Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, disclaimer

Two Halves + Chapter 23
Twisting and Spinning

Duo glanced around; the plain tent contained a wooden table thick with maps, books and scrolls, a common camp bed, a privacy screen and a few travelling chests. Septim's decor was sober compared to Rao's pavilion. The old sorcerer did not particularly want the trappings of power, as long as he had the power itself and could use it to crush people.

Duo's eyes finally settled on his uncle, putting a small chest on the table with obvious care. His head was spinning. All he'd gone through to avenge himself on this man... and now that Heero turned out to be alive -(joy/pain/anger/relief) Heero's alive, he's alive, he's really- did he still have a reason to hate the man?

Hmm, hate the man that had caused Duo to lose Heero even temporarily, as well as the death of Father Maxwell and Odin, who had ripped Duo from his innocent, peaceful life, and thrown him to the wolves? Hell yeah!

Duo's blood was singing in his veins, but he didn't let it go to his head, however shaken he was. The bombshell of Heero's survival was bad enough. Now he was face to face with his enemy and something was up. Septim had always treated him with indifference until now. He'd never been this insistent on Duo's presence before. Every inch of his skin prickled with tension. He was without any wards or the energy to raise a white magic shield if it became necessary. He didn't even have the knife in its spring-loaded arm-sheathe anymore! He'd left it stuck in Rao's cooling body.

"Please, Lord Duo, have a seat."

"That's ok, I'll stand." Duo kept his voice pleasant, while relaxing his body and mind, marshalling his last resources for-

And then it struck him. What was with all the 'Lord Duos' that Septim was showering him with today?

The slightly deferential attitude of the older man finally connected.

Of course. The worm had turned! Duo was now heir of Lin by default, he and Rao had been the only candidates left, the others having declared forfeit or been forcefully removed long before.

He wasn't surprised when Septim turned from the small chest on the table, lifting a seal and a ring from a velvet purse within it.

"Normally we'd do this in the council great hall with a lot of pomp and ceremony. We still can if you insist, of course, Lord Duo." Septim's moustache twitched. Duo flipped a hand at him.

"Skip it, Septim, and hand 'em over."

His uncle did so, with a small bow and smirk. Duo's mind was racing furiously as he slipped the seal of the heir in his pocket and the ring, plain gold with a miniature of the seal on its flat surface, on his finger. The moment he'd been waiting for was upon him; he was finally on equal footing with Septim. On the up side, Duo was the new heir, officially a High Lord of Lin instead of one of its children, which meant he could murder the man with impunity, according to the quaint and charming laws of Lin. On the down side, Septim still had protective wards that could beat him even on a good day, while Duo had barely enough energy left to fry a strip of bacon.

Septim was now going to try to worm his way into Duo's favours, or at least insure he would survive Duo's ascension. Duo had been waiting for a day when he'd be able to even the score with his uncle and he thought the man knew it. If Septim got frightened enough for his life that he thought he should risk it all and lash out at Duo...

Better to wait, and play along with whatever Septim would try. In a month or so, the rule of Treize would officially end, and then Duo would be crowned Sorcerer-King of Lin. He could then order Septim slowly tortured to death and all his wards, plots and magic be damned. He just had to be careful that his uncle didn't get him into anything that would make the cunning old buzzard indispensable, because surely that was what he would be aiming for.

Septim was looking at him like a snake looked at a mouse. If he was at all worried that the young man before him was now his superior he didn't show it. Duo met his stare, giving away nothing.

"Well, my nephew." Septim must have decided that being obsequious would get him nowhere, or he was unwilling to make the effort. "I must admit I'm as surprised as I am pleased. Rao was strong, and no fool. That you made it even through the first year of School has never ceased to astonish me, in fact. That you stand here before me now, as my brother once did... " Duo felt a slight shudder of revulsion as he realized his uncle was perversely proud of the accomplishment of his blood kin, despite all that lay between them. There were some aspects of Lin that Duo would never get entirely used to.

"My brother... " Septim's eyes turned inwards, then he glanced at the maps on the table. Duo looked as well. Their present camp was a few miles from the spot where Treize had died, on the edge of the Gap of Sevring, a region that was particularly blasted and cursed by the conflagration that had killed the king of Lin and so many of his people

"My brother had great plans. It's time you learned a bit about them, Duo. You are not king yet, but that is only a ceremony after all. You are what you are; the strongest of the children of Lin. That is all I need to know, and I will show you tomorrow what great legacy your father left us all."

Legacy? That brought something else back to Duo's mind, the other reason he'd fought to get where he was. No one had ever said anything more to him about plans to invade the southern kingdoms, starting with Sanq, but all the time he'd spent skulking on rooftops, breaking into libraries and sneaking around eaves-dropping, he had learned that something was nonetheless underway, and it was going to be big and ugly. But only a handful of people knew the whole deal and they were as careful as Septim, he'd not been able to hear more.

"We precipitated the confrontation between you and Rao because we need to act soon. There are indications that our enemies may have seen through parts of our plan, that they may be trying to gather information about our... strategies. I doubt that Sanq will be able to set up a defence even then, but I won't take the risk of this going wrong! So we're going to set things in motion tomorrow."

"What exactly-" but Septim was waving a hand.

"No, Duo, I cannot tell you more. I am still acting head of the council until your coronation, and though you outrank me now, you cannot order me to break the vows I took when I accepted that position, and those vows bind me to silence. It's no great deal; instead of telling you today, I will show you tomorrow."

Tomorrow? So this legacy thing was nearby? Uh.

"We will travel before dawn. We won't take the chances that spies of Sanq will follow us through the ward maze, or any unnecessary risks. Can you get your men ready by then, Duo? ... Duo?"

Duo finally managed to nod numbly. Because he'd just realized...

The spies of Sanq were already in on the act, apparently. He felt cold to the core of his soul. Even though Heero had been hiding from him, as strange as that seemed, up until then he still couldn't help but believe that his cousin had come here for him. Some strange explanation, possibly steeped with the kind of cautious, discreet, bone-headed logic his cousin was good at, would explain the whole hiding thing, and then it would just be him and Heero and they could... .

What, go home? His home was in Lin now. And he knew what his cousin had really come for, and that Duo was not the objective of his visit. He'd been the obstacle, the enemy to hide from.

"I'll be ready tomorrow morning at four. We'll come get you." He managed to keep his voice level but he turned quickly, before his uncle could see the anger and the hurt warring over his emotions.

*

"Duo! Thank the Lords of the four corners, there you are!"

Duo glanced up at Wu Fei running towards him. Damn it not now. He hesitated, almost ready to run-

"Duo, I'm glad you're alright! Yuy told us what happened, it's amaz-"

"Yuy!?"

"Yes. His wounds aren't too bad. He-"

"He's here?!"


Wu Fei's delicate eyebrows started to hitch up. "Yes, he is... is something wrong?"

"Where-is-he." Duo ground out.

"The fool refused to go see Sally. I'm not surprised, actually. He's been very short-tempered with -"

"Where?!"


Wu Fei's eyebrows did the hitching thing again, but his eyes were worried. Duo tried to reel in his temper. Fortunately he was too tired to make anything spontaneously combust but that was no excuse to lose it, he had to be on the ball with this.

"He's with Trowa, in the stabling area. Sally's afraid Trowa's going to put horse ointment on that burn and is trying to find you to get Yuy to listen to reason and accept her treatment. Trowa won't let her or anyone else near, you see. I think Yuy insisted on it actually. Duo!?"

Wu Fei gasped as Duo suddenly pulled him into a bear hug and held him close. The oriental youth hesitated, then lifted a hand to pat Duo's shoulder in a clumsy reassurance, trying to figure out what was wrong.

"He is OK, Duo. Er, are you?"

"Wuffers... "

"What?" Wu Fei was worried enough not to react to that. Duo broke off the hug, and leaned back to watch his friend's face, his hands still on his shoulders.

"Fei, you're my friend... you wouldn't lie to me, right? You... you wouldn't keep things from me... "

Duo tried to put his frazzled mind into order as Wu Fei stared at him in amazed confusion.

"We tell each other everything, I- I rely on that, you wouldn't keep a big secret from me would- would you?!"

The last was a horrified squeak as Duo registered the tinge of shame on Wu Fei's proud, rigid face. No! Had Wu Fei known? Had every one around him know about this, had let him suffer needlessly, had hidden Heero's survival-

"Gods Duo, I- I don't know what to tell you!... I - I swear I don't know how it happened, how I could disgrace Meilan's memory so, with someone who is an enemy at that! I should never- but she's not like the nobles of Lin, she's got heart, and honour - Oh Gods I'm sorry I kept it from you, but I didn't even want to acknowledge it to myself! I-"

Duo's knees were almost buckling in relief as he tried to cut through the self-recrimination. Finally he gave the man a shake to interrupt him.

"Wu Fei!"

"Wh-What?"

"Wu Fei, buddy, you're an idiot. But at least you're a reliable one. Now why don't you find big-hearted and honourable Sally and sit on her and keep her away from me and Yuy for the next hour or so, and I'll really owe you something."

"Er, OK." Wu Fei took a few steps and turned back at the sound of his name. Duo looked at him in silence for a second.

"Y-yes?" Wu Fei was visibly shaken and wondering what his manic lord was going to do next.

"Thanks. For everything. You're safe now, if you haven't realized it yet. You'll be free to go as soon as I'm crowned. But I hope you'll stay my friend, Wu Fei Chang. Whatever happens. Wherever you decide to go."

He turned and marched off towards the stables, leaving the oriental man to stutter behind him.

[chap. 22] [chap. 24] [back to Maldoror's fic]