by girl starfish
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Beautiful + Part 4

"We've got the dryad, Miss Relena."

"Excellent."

Trowa shut his eyes in humiliation. He could do nothing else--the four humans that had caught him had him tied up so tightly his eyes were almost all he could move. He heard the swish of Relena's skirts as the human approached him.

"Well, Trowa, you're looking well."

At that Trowa did look up. "You--twisted she-demon! Duo trusted you!"

"Ah yes, and tell me, where is my friend?" Relena smiled prettily. "We have a lot of catching up to do."

Trowa was silent, fuming. It was bad enough to be captured by humans--no matter how many. Even worse, they'd threatened to fire the forest. But worse still was the fact that he'd been caught by Relena. To think they'd trusted her so blindly--

"Not talkative? Oh well," Relena sighed, beckoning to one of her followers.

"What are you doing?" Trowa asked as he was pushed forward onto his knees.

"If you won't tell us where Duo is, we'll just have to convince him to show himself," Relena shrugged. "Oh, Duo! If you don't want your friend here to lose his head, show yourself now."

Trowa watched as one of the soldiers drew his weapon. "That won't work, you know."

"Oh, hush." Relena settled back to wait. "Duo? I'm not kidding! Come out now or--"

The guard raised his sword.

Still nothing happened.

"Dear me, I thought Duo was more attached to you than this," Relena said, walking back to Trowa. "I hope you two haven't had a falling out."

"Duo's too smart for your poisonous ways," Trowa spat at her. "Even if he was here he wouldn't--"

Too late he realized what he'd said.

"Oh?" Relena paused beside him. "If he was here?"

The dryad was silent.

"Pull him back up," Relena said. "Now Trowa--" A knife was pressed to his throat. "Might I suggest that you continue that oh so interesting little sentence?"

Trowa flicked his eyes disdainfully away from the knife and stayed silent.

Relena sighed. "Well, I wasn't really expecting that to work." She pulled the knife away from his throat. "Fire the woods," she ordered.

"What?"

"Fire the woods," Relena repeated.

Trowa watched in horror as the torches were lit. To a wood spirit nothing was more terrible than fire. Just the thought of that destructive force ripping through the forest, tearing at bright new growth and ancient tree alike, the pain of searing branches--

"No! Stop! Don't do it!"

Her back to Trowa, Relena smiled. Magical creatures could be irritating-- but they all had a weak spot. "Set the fires now!"

"NO! Stop! I'll tell you, just stop! Please!"

"Halt," Relena ordered, before walking back to Trowa. The dryad had sweat running down his face--interesting, she had no idea fire affected them this much. "You were saying?"

Trowa took a deep breath. Duo--forgive me. "He left, when you first arrived. He's gone to find a way to reverse the stone spell."

"Reverse the spell--is that possible?" Relena asked, stepping closer to Trowa.

The dryad shrugged. "I don't know, but he's certainly going to try."

"Why would he want to reverse the spell now?" Relena wondered. When Trowa was not forthcoming with answers, she sighed. "Come now, you don't really want me to have to burn this pretty forest down around our ears, do you?"

"He wants to bring Heero back."

"Heero? How amusing," Relena smiled. "But I'm afraid I can't allow that. Where exactly has he gone?"

"I don't know," Trowa admitted. "All I know is that he intended to find a way to bring the statues back."

Relena toyed with the blade she held absently before shrugging. "I suppose that'll do. After all, a gorgon can't get far without leaving a trail." She turned to the guards. "Put him in the holding cage attached to the rear wagon and bring him with us."

"What are you going to do with me?" Trowa asked, struggling against his bonds without much success.

"What do you think? We need a hostage for when we catch up with our friend Duo." Relena waved as he was carried away. "See you later, Trowa!"

She turned back to watching the statues being carried one by one into the wagons. She so enjoyed it when things went her way.

True, she didn't exactly have Duo in her possession yet--but a gorgon could not get far.

+

"Wufei?"

The warrior scowled, not bothering to turn back to his companion. "What is it now?"

"Could we not stop and take a break? Just a little one?"

"We should try and put as much distance between ourselves and the evil onna as quickly as possible."

"I know," Duo sighed. "But my feet hurt and my snakes are killing me. Not to mention we've been running for like, forever. Besides, we should really wait till after dark to travel."

"Why do we need to wait?" Wufei asked.

The gorgon sighed. "You might want to move away from that tree."

Wufei jumped out of the way as a stone bird fell from the branches and nearly hit him. "Can't you turn that thing off?"

Duo's snakes hissed in annoyance. "Believe me, I've tried. Come on, Wu, we need to decide where we're headed."

"You mean you don't know?" Wufei glared at his companion.

"Think about it! Don't you think if I'd known there was a way of returning the statues to their regular selves, I'd have done so before now?"

"I find it hard to believe a monster like you has any concern for his victims," Wufei said coldly. "However, if it will help bring Quatre back, I will work with you on this quest."

The snakes narrowed their eyes at Wufei, flicking their tongues in and out at him. Duo just glared at him. "Well, no-one asked you to help! Geez, what bit you?"

"Apart from your snakes?" Wufei abruptly decided that if they were to be effective partners they should establish a basis for the partnership that was at least somewhat equitable. He sat down. "A rest might not be a bad thing."

Duo just looked at him a while but then his tiredness won out and he too sat down. "Quatre did mention something about an oracle. Ring any bells?"

The human groaned. "Not the Oracle! I hate the Oracle!"

"Mind explaining to me who or what this Oracle is?" Duo said, stretching back and relishing the feeling of being able to rest his limbs.

"Don't tell me you've never heard of the Oracle of Delphi?" Wufei said scornfully.

"Oh, the Oracle of Delphi. As in the Oracle that is at Delphi. As opposed to Oracles that are anywhere else. Ah, now I've got you."

Wufei smirked. "You don't have a clue what the Oracle is, do you?"

"No," Duo admitted.

"Well, given your limited travel and interaction with people, I'd say that's not so surprising," Wufei mused. "The Oracle is a person, chosen to be the voice of the god Apollo and who delivers prophecies in riddle form to the visitors to the shrine."

"And he can help us?"

"If we are lucky, she will."

"She?" questioned Duo.

Wufei made an annoyed sound. "I've visited the Oracle before. It's a she--a very annoying onna in fact."

"Worse then Relena?"

"Yes. No. Possibly," Wufei said dubiously.

"Possibly?" Duo looked dismayed. "And I thought Trowa was getting the hard job."

"I'm sure he'll be fine. Dryads are normally pretty resilient, they take a lot to bring down," Wufei said absently.

Duo looked at him. "Wufei . . . you're a monster hunter, aren't you? Like Heero--"

"And Quatre--what? Why are you looking at me like that for?"

"No reason. I was just thinking that explains why you dislike me so much. Though I don't get why you humans hate us monsters so much--"

"Well, let me think. Hmm, maybe it's the fact that a lot of monsters eat humans? Or try to trick them like the sphinxes? Steal their wives like centaurs? Even turn them to sto--"

"You've made your point! And okay, so the Sphinx is just twisted, and everyone agrees the centaurs are jerks when they've had too much to drink, but what about the rest of us? Just being a monster is enough to get you killed, no matter whether you're a nymph who doesn't know how to fight and wouldn't harm a flea, or a dryad whose only interest is in protecting their forest? None of us asked to be monsters, you know. We've got just as much right to live as you humans! Instead, some of us are far on the track to becoming endangered species!"

The water snake interrupted his tirade by bumping against the side of his face and hissing. "I guess you're right," Duo said, patting the snake's head. "Well, Wufei, it's dark. Want to continue?"

"Of course." The warrior stood and they continued.

+

Travelling at night had at least as many bad points as good points.

"Maybe we should wait until morning to continue," Duo said as he and Wufei pulled themselves out of another ditch.

"Maybe," Wufei snorted. "Whose idea was it to follow the main road?"

"Yours."

"Oh."

"There are some trees over here. Hopefully we're back in the woods. You want to crash here and call it a night?"

"I suppose we have no choice," Wufei sighed, following Duo.

Duo noted Wufei's reluctance. "We can get up really early in the morning."

"Yes." Wufei lay back and eyed the night stars with gloom.

"Cheer up already, Wu. We'll find a way to get Heero and Quatre back."

"And we'll get them back a lot sooner if you'd let me get to sleep."

"Fine. Geez, come on girls. We'll just settle down over here, away from Mister Grouch. Man, what I wouldn't do for a pillow--"

Wufei listened as the gorgon's grumbling died away into peaceful breathing. A few minutes later the snakes also quietened down. Relatively speaking.

Wufei sighed. Apparently one of Duo's snakes snored.

I bet it's the water snake, he thought, settling back.

He took a moment to still his breathing, summoning the discipline that his teachers had given him. Calm and peace flooded filled his mind.

Calm and peace.

Wufei repeated the words like a mantra as he allowed himself to slip into sleep.

Peace and calm--

+

A harsh scream ripped the air. A hand clutched at his tunic.

"Help me! Help me!"

Wufei flinched, keeping his eyes closed. "Peace and calm," he repeated. "Peace--"

"Wufei! Wufei, I'm dying!"

More voices, twisted in agony. "Wufei! Help--"

"Don't leave us! You're our only hope!"

"You betrayed us!"

"Peace and calm," Wufei continued in a voice not far away from a sob. "Peace and calm, peace and calm--"

The familiar sound of mourning rose, along with new shouts.

"Where were you? You failed to protect your clan--"

"Call yourself a warrior no more, weakling! You are now cast out of this clan."

"Why, Wufei? Why'd you leave us to burn and die--"

"I did not! You're not real--I'm imagining all of this--leave me!" Wufei yelled. "Peace and calm--"

"Traitor!"

"Murderer!"

Wufei flinched as a hand gripped his arm. Not real, it was not real, not real--

"See Wufei? Even now the village burns--"

The scent of smoke was sharp and acrid and strong--

Wufei opened his eyes.

As the voice said, his village still burned. His family's house stood before him, the flag that once proudly displayed his house's symbol, consumed by sharp flames, even as dark smoke flowed from his house. A fallen wall had crumbled onto the path. From beneath it a pale hand extended.

Wufei stared at it in horror.

"No--"

A heavy hand fell on his shoulder holding him still so he could not turn away. "Look upon your handiwork, little dragon. To think that a pupil of mine could have unleashed such a fate on his own people--"

"No! Master O--" Wufei managed to pull away from his teacher and spun around to deny the accusations--only to stop in terror.

Master O sneered at him, through lips only barely attached to the bare bone beneath them. "What, warrior, do you fear to look on what you have done?" He reached towards Wufei with a hand blistered and raw, the tendons bared. The smell of burnt flesh reached Wufei's nose and he screamed.

+

"Wufei? Wufei, wake up!"

"No--no! Stop, don't touch me! Leave me alone!"

"Wufei!"

Wufei opened his eyes. He looked in to one pair of worried violet eyes, and nine pairs of snaky eyes. He screamed.

Duo sighed. "Geez, is it something about me?" He slapped him.

"Ow!" Wufei put a hand to his stinging cheek. "You hit me!"

"I'll do it again, if I have to!" Duo said.

"Why did you hit me?" Wufei said.

"You were getting hysterical, and I was always told that when people get hysterical you slap them."

"Oh," Wufei took his hand away from his cheek. He was calmer. The real pain of the slap had dispelled the fragments of memory that still haunted him. "You have a good right hand."

"Thanks. Are you feeling better? Because I can hit you again if you want."

"I feel better," Wufei said.

"Are you sure? Because it's no big deal. I mean, I don't mind hitting you-- "

"Duo, I'm fine." Wufei wiped his forehead. His hand still trembled slightly.

Duo's hand lightly brushed his face. "You sure? What happened anyway?"

Wufei sighed. "A dream."

"Must have been some dream." Wufei heard the gorgon sit beside him. "Want to tell me about it?"

"No."

"Figures. Tell me anyway? It might make you feel better."

Wufei sighed. "It's my curse. Every night when I dream I see my clan being destroyed, my home burnt before my eyes."

"Wow," Duo whispered. "Every night?"

"I haven't slept naturally for three years. The only time I get a decent sleep is when Quatre makes me a sleeping draught."

"That's terrible. Are you sure there isn't something you can do to get rid of them?"

"It's a curse," Wufei said bitterly. "The Furies themselves created it. It's not exactly easy to get rid of."

Duo swore. His snakes hissed in surprise. Or maybe they were just tired. It's hard to tell with snakes. "The Furies?"

"Yes," Wufei's head was beginning to hurt.

"The female spirits in charge of vengeance and justice and stuff like that?"

"How many Furies are there?" Wufei snapped.

"Just asking," Duo sighed. "How on earth did you get the Furies after you? They never give up--not until they get what they want--"

"I know! That's exactly what the Oracle said--"

"The Oracle?"

Wufei sighed. "When this first . . . happened, I went to find the Oracle to ask if there was a way I could lift the curse."

"So that's how you knew the Oracle was a girl," Duo said. "What did she say?"

"She said," Wufei said with bitterness, "that the curse would never be lifted." He snorted. "I am fated to suffer this until I die." He snorted. "Or until I willingly risk my life to help a monster. But that will never happen."

"Why not?" Duo asked. "You're helping me."

"Only to help Quatre," Wufei said. "I will never help a monster. I am a monster hunter, remember? Besides, it was a monster who was the reason for the curse anyway."

"A monster? What happened?"

"None of your business," Wufei snapped. "Go back to sleep."

"I only want to help--"

"Well, I don't need your help."

"Well I don't need your help, he says. Geez, I'm beginning to think he doesn't like me. Hah!"

Wufei waited patiently for Duo to talk himself out. "Ow!"

There was a sharp sting on his forearm. "What the--your snakes bit me!"

"Only one of them did, the little brown one. Don't worry; its venom isn't very powerful."

"Oh that's a great relief--" Wufei started, breaking off as his head began to swim. "Duo, I don't feel--"

+

Wufei opened his eyes.

The sunlight was so bright that for a moment he couldn't work out where he was. He sat up cautiously.

Duo was still asleep next to him, sprawled untidily on the ground. His snakes were spread out around him. Most were still asleep, although a couple watched Wufei warily.

It was creepy, knowing that even when Duo was asleep his snakes weren't. Wufei wondered how great a connection existed between the monster and the snakes in an apparently symbiotic relationship with him. As far as he knew no research had been done on the subject--

No, he told himself firmly. He is a monster. Not a source of interest--not even a friend.

He was also a liability. Wufei looked around the forest clearing they were in--and froze--

What they'd thought from the trees to have been a forest was instead a park- -right in the middle of a pretty fair size town. Already a few people were out and about, leaving their houses and wandering the streets either side of the park.

So far they hadn't seen him or Duo--but when they did--

Or rather, when Duo saw them--

As if on cue the gorgon sighed, stretching and rolling over. "Morning 'Fei. Did you sleep well?"

Wufei opened his mouth to say 'Don't be ridiculous," and paused. Actually, after being woken by Duo he had slept well. "The snake bite--the venom put me to sleep!"

"Quite a neat little party trick, huh?" Duo grinned at him. "The little brown one comes in useful a lot." He stretched again and sat up. "So where are we?"

Wufei sighed as shouts from the villagers told him they'd been noticed. "In a disaster waiting to happen."

"Huh?" Duo blinked at him, before turning to scan their surroundings.

"Don't--" Wufei yelled but it was too late.

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