Source Of All Things + Chapter 7
Duo sweatdropped as Svale hurtled past him at head height about two inches away from his nose. Apparently, Heero's physical examination was going pretty much as expected.
The man himself appeared in the doorway. Despite the risk, Duo couldn't stop the widest of grins crawling onto his face as he realized Heero was scowling and rubbing his buttock.
"Whatsa matter, buddy, did the old geezer pinch you?"
"Yes." Heero muttered, glaring around for his attacker.
"Well watch where you toss her next time, you almost croned me!"
Heero gave him a sour look and stalked off. Duo thought he would die when he saw Heero casting a wary eye around him as he walked. So he was human after all!
"Hooo-yaaa... " The noise was coming from the stabling area across the courtyard from the room Heero had left. Duo wandered over and looked down at the pile of broken wood and old straw. "That boy is just tooooo fine! I only wish I was a hundred years younger, at least I'd have a chance of-"
"-getting yourself killed, Svale. Heero's too tough for you. And I-" Duo added as he dodged a wandering hand that reached for him from under the pile "- am way too fast and not that easy. Give it up, relic."
Svale's head popped up through the broken horse stall where she'd landed. "Relic? What happened to the nice polite boy who was begging me to marry him last night?"
"I guess he vanished when you woke up?" Duo sniggered. Svale gave him a long look, then grinned. Something of a truce was declared.
Duo picked Svale up by the scruff of her black gown, dropped her, then fished around the broken stall for her staff, careful not to put his back to her. Svale was picking splinters out of her garment but was otherwise completely unharmed. Duo made a mental note to check out the apparent invulnerability of his host. Despite the presence of a source under their feet, he didn't think she was a goddess. Or if she was... then he was well down the path to atheism, Nai-No Kami spare him.
"Thank you, handsome!" Svale chirped as he handed her the staff (taking a few seconds to check it out for any magical properties). "Now, where'd that fine young man go? I've still got lots to examine. I hadn't even gotten to the interesting parts yet!"
"You know no fear, do you." Duo didn't have to feign reluctant respect.
"Life's too short!"
"I thought you were over five-hun-"
The staff whipped down with the speed of a striking cobra and rapped him on the head. "And your's will be even shorter if you start talking about a lady's age."
"I was talking about your age." Duo muttered, rubbing his head. He ran after Svale and fell in step with her as she hunted for Heero.
"I couldn't help notice this interesting place you live in, Svale. Most people will run a mile rather than spend a minute in a temple like this."
"Well most people are idiots." Svale grunted.
"Do you know what kind of temple this is? It looks old." Duo fished.
"It is. Drat!" Svale leapt up on to the rim of the well in the centre of the circle of abandoned ruins, trying to spot Heero. "One tiny pinch and he runs off like a frightened virgin. Bet he is one, too."
That almost distracted Duo, but he rammed his thoughts back to where they were supposed to be. "What was it used for?"
"What? What are you talking about? Do you see him, Maxie?"
"The temple, what-" Svale hopped up to the well's roof, then planted her staff in between two tiles and scrambled up it to get even more height, perching precariously.
Duo sighed. Okay. Time for the big guns.
"I woudn't bother, Svale. I don't think Heero is interested. After all, he turned me down... "
Duo heaved a big sigh, then stretched languorously, and brought one of his slim hands ghosting up his chest to rub his neck slowly as he arched his back, his braid echoing the movement with a gentle pendulum sway.
When he opened his eyes, Svale was still perched on her staff but it was now at ground level and she was at face height, staring at him.
"Okay, Maxie, you have my attention. What were you asking?"
Duo inspected the tip of one black glove with a slight pout, long lashes fluttering as he half-closed his eyes. "... just curious about you, Svale, I don't know many people who would be brave enough to live in an abandoned temple like this... "
"Don't lay it on too thick, kid, I was doing this before you were even a glint in your great-great-great-grandfather's eye." Svale muttered, which was true but didn't explain why she was drooling.
"... temple?..." Murmured Duo, spinning on his heels and walking to the nearest intact cirque, with a swing of hips and braid.
"What, you never seen a Jishin sanctuary before, boy?" Svale followed him to the rounded archway -there wasn't a straight line in the entire original structure, it all curled and blossomed in an organic dance of stone.
"Ji-what?" Duo asked lazily, entering the inner cirque -what was left of it- and walking around the place where the hearthstone would have been a long time ago. The round building, with several low inner walls weaving in and out like a maze, was decorated with words and texts, delicate flowing strokes lost in the shadows.
"Jishin." Svale barked. "The Ancients, the Elsire, the Tricksters, the twilight folk."
"Oh, them. I thought that was just legends."
"Bull, boy! What do they teach you in school nowadays? The Jishin were real."
"Were?" Duo murmured. "Oh, an old, vanished race." He added with studied nonchalance.
"Not until recently."
Duo was entirely controlled but he still felt himself stiffen at the unexpected tone of sadness in Svale's voice. Huh, interesting.
"So, this was what, a temple to one of their gods?"
"They didn't have temples for their gods. They didn't so much worship their deities as fight against them constantly. This isn't a temple, it's something else."
"What is it?" Duo asked casually. He'd spent most of the night exploring the sanctuary. The place was huge, actually, though most of it was now underground. The Source beneath it had preserved it but it was still badly damaged by time, and he didn't have the means to examine the buried sections. He couldn't tell what its purpose was, though he was beginning to wonder if...
"I don't know, really." Duo glanced at her sharply, but Svale was glaring at the walls full of ancient exotic script as if it insulted her, and seemed to be telling the truth.
"I thought Quatre said you lived here to study the place."
"Hmf, yes. I study a lot of Jishin arcana. But this place... I need a key for that. I thought I had it a couple of years ago. Some old fool dug it up from his library."
Duo's ears pricked. "And?"
"And before the old bugger could sell it to me, that bloody Shinigami went and stole it!" Svale's staff crashed against the old rock floor with a vengeance.
Duo's face was carefully blank, but he suddenly wanted to be elsewhere very quickly. "Oh what a shame."
"I should say! Devious scheming little rat! I don't know what he wants all that magic stuff for but he's been the bane of the arcane community for the past five years or more!" The staff ground into rock with a crish-crish-crish sound.
"Yeah, sounds like a real bastard. I've just remembered something I've got to do, Svale." Duo headed towards the exit, vaulting over a low wall in the process. "I'll be back-"
Svale appeared before him so quickly he thought she'd teleported into place. The staff and a twitching withered hand were barring his exit. "Whoa, not so fast, Maxie. Old Svale can tell you a lot more about the Jishin, you know, I've been studying them for years! Why don't I sit on your knee and tell you all about it."
"That'd be great, Svale." Duo said, trying to fend the hand away. "But I'm not all that- I really have to-"
"It can't be more important than learning, boy! You young people these days, you have no attention span, no concentration, no-"
"Oh look, there's Heero."
"Just went around that marker over there."
"See you later, Maxie! Heeeee-ro! Sweeeetie!"
Duo shook his head and made good his escape.
Five minutes later and ten miles away, imp, who was peacefully sleeping on its master's bag, found itself catapulted into the air and crashing to the ground in a little black and red heap.
"M-master?" It ground out, staring upside down at Duo rooting through the bag.
"Stupid stupid stupid stupid- baka! Iee - Shiranai! -Ee, ima!- Oroka... momoku-"
Duo blinked at imp hovering a few inches from his nose.
"Calm down." The imp hissed. "Master Duo." It added, once it saw what it needed in its master's eyes.
Duo sighed. He calmly reached into the bag, pulled out a book - the pages were so thin they were almost transparent, but made from some silicate material that Duo knew was nearly indestructible- and flipped it open, sinking to sit on the ground.
"Baka... " He muttered one more time, but it sounded like his normal voice. He flipped a few pages and scowled. "I knew it was a key, but I didn't realize that it went to the guardian nodes here on Centre. Too much useless knowledge, imp. Too... much... " His head slowly sank to his raised knees, curling around the book in his lap, his shoulders drooping.
Imp hesitated and fluttered over to his side. When Duo didn't move, it grabbed the end of his braid and awkwardly smoothed the hair escaping from the thong.
Duo sighed after awhile. "Don't me too nice to me, imp." He muttered. "You know it brings out my worst side."
Imp dutifully dropped the braid and waited for its master to speak.
When Duo lifted his head, his eyes were gleaming and imp felt relieved. Its master was back.
"I've just thought of something completely and utterly nasty and devious that will get me several things I want, and I won't have to lift a finger." Duo's manic smile had returned. It was decidedly unpleasant and imp was glad it wasn't the intended recipient.
Someone was about to meet Shi No Kami...
[chap. 6] [chap. 8] [back to Maldoror's fic]