, we’re only trying to protect it,” Heero said. “I’m more worried about you and the unicorns, for legend says if your court is damaged, you fall as well.”
“It’s true,” Epyon said. “It has happened in the past and the results are catastrophic.”
“We simply want to prevent this sort of thing,” Heero said.
“There’s no need to explain yourself to me. I give you my leave—and blessing—to perform this duty…but be aware that if you make mistakes, I shall not be so lenient in the future. This is of course mutually beneficent to both of us, but you are being watched. I am allowing you to do it by grace and my trust in the late King Terrence,” Epyon explained sternly.
Heero nodded—it was reasonable. “Thank you,” he said.
“I am afraid to admit that I have some business to attend to,” Epyon said apologetically, “but if you wish we can meet again some other day.”
“I understand,” Heero assured the unicorn. “We’ll take our leave now. And thank you for your support.”
The unicorn nodded as the boys left.
They arrived back at the inn shortly, and Meiran was waiting for them.
“Wufei said to tell you that he’s out on guard duty—and I have something to tell you,” she said.
Just then, she was interrupted by a clatter of hooves on cobblestone. Both boys whirled, and Heero’s eyes widened at what he saw.
It was a girl with hair the color of honey and large blue eyes, wearing a long riding tunic, shirt, and breeches with the Sword Islands insignia embroidered onto them. She reined in her horse, a fine paint mare, and hopped off.
“Heero!” she shouted, walking quickly across the courtyard. Heero started fidgeting, something Duo had never seen him do before. He was amazed.
“Princess Relena,” he said grudgingly when she was close enough to hear him.
“Heero, I heard from my brother that you were going to be here,” she said, “and that it was dangerous. So I brought some help for you. Some of the royal bodyguards, in case you need some help.” She said, though her comments about the bodyguards were rather bitter.
Heero blinked. “Thank you,” he said.
Relena looked from Heero to Duo and back again. “Who’s this?”
“It’s Duo,” Heero said quickly. He then went a bit further, as if trying to cover tracks. “He’s my lover.”
Duo blushed bright red at that and his eyes opened wide. Heero was obviously shocked when Relena only laughed and grinned at Heero.
“Well, I’m glad you finally found someone. I’d personally like to apologize for my behavior three years ago,” she told him.
Heero blinked again.
“No, no, it’s okay,” he finally managed to say.
“Well, I’ll be on the Sword Islands ship out at the docks, if you need to get in touch with me about anything,” Relena told him. She walked over to her horse, mounted up again, and was away before Heero really realized what had happened.
Then, he allowed himself to be escorted inside by Duo.
Later that evening, Duo finally managed to get the whole story out of Heero.
“One of the councilmembers said I should be betrothed, and he invited her to Maren City,” Heero said. “This was about three years ago. She was the only one that came to Maren City, thankfully. She was bad enough.”
Duo could remember, now, the colorful processions, and watching them with a few thieves from on top of a building.
“She finally left. It appears she’s grown up,” Heero said thoughtfully.
Duo led Heero upstairs, to their room. He soon had the door locked, and the boys pursued certain nighttime activities.
Hey, it helped keep Heero’s mind off things, that was all the excuse Duo needed.
Relena stood on the deck of the Sword Islander ship, looking out at the waves, the brilliant sunset, and the stars as they appeared one by one.
“Princess Relena,” one of her bodyguards said from a position against the mast, “perhaps you should go belowdecks now, it’s getting late.”
“Noin, I’ll be fine,” Relena said absently. She was wondering about her brother’s welfare mostly, and the safety of both her country and the country of Marenia. No longer did thoughts of chasing Heero entertain her as they once had—she was now a devoted ruler and cared deeply about affairs of state.
Noin sighed and leaned back against the mast once again, ready to protect her young charge if need be.
The next day, Heero and Duo stumbled downstairs about noon, but nobody said anything. Trowa and Quatre watched their descent, shared a look, and said no more.
“Here,” Wufei said, pushing plates of food at Heero and Duo when they got to the table. “Eat.”
Heero and Duo obliged and dug into the food quite happily.
“We should start figuring out how to use the crown,” Heero said.
“I think it’s instinctive,” Quatre said, choosing his words carefully. “But we can practice. Come on.”
With that, the six friends walked outside to practice, after collecting the crown from Heero and Duo’s room.
What they didn’t know was something very vital.
The crown had to have a catalyst of magic.
And Heero didn’t have a spark of mage-talent in his body.
Two weeks later, they were starting to figure out that something was wrong. None of their attempts worked, and they couldn’t blame it on anything else. The mood grew tense and worried. Heero started giving up meals to try and figure out how to work the crown, and grew thinner and thinner until Duo started forcing him to eat. It wasn’t pleasant.
Then, tragedy struck. Two unicorn foals were killed, and their nursemaid babbled on and on about a huge bird, but didn’t make much sense. However, since nobody in the area would intentionally harm a unicorn, it pointed to one thing, and one thing only.
There were gryphons lurking about, and nobody saw them.
Heero was almost frantic by this time and he went for long periods doing nothing but staring at the crown, as if gazing at the sapphires and silver could make it work. Nothing worked.
Finally, something happened, but it wasn’t good. The sun was blotted out—by gryphons. They swirled, hundreds of them, and arranged themselves over the bay, one big one dropping a note down to the wall around the castle. Heero, who had been moved there for fear of attacks, stood on the battlements with Duo, and picked it up as it dropped.
“Surrender by sundown or die,” the note said simply.
“Never,” Duo whispered, pulling him into a fierce hug. “Please say never.”
Heero thought of nothing else. He shredded the note, and Duo turned it into a cyclone of flame-flowers that he sent towards the gryphons.
Then, the battle was joined in earnest.
Ni raced through the streets, barely an hour after the battle had begun. Trowa and Quatre had immediately grabbed their things and now ran towards the port wall to defend from there. She was running ahead as a guard for the two mages.
The boys followed, mounted up on their horses and in plate armor that glimmered in the colors of their magic powers—storm blue for Trowa and glittering green for Quatre. Each one’s head looked bare but circlets could be seen on their foreheads beneath their hair, almost as if grown into the skin—one made of animal bones and teeth for Trowa and one made of thin ivy for Quatre. Although each boy’s head looked unprotected, the circlets would protect them as well as full metal helms could.
They reached the wall and raced up onto it. The battle before them raged wild; archers fired into the seething mass of gryphons, hitting a target almost every time. The two dragons flew again and again into the mass, tearing apart at huge swathes of the creatures until they fell, only to be swept away to sea.
Finally, the gryphons managed to work both of the dragons to one end, and pressed forward on the other side—just what Quatre had hoped for. He put out one hand, palm towards the advancing gryphons, and pushed. A strong gale flew to his command and hit the gryphons forcibly, fouling their wings and knocking them together into one great screeching mass of creatures. Many fell, and the dragons twisted to the sides, Dhan making for the chaos and leaving the other side to Dhati.
Heero stood with the archers, firing off shots of his own. They aimed at the gryphons, unprotected as they were, rather than their humans.
One of the gryphons even landed and his human began a dance-spell. The man leapt nimbly to the four directions, then threw up his arms, swung one hand in a circle and made the dance-spell symbol for fog. It swept in, fast and thick, meant to blind the defenders.
Quatre was having none of it. He found the offender and knocked him off the cliff with a strong gale, then threw a cyclone at the fog. It collected the mist and dispersed it, grabbing a few gryphons as well.
As the battle continued, it seemed that it would last forever.
Barely two weeks later, the Zarisnian ground troops arrived. They swarmed from ships onto the beach, threatening to overtake the defenses at every turn. Heero had called for the army, but only part of the forces had made it—the rest were scattered around the country and couldn’t be contacted easily. Still, his couriers tried.
The unicorns fought now, gouging men with their horns and tossing them, the crimson blood flowing over their hair and making them look like sick parodies of zebras for as long as it lasted.
Slowly, the weight of the Zarisnians began to push the defenders back—bit by bit—oh so slowly. It was painful to watch brave men—and a few unicorns—die each day, with more and more passing as the days wore on.
Exhaustion had settled in; without fresh troops, or the crown’s aid, Zarisnia would soon take the port.
Zechs and Treize arrived, and helped for a while, but after a time—that seemed far too short—even the most arcane of their spells made only weak dents in the forces. It appeared that everybody was weakening from this.
One day, Heero was sitting on the battlements, eating a bowl of semi-warm stew, shoveling the overcooked meat and vegetables down. He couldn’t be picky, and it was nearly his turn to fight. Suddenly he noticed someone crawling towards him.
It was Duo.
He greeted the thief wearily, and Duo glanced at the king; his friend, who had always been thin, was little more now than a skeleton; his skin was stretched tight over his cheekbones, giving him a haunted—and ailed—look.
Duo knew his friend was both.
“Heero,” he whispered, “I think I might have found a way to use the crown.”
Heero’s entire attention was focused on the thief instantly. Duo swallowed.
“It’s not for certain…but…”
“Let’s give it a try,” Heero said.
“All right,” Duo said, walking away. Heero sat there for what seemed like hours. Later he was told that it was less than fifteen minutes. Duo returned with the crown and an odd earthenware bottle, as long as Heero’s arm from wrist to elbow, and twice as thick.
“What’s in the bottle?” Heero asked tiredly.
“That’s for me to know, and you to find out. Soon, though,” Duo said. The thief worked out a shield spell and stood up, glancing over the edge of the battlements for the sole purpose of testing it. He ducked immediately. Twelve arrows flew towards the place he’d just vacated, and bounced off of an invisible wall.
“Perfect,” the braided boy said, standing, and tugging Heero to his feet. The soldiers below fired so many arrows that Heero began to get sick at seeing them bounce off the shield.
Duo placed the crown on Heero’s head with exaggerated flair, watching it settle into place as if it were made for him. It did that always, but never more. Well, if his plan worked…
Duo was going completely on rumor and speculation now, and hoped that all the legends he’d heard bards sing about weren’t just that—legends. He’d always heard that legends were rooted in fact somewhere, and he hoped that the thing he was about to do was one of the facts.
Heero was staring at the arrows, kind of blankly, so Duo pulled the king toward him, a bit roughly. The startled boy looked at him, his blue eyes dulled by exhaustion and pain.
None of that, Duo told himself. He all but leapt forward and kissed the king soundly. He could almost feel the bows dropping from the Zarisnian soldier’s hands, and their blank stares. He had an urge to snicker, but that would mean breaking the kiss, and it was too good to go to waste.
Finally, the two broke apart. Duo grinned lazily.
“C’mon, get your tunic and your shirt off,” Duo said, stripping out of his own tunic and shirt.
Heero looked faintly—horrified? Duo couldn’t place the look.
“Duo, I can understand a kiss, but…” the king began.
Duo couldn’t help it, he broke into peals of laughter at the misunderstanding. “Oh no, it’s just if my experiment works well, I don’t want that nice tunic of yours all torn.”
Heero looked down at the patched tunic. It had patches on its patches. “You’re being sarcastic.”
“Yes, isn’t it wonderful?” Duo said. He finally resorted to jerking the king’s clothes off. The soldiers below stared, slack-jawed.
Duo cast a glance at them, and then turned to Heero with a smirk, even as he pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth. “Let’s give them something to watch, shall we?” With that, he pulled Heero into a fierce hug with one arm, and with the other emptied the contents of the bottle over both of them. “Don’t be scared,” Duo said, even as Heero felt a shock and a chill invade his senses. “It shouldn’t hurt…much.”
Heero wasn’t reassured in the slightest, but he was so near Duo that he felt that nothing could go wrong. Except just then, something did. It began with a tugging; he saw what had been poured over them at last. A liquid that glowed so that it was more like light than liquid, and the brightest silver color he’d ever set eyes on. It was magicpure.
Duo had just doused them with enough magicpure to enchant the whole of the capital city for three years running, that is, if magicpure magic ran out, which it didn’t.
Heero’s wings tore their way from his back in an oddly pleasant sensation; it hurt, but in a way that it was almost nice. Heero dreaded to think about it. Duo’s wings did the same, and suddenly, both boys turned a pure argent color. They looked like two figures cast from silver; the only differences in the coloration were their eyes and the breeches and boots both wore.
After a moment, the silver color faded—mostly. A few silver feathers remained scattered among their wings, as well as intricate silvery patterns crossing their chests and upper arms. The only immediately visible change was almost tattoo-like—a thin silver streak that ran from the outside corners of their eyes straight back to their temples.
Heero was shocked. “Duo, where did you get that magicpure?”
“Oh, something I’ve had ever since I was a kid. Pinched it off some mage in the market,” Duo replied glibly. “By the way, like the new look. It’s even in one of the royal colors.”
Heero rolled his eyes just as he felt the crown pulse to life. It was unexplainable, but he felt it almost hook into his brain, and the feelings he’d had the first time he’d worn it were back, and much more intense. He turned to face the Zarisnians, and saw, with some shock, that he could now see magic.
Duo’s shield was gone, but when a Zarisnian shot an arrow at him, it bounced away from invisible armor.
“Demon!” the soldier shrieked.
Heero reached out with one hand and pointed straight at the man.
“Attempted murder of the king,” he replied, in his most refined royal voice. “The punishment is death.”
With that, the earth opened beneath the man. He felt his legs sink in and screamed as the bones snapped, and continued screaming until the earth reached to his chest and snapped all his ribs, crushing his chest. His scream ended in a gurgle as blood flowed from his mouth down his throat. Soon, the ground completely covered him.
His fellow soldiers backed away from where he’d just stood, making their sign-against-evil first towards his burial place, then towards Heero and Duo, high on the wall.
“NOTHERN DEMONS!” They shrieked, almost as one.
“You have slain unicorns and you have trespassed on Marenian land, fighting without good cause. The punishment is, of course, death,” Duo said calmly.
Heero swept his arm in a neat arc, and all the soldiers sank into the earth. They shrieked, for as long as they could.
“There’s still the gryphons to deal with,” Duo muttered. “Secure the magicpure, I’m going to go hunt one of them. Ought to make a nice midwinter dinner, all stuffed with herbs, hm? Bet it tastes like chicken.”
Heero chuckled as his friend’s rather sick sense of humor and watched him go. He then worked on securing the magicpure.
With the crown’s power, he sank into the ground until he flicked through a variety of sensations all at once. Root-rock-soil-bone-
Focusing on the task at hand, he searched about until he found it—the magicpure, inside a giant crystal, delicate and formed by ages of magicpure condensing into its most solid form. Various versions of that crystal could sell in any mage-market for enough to feed even a fairly well off family for half a year or more. He stared at the crystal and its liquid contents in his mind’s eye and then reached out both hands.
The crystal sang beneath the touch of his phantom self and threatened to pull him in. Instead, he wrapped it in the power of the crown, blinding bands of sapphire light that glittered and glimmered in his mage-sight. When it was done, it appeared as no more than soil and rock to everyone but him. He collapsed behind the battlements and into safety once his work was done, searching for something to reenergize.
Meanwhile, Duo vaulted onto Shadow’s back and guided the winged one outside the port wall. He nudged Shadow gently until the black horse took to the air, and then started hunting for a gryphon.
“Be damned by the trickster,” he muttered to himself. “Where have they all gone to?”
At that very moment, the trickster himself played one of his rare tricks. Evidently he didn’t like Duo swearing with his name much, so simply guided a gryphon to pluck him off of his horse’s back.
Only Dhati saw the abduction, and Shadow of course, but gryphons swarmed Dhati, and Shadow was too far from shore to warn them in time. By the time dragon and winged one reached the defenders, it was too late.
Heero, now recovered, turned towards them, his face unusually quizzical. “Have any of you seen Duo?” he asked.
Meiran stepped forward. “I did,” she said quietly. “King Heero…they’ve got him.”
Heero’s blood froze. “Who has him?” he asked urgently.
“Zarisnia,” she replied, ever so softly.