Author: Maldoror
Disclaimer: The usual, Gundam Wing belongs to it's owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.
Rated R for language, lots of violence, sexual content

see chap. 1 for notes

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 2
Trouble Comes In A Pretty Package

"So Heero, did you sleep well?" Quatre asked brightly.

Heero had made no fuss about following them, walking on one side of the horses pulling the vardo while Trowa walked on the other side, hand on his weapons. Quatre led the horses from the vardo's seat and was leaning forward to talk to the strange man.

Heero stared straight ahead of him.

"No."

"Oh you didn't sleep well? I'm sorry to hear that. Did you have any nightmares? Can you tell me about them? Maybe I can-"

"I didn't sleep."

"Oh." Quatre blinked. "Well, you must be tired. Do you want to lie down for awhile? We're still in safe territory." Not enough people lived in the desert to make it dangerous.

"No."

"Oh, okay." Quatre gave Trowa a hesitant look, afraid he'd said something wrong. Trowa shrugged, then gave the blonde a small reassuring smile. Fortified, the healer turned back to the stranger.

"Erm, Heero, you have a strange accent to your Common. Where do you come from?"

Heero said nothing.

"... Do you come from around here?"

Nothing.

"Do you come from off planet?"

"I don't know."

Quatre was relieved to actually get an answer, until he realized what Heero had said.

"You-you don't know?! How can you not know if you come from another planet or not?"

"I don't know what a planet is."

Quatre stared, first at Heero, then at Trowa who was frowning slightly.

"A Trog?" Quatre whispered.

"I doubt it. Certainly not a Technologist though."

Quatre had re-examined Heero the night before, but had found nothing. Trowa had attempted to Walk around the man, as the moon first rose, and it was like walking into a wall. There were no lines of sickness or injury around him, though. That and Quatre's confirmed diagnostic indicated there was nothing wrong with him, physically or mentally.

"Do you know where you are?" Quatre asked Heero gently.

Heero glanced around.

"Here."

Trowa gave a small snort of amusement that only Quatre heard.

"More specifically. Erm, you are at the Centre. The planet at the spiritual centre of the universe, the home of Gods and the creative forces, the Sources." It's a dangerous, strange and violent place and not one you should roam around in a daze, Quatre felt like adding, but doubted that Heero had chosen his condition deliberately. He didn't want to seem to fuss around the dark stranger.

"It's a good thing you found him, Trowa, who knows what could have happened to him if you hadn't."

"Hm."

"Don't worry, Heero, we won't let anything bad happen to you. And we'll try to help you with your, erm, condition."

Heero continued to walk, his eyes fixed on the road curling ahead.

"Right. Erm. Well, since you don't know, I guess I'll tell you." Quatre had gotten used to Trowa's silence, but Heero was making him nervous, the empathy that was at the root of his powers aching to get some response, any response. "There are many inhabited planets in the universe. Humans have- are you bred Human, Heero, or are you an alternate?"

"I don't know."

"... Ah. Okay. Well, either way. Humans have spread out to most inhabitable planets in the universe, many aeons ago. Some have formed alternative races due to isolation, while others have remained fairly true to the original human mould by travelling and interbreeding. Races have been born, and have died out, and others have been born in their place, ‘the wheel turns'." Quatre smiled at Trowa as he used the Nightwalker prayer, the only one they had. It sounded so much more sober and accepting and beautiful than his own religion's massive, chastising chants.

"You're driving a caravan."

Both Quatre and Trowa glanced at Heero in surprise.

"What?"

"Caravan. It's a wooden contraption meant to move with the aid of primitive means such as animals or low-tech engines." It sounded as if Heero were reciting from out of a book.

"Er, yeah?" Quatre gave Trowa a helpless stare.

"He thinks it's primitive." Trowa murmured.

"Oh, right! Well, sure, we could be at Svale's in one hour with a planet hopper, and we could reach the next solar system in a week with an Etherripper, but Centre doesn't take well to technology. It's the place for fundamental forces, the arcane works better here than the mechanical. And neither Trowa nor I are Technologists." Although for once, Quatre was regretting having to use the brightly painted romany caravan and would have gladly swapped it for anything that could get them to Svale's quicker.

*

Not only did the vardo not miraculously transform into a Technologist vehicle (Gods are never that reliable, Quatre had learned that finally), but at the end of the day it looked like their trip might have been stalled considerably.

There was a big encampment at the foot of Regionell mountain. The river Reg was in full force, thundering down the ravines and flooding the plains beyond. The Source at its base was acting up again. This had been happening a lot recently. The sudden rise of the waters had happened a week ago, and most people in the temporary camp, barred access to the rest of the safe road on the other side of the normally calm river, were getting ready for a long stay or turning back to where they'd come from.

They settled the vardo on the outskirts of the camp, along with a few other new arrivals. Trowa and Quatre discussed what could be done, while Heero looked on in sublime indifference.

"There's been an uprising in Moonrath." The crusty old trader scratched a grime-covered face, dislodging a bit of dirt and adding more from soiled fingernails. "So the west is out. East is the mountains, so no one is going that way. Most people are heading back south, to go around the mountains and reach the bridge at Goreine."

"That'll take weeks." Quatre fidgeted.

"Well yeah, which is why I'm stayin' here." The man spat, a dirty trickle of saliva and some dark gum he was chewing. "The river maiden at't temple says the waters will go down in a couple weeks or so. It'll be quicker."

Trowa frowned. The quickest would be to go through the mountains. This would get them even closer to Svale, who lived on the other side of the Reg river at the foot of the range. Their trip would last a little over a week instead of three. Or forever, as people who entered the mountain range of the Reg rarely came out again. Trowa had crossed the range on two other occasions, but wasn't in any hurry to do so again with only Quatre and an unknown quantity like Heero at his side.

"Oops, here comes trouble." The merchant grunted, his eyes looking over Trowa's shoulder. "Whatever you do, don't say yes."

Quatre and Trowa turned. A young man was walking swiftly along the line of tents and caravans, his eyes scouring the new arrivals settling down for the night. Startling violet eyes were wide and worried. A long chestnut braid swished along his back like the tail of a nervous colt.

He passed them and hesitated, quick eyes flicking over Trowa's lean frame and Heero's muscled one. He seemed to want to say something, but appeared deterred by the silence coming from the two of them ­he didn't even glance at Quatre- and after a moment walked on.

"Trouble." The merchant murmured. "That young man has gotten more people killed than the river Reg rising."

"Why?" Quatre stared at the slender young man's receding back in surprise.

"He got himself into some sort of fix with a, well, some kind of bandit. Apparently it might be the dreaded Shinigami." The man whispered, glancing around carefully. "You've heard of him?"

"No." Quatre shook tousled blonde hair and leaned closer to the man, despite the smell.

"People don't know much about him. There's only rumours. They say he's a killer, and he's insane, kills for fun. He likes to steal anything that's not nailed down, especially artefacts of high power. He's devious an' secretive, no one knows what he looks like or what he's capable of. If someone finds out, they're as good as dead." The merchant was obviously having fun, his voice lowering in the gathering gloom.

"What does he have to do with that young man?"

"Well, young Maxwell there knows these mountains fairly well. I think he was a member of a band of hunters, looking for magical creatures. His whole band was massacred by this bandit, this Shinigami, who claims this range for his own."

"There are many bandits along the Reg." Trowa said, his first words all evening.

"Yes, but there's been a lot less since Shinigami took up residence!" The man hissed. "Maxwell escaped him, and offered to lead a group of knights from Moonrath to the bandit's hideout. Shinigami has several prices on his head. Well, they'd-"

"This Maxwell knows the mountains well enough to serve as guide?" Trowa was suddenly interested.

"Yeah, he did. But that don't mean he can navigate around death. The Knights found out the hard way. The ones guardin' the rear end of the company found a massacre. Bodies everywhere, all sixteen knights of the Moonrath vanguard slain, some before they could e'en draw their weapons. Limbs hacked off, disembowelled, genitals crushed, heads missin'. And Maxwell crouched in the centre of the bloody mess, that long braid clutched in his hands, mutterin' about death. He didn't have a speck of blood on him. Might explain why the remaining Knights let him live. That and the fact he looked part dead o' fright already. They dragged him out of the mountain, wanted to take him back to Moonrath to get another party of Knights together and go back."

The man leaned forward conspiratorially. The smell of stale sweat wafted towards them. The gathering darkness loomed behind the old man as he lowered his voice.

"They passed a caravan on their way to Moonrath. The caravan caught up with them an hour later. All ten remaining knights were dead, right at the boundary stone that indicates the end of the Reg range. They were in the same state as the others. Maxwell was sitting on the boundary stone. Apparently, Shinigami had told him that he was now the bandit's property." The old man leered. "He gave him three months to get out of the bind, and if he can't, well... And he'd kill anybody who'd try to protect him, or take him away from the mountains. Considering what he'd done to the Knights, Maxwell wasn't going anywhere.

"The caravan was also heading to Moonrath and told the council what had happened. They sent out more men, and then a champion or two. Same result. Maxwell's still here. Since the river swelled, he's been asking for help from the people staying at the camp. There's been some pretty strange folk caught on this side of the river, and a few have followed Maxwell into the mountain, hopin' to get at Shinigami's bounty. Or at the pretty ass in Maxwell's pants, I don't know. None of them have come back. He's getting desperate, he'd only got a few weeks left."

"Poor young man." Quatre murmured, then glanced up at Trowa. Who shook his head firmly.

"Are you sure?" Quatre looked pained. "Heero could- er-... er, Trowa?" His voice was suddenly tense.

Trowa glanced around, then turned slowly.

"Heero, put that down." He said calmly. Behind him, the dirty merchant took one look at the situation, felt the tension in the air, and disappeared into the dusk.

Heero glanced up, then back down at the shotgun he was holding, the one that was normally carefully tied to the vardo's doorway. He didn't seem to be in any hurry to obey Trowa.

"Heero, I mean it. That thing is dangerous." Trowa took a careful step towards Heero.

"Gun. Shotgun." Heero twisted the stock left and right. "Four chambers. Loaded, locked, secure. Contains up to four bullets. Bullets contain a charge which will be ignited by the gun's firing pin to produce an explosive release of gas which will propel the bullet at high velocity towards the target."

"Yes, gun. My gun." But Heero wasn't picking up the hint. "Give it to me, Heero."

"Hn." Heero twisted the stock again, then flipped off the security ­Trowa took a quick sidestep to put himself in front of a wide-eyed Quatre- hoisted the barrel to his shoulder in a smooth movement and squeezed the trigger without seeming to aim.

A considerable distance away, in the dim evening light, the wind vane at the top of a little crossroad temple was shot clean off.

The echoes of the gunshot faded in the hush of the camp as the people startled by the noise watched the vane slither down the roof and fall to the ground in a light puff of dust.

Trowa found himself staring at the stock of his shotgun. The security was on again. Heero was looking at him without interest as he held it out to him by the barrel.

"Wow, that was amazing!"

Trowa had been thinking along those lines ­Heero had fired an unknown gun without even a tracer shot to hit a barely visible target over a hundred feet away, that was in fact a bit more than amazing- but the exclamation did not come from him, or Quatre. They all turned towards the slender young man who had appeared behind them.

"You guys seem to know what you're doing. Erm, do you want to avoid waiting for the river to go down? Cause I know a fairly safe way through the mountains, pretty safe for tough guys like you. You won't even have to pay me, you just need to help me with a little problem first. Please say yes!" Maxwell gave them a brilliant, pleading smile and his eyes widened in supplication. "Please?"

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