Title: Knight Fall #3.
Author: girl_starfish
Pairings : Even more undecided than before
Disclaimer: Um, can't think of a single blasted thing right now. Ooh, yes! OOCness. I know, I know, you're all sick of not seeing them as themselves but . . . it was more fun this way . . .and Trowa just couldn't help grabbing Quatre's . . . oh, just read it.

Knight Fall + Part 3

Quatre's POV.

I hummed as I flipped through my magic books. What an absolutely fascinating day! I couldnít wait to record what had happened-- my impressions of the out-land, our meeting with Duo, what weíd learned of the fey, Trowa--

Beside me a small fire burned. If you looked closely, you might notice that the wood it burned from was not actually touched. Magic fires were so much easier to contain, and less hassle than a kerosene lamp or oven. Plus they were better for the environment.

I turned another page. I was glad to get a chance to settle down at last with my books. Although I was fascinated by the wild magic of the out-land, I had to admit I was not used to such strenuous activity. That last hourís walk through the snow drifts had been horrible. I was never so relieved as when Heero called a halt for the sake of me and Relena. Wufei looked as though he could have walked all night and made it clear that he thought stopping a waste of time.

Once in my tent though, and sheltered from the horrible weather, I could finally devote myself to my magic. Turning the page I at last discovered the spell I wanted and set to work.

Half an hour later, Heero and Wufei came in, having finished putting up the rest of the tents.

"Quatre? We need to discuss the rest of the mission as well as the wards for tonight."

"Of course," I said distractedly. One moment."

They waited patiently (or, in Wufeiís case, with the bare semblance of patience) as I finished casting the spell.

"Done," I said, picking up the mirror triumphantly.

Heero and Wufei looked interested. "Youíve bespelled it, Quatre?"

"Yes."

"To do what? Show the future? Spy on possible enemies? Communicate with the castle?"

"No. This mirror will now let you see whatís behind you."

"Behind you," Heero said flatly.

I looked at him, frowning. Something wrong? "Oh yes. Iíve been trying for the last hour or so to look at my rear and an ordinary mirror just wonít do."

"Quatre -- why do you need to look at yourÖ rear?" Wufei asked.

Now he was talking like Heero was. "Well when we were saddling the horses this morning Trowa said I had a nice ass. And then he pinched it. Like that." I demonstrated.

"Quatre, your sisters didnít let you get out much, did they?"

"Of course they did!" I said indignantly. "I was allowed to go to the market every Wednesday, with bodyguards."

"What Heero means is they didnít let you, well, date, did they?"

"No. Iria said that a wizard shouldnít date until he is at least one hundred."

"Ah." Heero put the mirror aside. "Weíre going to have to have a little talk with you sometime, Quatre."

"Yes?" I said expectantly."

"But not tonight."

Wufei coughed. It sounded like heíd said Ďchickení but I could be mistaken. Then again, Heero was glaring at himÖ then again, this was Heero.

"Iíve already put the wards in place," I said, turning back to my books. "I havenít activated them yet because I needed my books for the formulas. You see, Iím not sure how to set wards that will guard us against all the different changes the landscape might go through tonight so instead, I was thinking of building one barrier to surround our camp and bespell that using Wingmanís third law of homogenuity ≠"

"In English, wizard."

I glared at Wufei. "Imagine a cake tin. If you want to keep you cake safe, you put it in a cake tin. Iím going to make the magical equivalent to surround our camp."

"A magic cake tin?"

"Yes."

"Cake tin?"

"Itís only a parallel," I sighed. Heero still didnít look happy.

Neither did Wufei. "Do cake tins have breathing holes?"

"Forget about the cake tins!" I snapped. "Iím going to protect this camp! Now, if you two donít stop arguing with me, Iíll turn you into radishes!"

They stopped arguing with me.

"There was one more thing, Quatre. Thatís if youíre not busy or anything."

"Not at all, Heero," I smiled pleasantly. "What is it?"

"Wufei was wondering if youíd sensed anythingÖ untowardÖ about our pathfinder."

"What, Duo?"

"Yes, Duo. How many cursed pathfinders do we have?"

Surprise, surprise. Wufei was grumpy. I tried to ignore the rant going on and thought about what Iíd sensed that day about our pathfinder. "Um, he seems pleasant enough. I havenít picked up any hostility. A little annoyance when Trowa took the coin away from him, but heíd forgotten that minutes later."

"Attention span of a gnat ≠"

"Heís got the weirdest aura Iíve ever seen," I said, cutting Wufei off before his new rant could even get started. "You should look at it, itís amazing. I donít think this has been seen in any of my courses ≠"

"Quatre," Heero said patiently. "You need to be a wizard to see auras."

"Oh," I blushed. "Silly me."

"So what is so special about Duoís aura?" Wufei snapped. He hates when I know stuff they donít.

"Itís always changing," I said. "Just like the landscape. I donít think thatís ever been recorded before--"

"And that means what?" Heero asked.

"I donít know. Iíve never encountered it before," I had to admit.

Wufei snorted. "Great."

Heero put a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks, Quatre. Can you let us know if you see him using any magic?"

"You mean besides the basics? Sure," I nodded turning back to my books.

"Hang on -- besides the basics?" Heero paused on the threshold.

"Yeah. You know. The first spells everyone is taught. How to make fire, how to put the fire out, how to treat burns. The obvious ones."

"Obvious?"

"Theyíre so basic itís really easy to see them," I supplied. "Like the grass is green, the sky is blue, thereís a listening spell on Heero --"

Two voices simultaneously said, "Listening spell?"

I blinked at them. "You didnít know?"

"Obviously not," Heero said coolly as Wufei waved his arms around dramatically.

"Do we look like magic-users here? Wizards!!"

"But you two can use mind-speech. Thatís a really high level magic," I protested.

"O thought that the concentration involved in learning that particular magic would teach us necessary discipline and how to summon inner peace and harmony," Wufei snapped.

"J taught us a little extra -- stealth, healing, that sort of thing but we know hardly any theory. Even of the basics," Heero said.

"Really? You mean -- you canít see spells?"

"Not quite," Wufei admitted.

"Not even a little bit?"

"So explain this listening spell," Heero requested.

"It does what it sounds like. Lets someone hear something." I picked at the spell. "In this case Duo wanted to listen toÖ oh, this looks like our discussion over whether we should hire him."

"Injustice! Outrage! Impertinence!"

"I see."

"Iím going to gut him --"

"Is the spell working now?"

"No," I said, trying to ignore Wufei. "Duo terminated it when weíd finished talking about him. Heís left this end open, though, so that he could pick it up again if he wanted to."

"I knew we shouldnít have hired him," Wufei said. "I knew we couldnít trust him."

"Why didnít you inform us of this?" Heero asked me.

I shrugged. "Basically because itís so widespread out here. Itís a common use of a magic. Like masks. Almost everyone at the village we left had one."

"A mask?"

"Magical representation of what they want to appear like. Basically people donít trust each other out here. Itís a fact of life."

"Quatre," Heero said, sitting beside me. "You said before that Duo had left this end open. Does that mean there is another end?"

"Yes, the connection at his end."

"So we could listen to him now?"

"Well yes, if we wanted to."

Heero seemed to be waiting for something. I looked at him.

"Well?"

"Could you activate the spell, please?"

"Oh, you want to see what heís doing! Oh, sure. Coming right up."

I set the spell in motion.

"Well?" Wufei said impatiently.

"Shush," I said, trying to concentrate. "This isnít easy you know. Iíve found Duo, but itís hard getting him to be audible. Kind of like trying to tune a radio without having any stations marked."

"-- so I donít want any of you going after them. Theyíre my property, got that?"

It was recognizably Duoís voice.

"Says you." This voice was harsher, laced with cunning. If a rock could talk, it would use that voice.

"You got a problem with that?"

"This is our land. Boss says everything that comes on here is ours."

"Thatís right." Another voice.

"So what you gonna do?" And another.

"Look guys, weíve got on well so far, but if you push me, youíre going to find out why the trolls call me ĎShinigami.í

"Shinigami?" Heero whispered.

I shook my head, trying to take notes. "Not a term Iím familiar with."

"Trolls are stupid,í the first voice snorted. "You donít scare us, brat."

"Yeah well, maybe you should reconsider. After all, theyíre going to see the King and Iím pretty certain he wonít like it if you eat his guests --"

"Eat?" Heero and Wufei said in unison.

"Quiet!" I hissed.

"Fine," the first voice replied sulkily. "Lead them through our land. We wonít try and stop youÖ but if any of them stray into our caverns, theyíre ours."

No more talking after thatÖ but the sound of snow falling.

"Heís heading back," I said, terminating the spell.

"I donít like that," Wufei said. "He called us his property."

"But it sounded as though he was just doing his job trying to protect us," Heero nodded to me. "Thank-you, Quatre. Notify us if you encounter any more spells."

"Of course." I bowed politely as he and Wufei departed. As soon as the tent flap fell closed behind them I picked up the mirror. Finally I could see what Trowa had meantÖ

+

"Wakey-wakey people! Rise and shine!"

I moaned groggily, trying to pull the covers back over my head. How the hell had Wufei managed to find a loud hailer out here?

"Come on, weíve got a lot of ground to cover today!"

That wasnít a loud hailer. That was Duo. I sighed and pulled myself out of bed. Clothes were found and pulled on mechanically, my body was on autopilot. Grumbling to myself about inordinately early wake up times, I flung the tent door back -- and was suddenly face to face with Trowa.

"Oh -- hello," I stuttered, my face immediately reddening.

"Hello." Trowaís face was as red as mine. I fumbled for anything to say. Trowa beat me to it.

"Here. For you."

I blinked at the handful of flowers held out to me. "Thank-you." I smelled the blossoms appreciatively. "Theyíre lovely! But -- are these bluebells? Where on earth did you find bluebells in this snow?"

Trowa laughed, pointing at the landscape. "We had a change of weather."

I stared. Snow still clung around the tents, but beyond that lay green grass and sweet smelling flowers. Huge oak trees towered above them, looking for all the world like an Ancient forest.

"At least we know your wards work fine," Heero said, coming over to me. I blinked, Trowa was nowhere to be seen. "If you want breakfast, you should hurry. Our pathfinder is displaying quite the appetite."

"Thatís disgusting. At least chew before you swallow!"

"Hey, if you donít like, donít look. Morning, Q-man, how did you sleep?"

"Fine thanks, Duo," I said, sitting beside him. Helping myself to what was left of the food, I said, "So whatís on the agenda for today?"

"Agenda?"

"What do you have lined up for us? Where will we be traveling, what out-land creatures will we see?"

"Man, you really get off on this, donít you?"

"Excuse me?" I blinked.

Trowa tugged roughly on Duoís braid. "Manners."

"Ow! Leave my braid out of this!" Duo sulked then forgot all about his injury as he answered my question. "Weíre traveling through goblin territory today. Hopefully weíll get lucky and we wonít see any of themÖ but all you guys stick to the path, okay? You canít trust goblins."

"Youíre worried about goblins?" Wufei sounded incredulous.

"Iím not talking about the kind you saw at Ironclaw. Theyíre so dependent on humans theyíre practically domesticated. No, these goblins are different. For one, theyíre bigger, meaner, even smarter. Two, they always hunt in groups. People tend to underestimate them because theyíre not much individually but in a groupÖ all of us together would be a match for them, but donít go wandering off alone, okay?"

"They sound fascinating," I said. "Do you think theyíre a different species?"

"They sound dangerous," Heero corrected, joining our group with the lady Relena. "Donít you decide to get a closer look or anything, okay?"

"Fine," I promised reluctantly.

We set off soon after. Duo decided to accompany us, whether through concern for our safety or a desire to annoy Wufei, Iím not sure. He and Relena had discovered their common interest and there was soon a steady stream of curses and laughter drifting back from the front of the group. I would have felt sorry for WufeiÖ if I hadnít been so busy listening to what Trowa was saying.

"There are many types of fey, Quatre, from goblins, trolls, ogres, teyrs, to the human looking ones, pixies, fairies, nymphs, selkie. But under each of those headings thereís a huge variety. I can think of at least five different types of goblins, and the human like ones vary enormously depending on whether or not they have human ancestors."

"What about elves?" I asked.

"Elves?"

"Where do they fit?"

"I donít know. I donít even know for sure if they exist -- after all, no human has seen one for hundreds of years."

"But isnít the fey king supposed to be elven?"

"Yes, but no one has seen him for hundreds of years either."

"Do you think Duo knows?"

Trowa shrugged. "If there is anyone who does, it will be Duo."

There was a shriek from up ahead, followed by a couple of angry shouts. Trowa and I exchanged a glance and then hurried up to join the group.

When we got there Relena was looking aggrieved. Duo was sitting on the ground rubbing his head and scowling, while Wufei and Heero, also scowling pointed their guns at him.

"What happened?" I asked.

"ThatÖ ruffian tried to lay his hands on me!" Relena snapped.

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Duo?"

"Jeez, talk about ungrateful! I try to save her life and this is what happens --"

"Save her life?" Heero said sharply.

Duo sulked and pointed. There was a ring of feathery brown mushrooms not far from the side of the path.

"I think I see," Trowa said. "Milady, were you thinking of entering the ring?"

"What ring?" Relena said. "I was just going to gather some of those exquisite snowdrops."

Trowa shook his head. "That, milady, is a ring. Itís extremely unwise to enter one -- doing so places you in the power of whoever built it. You could be put into a sleep that lasts a hundred years, transported to the goblin caverns, who knows?"

The four of us in-landers stared at the ring in silence. So innocent lookingÖ yet, how close it had brought us to tragedy --

"Donít all rush to thank me at once!" Duo said, with a flip of his braid. "Iím going to go, check the area around here. Iíll catch up with you later --" he paused then pinched Heeroís rear. "Thatís if you can stay out of trouble that long!"

I had to smile at the expression on Heeroís face. If someone had told him that his mother was an elf and his father was Santa Claus, I donít think he could have produced a more stunned expression.

The silence was broken by Trowa. "May I suggest we take a lunch break while we wait for Duo to return? I donít particularly want to continue without him."

This was agreed to. During my lunch my eyes kept straying back to the ringÖ I had to see how the portal was constructed --

"What are you doing?" Trowa asked as he watched me pull out my magic books and poke around the ring. "Quatre, I have serious misgiving about the wisdom of this."

"I know what Iím doing," I replied. "Iím a qualified wizard."

"And here I thought you were just a squire."

I flushed, looking guiltily up at him. "Oops. I wasnít supposed to tell --"

"Itís all right. Itís pretty obvious youíre not who you say you are -- no ordinary knights would be interested in reaching the fey court."

"Weíre not ordinary knights. I canít tell you more than that -- sorry," I said.

He nodded. "I understand. Thereís stuff I havenít told you."

Wondering what that could be I returned to my calculations. "There! I think Iíve got it!"

"Got what?"

"The spell that commands the ring. I think Iíve neutralized it."

"Are you sure?" Trowa watched doubtfully as I climbed into the ring.

"Of course," I knelt to better see the inner workings of the spell. "This is fascinating -- just look at this recoil command --"

"Quatre, look out!"

I barely had time to look up before I was shoved out of the ring, hard. Pulling myself off the ground I turned to question Trowa -- only to see a bright light fade from the ring.

The portal had been activated.

Trowa was nowhere in sight.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to girl_starfish's fic]