Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

An extra warning to add to the 'rating' line: Secondary character death, violence, and an evil villain makes a very bad pun. Because he's evil.

Two Halves + Chapter 10
The Lodge

As the bigger shadow moved forward, the light filtering through the gloom of the lodge began assembling half-visible details together like an ugly puzzle. It didn't take many pieces to realize what they were facing.

The princes reacted each according to his character. Heero whipped out his long hunting dagger, falling back into a defensive stance, while Duo went "Yaaagh!" and tried to bolt. Only to find himself slammed backward again as if he'd run into a wall.

"Heero! There's a ward! There's a gods-damned magical ward around the whole clearing, we're -"

"Duo, get over here." His cousin's voice was calm and commanding. Duo's dagger was already drawn, he stumbled back hesitantly.

"Duo... can you break that ward?"

Duo whimpered. "Are you shitting me? It's like a freakin' wall, I can't break that!"

"... anything else you can do?" Heero's voice was tight. Duo didn't need to answer.

The creature ripped itself from the shadows of the lodge reluctantly. Something like that wasn't meant to walk in sunlight, it thrived in darkness and evil dreams. Taller than a man by two good heads, it had immense shoulders falling to a thick waist and small bowed legs. Its hide was grey and covered in scars and oozing sores, showing pale white flesh through the gaping wounds that could never heal. Swathes of long, greasy hair, metallic grey, fell in handfuls from torso and shoulders, thicker on the abdomen, with the groin and legs completely covered. Large feet were bare and white with long toes like those of a gigantic rat. Even Heero shivered as the face came into view. It was flattened and twisted, completely asymmetric, and weeping pustules ruptured it further. Fangs curved up from the mouth, gashing the upper lip. It had no nose, just slits in the grey flesh. Asymmetric eyes, small and entirely black, fixed the boys with a stare that was a bit smarter than an animal's and much crueller.

Duo knew from his studies that this misshapen creature was a conjuration, a lump of hurting, tortured flesh build to house an evil spirit from hell, and that the only way to kill it was to pierce its heart.

Heero knew from Odin that the being would be fairly slow but very strong, and the huge rough spike it carried could either pierce or crush. And he knew they were going to die.

The creature halted reluctantly as the smaller shadow behind it snapped its fingers. The other figure was a man in his forties, small, with short brown hair and a small pencil moustache. He was dressed in dark green, with a black symbol on the chest of the robe half-seen beneath his brown cloak. He drew level with the fiend without a sideways glance at it, his gaze fixed on the boys. Duo had come to stand near Heero, close enough to guard his side but far enough to let him swing. Not that that was going to help.

"Well, you both showed up." The man's voice was high and nasal. "I might have known, the cast of the fortune sticks was muddled."

"What do you want?" Heero barked aggressively, to Duo's admiration.

"What I am here for is to kill one of you, both if I need to. That is what the council appointed me to do. What I want, personally, is to not have to kill my nephew. Would that be you, boy?" The man sneered, but his eyes on Heero were incandescent.

"Nephew?" Duo gasped in surprise. "We don't have any uncles, mister, so you got the wrong guys. Now if you'll just let us-"

"You have an uncle, boy. One of you does. One of you is the son of that cur Zechs. The other one is much more fortunate."

Duo's jaw clamped in anger. But you don't trade insults with a sorcerer when his fiend is staring at you and wondering what your guts taste like.

"What do you mean?" Heero was as usual more prosaic.

"I mean that one of you is a noble of Lin, boy. One of you is the son of my brother, Treize, ruler of Lin. I don't know why Zechs didn't strangle you when he found out. Maybe he doesn't know, although even he can't be that stupid. I take it from the looks you are giving me that you didn't know, though. That is nor surprising but rather... unfortunate. I don't have much time to start-" his grin widened beneath his moustache "-splitting heirs. I guess there's only one way to cut to the quick. I won't lose all that much either way."

He waved a lazy hand and the fiend started to lumber forwards. Duo twisted around and sent a desperate lance of white magic towards the wards around the clearing that was blocking their escape. It bounced off without even causing a tremble in the wall.

"We're stuck." Duo's voice was suddenly as calm as his cousin's as he turned back towards the slowly advancing creature. "What was he going on about?" He glanced at Heero, whose face was a mask.

"He's saying one of us is Treize's son." The creature was moving very slowly, deliberately, it was waiting for them to break and run.

"That's nuts!"

"Is it? Think about it Duo. We're cousins!" Heero snapped. "Odin told me Treize had an heir by Lady Une who was Lucrezia's -"

Duo's mouth fell open and a gasp of denial was interrupted by a growl from the fiend. It was a terrible noise, a groan of pain with a moan of pleasure. The boys took an involuntary step back and felt the ward starting to push back at them.

"Which one of us-!" Duo started in a voice a whole octave higher than usual, his face pale and horrified.

"It won't matter in a few minutes." Heero said quietly, his eyes finally breaking from their attacker to glance sadly at his best friend. Duo saw resignation in that look, and a sad tenderness for himself that made him want to cry. It ignited anger in him instead.

"Screw that, and screw ugly over there! That's bullshit! Look!" His voice dropped to a hurried whisper, the fiend was only three meters away. "If we kill its controller, it'll go berserk and maybe forget about us. If nothing else the ward will drop and-"

"You take right. The one it follows distracts him, the other one-"

"Right!"

The cousins shot apart, Heero twisting under the pike the creature had swung towards him. The fiend hesitated a few moments then turned on Heero. Duo swore; he was lighter on his feet, he could have distracted it, while Heero, the better swordsman, could have dealt with 'ugly'. But of course that wasn't how the dice had fallen! He had to kill the controller quickly or his cousin would be mince. He threw himself towards the cloaked figure who was watching with interest Heero's attempts to dodge the huge pike.

The man didn't even glance his way, merely waved a hand over his shoulder and the air suddenly solidified around Duo like water, then like glue, then like glass. Duo screamed in fury as he saw the man throw him a smirk before turning back towards his fiend.

Heero managed to dodge into the fiend's guard, nullifying the spike's greater length, and slashed his dagger across the sinewy wrist that was holding it. Duo felt a pang of pride through his despair, even though he knew that hurting the shell of the creature would have no effect on it. It didn't even register pain as it tried to hit Heero with its other hand, grey talons raking down towards the boy. Heero ducked and slithered sideways, then made one desperate lunge to stab the dagger into the fiend's chest and heart, above head height to the young boy.

But the long hunting dagger twisted a bit on the rubbery grey hide and merely scored a rib. The creature gave that groaning grunt again and slammed the boy to the ground.

"Heero!" Duo managed to scream, as the creature backed up a step and swung the pike up. Heero managed to roll onto his back, dazed, his eyes on the spike about to impale him and pin him to the ground.

Heero had been sad that they were going to die and be finally separated for good. Duo, instead, felt angry. A burning, wrenching fury that they were going to be torn apart. He'd felt anger like this before, a wild heat that engulfed him and turned the world blood red. Not often, though, and he normally recoiled from the emotion.

Now he had nothing to lose and he embraced it. The fury was so sharp, so strong, it felt like nothing could restrain it, it would blow right through the pathetic little grip the sorcerer had on him and allow him to rip out the man's throat before he died. A searing heat was rippling over his body but the anger kept him focused until-

-it was like breaking through dark water into thin air, he was flying, time had crystallized around him and he was the only pulse beating in the whole world and he knew then who he was. Not Zechs' little jester. Not Treize's offspring.

He was death.

The sorcerer didn't see it coming, but unfortunately he didn't need to. Since he was half-expecting something to happen when he attacked the boys, he had all his powers in the two wards, one around the clearing, one magic-repellent one around his person. But even so he staggered back and gasped at the sheer magnitude of the raw unchannelled power that rumpled the air and ripped it apart at the seams, blasting out in all directions. The fiend was tossed back against the wards with a howl. The lodge cracked and fell inwards, its front support beams buckling. The ward around the clearing warped out under the pressure and then twanged back.

"Duo?"

Duo staggered as he was suddenly free. He glanced around wildly. Heero, laying flat against the ground, had not been affected too much by the force, merely rolled over. Odin was now grabbing him by the collar and jerking him behind him, putting himself between his charge and the recovering creature. Father Maxwell was standing a bit further away, his eyes on Duo.

Duo noted the look of worry the old man was casting over him. And he also saw the slight fear and horror behind the look. He wasn't surprised, just saddened. And just slightly angry again. Had the old man known? Why hadn't he said anything? Had - had his father known? Had Heero?!

"Duo, come over here, quick!" Maxwell was waving at him frantically. Odin had dragged Heero back to the priest. They stood, the three of them together. Duo had never felt so alone, but he couldn't seem to take that step towards them, to try to belong with them once more.

"Septim! I'll have your scrawny neck for this!" Odin shouted, his sword flickering back and forth, distracting the advancing fiend. His left hand was steadying Heero behind him. "Can you get us back out of this ward?" He threw over his shoulder at the priest.

Father Maxwell, his pained eyes still on Duo, shook his head. "Too tired, I barely managed to lift it enough to get us in." He murmured. He started as the fiend gave an aggrieved huff. The creature's master was distracted, staring at Duo, so it decided to have fun regardless. It swung the pike up and brought it slamming into its palm with a meaty thunk before lumbering forward

Odin's eyes narrowed as he analysed the situation. He threw a glance over his shoulder at the priest and his charge, and one of his rare smiles flickered. "Take care of the kids, Maxwell. Heero can help you kick Septim's ass, and I'll be cheerin' you on. Good luck, Kid. Do your best."

Father Maxwell and Heero barely had time to shout, Odin had already leaped at the fiend. He dodged the pike, twisted and plunged his sword into the creature's chest.

The fiend squealed, a noise like a dying child, and staggered. Odin did his best to leap back, abandoning his sword, but in its agony the creature was faster, and the old soldier's reflexes lost against the instinctive death throw. The pike crashed into him, glancing off his shoulder to crush his skull, sending the war master falling several feet away, limp as a broken doll.

"Odin!" Three horrified voices almost covered the dying gurgles of the fiend as it collapsed to the ground. Duo snarled and turned back to the sorcerer, who hadn't even glanced behind him. He was staring at Duo like a cat at cream.

Duo's anger ignited once again, intent on removing that expression from the man's face if he had to tear it off with his fingernails. Unbidden, the dark power ran over his hands at the very thought, trembling across his fingers. Duo put all his sadness at Odin's death, his fear for Heero and Maxwell, and above all his anger at having his peaceful illusion of family life torn from him, and let loose all he had.

Septim's eyes narrowed, but his grin widened as the power crashed into his wards. And swirled around them like a hurricane, leaving the sorcerer intact in the eye of the storm.

"Why thank you, my nephew. My blasts were never all that powerful. But I'll make good use of yours."

Duo screamed as the power hurled off of Septim's ward to explode around him - engulfing Heero and Father Maxwell in a wall of flames.

"Heero!" Duo felt his mind rip as he fell to his knees. His body was trembling all over, that last blast had taken all he had. He couldn't feel his knees hit the cold dirt as he saw the magical black flames, coiling like snakes, ripple over the three bodies in the clearing and flicker slowly out. Black spots spattered across his vision of the charred bodies of his friends, of Heero, the other part of his soul. No, not that, don't go, don't leave me alone... But he was gone, Duo's anger had crushed him. Duo barely felt Septim's hand on his shoulder.

"Well, a good job in all. I get rid of one heir, and apparently I've found another in the process. But now we need to leave. Someone dangerous is close at hand. Too late for the precious Sanq prince though." Septim chuckled.

Numbing darkness rushed from his hand on Duo's shoulder. Duo hoped it was his death sentence, but knew he didn't deserve that small mercy. The clearing and the smoking remains blurred and shimmered in his vision as the sorcerer spent all his power to yank them away from the lodge and back to Lin. Duo sighed as his vision came back. Not dead then. He slumped forward, finally giving up and letting the darkness claim him.

[chap. 9] [chap. 11] [back to Maldoror's fic]