Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 12
Sundered, Second Half

Duo tested the magical wards half-heartedly. They were of course as tough as stone. He shrugged. He hadn't expected anything less.

"So, what did you want with me?" He tried to scrounge together some interest. He failed. Septim didn't notice.

"I'll make it short, I have a lot to organize. Twenty years ago, my brother became the leader of Lin. In five years time his reign will end-"

"Treize is dead." Duo snapped. "He's a charcoal smear near the Gap of Sevring on the borders between Lin and Sanq."

"That doesn't affect the length of his reign." Septim sniffed, as if Duo was being stupid. Duo thought that having a dead guy as a ruler was stupider but couldn't even get up the enthusiasm to bait the man. He felt dead inside. He was dead inside.

In fact there was really only one reason he was keeping himself together at that point, and that was the vague hope that Septim might actually be stupid enough to let him go, and then he could try to kill him again. Duo was a twelve-year old boy in body, but his mind had aged years in the last few hours. He knew quite soberly that he really had nothing else left in the world; no home to go to, no Heero to make it all better, no father to help him, no friends to back him up. He had nothing else to live for but death. Septim's death, to start with...

"So you want me for what?" He schooled his voice to sound uncertain, cowed. Duo was a joker, but he had deep undercurrents in his mind and soul that matched Heero's. He'd just never been comfortable with them, or wanted others to see them, so he'd gotten adept at letting a small part of his mind float to the surface and act the merry fool. It hid those other parts from the people around him and they liked him for it. Now that he knew what horrors were lurking in the depths, he felt slightly grateful that at least he'd known that time of joy and innocence. Now, though, that small part of him that most people knew as Duo felt fake, as hollow as a worm-eaten wooden mask. But it would be useful, if he could control it and use it to make Septim drop his guard.

"In a few days," Septim started pompously, "the noble-born children of the houses of Lin will announce their decision to vie to become the new heir to our country. They will be tested over the next few years in trials of magic, strength, leadership, discipline. The best will become the sorcerer-king of Lin, and will lead our armies across Sanq again. And this time we'll be staying!" Septim gave a feral smile.

"This time" Duo countered before he could stop himself "they'll be handing you your ass just like last time. They're waiting for you, you know."

The words hung in the air between them. They. They're waiting for you. Septim's smile widened as Duo's face hardened. He really didn't have a home anymore...

"Oh, we have an advantage, my nephew. Duo, I believe your name is? Odd name, but I guess we cannot change it now. Yes, we have an advantage." Duo's ears pricked, Septim seemed awfully sure of himself... "The wheels are already in motion. This time we will crush them, there is no doubt. If you become king of Lin, you will learn more. By then, our plans will have come to fruition. In the meantime, you should concentrate on getting used to the court in Lin. It's not for the weak of heart.

"I don't have high hopes for you. I would have liked to have my brother's son lead us to victory. Treize had unimaginable resources at his command. I never had any doubts that he was the best choice for our king, even though he was several years younger than I.

"But even though you are his son, I have no sentimental attachment to you, boy. So don't expect much from me. If you don't want to end up someone's lackey, or worse", his smile became both sick and sensuous, "much worse, then you'll keep your wits about you in the next few days. Your chances will be better if you come to me for help, of course." The smile became even nastier. "But that's your decision. Ask any servant, they'll know where to find me. In the meantime feel free to wander around. Just don't get into a fight. Or use magic. You will be punished quite excruciatingly. "

Septim left in a whisper of cloak. The wards fell from around Duo, but he could feel, as Septim turned to close the door, that they were still thick around his target. He'd felt their strength back in the clearing. He wasn't going to get the drop on the man very easily.

Duo was left alone. The true meaning of that word echoed through the missing half of his soul. But he wouldn't let himself dwell on it. Duo was too young to contemplate his own death. If he could be guaranteed to take Septim -hell, the whole of Lin for that matter- with him, he might be tempted to... but that wouldn't happen. So he was going to have to find a way. And that meant getting out and looking for it, instead of hiding in the small room he'd been assigned.

He was in some kind of school, he guessed. A long corridor led to a series of small rooms like his for the students. The corridor ended in a huge room full of pillars and mezzanines, four stories high, with a skylight brightening the room, leaded in a startling beautiful geometric design. The place was one big library, books stacked here and there, overflowing bookcases, hiding in alcoves, abandoned in window-seats. Tables, chairs, oddly placed bookshelves, painted screens, an astrolabe, statuary and other odds and ends cluttered up the place and reduced visibility, like a genteel jungle. A few oddities caught his eye. A fencing strip was set up in one of the bigger alcoves on the first mezzanine. A clear space on the pale rock floor on the ground level was covered in symbols and markings, and a brazero and an incongruous birdbath on a pedestal had been added to the design.

Duo glanced from one window and saw some other buildings -low on the ground, probably servants quarters- and practice grounds, and arid rock gardens all around leading up to a high wall. The entire school didn't look very big, but it didn't need to be, there weren't that many students who qualified; most of them were in the library, which seemed to be a common gathering place. To Duo's eyes the other pupils were all remarkably similar. Tall, wide of shoulder, with tawny to light brown hair and eyes, regular square features and an air of hunger about them that put him on edge. They were two dozen or so, talking in small groups, reading the many books around the halls, sparring, and all watching him and each other. They looked at him with airs of disdain and challenge, and Duo remembered this competition that the children of the noble houses of Lin were supposed to start soon. He didn't want any part of it, though his hackles rose at the looks he was getting. As the newest arrival he was being weighed to a fine degree.

He was supposed to get in there and talk to them, he realized. That was why they had an air of anticipation as well as hunger and disdain. He was supposed to start checking out the competition. The thought and the stares drained him. He would concentrate on Septim -and maybe these other bastards as well- tomorrow. He could grab a book and retreat... but he didn't feel like it, the anger that was apparently now welded to his soul pricking him to not turn tail and run from those stares. Looking around for an acceptable way out, his eyes caught on one exception in the halls.

A small dark figure hunched reading at a table in a window seat contrasted with the other young people in the library. Interestingly, apart from one incurious glance when Duo had walked in, the boy had not looked at him once and was treating him with sublime indifference. With a pang it reminded him of Heero during one of his frequent 'don't bother me' moods. He reacted to it as he usually did.

The boy -they were about the same age- looked up in surprise as Duo took the seat opposite his. Duo could feel surprise from the rest of the company as well. Apparently this was totally unexpected. Good he thought. He didn't feel like playing games. At least not theirs.

He noticed with a flicker of curiosity that the boy opposite him must come from the distant lands his mother had come from; maybe even further. His eyes were exotic slanted almonds, dark as ebony. His skin was the colour of light caramel, and his hair, pulled in a short tight ponytail, was as black and silky as a starless summer night. He looked annoyed as he glanced back down at his book.

"My life is sacred." He snapped.

Duo's smile didn't flicker at the strange greeting. "Really? That's cool. Mine isn't worth dirt."

The boy blinked, looking up again, his dark eyes widening. "Who are you?" He seemed to regret the question immediately.

"My name is Duo. Duo Mar-" Memory made him flinch. He wasn't allowed to use the name Marquise anymore. "Maxwell." He said quickly to cover his confusion. Whatever happened, whatever he had-... done, he knew Father Maxwell loved him unconditionally and somehow he felt the priest's name would protect him. Maybe remind him to make sure nobody he loved was nearby when he tried to kill Septim again.

Not that that would be difficult, three of the four people he cared about had died only a few hours ago, and he would never see the fourth again. Duo could feel something ugly and dark tug at his mind, behind the anger. He remembered that most of the heirs of Lin in Treize's lineage were stark raving mad. If they'd ever had anything like the day he'd just had, he couldn't blame them. He couldn't even feel all that worried about his own sanity right now. It didn't seem worth it.

Someone was talking to him. He glanced over his shoulder at a tall youth, sixteen or so, with sandy hair, blue-green eyes and regular features. A girl with similar looks was at his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, what were you saying? And was it worth listening to?" Duo didn't even try to sound polite. He didn't want to be bothered. From the tension registered by his companion and the rest of the room, it might have been wise to be less rude. Screw that.

The young man at his shoulder smiled. It was the same feral smile as Septim and Duo had to grip the tabletop to stop himself from flying at it in blind hate.

"I said, boy, we know who you are and that Maxwell isn't your last name. Although I can see why you might feel too inadequate to claim the name of your father... "

Father? Zechs? No, damn it, of course not, the other one.

"I've got better things to worry about." And his smile slipped slightly as the undercurrents tore at it. The boy's eyes narrowed, the girl looked uneasy. "If you feel proud carrying around a name you inherited along with the silver spoon up your ass, good for you."

The other's smile grew broader. These Lin guys are great, Duo thought sourly, the more you insult them the more they grin at you. "So what claim do you have on the name Maxwell? Someone didn't want it?" The boy sneered.

"It belonged to a man I murdered about four hours ago." Duo's smile returned, a manic slash that wiped the grin off the other's face and had the girl take a nervous step back. "If that doesn't give me the right to take it, I don't know what does. Now go away, I'm talking to my friend here."

"His life is sacred. For now." The youth smirked at the oriental boy, who looked back calmly. Duo felt slightly surprised, the black-eyed boy didn't look like the kind who would take a tone like that without a fight.

"Yeah, I think I heard that somewhere before. I was planning on talking to him, not killing him. Leave. Now."

The youth smiled again, charming and urbane. Slowly he reached out a hand and gave one of Duo's locks a gentle tug. "Nice hair." He murmured. "I'll be seeing you around then."

Duo sat still, not sure how to react, or rather, not sure he could survive the consequences of reacting how he wanted to. The other turned without looking at him again and walked away slowly, making a point. Duo had never known Treize except through his fathe- Zechs' descriptions, but he had suddenly a gut feeling of what he had been like. He turned to the oriental boy with a shudder.

"So, you have a name? Or should I just call you 'sacred guy'."

"You are the son of Treize, aren't you?" The dark boy had narrowed his almond eyes at him.

"Is that problem?" Duo hedged, although he kept a confident smile.

The boy stared at Duo, weighing him. He looked puzzled but slightly encouraged by what he saw. "No, I guess not. That makes you the son of lady Une as well." Duo managed to hide a flinch of surprise at that, damn, he'd forgotten another detail in the miserable shambles that was his life; Lucrezia was not his mother, Une was. "I have heard of her. She was a complex woman but very strong, proud and honourable. I guess I am not dishonoured in talking with her son. As long as you don't take after your peers." His eyes had slipped towards the two who had just left them. He appeared to regret his words immediately.

"That ass who just talked at me?Yeah, I could see why you wouldn't want that. He always like that?"

Duo picked up a pencil from the table and started flicking it through agile fingers with his usual nervous energy.

"Worse. His name is Rao. Right now you intrigue him, and he won't start anything yet. In three days time, I would be very worried if I were you. He's the most likely to be the one to set foot in conquest over the lands to the South."

That's Sanq you're talking about, in that stilted oh-so-polite way of yours, Duo seethed. He glared at the sandy-haired Rao beneath his lashes. The boy was talking to the girl and a few others, smiling all the while. Anger was building up again.

"I am a hostage here, in case you were wondering why my life is sacred. My name is Chang Wu Fei. I was sent from an empire far to the east of here to a neighbouring kingdom, to marry into a clan of my people who had migrated here. They lived in a small colony on this continent, they were charged with the management and protection of the trade routes and embassies to your lands." Wu Fei's voice was collected, almost bored. His eyes were inscrutable.

"Septim has been the acting head of the sorcerers' council since Treize's death, and decided I would be a useful political pawn. He raided my adopted clan, murdered my wife and many of her people, and made me a prisoner here." He smoothed his hands over the scroll with careful attention. "I will be here, a guarantee of neutrality from my birthclan and the empire, until a leader is chosen. I will then be at his mercy. I will either be executed or forced into marriage to guarantee the Empire's inaction when the south is attacked. As Rao is the most likely candidate to succeed in the competition, I might end up marrying his sister," his eyes flicked to the girl at Rao's side, "if not Rao himself."

The pencil went sailing. "Uh?? But you're- you're both guys!"

"A minor quibble in a political marriage." Wu Fei seemed unconcerned. "It's done fairly regularly, especially in Lin. They consider the need to adopt the children to the marriage to be an added benefit, a way of avoiding consanguinity. That's interbreeding." He added, with the slight arrogance of a thorough scholar.

"I know what it means!" Duo snapped. Then he stared hard at the smooth bowed head, the calm black eyes that dropped back to the book. Wu Fei expected him to go away now, ignore him.

"You're planning on killing him, aren't you... the next heir... " Duo's voice was barely a whisper.

Wu Fei's eyes barely twitched. "That is ridiculous." He answered just as softly. "That would be suicide."

"Yeah, but that wouldn't stop you. Don't lie to me, buddy. I can see death on you as clear as day... "

Wu Fei lifted a weary gaze, then his eyes widened. Duo realized his mask had slipped again just slightly. But he didn't mind. It looked like he'd found someone of he could relate to.

"As you can see, death and I have recently become the best of buddies. We're practically inseparable." His hands were grasping the tabletop so hard he thought his fingers might break, but the mask was back in place, and the others in the room had not noticed. "So far I've only managed to kill people I cared about, but I'm hoping to be able to improve myself with a bit of practice. Shit... " His fingers were pulsing with more than blood to their tips in the crushing grip. Wu Fei's eyes widened further.

"Don't! Magic in here is severely punished- Duo, stop!"

"Need... I need some... fresh air I think." Duo said with a caricature of a smile.

Wu Fei shot out of his chair. "This way." He hissed.

Duo stumbled blindly after the lithe form and slim black ponytail, blind to anything but the pulse that was now shaking his whole body, clawing at him. He realized that he'd staggered down some stairs, through a door and outside into a pit lined with rock, open to the sky, a dead end. He ground out "Get the hell out of here if you want to live!" and then allowed himself to think.

To remember.

"Heeero!" The scream was nearly drowned out by the pulse of black energy that crashed from his thin body, hitting the stone walls and causing them to spark and moan. "I'll kill him! I'll kill them all!"

Wave upon wave erupted from him, as his memory burned like his friends, charred bodies pummelling his mind, biting at his sanity.

Zechs' -no longer his father. His home- now the land of the enemy. His family - a bunch of inbred killers. Wails of grief and screams of fury echoed around the rock pit between surges of waning energy.

When the darkness cleared from his eyes, he was slumped on the floor, panting, bile in his mouth and his heartbeat a cruel thread in his aching head. But he felt slightly better. Or maybe he just managed to burn out a bit more of the part of him that cared.

"Well I can see why Septim actually has hopes for you."

Wu Fei hadn't left! Horror crawled up his spine until the other sauntered into view, and he saw the youth was unharmed.

"I thought it was a move of pure desperation, digging out Treize's untrained son this late in the game. I know it's been eating at him, not having his own pawn in the match for leadership, but no one thinks you have a hope in hell." Wu Fei glanced around the pit. Rocks were cooling with a ping. New cracks had appeared in the highly corroded surfaces. "But you have a lot of raw power. Too bad you lack any elements of control." He looked thoughtful.

"You better run away." Duo sighed. "Someone is bound to come see what the hell all that was about."

Wu Fei turned to him with an affronted look. "I don't run away! But don't worry. This pit is set aside for the older students to practice high-energy magic. No one will come to check on explosions out here." He snorted as Duo suddenly took in the details of the pit, the previously melted stone, the echoes of raw power in the air. "Why did you think I took you here in the first place?"

"That was smart. And nice. Thanks." Said Duo with his first honest smile. "Now get lost."

"What?" Wu Fei's eyebrows shot up. Then he scowled. "What kind of attitude is that, for someone who-"

"Someone I'm beginning to like." Duo was so exhausted he felt hollow, as if the light breeze blowing across the garden and down the pit was going straight through him, blowing the words out without his volition. "A few hours ago, I killed my - my best friend, my- my better half, you could say. And two men who were as close to me as my- as fathers. It was an accident and Septim's fault, but either way-"

"Heero, right?" Wu Fei repeated the name he'd heard before all hell had broken loose and he'd dodged back behind the reinforced warded doorway.

"... Yeah... Heero." Duo smiled, thinking about his dour friend. The pain seemed better now, more wholesome. Now that he'd let loose, given up, somehow... it was as if he was a different person. He could mourn his friend without going insane. Or maybe he was insane, and he hadn't realised it. He chuckled slightly, a painful sound. Treize had been able to function lethally while being completely barking mad. Maybe he'd inherited another ability from his- from that man. One that would be useful. He cracked open an eye.

"You're still here."

"Yes, it appears I am." Wu Fei shrugged.

"Why are you still here? I told you, I'm a danger to hang with."

"I'm surrounded by people who would gladly kill me by inches -and probably will- and be proud of it. I'd rather - 'hang', as you say, with someone who'll kill me quickly by accident and then feel very bad about it afterwards. If you don't mind."

Oh yeah, Wu Fei also had a few skeletons in his closet, Duo remembered. The next ruler of Lin was going to decide his fate for him, and hopefully die as a result. Hmmm. Something else the youth had said came back to Duo's mind.

"You said Septim has hopes for me? He told me he didn't give a damn."

"You could be dog food for all he cares about you as a person, but the family members of the king of Lin have powers while he reigns so-"

"Ok, say no more, I get the picture. Wu Fei, my man? You say you've been here how long?"

"Five months." Wu Fei looked bitter. Duo realized that he had dropped the proud, distant mask he had worn in the library. Duo felt touched at that, even as he ached at how much it reminded him of Heero. Duo was not good at functioning alone. If Wu Fei didn't mind risking sudden burning death at his side, maybe...

"Wu Fei, buddy!" He smiled, seeing this annoyed the oriental man almost as much as it had annoyed Heero. "Why don't you tell me a bit more about all those trained inbred poodles in there, and maybe we can see about helping each other out a little. Hmmm?"

[chap. 11] [chap. 13] [back to Maldoror's fic]