by girl_starfish

Knight Fall + Part 1

Duo's POV.

Ironclaw is a boundary village, way out on the edge where civilization meets wilderness. As so, it doesn't really fit either category. Although it has all the trimmings of a rural town, the buildings that line the town's main street are well battered, the tools used to build them a little bit more rough and ready than the townsfolk conscious of such things would like. Men wear weapons all the time. Women wear them too, only there's not so many of them out here. Not being misogynistic or nothing, just that the only people who live this far out are adventure seekers, bandits, or hunters, none of which occupations are particularly attractive to women.

Or at least not the women I've met.

The other giveaway is the creatures. So, I've been told even a great metropolitan city like London isn't free from pigs roaming the streets and the cats still come and go as they please. But you won't find many other places in this island where people have to lock down their windows every night to guard against pixies. And trolls aren't that uncommon either. And you practically trip over a goblin every time you go outside.

I've been told I fit right in.

I chose to take that as a compliment.

The Loaded Gundam was in full swing. The beaten up jukebox was on full volume, the place was packed, and I was having a blast. My long braid spun behind me as I danced, singing along to the music.

"I've got my mind set on you, I've got my mind set on you."

Those of the patrons not dancing pretty much ignored me. I guess I'm something of a fixture here. The only stares I got were from ignorant in-landers who didn't think guys were supposed to have hair that long -

"I've got my mind set on - ow!"

I was jerked back suddenly by a sudden pressure on my braid. Spinning around to angrily confront whoever had the nerve to use my hair as a leash I was confronted with a spiky fringe and a very familiar green eye.

"Trowa?"

He gave my braid one last tug. "Finally. I've been trying to get your attention for a good fifteen minutes -"

"Trowa!" I squealed, throwing myself bodily at him. "Long time no see!"

"Yes. Now this is important -"

"What have you been doing with yourself?" I proclaimed, loudly enough to get the attention of everyone at the bar. "You're skin and bones! Then again, you always were -"

"Duo -" Trowa sounded pained.

I gave him a cautious sniff and frowned as my suspicions were borne out. "I thought so! You're sober!"

"Duo, I don't have time for this -"

"Hey! Can we get some beers over here?"

There was a cautious movement behind him and I got a glimpse of wide blue eyes and blonde hair.

"Uh - is this him?"

"Yes." Trowa sounded resigned. "Duo, meet Quatre."

"Hey there," I grinned. "Nice to meet you. Oh sorry, forgot my manners." I turned back to the bar and bellowed. "Make that three beers!"

"Make that none."

I squawked as I suddenly found myself scooped over Trowa's shoulder.

"We have some business to attend to," he said to the barman. "We'll be back later."

The barman just nodded, as if he saw his patrons get carried out of the bar like this everyday. Then again, it takes a lot to surprise an out-lander.

"So Trowa," I said as we continued on our way out of the bar. "I had no idea you swung this way."

"Shut up, Duo."

"Just think of all the time we wasted!" I continued. "Well, no better time to make up for it. Whose place, yours or mi- mmph."

"Quiet, idiot."

I was forced to be. Trowa had pushed my braid into my mouth.

"Um, Trowa, what did he mean, swung that way?" Quatre asked.

Trowa put me down. "I have no idea," he said, blushing.

I frowned at that. Trowa so knew what I meant - so why would he be blushing, unless - I cackled as an explanation presented itself.

"A threesome? Trowa, you have hidden depths!"

"A three -" Quatre started to ask. I never got the rest of the question for the very good reason that Trowa chose then to upend me into a barrel of water.

"What was that for?" I spluttered as I resurfaced angrily.

"Are you sober?" Trowa asked.

"What kind of dumb question is that?" I demanded changing my mind as he looked as though he'd duck me again. "I'm sober! I'm sober!"

"Good. Now dry off." He threw a towel at me.

I grumbled to myself as I obeyed.

Trowa and Quatre watched me. "You didn't say he was young."

"It doesn't make any difference," Trowa said simply. "He's the best there is."

"Damn right I am!" I said proudly. "At what?"

Quatre and Trowa sighed. "Let's go."

"Going where? Hey, can I get an explanation here? Come on - just a little hint?" I ran after them.

"We need a pathfinder through the out-land." Quatre explained. "Trowa's our guide and he said there was no way we could get through the out-land without one."

"True," I nodded. "The out-land is dangerous for those who don't know it."

"The party is not that big. Two knights, a lady, Quatre and me."

"Transport?" I asked.

"Horses," Trowa explained.

I nodded. "At least they're sensible in-landers."

"Wait till you meet them. They're serious. Please . . . don't be yourself."

I stuck my tongue out at him. "Thanks for your confidence."

"I think you're being over cautious," Quatre offered. "I'm don't think milord knights will find any trouble with the pathfinder, especially if he's as good as you say."

"There!" I beamed at Trowa. "Nothing to worry about!"

Trowa said nothing, just tugged on my braid again.

"Oi! That is not what that is there for!"

I sulked as Trowa led me to where his clients were. They'd chosen to camp outside the village. Afraid of thievery probably - I'd never seen horses so fine, or equpment like theirs. It made me drool, just thinking about what I could do with junk like theirs -

Trowa pulled my braid again. "Don't steal anything."

I gave him an offended look, nursing my braid. "Would I do such a thing?"

"You won't if you want to live. A pickpocket tried them on in Varsmouth. He's lucky to still have his hand."

The pretty equipment seemed to have lost its allure. "I'll remember that."

"Good." Trowa patted me on the back, his visible eye meeting Quatre's. "He's got fey blood," he explained. "They can't help but be attracted to other people's property. Especially if its shiny."

"Look who's talking," I muttered.

"What?"

"You're at least a quarter fey," I informed him loftily. "I'd say one of your grandparents was a half or full blood, a Vascarni."

Trowa stared at me. "How did you know that?"

I shrug. "Like you said, I'm the best. No one knows fey like me."

Trowa gave me a long look. He was about to say something when a grumpy voice interrupted us.

"What's this?"

He was about the same age as Trowa and me but the white tunic he wore with the red dragon on said quite clearly he was a knight. If that didn't, the gun he wore at his side did. Only knights were allowed to carry weapons that openly.

He gave Trowa a suspicious look as he continued. "I thought we were clear. No visitors."

"Duo isn't a visitor. He's a pathfinder. I suggest you hire him if you want to make it through the out-land safely."

"Gosh, thanks for the glowing recommendation Trowa," I said grinning.

If anything the frown on the knight's face deepened. "We did not discuss this. Heero!"

The other knight joined us, along with a woman wearing a simply cut but elegant blouse and trousers. None of them were much older than me . . . but they still managed to make me feel very young and foolish.

"What seems to be the matter here?" The second knight, Heero, said, sending a questioning look between me and the first knight. "Explain, Wufei."

Wufei pointed at me. "Our guide wants to hire him as pathfinder. This was not in the agreement."

"True." The second knight nodded. "We hired you to guide us, and you only."

"That was before you told me where in the out-land you wanted to go," Trowa said. "I'm used to taking parties to the sulphur pits or the black forest. I've never been right into the centre before . . . and I've known only person to ever have made it to the Fey court."

"And who would that be?" Heero demanded.

"That would be me," I said brightly. "I'm Duo."

Dark eyes fastened on me. "Duo," he repeated.

"Yup. I spend a lot of time in the out-land, practically live there."

"And you can take us to the fey court?"

"Sure. For the right amount, of course."

The first knight snorted. "Of course."

What tried to eat him? I glared at him.

"No one knows the fey like Duo does," Trowa said quietly but firmly. "As far as I know he's never lost a client."

"Not even when I've been trying to," I joked. I got three equally blank looks. Well, someone forgot to invite the fairy godmother with a sense of humour to their christenings.

"What is your involvement with him?" The first knight demanded.

"About five years ago my family and I were travelling through this district. I was raised by a band of travelling carnival people, and we were misdirected into the out-land. We wandered for days until Duo found us and guided us out safely. We found out years later that no-one had got as deep into the out-land as we had and survived. If it hadn't been for Duo -"

"I do my best," I said modestly.

The knights exchanged looks. "Duo, would you mind if we discussed this matter privately?" Heero asked. I shrugged. "Sure. I'll just go for a walk."

I sauntered away, my braid swinging . . . then ducked behind a tree and activated the listening spell I'd cast while talking to them.

"You think we should hire him?"

"I would not have brought him to you if we did not need him," Trowa said.

"He's a friend of yours," Wufei said, still suspicious. Man, who got on his case?

"He saved my life years ago. Of course he's my friend."

"Would you trust him?" Heero asks.

"With my life, yes. With my valuables - probably not."

I probably deserved that.

"You said he was fey, right?" Quatre piped up. "What does that mean?"

"Fey-blooded." Trowa clarified. "That's what creatures of magic are known as - the fey. Anything with fey blood is also fey, regardless of how much is in their ancestry and whether or not they appear fey."

"Does that include you?"

"My fey blood is not strong enough for me to consider myself really fey," Trowa answered. "But to in-landers like yourselves, I would probably be considered fey."

"And Duo?"

"No one seems to know."

"What do you mean by that?" What, Wufei again with the suspicious remarks? I'm beginning to think he doesn't like me.

"Well, Duo just comes and goes. He always has. No one seems to know much of his past."

"Why not?"

"Around here, so close to the out-land, it's considered rude to inquire into other people's ancestry too much. Other people have abilities we don't understand, we accept that and let it be."

"And you're saying Duo has these abilities? Magic?"

"He must," Trowa said. "He's been navigating these parts alone since he was a child. I've never seen him use magic but he must have something."

"I see. We will consider this further. Thank-you, Mr. Barton."

Trowa nodded and bowed, before leaving the group.

I upped my spell as they grouped into closer.

"What do you think, Heero?" the lady - well, girl really, asked the second knight.

The first knight snorted, interrupting. "It's an obvious set-up. I say we don't take him."

Wow - big surprise there.

"Barton has a point though - he didn't know we intended to go to the court when we hired him."

"I still say we don't trust him. You heard what our guide said - he may not be human."

"Wufei, the fey aren't human either and we've come to look for them."

"I thought he was too loud. His behaviour seems a little . . . off."

"Trowa did mention something about him being a thief -"

"Little good if we get to the fey court without our goods -"

"There's nowhere he could go with them if he did steal them! The king's seal is on everything -"

Damn.

"No one knows anything about him -"

"He's got girly hair."

"Enough!"

I was surprised. Heero managed to bring everyone to silence with just the one word. He didn't even raise his voice.

"We'll talk to him. See if he's as good as they say. And then, if he is, we'll hire him - to be paid once we reach the fey court only."

"Agreed."

"Wufei?"

"Fine."

"Listening in?" a voice behind me asked, sounding mildly amused.

I smirked at Trowa. "Would I do that?"

"Just be glad I didn't tell them how incurably nosy you are. Now go, and don't stuff this up. You've got both our reputations riding on this."

"Not a prob," I said, heading over to join the knights and lady. "You called?"

"Yes," Heero said. "We were wondering if you could tell us what qualifications you have."

"Qualifications?" I raised an eyebrow. "Well, one, I lived here all my life. Two, I'm still alive and not missing any major body parts -"

"And how do you propose to lead us through the out-land?"

"My senses are pretty good," I said with a flick of my braid. "You've heard of course of the out-land's unique geography?"

"Does it move, like the writers say it does?" the lady asked.

I winked at her. "Got it in one. So maps and memory aren't going to do you any good. You need a feeling about things fey . . ." something was tugging at me. Something - oh.

I smirked. So this was there idea of a test?

"Of course, milady, I don't think I need to tell you about this, do I?"

"What do you mean?" Quatre asked.

"It's not really my place to say," I said. "But she's got fey blood. It's distant, I'd say seven or so generations, but it's there . . . let me guess, harpie?"

"Selkie," she acknowledged with a nod.

The second knight nodded slowly. "You do have good senses."

"You need them to live out here," I nodded. "So?"

"Gather your things," the dark eyed knight said. Much to his companion's dismay I might add. "We leave in an hour."

[part 2] [back to girl_starfish's fic]