Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Two Halves: Circles + Chapter 19
Into Darkness

"Are you sure?" Zechs sounded puzzled, as his eyes swept the ruined outer walls of the long-abandoned convent.

Jay started to answer, but G was more practical. With a minimal twitch of his finger, he sent a mage bolt twisting towards the ruins.

It impacted with a solid 'whoomph', taking a wall and part of a building with it.

In the ruins, something stirred.

The fallen bricks and masonry were catapulted aside and several creatures rose from the dusty remains; skeletal corpses, rags of flesh and winding cloth still clinging to withered muscle and apparent bone.

"I was rather afraid of that when you told us that both sides buried many of their soldiers in the convent grounds during the war." G commented, trying to sound flippant and not being very successful at it.

"Yes, the fiend from the circle of Decay is still alive and well, although neither term really applies to him." Jay nibbled the tip of his moustache. The creatures had lined up in the hole formed by G's blast. A quick glance over the ruins showed other signs of movement. The fiends knew they'd been discovered. The forces of the dead, animated by Decay to make a rampart against the living, were no longer trying to hide.

Zechs turned towards his lieutenants and gave a few curt orders. They'd made plans for what they might be facing. The forces circling the abandoned convent were small in number but hand-picked and well-trained, and commanded by grizzled officers from Zechs's first campaign to regain Sanq from the forces of Lin; they knew how to face down demonic hordes and keep men together in the face of the supernatural. The difference this time was that Lin sorcerers were interspersed in their ranks, readying bolts of force and spell wards, facing the common enemy.

"They shouldn't attack." G said, watching the ruins with gleaming eyes. "They're here to defend the location of the breach."

"But if that changes, we can rely on our honourable shaman." Jay snorted. It was carefully planned. If the dead charged, the men were to fall back in good order, defended by the blasts of the sorcerers, to group around the command center where Zechs was currently giving his final orders. In the middle of the organized chaos of incipient battle, Wufei stood before a tripod on which rested a huge metal basin filled with various ingredients. He was concentrating, eyes closed and face tight as he tried to gather himself for the unaccustomed task ahead. Sally stood close behind him, with a torch ready to toss into the basin to light the saltpetre; her other hand was on her sword, and she shot a nasty glare at anyone who looked like they were approaching the oriental man. People were giving them both a very wide and prudent berth after one look at her face.

"We're ready." Zechs said as he came back to the two wizards. His face was set, his eyes were as hard and cold as blue crystal. The warrior-king had his sword unsheathed, and he carried himself like a much younger man, and someone you wouldn't want to meet in battle. He wasn't enjoying himself though. He'd never wanted his peaceful kingdom to ever see war again. And now a battle was beginning in his backyard, only thirty minutes away from the capital. And what was worse...

"Are the boys... ?" He didn't finish his sentence. Jay nodded minutely. Zechs scowled at the walls ahead of him.

"Right men!" He shouted, his voice the confident clarion of battle. "Apparently we have unexpected guests. Let's show them the welcome Sanq reserves for fiends who drop by uninvited."

The men near them roared in approval, swords and bows lifted in salute to their king. Then archers pressed around the firepits, carefully maintained by squires. At a signal from Zechs' sword, a hail of flaming arrows hammered down into the edge of the ruins. Here and there a winding cloth caught fire and a corpse writhed as dried tendons contracted under the heat.

"We'll keep this up for a few minutes, then we'll get you sorcerers to knock down the remaining walls on this side." Zechs told G tightly, eyes on the forces ahead of him. "We'll hammer them until nothing moves in there or until they attack. Then we'll move in a bit and start again."

"Right." G rubbed his fists and flexed his fingers, magefire crackling over them. "That should keep them nice and distracted. It'll be up to the boys to do the rest."

*

The blue light of the teleport portal flickered nervously.

Duo glanced around carefully, giving Heero and his drawn sword room to swing as the prince followed him. Nothing.

"Okay, leave." He told Kelna crisply. She scowled at him and took a hasty step back into the portal. It wasn't customary to have the teleporting mage accompany his or her charges, but Duo still didn't trust his old rival's sister completely. He decided to use her despite that because she was one of the best 'porters in the kingdom. And besides, if things had gone badly wrong at this end he wouldn't have lost too much sleep if something nasty had happened to her.

"Good luck your majesty." Kelna muttered not entirely insincerely and the portal blinked out around her, leaving them alone.

Duo stared at his surroundings. I can't believe we're here again...

"Sounds like they've started." Heero said, his mind as usual firmly where it belonged as he picked up the sounds of the fight in the distance. For once Duo envied this blighted control Jay had inflicted on him.

He couldn't tear his eyes away from the room they were in. The convent had been abandoned shortly after her ladyship's death many years ago; the sisters had left for newly build temples around the kingdom painfully rebuilding itself after nearly a decade of war. It had always seemed strange that the huge grounds and convent buildings had remained both undisturbed and uninhabited... but there was a faint miasma of evil around the place that Duo, a magic user, could sense. Even a non-sorcerer would probably avoid the place on instinct. As such it had remained remarkably undisturbed.

They were in the drawing room of the old, elegant house in the center of the huge grounds, surrounded by a small private park and its own inner walls. They were safely distant from the battle that had started at the convent gates, even if Zech's forces were to advance. And hopefully the enemy at their door would draw out Treize's forces, away from this house.

Duo knew they had to hurry; they couldn't be seen here, they were relying on the element of surprise. Heero knew how to close breaches, and Duo would be there to help him, harmonize their powers if the breach proved too big to deal with alone, and counter anything Treize might throw at him. Or at least that was the plan. They were hoping to get the drop on the demonic ex-king of Lin, close the breach and lock him back into hell before he could react. Speed was of the essence but both of them hesitated in the center of the room.

A few things had been removed but most of it was as it was, covered in dust and cobwebs and beaten in by the passage of years. The heavy black wooden chair she used to sit in as she stared out into space for hours at a time. The rich furnishings, elegant in their antiquity, which her Ladyship had brought with her from her distant land. The low bench against one wall, away from any window or distractions, where two very young children had been forced to sit without moving or making any noise while her ladyship pondered her revenge against Zechs and fate.

I am the sorcerer-king of Lin, Duo thought. I can blow this whole house up with a flick of my finger. I could kill that old hag with less than a thought and with considerable pleasure.

The very young child inside the man was still shuddering and refused to be comforted. Until a familiar hand slid into his.

"Come on, Duo." Heero was also looking around the room, his face hard, eyes gleaming as he scoured the darkness. He glared at the chair as if she were still there, sitting and not bothering to glance their way even once, even though she was the closest they had to family the first five years of their lives.

Duo squeezed the hand in his. He hadn't needed her affection. He had Heero. Always Heero.

"How we gonna find the place?" He whispered, glancing around carefully. "We were lost that time."

"Let's go down to the basement and take it from there. I think once we're near the breach, we can just follow the nasty feeling of having our skin crawl off our bones until we find the source." Heero muttered.

"Why down there?" Duo whispered. He knew he shouldn't be talking but he couldn't help it, he had to hear the sound of his voice shivering the silence in this mausoleum or the memories would rise up and choke him. Everything was haunted with the withered flowers of their childhood. The hallway that led to the study where their simple-minded nurse would take them to get their assigned duties or reprimands on the very few occasions they'd disobeyed her Ladyship. The stairs leading to the small room containing only a cot on which they slept together and spent most of their days in solitude. The kitchen, in which they had some limited form of interaction with their nurse as she cooked for all of them, and babbled nearly meaningless stories about fairies and dragons and mothers and fathers and other mythical creatures.

Heero's hand was on the door to the basement, another room pregnant with unpleasant memories. He glanced back with a quizzical look, not understanding Duo's question.

"Why did you create the bond down there, and not... " not in the study where hard eyes barely looked at them as she told them how they would suffer for talking, or making noise, or not doing their chores, or just because. Why not in the cupboard where she locked them up on a few occasions, and once forgot them for two whole days. Why not in the basement itself where she would make a crying nurse lash their hands with a thin rod, the tears and whimpering of the one person who was kind to them making their own redundant until finally they took all corrections in silence.

"Don't you remember?" Heero whispered reluctantly as he eased the door open and glanced down. The house had been deserted -except for a few very nasty ghosts from their past- and so was the basement.

Duo tried. The four or five times in the basement, where they were lashed and then left to 'reflect', melded into a blur. All he could remember was that once, when they were what, gods, three? Four? Once it had been different.

Heero moved towards the corner where at the time a wooden panel had gaped as one of them had leaned against it. Now the wood was completely rotten away and they didn't need to struggle against it as they had then. It fell away easily to show the hole in which they'd crawled at the time, the one that led down to the convent catacombs.

Heero moved forward prudently, sword ready. Then he moved back out again.

"Dark." He muttered, frustrated.

"I'll go first." A mage could sense his way in the dark.

"No." Heero ground out.

"We can't show a light." Duo hissed back and, before Heero could argue, he'd grabbed his husband's hand and ducked into the hole. And remembered.

"Duo?" Heero tried to keep his alarmed voice quiet.

"It was me... I dragged us down here." Duo tried to get his legs to move, but the memory was overwhelming him. He'd been the one to restlessly wander around the room - he still had his own personality at the time and it was just starting to burgeon. He'd found the hole in the wall. He'd been the one to drag a reluctant Heero through. He...

"I was afraid she'd blame you." Heero's voice was barely a whisper, hand squeezing Duo's. "I thought she would punish you."

It was one of the first things that they remembered; they were always treated the same, never cared for individually, never differentiated. Even when disciplined, it didn't matter which one of them did the wrong thing, they would both be punished as one, as if they were one and the same 'boy', like she always addressed them. But this had been a transgression of the highest order; trying to escape her, trying to run away. Duo remembered ending up lost in a dead-end, huddling near Heero, knowing they wouldn't be able to get out and that she'd find them - they never doubted she would, death by starvation hadn't been considered a possibility by the very young children.

He remembered clutching Heero to him as if they could mash themselves into one boy, someone strong enough to resist her.

"I thought she might separate us. That was the worse thing she could have done. I thought... " Heero's hand squeezed his again, the cobalt blue eyes were full of pain as they caught his. "I didn't want to lose you... "

Of course, if she realized what an atrocious punishment separation was, she probably would have used it once she had found them. She had been very angry... but she didn't know them well enough, didn't care for them enough to even realize what a potent weapon that would be. So she'd just dragged them back up to the surface and locked them in their room for a day. But by then... Duo couldn't remember much about what happened after that. Because Heero, in his panic, had unwittingly used a subtle but strong pulse of power to set up a bond of steel between them that would only grow and strengthen the longer they remained with her.

The rest was a blur. Empty days full of quiet and brooding, with only each other's presence as haven. And then Zechs, and the first few months with him, fighting instinctively against the separation he was trying to impose on them, even as they started to believe in the love and the life he was offering them.

And then she came back. And undid some of the damage she'd caused. Duo found himself grasping his pendant and for the first time in his life he wondered why... remorse? It hardly seemed possible. But even more impossible to believe that she might have cared for them a bit after all.

He shook himself. He could feel the love and comfort flowing from Heero's touch, and it dragged him back to the present. Forget the old witch. And, once this last little mess was cleaned up, they could put their past behind them too and start looking at the future which, if he had anything to say about it, would also be spent together but in much more pleasant circumstances.

Heero must have felt his resolve through their growing bond - a new one, and much healthier than the one that had nearly ruined them in the past - as he smiled and pressed Duo's hand, caressing the back with his thumb, then tilted his chin at the hole.

"Let's do this." Duo muttered. "I can feel the breach from here." He added. As memories were set to rest, he realized that not all the feelings of horror were coming from them. There was a familiar tinge of hate and evil in the air, one he remembered from the Gap of Sevring. "Let's go kick Treize back into Hell, close this godsdamned breach, and then burn this place to the ground. It's giving me the creeps."

"I'll let you toss the match. Or mage bolt. Lead on." Heero whispered behind him as they moved forward into darkness.

[chap. 18] [chap. 20] [back to Maldoror's fic]