see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer
Halves + Chapter 14
Friends and Enemies
"What-... do you think you're
doing?" Duo's voice was like a dagger suddenly unsheathed.
Wu Fei paused, the scissors half lifted behind Duo, his eyes caught by
Duo's in the reflection from the small mirror in front of them.
"Your hair. You're going to have to-"
"No-one touches the hair!!" Wu Fei took a step back from the creature
staring out from the young boy's eyes. "I don't even let my father cut
Duo's face flinched, and he spun away from Wu Fei to go stand at the small
Wu Fei carefully put the scissors down on the big box they were using
as dresser, made a soothing gesture and spoke gently, as if he were trying
to talk a maniac down from a tree.
"Duo, I know it is nice hair, but surely you've noticed that all the children
of Lin have it cut short, even the girls. Anybody who practices black
magic does that. You don't want it flying freely about your shoulders
while you've got flames wrapping around you, right?"
His voice dropped out of the unfamiliar soothing tone he'd been using
to return to his usual arrogant bite. "If you want to do this, you can't
let trivialities stop you. You have to play their game, or you don't have
a chance." His eyes burned, he'd had to swallow a lot himself in the past
few months, small barbs and insults he did not consider trivialities,
but was willing to put up with to reach his goal.
"No, it's IF I play their game that I don't have a chance."
Duo said, his voice still a bit high but otherwise composed. "They've
been playing it all their lives. I've been a child of Lin for less than
a day. What do you fancy my chances are, knowing that?"
"Your chances are virtually nil whatever you do." Wu Fei said with astounding
tact. "Completely nil if you need me to outline the obvious steps for
"Hmm, humor me." Duo smirked, but his eyes were serious as he turned from
Wu Fei rolled his eyes and considered leaving, abandoning Duo to his fate.
But he didn't. Duo was obviously a few moves away from a full kata, but
he was powerful, friendly, probably not as dumb as he looked, willing
to help Wu Fei, and dying to kill Septim and wreak havoc on Lin. What
were the chances of finding someone else like that running around the
school? Worse than 'virtually nil'.
"Very well. If you want to stand a chance of not ending up with your throat
cut, or as a family pet for one of the houses -or your uncle- you have
to become a competitor for the government of Lin. That'll happen if you
are here in two days time and recite the Acknowledgment. It's a little
speech where you accept the rules of the trial. You will then have to
find a candidate who has a chance of becoming the heir of Lin, and ingratiate
yourself to him. Or her. You're better off with a man though, the women
in this place are even more weak and volatile." Wu Fei made a contemptuous
"You will have to be sure to not stand out, which means, erm, trimming
your hair, getting some new clothes -something not too fancy, you don't
want to overshadow or provoke anybody. You saw the sort of blue or grey
uniforms they were wearing, along those lines- what else? Being nice would
help, or at least not rude. You probably don't want to be seen with me
either." He added, brutally honest, with only slight regret. The oriental
boy was too focused on his own concerns to let himself long for friendship
"Why do I have to find a good candidate and kiss his
ass?" Duo sounded puzzled.
"Because in two day's time, everybody is going to fall into two categories;
the potential heirs and the followers. If someone tries to become the
heir, he has to have the power to back up that claim, at least in the
others' eyes. They'll not take a chance of moving against someone strong
at this point of the game, but if they sniff out weakness, they'll hound
you. That's why you need to find someone who is strong enough to protect
you. If he becomes heir, then you'll be a member of his government. Well,
that's not really an issue, right? You're not doing this for politics."
Duo snorted. "All you care about is that while you are in the trials,
your life is as sacred as mine."
"Oh good, here I was feeling all jealous of you for being sacred."
"No one can interfere with the children of Lin once the challenge starts,
it would make the whole thing pointless otherwise. The only ones who can
do anything to you are the children themselves. The first year, no one
is allowed to use magic or kill one another. The first year." Wu Fei stressed.
"Hmm ok. Anything else I should be doing?"
Wu Fei hesitated. Duo had looked ready to maim when he'd suggested cutting
his hair, the oriental youth didn't know how this suggestion was going
to go down. But Wu Fei didn't know the meaning of the word fear. Or tact.
"It will go against the grain, but you will want to put yourself in the
hands of your uncle Septim until the trial starts."
Duo curled a lock of his hair around his finger. "Really?" he asked softly.
Wu Fei thought he'd have preferred shouts of protest.
"The school will provide you with food and a place to sleep." Wu Fei said
firmly, knowing he was right. "But as I said, you need more. You need
clothes, grooming, training in magic and the rites of the trial. At the
very least, a safe place to sleep. That last is important. From what you
say, Septim is trying to pretend he doesn't much care for you or think
highly of your chances of getting a good position in the next council.
But I think he's lying, that he's actually hoping you'll gain a position
of some power, and others may think so as well. They may decide to assassinate
Treize's son before he gets placed under the protection of the trials."
"Would you? Try to gain Septim's protection?"
Wu Fei looked at him, his face a mask. Then he nodded. "He wouldn't give
it to me, I am not his concern, but if he did, I would take it."
"Because you wanted his protection, or because you're hoping he'll let
his guard down around you and you can slip that knife you have hidden
in your boot into his slimy little heart?"
Wu Fei stiffened ever so slightly. Duo smiled. "Don't even bother answering
that, buddy, I think we have an understanding here. Why go for Rao and
not Septim in the first place?"
"Because I have at least a chance of getting near Rao in an unguarded
moment. Septim has survived many years as the head of the council because
he's as prudent as an old snake hiding under a rock. When I die I want
to take someone with me, a burial gift worthy of my wife and her clan."
The dark eyes were suddenly blazing with a fire that reminded Duo of the
black magic that had charred his own soul. "Whoever becomes heir of Lin
will be designated to reign for twenty five years. Even if I kill him.
That will leave a council full of infighting inbred idiots to rule Lin
for another twenty five years, without a driving force like Treize was.
Septim will have lost his place in the council with the new heir, and
he will be powerless to do anything but watch. I hope it eats his guts
out. That will have to be good enough."
Duo thought about this.
"Hmm, nope." He finally said, tugging at his locks again. "Sorry. I'd
still rather see him get slowly burned to a crisp, if that's alright by
Wu Fei snorted, wishful thinking was contemptible to him. "How do you
think you are going to accomplish that? Even if you ask his protection
I doubt he will let his guard down around you for awhile yet."
Duo turned with a manic smile and shoved open the small window before
him. "Which is why I'm not going to bother asking him for protection.
I don't need it. I'm staying up here until the competition starts, that
should throw any assassins off my trail."
Wu Fei looked wildly around the small attic space that Duo had found under
the rafters of the school. The oriental boy had thought Duo had wanted
a place to talk privately. He now understood why Duo had stolen a lamp,
a mirror, some toiletries and some bed sheets from various rooms on the
"I'm not going to settle for anything less than Septim's life." Duo said
dreamily, leaning out the small attic window leading onto the roof. "And
there's some other stuff I'd like too; I want to know exactly what he
has in mind for Sanq. It didn't sound like idle threats earlier... I know
a really good way of doing that, getting Septim to trust me, and screwing
this shithole of a country while I'm doing so."
Wu Fei stared, suddenly wondering just how crazy Duo was. "You don't mean-!"
"You better get going, Wuffie boy. If you think I have a chance -or that
the ride might be fun enough- you can bring me some stuff to eat tomorrow,
and help me get ready. If not, I don't blame you, but you better leave
now, cause you won't want to be seen near me. Now if you don't mind...
"Duo!" Wu Fei shouted, leaping to the window from which the slim boy had
Dusk was falling quickly in the thin mountain air. Duo stared up at the
dark boy, framed in the window above him. He was balancing on the thin
stone guttering of the roof as if he were strolling down a street. "Yes?"
"What do you think you're doing?!" Wu Fei hissed, anxiety adding venom
to his voice.
"Going to do what I do best! Steal some clothes and some food, and think
up ways of driving each and every sorcerer in Lin screaming up the wall.
"Just asking." Wu Fei sighed, in sudden resignation. Maybe Duo didn't
have much of a chance, but suddenly the oriental was curious to see how
far he would be able to go... and it would probably be fun to watch. "I'll
grab you some stuff at dinner and bring it to you tomorrow. Don't get
Duo's grin was as bright as the last glint of the setting sun. "Ah! No
worries. Thanks, Wuffie, and see you tomorrow!"
"Wu Fei." It was just a mutter as he watched the nimble figure run along
the roof's edge, over some low eaves and into the gathering darkness.
[chap. 15] [back to