This is great. I snort as the latest addition to our group gives an excited
squeal and cheers.
"You wonít regret this!"
"Letís hope so," Heero meets my eyes and gives me a pained look. We
have to be prepared to make sacrifices.
Undoubtedly. My thought reply is sour.
Heero nods, turning round to find himself eye to eye with our path finder.
"What?" he demands.
"Oh. Of course." Heero gives him the look that never fails to clear the
court of officials, turning aside brusquely. "We can discuss that later."
"I want to discuss this now."
In spite of myself, I raise an eyebrow. He withstood the patented Heero
glare? Heís either very fool hardy or very thick. Neither boded well for
Heero gives him another look and evidently decides its not worth it. "Wufei
will discuss this with you."
Oh, thank-you Heero.
I shoot him a dark look and he just smirks. If he wasnít who he was, I
would be wiping the floor with him.
"Come on," I say resignedly. "Letís get this sorted out."
The guide wanted the exorbitant fee of fifteen golds for his part in this.
I can only imagine what the path-finder would ask for.
How much do you want me to give him?
I donít think five golds
would be too extreme, do you?
I snorted. Hell, weíd be lucky
if five golds was all he wanted --
"How much do you want?" I asked.
"First I want to see your money."
He had the nerve to imply we would cheat him. I snorted pulling a wallet
from my saddle bags. "Here," I said, showing him a gold. "Will this do?"
He blinked, eyes locked on the coin. "So shiny -- " He whispered,
stepping closer to me, invading my personal space.
"Excuse me?" If it wasnít for the fact that a knight of my standing retreats
for nothing, I would have stepped back. Something in his tone . . .
"Itís so pretty! Look how it sparkles -- "
I squawked indignantly as the path-finder put his hand over my own.
"No you donít -- you get paid once we get to the fey court," I
said, trying to put the coin away.
"Noooo! Want sparkly now!" He hung on to my hand. Trying to bat him away
without dropping the purse or the coin, I somehow stumbled.
Thatís how we ended up on the ground together, the fey brat twined around
"Sparkly!" The braided menace crowed, managing to pry it from my limp
hand. I think I was in shock. "All mine!"
"Wufei?" Heeroís voice intruded. I looked up to find him standing over
us looking down with a fair degree of bemusement. "What are you doing?"
I just stared at him.
"No," Trowa saved me. "Duo, give me the coin."
"But its mine!"
A brief tug of war ensued which ended in the pathfinder being removed
from my chest and the coin taken off him.
"Youíll get it later," Trowa promised him. "Why donít you go ahead and
find a safe path for us. Sooner you get us there, the sooner you get the
coin to keep."
The fey brat pouted but agreed.
"What was that about?" Heero asked, as I, still in a state of numbness,
was assisted to my feet.
"You didnít need to offer him a gold," Trowa informed me coolly. "A silver
would have done, provided it was shiny enough."
"Shiny?" I said. It was the first word Iíd managed to utter since that
. . . that . . . outrage.
"Fey collect shiny things."
"Like magpies?" Quatre suggested hopefully.
"Like dragons," Trowa clarified.
I was beginning to feel more like myself. "Just what exactly have we hired?"
Trowa shrugged. "Duoís very good at what he does. Just try to put up with
his peculiarities . . . and keep all metal objects under careful watch."
He nodded to us, before returning to the horses.
"Well," Heero said in a monotone. "This will be interesting."
"Interesting?" I demanded. "You think walking into a wilderness with a
guide we donít know anything about, and who is most likely not even human,
and who acts like a simpleton, is interesting?" I then proceeded to tell
him at length what I thought it was, complete with hand gestures and an
appropriate level of volume.
Heero kept nodding, despite the glazed look in his eyes. Quatre was urgently
looking for an escape route -- and I hadnít even got to my full
I am so under appreciated.
"Heero, be a dear and help me with these sandal bags?" The Lady Relena
I ground my teeth. Does anyone have any idea how insulting it is to have
a knight of Heeroís standing, who incidentally is also my superior (in
name only I must add), playing nurse-maid to a foolish noble-girl.
"Woman have no place on quests such as these," I snapped. "They are a
weakness and a distraction."
Heero gave me a look but Relena laughed.
"I suppose Iíd be better off darning your socks, brave knight?"
"Hardly," I snorted. "I wouldnít let an onna like you near my socks!"
"Onna?" Relena asked.
"Woman," Heero clarified, showing her how to attach her saddle bags to
Relena looked at me for another moment. "You really need to work on your
unreasonable dislike of anything female."
"You should have stayed home," I told her. "Youíre totally unsuited for
this quest. You should have stayed with your balls and diplomatic treaties
-- or better yet, with your brother -- "
"Wufei, enough," Heero said. "Assist Quatre, please."
"Quatreís your squire," I said. "If anyone should be loading the onnaís
saddle bags it should be him."
"You know Quatre is not really my squire, anymore than we are just knights
and Relena is a lady. So go and help him."
There was a muffled squeak from the direction of the pack horses.
"It appears Trowa is helping Quatre," I said. "How kind."
"Wufei has a point though. If Iím posing as a lady Heero, I should have
some sort of attendent . . . " Relena left that hanging open expectantly.
My eyes widened as I realised her ploy.
By all the Gods, please let Heero not --
"Of course, I should have thought of that. Wufei, you will be so good
as to assist the lady on her journey."
I ground my teeth. "Of course."
Heero patted my shoulder. "You can start with finishing her saddle bags."
Relena smirked as she watched me work.
"Stop that," I grumbled.
"Am I really that bad?" she asked. Her tone was serious.
"You -- no." I had to admit. "I donít like your brother, and I
donít trust your kingdom -- but I trust Heeroís judgement and Heero
trusts you. So Iím stuck with you. And at least youíre occasionally sensible
and do not spend all of your time yapping about husbands and clothes and
jewelry. But still . . . you do not know how to defend yourself."
"I donít believe in violence as a means to solving anything."
"Yet you insist on putting yourself in a position of serious danger. We
donít need you here. You canít help us on this quest in any way."
"I couldnít stand back and let you and Heero go into danger on my behalf
alone," Relena insisted.
"Why not? Weíve done it before. Weíre knights."
"Yes, but this is different. Also, I may be of use once we reach the fey
court. Duo noticed my fey blood -- it may be of use."
She had a point. "I suppose so."
"Furthermore, if we are successful the fey court will loose one member.
Youíve heard of the gemís abilities?"
"Lady, with all due respect I am the scholar-knight! I have done more
research on that gem -- " I cut my rant short as Relena held up
a manicured hand.
"A simple yes, would have done. So you know the gem grants wishes, but
only a fey may activate it, and always at the cost of their sanity."
"It could be worse," I shrugged. "It could be their life."
"Its still a big thing to ask of anyone. I want to thank them in person."
I shrug, like her Highnessesí thanks will mean anything to the fey. "I
think theyíll be more interested in our gold," I said waving my hand towards
the pack horses. "You saw the effect they had on our path finder. This
should be easy."
"I donít know Wufei," Heero interrupted. "I have a feeling that things
arenít quite as they seem here."
"Itís the out-land. What do you expect?"
What I expected . . . wasnít this.
In all of the writings Iíd read of the out-lands, from the ancient scrolls
in the castle library to the most recent dissertations in the town university,
no one ever mentioned how plain . . . unnerving they were.
My horse shifted nervously beneath me, putting his ears back. I muttered
something to comfort it, reflecting that I must overcome my uneasiness
lest it be communicated to my companions.
Looking around I reflected that it was probably too late for that.
Relenaís discomfiture was apparent and Trowa was looking wary. Heero was
wearing an attitude of stoic grimness, which to someone who knew him as
well as I did was a sure sign that he was uneasy. The only one of us who
appeared even slightly happy was Quatre.
"This is fascinating! Have you looked at the grass?"
I averted my eyes. Heero answered sounding strained.
"Iím trying not to."
The long grass rippled as we rode through it, silently, not a sound anywhere.
I watched with a morbid sort of fascination as yet again the grass bowed
in response to a gust of wind -- a wind that did not, apparently,
"Does the wind exist but only to the grass? Or are our senses not aware
of it?" Quatre wondered.
"Please, Quatre, canít we just ignore it?"
I had to agree with the onna. It wasnít weakness, when weíd first entered
the out-land weíd found the phenomenon similarly interesting. But it wore
away at you, the oddness of the landscape, the way everything just screamed
Ďwrong!í at you.
"You get used to it," Trowa told me.
I looked at him. "Are you used to it?"
He shrugged. "No."
He moved on, to where Quatre was bubbling away enthusiastically.
Looking for something to distract me, I snapped, "Where is our so-called
I froze as a hand tickled my chin. "Aw, you missed me already?"
Duo yelped as I threw the both of us from my horse and pointed my gun
"Oh, itís you," I said.
I returned my gun to its place in my belt, well aware the rest of our
group was staring at me. "Do not sneak up on me again if you wish to live."
Duo pouted, rubbing his backside as he stood up. "Man, you need to lighten
I frowned. It was hard to believe Iíd first taken our path-finder for
human. Then again, fey creatures were generally confined to the out-land
and border towns. Part bloods, like Trowa might travel, but it was rare
to find the fey beyond their lands. Odd that. According to the scrolls,
they once roamed the entire land . . .
Whatever his history, it was clear that Duo had a good deal of fey in
him. Nothing else could explain the violet hue of his eyes, his almost
lustful pursuit of the Ďshinyí coin, or the alien grace with which he
moved -- not simply graceful, as Trowa was, or his movements balanced
like Heeroís with potential for deadliness. Rather, it was as though he
walked in the same plane that the wind that tossed the grass blew. Like
the grass, he was both fascinating and disturbing.
"Where have you been?" I demanded. "Youíre supposed to be guiding us."
He grinned at me, thoroughly undisturbed by my anger. "Actually thatís
Trowaís job. Iím path finder, and thatís exactly what Iíve been doing."
"How is it?" Trowa asked.
Duo shrugged. "Pretty stable, except just up ahead. I hope you guys brought
"Why is that?" Heero asked.
"Youíll see soon enough," Trowa said. "Will it change?"
"Iím not sure. This far out, thereís not much of interest so changes are
usually slower. But you can never tell." The pathfinder shrugged. "Itís
what makes life exciting, right?"
I stifled a smile as Heero stared blankly at him. My lord was probably
having a hard time digesting such a carefree attitude.
My smile faded as about ten minutes later we discovered just what exactly
Duo had meant. One minute we were walking through golden fields of grass,
and the next, stumbling under the bite of a vicious frost-laden wind.
"Tallk about micro-climates," Heero deadpanned. I was not impressed.
"Where the hell did this come from?" I demanded at the top of my lungs.
"One of the out-landís specialities," Trowa shouted back. "Itís varying
"See you guys later!" Duo chirped, making his way ahead of us. "Iím going
to see if I canít find a quicker way out of this."
He was quickly hidden from sight behind a snow drift. Only his voice drifted
back to us -- "Gone away is the bluebird. Here to stay is a new
bird -- "
I sighed, pulling my coat closer around me. This was going to be a long
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