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Trickster's Quest - Chapter 4
Abduction and Revelation
Part 2



The next morning, the group awoke and packed everything in record time.  Quatre checked the map, and then cast a naturemage spell; it was a little known fact that most desert navigators were naturemages of some sort, which was probably how Quatre had received the power.  Confident in his powers to guide them and not get lost, Quatre guided Legend to the front of the line.  Heero didn’t argue.  He was busy tying Shadow’s bridle to the back of Tsubasa’s saddle.  Evidently the black winged one had tried to sneak off in the night and only a little quick thinking by Tsubasa and a timely tackle by Heero had kept Duo’s horse where he needed to be.  The king felt an obligation to bring Duo’s horse to him safely, but Shadow just wanted to find his master on his own.  The end result was a stalemate—and many attempted bites.

Relena and her three bodyguards were at the rear of the line.  Besides Hilde, there was Noin, the head bodyguard, and Sally, a Healer, but a fine fighter in her own right.

The group soon set out, plunging through the desert sands at a steady pace, the dragons flying overhead with their ‘bounds on their backs.

-~-

As the group passed through the desert, and inched their way southward, Duo felt his bond with Heero growing thicker by tiny bits.  It still wasn’t thick enough to talk through, or he would have; instead, he mentally wrapped it around his wrist and through his hand, hanging on for dear life.

He needed it; he was still being tortured, and he had to keep his mind strong even if his body deteriorated.

-~-

Heero, meanwhile, became more withdrawn than ever as he felt more pain leaking through the now-thicker tie with Duo.  They finally arrived within sight of the oasis a week after starting on their journey.  Quatre glanced down at the tents and let a strangled cry slip from his throat before kicking Legend into a trot, sending the palomino stallion down the dunes and kicking up sand.

Suddenly, something past expectation happened; three men on fine desert horses seemed to rise out of the sand.  With a shout, Quatre wheeled Legend to one side, barely managing to avoid injury.  The three men glared at him, and he hunkered a bit as the others moved to catch up.

The largest of the three men guided his horse until it was only a few steps from Quatre’s.  Trowa and Heero, quick as ever, moved to their friend’s sides, making their own comfortable barrier of three…six, when you counted the two wolves and Ni.  The men didn’t seem fazed by the brave Marenian animals, but instead focused their attentions on the humans.

“Who are you and what brings you to this place?” the largest asked imposingly.  Quatre stared at him for a second, despite the glare, as if trying to work something out.  “Well, speak up, we haven’t all—” the man began again.

“Rashid?” Quatre asked quietly.  “Is that right?  Did I get your name right?”

The man—Rashid—stopped talking immediately, and looked as if he’d seen a ghost.  Quatre threw back his hood for good measure, and all three of the men took a step back.  One of the others managed to speak, then.

“It’s young Master Quatre!” he said wonderingly.

“Master Quatre…you have returned at last…” Rashid said wonderingly.

The others stirred around uneasily, and the dragons coasted in, landing neatly and folding their wings as they did so.  Wufei and Meiran stepped over, frowning, obviously thinking there was trouble.

Quatre decided action was in order, so turned to his friends.  “I’ve failed to introduce you!  These are three of the Maguanacs, loyal desert troopers that help out my family.  Abdul, Ahmad, and Rashid,” he said, pointing to each one in turn.  He then turned to the Maguanacs.  “These are my friends, King Heero of Marenia, Trowa the Beastmage, Chang Wufei Sha-n-ro and Chang Meiran Sha-ti-reh, the dragons Dha-n-ro and Dha-ti-reh, Princess Relena of the sword islands, the Chief Bodyguard Noin, the Bodyguard Hilde, the Healer Sally, and last but not least, the two wolves Toki and Meko and the cougar Ni-hat-cha.”

The Maguanacs, to say the least, looked slightly taken aback.  Finally, then turned to each other and nodded.  Rashid turned back to the group.

“Master Quatre, any friends of yours are friends of ours.  Forgive us our negligence, and follow us; we will lead you to your father’s tent, assuming that is where you wish to go.”

“Yes, please,” Quatre said, and motioned for the others to follow as the Maguanacs moved away.  They did so, only the dragons remaining behind.

-~-

The Maguanacs showed Quatre which tent was his fathers, then led the others to tents they could stay in while they remained at the oasis.  All but Heero went to rest for a while—he followed Quatre.

The king and the naturemage walked into the tent and found Master Winner lying on a pallet, surrounded by several of his daughters—some of Quatre’s sisters.  Quatre gave a strangled cry and rushed over, kneeling beside the pallet.  “Father!” he cried.

The man turned his head, slightly pained, and looked at his son curiously.  “My only son, you’ve returned…and after so long,” the man said, in an odd, implacable tone of voice.

“Yes, father,” Quatre said, his tone of voice hopeful.

“You’re too late,” his father replied bitterly and half-turned away.  Heero, as he could sense it when they were children, and hadn’t sensed it in a long time, he knew Quatre’s heart was breaking: as much was evident in his tone of voice.

“Father…?” Quatre whispered pitifully.  It was almost a whimper.

Heero couldn’t stand it; perhaps because of the long years of friendship, perhaps because of his new compassion, but he wasn’t arguing with it.  He glared at the back of the old Master Winner’s neck and let the finely controlled battle voice take over his normal one.

“Master Winner, your son has returned to you after years of absence.  It was not his fault that he could not return sooner.  He has been in Marenia.”

Quatre looked at Heero, a bit startled, but grateful.

“Marenia!” the older man said wonderingly.  He turned back to the two and looked at his son.

“Yes, father.  A maid took me there when I was very young,” Quatre said.

The older man closed his eyes.  “Then I am thankful that you made it here at all.  I am glad to see you again, my son, and glad to learn that you did not desert me.  Is there anything you need assistance with?”

“We’re trying to reach the old Trickster’s Temple,” Quatre explained.

“Why?  That’s a place filled with evil!” his father exclaimed.

“Yes, but one of our friends is being held there against his will and we have to rescue him,” Quatre said, his tone urgent.

The old Master Winner sighed.  “Then all I can do is give you some guides for your trip—ten of the Maguanacs, a map, and my blessing, as well as lodging for as long as you need it and provisions.”  He sounded somewhat defeated.

“Oh, thank you, father!” Quatre said.  “It’s really more than we could have hoped for.  We’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

-~-

Later that afternoon, after the group had been resting for some time, Relena got up and went out to take care of her horse.  He was a sturdy paint gelding, dependable and true, and though he tried his hardest, he needed extra care in the desert.  She’d fed him and rubbed him down before going to bed, as any decent owner would, but now she took a comb and worked through his mane and tail, and checked his hooves for rocks or other injuries.

The work was soothing, but it still didn’t erase the worry of the past days from her mind.  She was worried about Duo.  It was true that she hadn’t known him very well, but she still felt concern for him—in her conversations with him while they were all still at Port Lunos, she had found him to be humorous and kind, not caring that she had once been unfairly betrothed to Heero.  That was good, because even she had felt bad about that.  Still further, Duo had proved to be a good match for Heero, which was all she could hope for.  She knew that Heero didn’t like her, and, unlike some of the court beauties that would chase a target even after they’d been dissuaded, she knew when to stop.

“Princess Relena?” a sharp voice asked, breaking into her thoughts and driving them away.  She looked in the direction that it had issued from and saw Wufei standing in front of a tent.  Packing away her horse’s comb and brush, she tied him back up with the others before walking over to the ‘bound.

“What is it?” she asked quietly.

“They’ve decided our next stop.  I thought that you might like to hear,” Wufei said blandly, holding the tent flap open for her.

Curious, Relena ducked and stepped inside.  She immediately saw how crowded the small tent was, with piles of tack, jars, rugs, coils of rope, and stacks and rolls of paper.  The number of people inside didn’t help the congested feeling; in fact it only made it worse.  It was packed near to overflowing with Trowa, Quatre, two strange women, and one of the Maguanacs. Meiran, who Relena missed at first, proved to be barely visible in a corner.  Relena located a bit of space next to Trowa and situated herself there after her one good look around.

Quatre looked up from his position on Trowa’s other side.  “Princess Relena,” he started, “Wufei found you? I’m glad.  You have a right to know where we’re going.”

Relena leaned in a bit, finding it hard to distinguish the fine details of the map in the low light.  Finally she gave up trying to find out their destination for herself and turned to Quatre.

“So, where are we going?” she asked.

“The Death Dunes,” Quatre told her.  Seeing—and interpreting—the look on her face, he continued hastily.  “They’re not haunted or anything.  It’s an area where rivers join, one of the few well-irrigated major agricultural areas in the country.”

“So…why that name?” Relena asked.  “It would seem to be the opposite.”

“Well, it’s said that a brave explorer died there and that his death helped to fertilize the land and create a new place for Zarisnians to live,” Quatre explained.

“Ah, I see.  That’s similar to the stories behind Jenaro’s Fort from the Sword Islands or the Lake of Maidens in Marenia,” Relena commented.  She paused for a moment, and then went on.  “When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow,” a stern voice said from the tent’s opening.  It was Heero.  Those that couldn’t see him turned to look.  He was unusually pale, which only accentuated the fact that his clothing was covered in wet sand and his face smeared with a bit of the same stuff.

“Sir king,” one of the unknown women in the tent said hesitantly, “perhaps you should not have tried to swim in the watering pond we use for the animals.  There are better ponds…”

“I didn’t try to swim,” he said, interrupting as gently as he could.  “My horse knocked me in.”

Trowa was treated to a breakdown of just what had happened by Tsubasa, who put it into his head for him to see.  Heero had led her to the pond to get a drink, and while he was sitting there, staring off into the water, she’d simply knocked him into the shallows.

-I thought he needed to cool off!- was all that she said in her defense.

-~-

Later that night, Quatre was still sitting in his family’s main tent, talking to one of his sisters.  She was the youngest daughter, older only than him.  Her name was Ismatar.

His father had taken several wives to have as many children as he did; Quatre knew it for a fact, and didn’t resent it, such things were common in this country.  In any case, his mother had been his father’s last wife; he had never remarried after Quatre’s mother died.  Ismatar was one of her three children, along with Quatre, of course, and another sister.  She looked a lot like the lone son, sharing his paler-than-sand hair and ocean-colored eyes.

“You came back at last,” she said quietly.  “I barely remembered you.  You were so young.”

Quatre shifted slightly.  “Ismatar,” he began, “who was the servant that carried me away?”

“I don’t know,” she replied truthfully.  “Perhaps if you could describe her…”

“I can’t remember much,” he said quietly, trying his best to drag up the memories.  “She was tall, and had dark hair—black hair, and brown eyes—she had a kind smile.  Her robe was black—and embroidered…that’s all I can remember.”

Ismatar looked puzzled.  “I don’t remember us ever having any servants that fit that description,” she said.  “In fact, it almost sounds like the description of one of our country’s goddesses!  Maybe she was a saint or something.”  The girl paused, and then turned to Quatre, inquiring something.  “Did she say anything to you?”

“Well, I can’t remember much,” Quatre began apologetically, “but it seems like she said something about a cougar and a jackal, fooling people…”

Ismatar looked thoughtful.  She looked at the tent floor, then at her brother again.  “What do you think it means?”

“I’m not sure.  I don’t much want to think about it,” Quatre said, feeling a bit baffled at it all.

“Then you’d better go get some sleep—if you start at the dawn, you’ll be tired anyway.  There’s no excuse for you to be even more tired,” his sister told him in a tone that booked no argument.  He smiled, hugged her, and then left the tent, shivering slightly at the nighttime chill as he walked to Trowa’s tent.

-~-

Duo was, at that moment, undergoing another partial healing.  The healer shoved aside her natural compassion and urge to care out of fear of Zerixco, and left him stranded, not even bothering to prop him up after she was done.

The thief felt no better after the healing; it only served to make his senses sharp once again, which allowed the pain to assail him once more.  Perhaps that was one of the reasons Zerixco made them do it.  However, he had that thread of light and life wrapped around his wrist and wouldn’t let go anytime soon if he could help it.

Zerixco, who had been watching, scowled angrily.  All the torture and all the blood, the bruises, the battering, the slashes and cuts, and his spirit still hadn’t broken.  There was also the matter of the unnatural tattoos that stretched across the boy’s chest and arms.  Despite numerous lacerations, these remained whole, almost as if those parts of Duo’s body were made of silver and not of flesh.  The emperor wished, with a fierce and animalistic hatred, that he could rip them away, leaving the boy totally dull and unornamented.  They’d left him his braid, but dipped it in his own blood, a terrible testament and a painful mockery of how the hair had once been.

Angered beyond normal bounds, the emperor walked over, reached down, and grabbed Duo’s upper left arm, right over the tattoos.  The thief made no move to deter the emperor.  Zerixco smirked and shot heat, hot enough to melt and forge metal, into Duo’s arm, until the skin should have been burned beyond recognition.

It wasn’t.  The silver tattoo turned red, boiling, forge-hot cherry red—as if leeching away the heat.  None of it touched Duo’s skin.  Zerixco jerked his hand away, glaring.  He didn’t like that.

“I’ll cut those away with a knife, mark my words,” he threatened boldly as he left.

Duo didn’t smile; he was beyond smiling.  But he did feel a little bit better.

-~-

Heero, alone in the tent provided to him by the Winners, tossed and turned with disagreeable dreams.  He dropped into a dreamscape, and watched events play before him like magic; things he’d seen before, but now he was looking at himself as he looked at others.

At first, he was watching his seven-year-old self, just a few months after the death of his parents.  He remembered it well; this was when his training had begun in earnest, and he watched his younger self going through that same training.

As if from far away, he heard voices: his own, so young, and the answering tone, much deeper, of the Archmages’ weapons-trainer, Odin.

“Odin,” he heard himself asking, “why do you work for that mage?  He’s mean, and you’re pretty nice.”

He could suddenly recall everything about that day and everything was thrown into sharper, crisper detail; he could see sakura petals drifting from his mother’s prized trees, the very detail of bricks and stones, the dirt, and the two figures; himself, and Odin.  The older man’s sword was propped against one of the benches that dotted the practice yards at irregular intervals as its owner took a drink of water from a waterskin.  His younger self was holding his practice sword as he glanced curiously at the weapons-trainer.

“It’s an obligation…a promise made to him,” Odin said, a bit stiffly.

“That’s one promise I’d want to break!” his younger self exclaimed.

Suddenly the scene faded into blackness, and another one appeared slowly.  This was a vision of a dark alley, with shadows flitting around—the very stuff of children’s nightmares.  Yet, there were children here, ignoring the horrific surroundings, probably because they had been raised in such.  They were clothed in rags and crouched low to the ground, conferring in hushed voices.  There were only four, yet Heero was compelled to see their faces, so he crept forward on ghost feet, not afraid of startling the children.  After all, this was only a dream.

Finally he got close enough to make out some of their features, and called upon a passive level of his magic to allow better night vision.  That did the rest.  He could see it all, and even in color.

There were three boys and one girl.  The girl had black hair and scared blue eyes; the three boys all looked different, too—so this wasn’t a family, at least in the biological sense.  One had red hair, cut short and close to his head, and bright, bright green eyes.  The second had hair the color of straw, cut in a less neat style than the redheaded boy’s hair, and rich brown colored eyes.  The last boy—

--the last boy had brown hair that ran over his shoulders in a cascade, and Heero knew without looking that his eyes, if they were visible to him, would be a deep violet-blue.  It was Duo, without a doubt: a younger Duo, so this was one of Duo’s memories.

“We hit that merchant’s shop up on the Street of Snakes,” the blond boy said, “an’ that filthy thieving potioner’s moneybags!”

“That’s enough for GOOD bread, Solo!” the younger Duo said happily.  “No more of the burnt throw-outs, we can actually afford…at least half a loaf…”

“Yeah, it’ll be great!” the redheaded boy put in.

Heero felt vaguely sick.  Good bread? He’d never had want for anything to eat, even when training; meat, vegetables, bread, yes, and even dessert!  He’d known that Duo had known a rough life, but such little things were sometimes so shocking.

Suddenly, the small vision of Duo turned to look at him, and Heero could almost swear that he smiled and mouthed ‘don’t worry about it.’

At that moment, the crossbow bolt hit Solo.

The girl shrieked, leapt to her feet, and ran like a thing possessed; the redhead followed suit.  Duo turned immediately, looking up and around, but couldn’t spot the archer.  Just as Heero could have sworn he’d heard Quatre’s heart breaking earlier that day, he knew he heard Duo’s heart breaking now.  The little thief hurried over to his friend, but Solo was fading fast.  He whispered something into Duo’s ear, and the other boy started crying as his companion’s eyes shut forever.  Duo awkwardly half-hugged Solo’s body to his own, as if unwilling to give up his friend, and spoke, his voice full of pain.

“All right, then, I’ll be Duo, for the both of us!” he said, managing to pile rubble over his friend’s body before he totally broke down.

-~-

Heero woke up with a start, tormented by pain and Duo’s tears.  Even now, he felt the torture-pain leaking in, steadily, alleviated none, but as he felt that pain, he also felt as if Duo’s heart was beating along with his, even from so far away.

It comforted him slightly, and allowed him to drift off to sleep again.

No more dreams came.

-~-

The next day at dawn, the travelers started for the Death Dunes.  Five Maguanacs led the way, with five more behind, eliminating Quatre, Toki, Meko, and Ni’s previous jobs.  The wolves and cougar didn’t quite know what to make of this, so stayed close to Quatre, who now rode beside Trowa.  The beastmage now felt guilty about allowing them to come, even if they had been adamant about it.

Quatre, in turn, felt sad that he was leaving his family, if only for a while, and yet good about being on the way to search for Duo once again.  The sooner they found him, the better!

-~-

Just five days later, they arrived at the Death Dunes.  There were merchants everywhere, hoping to gain business from the travelers that stopped at the fertile dunes to reprovision.

“Coolvine!” one shouted.  “Perfect for desert travel, and a bargain at five silver a packet!”

“Robes!  Fine desert cloth!  Only three gold each!”

“Three gold?!  That’s ROBBERY!” Hilde exclaimed.  The others laughed, in agreement with her.

They bought supplies from reasonable dealers and pitched their tents a few dunes away from the hustle and bustle, immediately gathering around a map to discuss their next stop.

The Maguanacs placed map-marks in two places on the map.  One was much further than the other, and to get there alive, they’d need to buy ridiculous amounts of supplies.  Heero looked at them, then at the map.  “Why did you mark two places?”

They hesitated before pointing to the nearer one.  “This one is…theoretically…the next best stop…but it’s haunted.”

There was a long pause.  Heero was silent, and then finally spoke up.  “Let’s go there anyway.”

The Maguanacs exchanged uneasy looks before they agreed, and then only with hesitation.  The group then settled back around the fire to eat and talk about other matters.

-~-

True to his threat, Zerixco did try to cut off Duo’s tattoos.  He brought in a knife, held up Duo’s left arm, and cut.  Or tried to, for when he touched the blade to Duo’s skin, the tattoo turned red-hot again, as it had when Zerixco tried to melt Duo’s arm off, and transferred the angry fire into the knife.

The emperor dropped the knife, and it melted into a shapeless lump on the dungeon floor.  He backed away quickly, slamming the door shut and locking it.

Duo didn’t smile, but did gather up the rope, much thicker now, and wrap it all the way around his arm.

-~-

That night, dreams took Heero again, and this time, there were no dreams of his own memories—they were all Duo’s.  He watched as Duo was taken to the temple orphanage, his back torn, but his wings thankfully hidden; as he went back to a life of thievery after the sisters of the temple were killed, as he underwent trials and labors beyond naming and beyond comprehension to become the King of Thieves.

At last, it ended, and Heero felt himself suspended in the dreamscape, expecting to wake up any second, when he heard his name.

Hear was a weak word; he heard it, but he also felt it; said as it was, it tore at his heart, befuddled his mind, and he instantly knew it was Duo saying his name.  Perhaps everything was magnified in this place.  In any case, he knew it was coming from behind him, so he turned.

There was Duo, floating as he was in this confusing place.  His ‘body’ was really more a projection of his spirit, but Heero saw his form easily.  The edges of it were faded and looked torn—sort of frayed, as if his spirit was wearing down.

“Duo…” he said quietly.  The thief shivered as he heard his name, probably in the same way Heero had heard his.

“We can talk when we’re both asleep,” Duo said, drifting forward.  He looked over Heero and smiled, sadly.  “You don’t look too good, sir king.”

“I don’t look good?  Duo…” Heero choked at that, and reached across the gap, brushing one of his hands against the side of Duo’s face.  In a moment, he felt the thief’s hands covering his.

That was all it took.  Heero hugged Duo tightly at that, and he felt their spirits knitting back together at the edges, and even slightly together.  Neither one minded.

At last, they found themselves being tugged back into wakefulness.  As a reassurance, Heero leaned in and whispered a few words to Duo.  “We’re coming as fast as we can.  Just hold on.”

With that, they woke up.

-~-

Heero awoke suddenly and found it a good bit past daybreak, with the promise of terrible desert heat already hanging in the air.  He quickly threw aside the top covers of his bedroll and stumbled out, planning to ask someone why he’d been woken up so late.  It didn’t occur to him that he might have gotten angry if they’d actually managed to wake him up earlier.

However, they were gone; their packs were left behind, their bedrolls hastily vacated.  He pulled on his boots and tunic and walked out of the tent.  Just as he stepped out, one of the merchants came running past.  He reached out and grabbed the man’s elbow.

“What’s going on?” Heero asked.  “Why are you running, and where is everybody?”

“Demons!  The Undead have risen!” the man shrieked, and jerked his arm out of Heero’s grasp, running away as quickly as he could.  Heero, alarmed, grabbed his sword and bow from the tent, then ran out and swung up onto Tsubasa’s back, untying her quickly.  He untied Shadow as well, having heard Duo say that he’d been trained as a warhorse, and hoped that he’d follow.

He did.  Tsubasa galloped quickly and Shadow was right on her heels, when suddenly she jumped over the last dune…

…and horror spread out before them.

Below them, people fought corpses, rotting and not, and skeletons, animated and hideous.  The dragons were doing their best, but had been beset upon by the skeletons of gryphons.  Unlike the gryphons they’d faced in the war, which had been given proper burials, these were somewhat crushed, but they weren’t letting it stop them.

Thinking fast, Tsubasa spread her wings and kicked off, flying up before diving down and cracking apart corpses with well-placed kicks.  Shadow followed suit.  Once she flew near Trowa and Quatre, and Heero leapt down to join them.

It was a messy battle.  The people around them hacked the undead and the skeletons into pieces so that they couldn’t move any more, much less fight; it seemed to be the only way to deal with them, and there were scores of them.  Heero drew an arrow, called upon his magical powers, and fired.  It hit one of the corpses and encased it in ice.  A second later, the ice turned into acid, melting it away.  The king kept firing off these arrows, feeling his unnatural magic dwindling more and more with each shot.  By the time the fighting was drawing to a close, Heero’s silver tattoos had turned a dull grey color and felt like lead.  He was glad then for the chance that they had to sit back and rest, as the dragons were doing a mop-up job.

“What happened?” Heero asked.

“A necromancer’s spell got out of control,” Trowa told him. 

“We tried to wake you up, but you wouldn’t wake up!” Quatre added.

“I see,” Heero said, somehow unsatisfied with the answer, but feeling in no position to disprove it.  “Where are Relena and the others?”

“Oh, down by the pools,” Quatre said blandly, wondering how general he could get before Heero questioned in greater detail.

To his surprise, the king nodded, accepted the answer, and left.

-~-

Duo awoke and tried to smile, but found that he couldn’t; scabs, scratches and open sores lined one side of his face, and the other was covered in bruises.

His spirits fell a bit at that, for his friends had always described him as going into anything dangerous ‘grinning like the Trickster.’  The fact that he couldn’t made him feel a bit defeated.

“Not totally true.  I don’t grin much like that at all,” a slightly ethereal voice said from nearby.  Duo looked up just as the cell was flooded with magelight, and blinked several times, unused to the level of brightness.  In any case, he was able to make out the features of the person before him.

The thief was instantly shocked at how much they looked alike—sure, the face of the unknown person was narrower, overall he was a bit taller, and his hair shorter, but it was still pulled into a braid.  It was also red, but not carrot-red, more of a dark auburn.  His eyes proved to be blue.

“Awfully quiet, aren’t we, little son of death,” the man said bemusedly.  “Tired and injured, I presume?”

“Who are you?” Duo said, his voice odd sounding.  He hadn’t spoken in a while…

“Why, I’m hurt!  I’m the Trickster,” he said, grinning.

“You’re the Trickster?” Duo asked, eyes widening.

“Why, none other,” the jest-god replied, leaning against the wall.  “Then you, of course, would have to be Duo de-Maxwell, the King of Thieves.”

“That’d be me,” Duo said, seeing no point whatsoever in lying.  “What do you want with me?”

“I just want to have a little chat, is that so wrong?  Not getting to talk to my nephew…I have a proposition to make for you, actually,” he told Duo.  “You’re in pain, wasting away, dying—albeit slowly—of your injuries.”

“What does that have to do with anything?  And what do you mean, your nephew?” Duo asked.

“Ahh, they’re related!  You see, you are a blood relation of mine, even though you’re…mortal,” the god said with a hint of dislike in his voice.  “But not all mortal.  You have god-blood in you, and that changes things.”

Duo felt as if his heart had stopped.  “What?”

“You didn’t know?  Oh yes, you are an orphan.  Let me explain.  Your mother was one of the Shadow-god’s mortal wives.  I can see the family resemblance in you, and I imagine you saw it in me.  Dear old Shadow is my brother.”

The Shadow-god…the god of death’s dealings!  Duo’s blood ran cold.  He was frightened, but forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand.  “What’s that proposition?” he asked.

The Trickster chuckled.  “Straight and to the point, hm?  Well, here it is, then.  You’re nearly dead, and your father is giving you a choice.  You can renounce life as a human and become a minor god, or stay here, take your chances, roll the dice, which has no guarantees.”

“Do I even NEED to answer?” Duo asked, in a fury.  Leave Heero behind?

“Take your time and think it over.  You don’t have to answer right away…you might change your mind yet,” the Trickster said.  He paused, and then said something else quietly.  “Solo is waiting for you.”

Duo, shocked, tried to answer, but the Trickster was already gone.



On to Chapter 5
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