Heero/Duo. PG. ~25,000 words. AU. Crossover. Humour.
The Mighty Mighty Gundam Wing Art Players present… Labyrinth! For the most part.
The sky was dark and murky, dirty grey clouds roiling in the cool wind. An ominous rumble echoed in the distance, promising worse things than a light shower. A murder of crows erupted from the trees in Woodsbridge Park with a chorus of low, throaty cries, the noise of dozens of flapping wings melding into the next rolling rumble. A gust of wind raked through the leaves and the branches rattled like dry, ancient bones.
He looked up at the heavy, dismal sky. The wind blew his hair back from his face, stinging his eyes. The Tower Clock whined and rolled, the loud bells signalling the hour. Seven o’clock in the evening. As if the tolling bells had summoned it, the clouds opened up with a reverberating crack and sheets of rain thundered to the ground, instantly soaking everything and everyone unfortunate enough to be exposed.
“Shit,” he muttered. He broke into a run, cursing himself and the weather every step of the way home. It was useless. The rain had already drenched him to the bone. Water dripped into his eyes, further obscuring his vision.
His house loomed into view, rising like a huge sentinel out of the gloom. He lurched up the steps, breathing heavily. Reaching up, he pushed back his sodden hair. The door opened in front of him, sending a streak of yellowish light spearing out into the shadows. He blinked rapidly, straining to clear his vision, and the figure in the doorway slowly gained definition.
“Duo Maxwell, you’re late again.”
“Why, Sally Po,” Duo said in a mocking tone of voice, placing his hands on his hips to mimic her stance. “I do believe you’re right.”
“All I ask is that you be on time, Duo, when you watch Relena, ” Sally said in a long-suffering voice as the young man pushed past her and into the main foyer. “Don’t drip on my carpet.”
“It’s my carpet,” Duo said, promptly dripping where he damn well pleased.
Sally massaged the bridge of her nose. “Your father and I go out very rarely-”
“Every single Friday at seven, Sally. You’re becoming predictable,” Duo said, turning away from her and marching up the stairs.
“If you have plans, you should tell me,” she said, losing patience. “With your friends, a date, anything. I’d like it if you met a girl. You should be dating at your age, it’s not-”
“Healthy, blah, blah, blah. I know, I know, Dr. Po. You’re a broken record.” Duo came to an abrupt halt at the top of the stairs as his father emerged from the doorway.
“Duo, you’re home,” he began.
“You’re a master of observation, aren’t you?” Duo snapped, stalking past him, jerking a towel out of the linen closet and shutting the door to his bedroom with a very solid thud.
His father turned to Sally, both eyebrows shooting up.
“I’m the wicked stepmother, Lawrence,” she said, fussing with her coat. “No matter what I do.”
He sighed. “I’ll go talk to him.”
Sally watched her husband trudge up the stairs after Duo. “It won’t help,” she murmured, her shoulders sagging in defeat.
In his room, Duo stared at his dishevelled reflection in the mirror. His long hair, braided neatly together that morning, was now tangled and sodden. Loose hair had matted to his face, still dripping. Mud was splashed over his jeans, dark smears on the wet material. His shirt clung damply to his body, making him shiver. Grabbing the towel he’d gotten from the linen closet in the hallway, he squeezed most of the water out of his hair.
Lawrence knocked on his son’s door quietly. “Duo?” he asked through the wood.
“What do you want?” Duo retorted irritably, hauling off his tee.
“Relena’s in the den,” his father continued, still standing outside the closed door. “We’re leaving now. The number’s by the phone.” He paused. The silence grew. “We won’t be too late.”
“Fine, have fun,” Duo said flatly. He heard his father sigh, then walk away. Seconds later, he heard the front door close.
Letting out an explosive breath of relief, Duo quickly finished stripping off his wet clothing. He grabbed his towel and hitched it around his waist. A nice, hot shower was just what he needed.
Thirty minutes later, he was tying off the end of his braid, a few locks of hair refusing to be caught back. He stepped back, eyeing himself critically in the mirror. Black jeans were melded to his thighs, falling down in a straight line and hiding most of his boots. A dark belt with silver accents was looped around his waist, more for style than for function. His shirt was a deep, rich black. Sleeveless, with a turtleneck collar, it hugged his body tightly. A trail of pale skin was left bare around his waist, contrasting perfectly with the darkness of his clothing. He slipped a coiled armlet over his wrist, pushing it into place on his arm. One last thing and he’d be ready to go.
Duo sauntered into the bedroom his father shared with Sally. His stepmother’s cosmetics were carefully arranged on her vanity. He picked through them, looking at the odd assortment, lifted up a small eyeliner pencil and stared at it for a moment before setting it firmly back down onto the mirrored top. Seconds later, he stuffed it into his pocket. He was bent over the table, smoothing clear balm on his lips when Relena appeared in the open doorway.
“You’re going out again,” she said, staring at his reflection.
“You’re supposed to watch me.”
“Yeah, watch you do what? You’re twelve, you can damn well take care of yourself.”
“Mom wouldn’t mind if you went out. If you told her.”
Duo snorted, finally turning around and facing his sister. “Right. The ultimate right-wing conservative wouldn’t mind her seventeen year old stepson going trolling in a gay bar. Uh huh.”
“You can’t get into a bar,” Relena stated.
“That’s what you think. You’d be surprised. And she’s not MY mother,” he said, turning his back on her.
“Yes, she is.”
“Look,” Duo snapped, whipping back around. His braid narrowly missed sweeping the meticulously placed cosmetics from the vanity. “Sally’s not my mother, she’s yours.”
“You shouldn’t go out,” Relena said again, a whine in her voice.
“Why the hell not?”
“You just shouldn’t.”
“I will tell, Duo. I’ll tell her everything.”
Duo narrowed his eyes. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”
“You can’t do anything,” she said, crossing her arms and glaring at him.
“Oh, no? You think I can’t?”
She shook her head.
Duo hunkered down on the balls of his feet. He crooked a finger at her, motioning her closer. She stared at him suspiciously. Duo raised one of his eyebrows, silently beckoning her. Relena hesitated a moment longer, then walked over to stand in front of him, arms still petulantly crossed.
“Did you know, Relena,” he said, “that all fairy tales are based on a little truth.”
“They are not.”
Duo nodded. “They are. People don’t make all of it up, some of it is true. Like in Snow White.”
“There’s no such thing as dwarves,” she said with childish confidence.
“Of course there isn’t,” Duo agreed. “That would be ridiculous. Think of something else.”
“Prince Charming?” she ventured, hopeful.
“I don’t know about that. I’ll tell you what I do know, though.”
She waited expectantly.
Duo waited a moment longer, his voice hushed when he spoke. “There was an evil queen.”
“There was not.”
“Nope, that part is true. But in the story, they make it sound much nicer. You remember the Huntsman?”
Relena gave him a small nod.
“He’s real. And he really did try to cut out a girl’s heart when the queen ordered him. The poison apple was real, too.”
She was staring at him, disbelief in her eyes.
“Honestly. But she gave it to a young man, not a girl. And he didn’t fall into a deep, frozen sleep. He died. Not right away, either. It took him hours.”
Relena gaped at him.
“Do you know why all your friends always say to not tell on people?”
Duo widened his eyes in mock-surprise. “They didn’t tell you?”
She shook her head again.
“That was mean of them,” Duo mumbled in a low voice, making sure she could still hear him. “There’s a city, with a huge castle, in the middle of a labyrinth,” he said, raising his voice again.
“What’s a labyrinth?”
“Hmmm….” Duo said, tapping his finger against his lips. “It’s a maze, only life-size, with walls so tall you can’t see over them. In the castle, there’s a man, a king. All his servants listen in on people’s conversations, waiting to hear their wishes. Sometimes he grants them. But that’s not all they listen for.”
Relena’s eyes were trained on Duo’s face, hanging on his every word.
“They listen for lies. They wait for people to break their promises. And,” he paused dramatically, “they listen for tattletales.”
“They do not,” she said a little breathlessly.
Duo nodded solemnly.
“No way,” Duo said quickly and stood up. “I don’t want to be taken to his castle.”
“They take you there?” she gasped.
“That’s why it’s in the middle of a labyrinth,” Duo said. “So once you’re there, even if you get out of the castle and past the city, you’re stuck in an endless maze.”
“I know,” he said, nodding emphatically. “So, if I were you, I wouldn’t do anything that would get me stuck in his castle forever.”
She bit her lip, debating over the truth of his story. “I…I don’t believe you.”
Duo shrugged. “Hey, it’s not me who’s going to be whisked out of my bed at night by demons.”
“You’re a liar, Duo! I’m going to tell Mom what you’ve been doing.” Her hands were clenched into fists by her sides.
“No, you’re not,” he said, walking past her to the doorway.
“I am, Duo! I’m going to tell her all about the bars and the guys!”
“She’s not my damn mother, Relena! God, you are such a brat.”
“I am not a brat, Duo. You are! I’m going to call Mom right now and tell her what you’re doing!”
“Oh, for Christ’s…!” He turned slowly to face her, livid. “Look, you little shit. Shut the hell up and leave me alone. You and Sally are just the same. Nosy and bitchy.”
“Duo! You take that back! You can’t say that about Mom!”
“Oh, yeah?” Duo crossed his arms, leaning negligently against the doorjamb. “I think I just did. She is a bitch. Oops, I did it again.” He covered his mouth with his hand mockingly, widening his eyes.
“Duo!” Relena screeched. “You are so stupid!”
He raised one eyebrow, tilting his head to the side a little. “You know what? I wish the king in the labyrinth would take you away. Lock you up in the dungeon and forget about you.” He flicked off the light, flooding the room with darkness and slammed the door behind him as he left.
Halfway down the hall, Duo stopped, listening. It was suddenly quiet. Relena should have yanked open the door and started screaming at him again by now. He snorted to himself, dismissing her. At the bottom of the stairs, he stopped again. She probably would call Sally. It would be just his luck. He sighed and headed back up the steps to the bedroom. He’d apologize, tuck her back in the den and go on his merry way after he made sure Sally’s nose stayed out of his business.
Duo opened the door, reaching for the light switch. “If you-” he said, flicking the switch and cutting himself short when the room stayed dark. He flipped it again with the same result. “Relena?” he said, peering into the darkness.
Stepping fully into the room, he turned in a full circle, searching every corner with his eyes. “Where the hell are you?”
A flash of lightning illuminated the bedroom, casting huge skeletal shadows on the wall from the swinging tree branches. One limb hit the balcony doors, making Duo jump. “Relena?” he tried again.
Rain pelted against the glass. The tree hit the doors again, harder this time. Thunder crashed and another flash of lightning snaked across the sky. Behind him, the bedroom door slammed shut. Duo sucked in a sharp breath, barely catching himself from letting out a sharp yelp. He felt like he was going to crawl out of his skin. Relena had probably just bolted out and smacked the door shut behind her.
He turned away from the terrace doors. Something brushed past his legs and he jumped back, swearing under his breath. The tree beat against the windows faster, knocking frantically at the door. Lightning flashed again. Something else skittered across the floor beside him, disappearing under the bed. Another flash. He heard hissing laughter coming from the vanity. He whipped around, heading towards the hallway.
Another crack and the room lit up again. Something huge, a vague, shadowy outline, blocked his way. Duo choked on a gasp and quickly backed up. More laughter. The balcony doors rattled with the force of the wind. His back hit the doors seconds before they burst open, sending him sprawling to the floor. Rain flooded in as more lightning streaked across the sky. He rolled over onto his back, holding up a hand to shield his eyes from the bright light and stinging rain. The long, trailing curtains blew out like ghostly arms, fluttering across his body. The room grew freezing. His lungs ached from breathing in the impossibly cold air. A dark shadow filled the doorway, falling over him.
“Holy shit,” Duo said in a shaking voice, lowering his hand and slowly getting to his feet.
A man stood before him, dressed like a noble from days long past. He wore formfitting trousers, soft leather boots that covered half his leg and the fronts of his knees. A deep blue coat sat over a white shirt, with white ruffles spilling from the cuffs and collar of the coat. A dark cloak fell from his shoulders, swaying gently in the now calm breeze. His hair gleamed a rich ginger, tinged a more golden brown than red. He smiled, a smirking, unsettling upturn of his lips.
“Who the hell are you?” Duo demanded.
The man made a small disapproving sound. “Duo, you know very well who I am.”
“If I knew who you were, I wouldn’t have asked. Wait a minute, forget that shit. What the hell are you doing here?”
The man strode away from the balcony doors. “You also know the answer to that question.”
“That’s impossible,” Duo said, backing away from the man instinctively.
“Is it? You have the power to determine what is possible and what is not?”
“This is insane.”
“Perhaps. But it is happening, nonetheless.” He stepped closer to Duo, sparkling blue eyes fixed on the young man’s face. “You made a wish.” A gloved hand reached out, touching Duo’s cheek lightly. “I granted it.”
Duo stood still, frozen with shock and fearful disbelief. “If it’s all the same to you, I want my…sister back,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“What’s said is said.” The man stepped back, letting his hand drop
“But I didn’t mean it!” Duo half-shouted, shaking his head.
“Oh, you didn’t?” The corners of his lips quirked up.
“Where is she?” Duo asked.
“You know where she is.”
“Bring her back.” He said, trying to sound much more confident than he felt.
“Forget about her. Go out to your bars, dance with your men.”
“I can’t, not now,” Duo said, crossing his arms over his stomach. “I-”
“I’ve brought you a gift,” the king murmured, cutting him off. He held up his empty hand, palm up. The air above it wavered. When it cleared, a glass ball sat in his palm, gleaming in the dim light.
“What is it?” Duo asked hesitantly, curious and afraid.
“It is a crystal, nothing more.” He moved his hand so that the ball sat atop his steepled fingers. “But when you turn it this way….” He started moving his hand back and forth slowly in front of Duo. “And look into it….” The crystal travelled down the backs of his fingers, then back up when his hand changed direction. “It will show you your dreams.”
Duo watched the glass ball with fascination. It stayed on the man’s hand, defying gravity as the king passed his other hand beside the ball, and it changed direction again, travelling over his second hand. His hands crossed and uncrossed, the crystal sliding easily from hand to hand and then back again.
“It is not a gift for an ordinary boy. An ordinary boy who cares for a screaming brat,” the man finished, stilling his hands. The glass ball sat atop his templed fingers once more. He gazed at Duo. “Do you want it?” The crystal was held out for him to take. “Then forget about the child.”
Duo’s eyes flickered nervously from the man’s face to the crystal. He wet his lips. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate-”
“Duo,” he said, cutting the young man off once again.
Duo wrenched his gaze away from the crystal and looked at him.
“Do not defy me.”
The crystal vanished, replaced by a hissing snake. It reared up, fangs glinting, and darted out in a quick flash, mouth wide and aimed for Duo’s neck. He let out a startled cry and braced himself, arms flying up to protect his face and throat, but there was no strike, no tearing of fang into flesh. Seconds later, the only sound was the king’s quiet chuckle. Duo slowly lowered his arms.
“You are no match for me, Duo.”
Duo swallowed harshly. His throat was dry and his palms were sweating. “I have to have my sister back,” he said, defiant.
The king of the labyrinth gazed at him silently, his face an unmoving mask. Finally, he stepped to the side, gesturing at the open doors. “She is there, in my castle.”
Duo glanced at him nervously, then walked closer to the balcony and looked out. The darkness of the night was fading, the storm long passed. A breeze blew over him, ruffling his hair.
Far below him stretched a wide valley, stone walls weaving in impossible patterns across the basin floor, covering the entire space. Duo slowly let his eyes rove over the expanse. A great stone castle reared up from the twisted and foreboding mass, a towering, sinister presence.
“Do you still want to look for her?” came the king’s voice from behind him.
Duo remained quiet, eyes resolutely forward.
“I’d turn back, if I were you,” the king advised.
“Well, you’re not me, Your Majesty,” Duo replied, bitterness in his voice, still refusing to look back. “I’m not giving up before I’ve started.”
“What a pity….” he breathed in response.
“It doesn’t look that far.”
“It’s further than you think,” the king retorted, standing so close behind Duo that their bodies were almost touching. He had leaned over Duo’s shoulder, following the young man’s gaze.
Duo jumped, sucking in a sharp breath. His eyes darted to the side quickly, glancing at the king’s face.
And the king smiled.
“Who are you?” Duo asked, relieved when his voice sounded steady.
“I am the ruler of this land,” he responded, stepping away from Duo towards a scraggly tree. “I am Treize.”
Duo blinked, turning around quickly. His father’s room had vanished; he was standing on a withered brown hilltop, overlooking the valley. More hills stretched out behind him and to the sides, covered with struggling weeds and skeletal trees. There was nothing of his home left.
“Shit,” he said under his breath.
“Time is short. I will give you thirteen hours in which to solve the labyrinth.” Treize’s voice had grown distant. “Such a pity,” he murmured again, and when Duo looked, the king had also vanished.
Duo stood on the hill, alone, and feeling it. He snorted to himself, muttering, “It doesn’t look that hard,” before sighing and trudging down the hill.
The sky turned painfully bright, the blaze of the rising sun slipping down the mountains and covering the valley. Shadows deepened behind the boulders and walls, and the black outlines of the bony trees crept down the hill slowly, reaching for him as he descended. At the bottom of the hill, Duo stopped and glanced around. He saw the silhouette of someone sitting beside a fountain pool, the person’s face tipped up to the sky. Raising his hand to block the glare of the new sun, he tried to get a better look.
“Yeah…uh, hi,” Duo called, standing a little bit away from the pool.
The person – a man, Duo realized as he walked closer, didn’t acknowledge that he had heard.
“Excuse me,” Duo tried again.
The man moved his head slowly, staring at Duo for several seconds before saying in a flat voice, “It’s you.” He got to his feet, walking past Duo as if he wasn’t there.
“Uh huh,” Duo muttered. “Hey, listen, I’ve got to get through this Labyrinth, can you help?”
As he spoke, something flittered past his face. He turned, watching in rapt amazement as a tiny winged person fluttered happily around his head. It settled gently on his shoulder, multicoloured wings lightly brushing his cheek. Duo couldn’t help but smile. The little fairy was female, clad only in a light shift. Her hair flowed in a glossy black line down her back, gleaming in the early sun. She walked up his shoulder, leaning companionably against his neck as she whispered excitedly in his ear. All he caught was, “…hero…lemon….”
The man who had been sitting by the pool chose that moment to turn around. Whatever he was about to say died on his lips when he caught sight of the tiny fairy on Duo’s shoulder. A look of anger crossed his face as he stormed towards them. His hand whipped out impossibly fast, slapped the fairy off of Duo and she fell to the ground, stumbling to her feet dazedly.
“Hey!” Duo yelped as the man lifted his foot and stomped it back down again, right on top of the fairy with an odd ‘splut’ sound.
The man moved his foot, and Duo got a good look at a squished fairy. It was flat as a pancake. Duo blinked. It looked exactly like when a cartoon character had gotten flattened by a falling anvil. Her face was kind of squashed to the side, arms flung out on either side of her body and the poor thing’s butt was…just…smeared. Duo winced.
“What did ya do that for!?” Duo demanded, glaring at the other.
“Pond fairies,” the man grunted in a disgusted tone. He turned away again.
Duo glanced back down at the squished fairy. Flat as she was, she was shakily getting to her feet. Tossing her head from side to side, she stuck her thumb in her mouth and gave a great puff of air. And her body started filling out again. Duo just stared this time. Once she was back to normal, she picked a few bits of dirt out of her hair, flinging them away and raising a tiny fist to shake it threateningly at the man’s back. Then she straightened her shift, smoothing the front and fluttered her wings a little. Tossing one last deadly glare at the man who had squashed her, she rose unsteadily into the air with as much dignity as she could muster and flittered haphazardly away.
Duo slowly closed his gaping mouth. Giving his own head a tiny shake, he took off after the other man.
“Hey! What the hell was that?” he called, slowing down when the man turned around and faced him, giving Duo the first good look at who he was talking to.
His skin was a dark, golden brown. Dark, unruly brown hair caught the sunlight and shimmered lighter in places. It fell in messy chunks around his eyes, almost concealing the deep cobalt blue colour from sight. His eyes were almond shaped, the high slant of his cheekbones helping to bring out the contours of them. He was clad in simple jeans and tee shirt.
“That,” the man said in monotone, “was a Pond fairy.”
“Pond? As in pool?”
“No, Pond as in Ponderosa. Damn thing is obsessed with lemons. Sticking me in a collar….” he trailed off, glowering.
“Uh huh,” Duo said again, totally and utterly confused. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Right,” Duo said slowly, scratching the back of his neck.
“Who are you?”
Heero nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He turned away again, walking along beside the wall.
Duo jogged a little to catch up. “Do you know where the door to the labyrinth is?”
“Well…where is it?”
Heero kept walking without answering.
“I said where is it?” Duo demanded in an exasperated voice.
“Where is what?” Heero sounded bored.
“The door!” Duo shouted, stopping and crossing his arms.
Duo growled in frustration. “It’s hopeless asking you anything,” he declared, throwing his arms up in the air.
“Not if you ask the right questions,” Heero said, unperturbed, and still walking away.
“How the hell do I get into the labyrinth?” Duo said, stomping after the man.
Suddenly, Heero stopped short and let out a little grunt. “That’s more like it.” He turned around and pointed at a section of the wall. “There.”
The wall shuddered, tiny pebbles falling to the ground. Vines tore, branches creaked and groaned and slowly the wall shifted to reveal a large opening. Two great twin doors swung wide, stirring up clouds of dust that swirled around Duo’s legs and feet. Duo stared. Again.
“Are you really going in there?” Heero asked after a moment.
Duo decided to keep staring at the doors. “I’ve got to….” he murmured.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he walked toward and then through the doors. Looking to his left, he saw slimy stone walls covered with odd, sickly yellow collared moss. Scraggly trees, fallen branches and mouldy roots crisscrossed the rough, uneven stone path. Duo wrinkled his nose as a overpowering, rotting smell assaulted him. He glanced to the right, and it was exactly the same thing in that direction.
“Now, would you go left or right?” Heero asked suddenly, his voice coming from directly behind him.
Duo jumped, sucking his breath in through his teeth. He whipped around, glaring at the other man. Heero let out a short, barking laugh as he walked further into the corridor.
“They both look the same,” Duo said, glancing again from side to side.
“You’re not going to get very far.” Heero crossed his arms over his chest, giving him a condescending look.
“Which way would you go?” Duo asked, ignoring the scorn in Heero’s voice.
“If that’s all the help you’re going to be,” Duo complained, “you can just leave.”
Heero grunted, uncrossing his arms and circling around Duo. “You know your problem? You take everything for granted.” He gestured at their surroundings. “Take this labyrinth. Even if you get to the centre, you’ll never get out again,” he finished, bringing his face close to Duo’s and giving him a twisted, nasty smirk.
“That’s your opinion,” Duo said, stepping away from Heero with a stubborn expression on his face.
“It’s a lot better than yours,” he growled, turning his back to Duo and walking past him, back to the dusty entrance.
“Thanks for nothing, Hero,” Duo said derisively as he walked by.
“It’s Heero,” the man snarled, stressing the word and turning halfway around to glare darkly at him. “And don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Then he stalked away, and the doors slammed shut behind him.
Duo winced at the loud crash the doors made, staring blankly at them for several moments. “Huh,” he mumbled to himself. “Temperamental.”
Duo turned away from the door, concentrating again on the labyrinth. Shrugging to himself, he started walking, choosing the left path over the other for apparently no reason. He walked for several long minutes, then stopped and looked back. The double doors were out of sight, but the walls stretched straight behind him, no curves or corners visible. Duo turned back around, peering ahead. The path continued unbroken, running in a perfectly straight line as far as he could see.
“What do they mean, ‘labyrinth’?” he muttered, scowling darkly at the path ahead of him. “It just goes on and on….”
Frustrated with his lack of progress, he started to jog down the passageway. Quickly, he sped up, breaking into a run. He dodged branches, ducking around the larger trees, leaping over a fallen branch, narrowly missing the rotting bark as he ploughed forward. Duo glanced back, then sped up again, watching the smooth, unbroken line of wall rush past him.
Duo let out a fierce shout of aggravation, stopping and kicking viciously at a large root. He pounded a fist into the wall, staring disgustedly at the sludge that attached itself to his hand and angrily wiped it off on his pant leg. Duo collapsed on the ground, drawing his legs up and trying to slow his ragged breathing, resting his forehead on his knees.
“Allo,” came a squeaky voice.
Startled by the tiny, high-pitched sound, Duo looked up. He moved his head from side to side, searching for the owner of the voice and saw nothing but a small, furry blue thing that looked something like a worm. It sat on a rough ledge beside him, blinking up at him with huge eyes.
“Did…did you say, ‘hello’?” Duo asked, doubtful.
“No, I said ‘allo’, but that’s close enough.”
“Uh huh,” Duo said, wrinkling his brow. The worm-thing had the strangest light yellow tufts of hair sticking out from its head. They were long, almost as long as the worm itself, but didn’t look like some kind of antennae or feelers. They looked like hair. The ends were wickedly forked, and were bobbing up and down in the air as the little thing moved its head back and forth while it talked. The way they stuck out over its eyes made Duo think of industrial size eyebrows.
“Do you know the way through this labyrinth?” Duo asked after a moment.
“Do I look like I do?” it said in a distinctly bitter tone.
The worm somehow managed to give him a disdainful look.
“There aren’t any openings anywhere,” Duo said, more thinking out loud than really talking to the worm.
“Of course there are,” it sniffed. “You’re simply not looking right.”
Duo glanced dubiously down at the worm.
It nodded its head, sending the eyebrow stalks waving madly in the air. “It’s full of openings. You’re just not seeing them.”
“Well, where are they?”
“There’s one right across from you.”
Duo shot a quick glance at the wall. “No, there isn’t.”
The worm gave him a flat stare. “Of course there is.”
Rising from the ground, Duo walked closer to the wall. The stones in front of him were moss-covered, water seeping from the cracks in the mortar. There was no break in the straight corridor.
“Try walking through it.”
“It’s solid wall,” Duo insisted. “There’s no way through.”
The worm shook its head disapprovingly. Duo was momentarily mesmerized by the hypnotic swaying of the blond tufts of hair.
“Things are not always what they seem in this place,” it said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
He reached out expecting the icky lukewarm feel of slime under his hand when he touched the wall. But his hand didn’t come into contact with anything solid. It didn’t pass through the wall, either. When his hand came close to it, it was like the wall was inching back away from him. Duo took an experimental step forward and met no resistance. Yet, there was the wall, right in front of his nose but somehow just out of reach.
“Hey!” Duo exclaimed as he turned around, realizing that he was now standing in the middle of a different corridor. He started walking to the left again, happy with the new development.
“Thanks, that was incredibly helpful,” Duo said, back-stepping to smile at the worm. He started walking away again.
“Don’t go that way.”
“What?” Duo asked, coming back again.
“I said, don’t go that way,” the worm repeated, staring at Duo like he was an idiot. “Never go that way.”
“Oh.” Duo looked at the path. “Thanks,” he said, heading down the opposite direction.
The fuzzy worm let out a relieved breath. “If he’d have kept going that way, he’d have gone straight to the castle,” the worm said absently to itself once Duo had disappeared down the hallway.
Duo finally emerged from the damp stone passageway, breathing a deep sigh of relief when he scented fresh air. The walls around him now were lighter stone, almost softer looking, stretching high into the air. The edges were smooth, with leafy green vines trailing along the floor and walls and the flagstones under his feet were even and unbroken. Large hands carved of stone were placed on the end of each wall, pointing in varying directions.
He looked up, seeing the great castle rising in the distance, obscured by a light haze. The hand above his head pointed towards it. Glancing back at the castle, he looked at the hand again before setting off in the direction it pointed.
In a room, far away from Duo, Relena sat uncomfortably stiff on a cushion in Treize’s castle. The room itself was large, carved out of stone and strewn with pillows, blankets and soldiers, the walls soaring high above her with peaked windows opening out over the city below. A large, regal throne was set on a dais, the gracefully curving arms and back draped in rich fabric. She sat below it, in a lowered circular area set in the very middle of the room with men surrounding her, talking loudly with each other, laughing uproariously.
Treize sat on his throne rapping a stiff leather riding crop impatiently against his boot. He glanced at the clock on the wall and tapped a finger against his lips. One of the soldiers leaned close to Relena, handing her a mug filled with frothy liquid. She started to shake her head in refusal as another soldier stumbled into the first, knocking the mug from his hand and spilling it over her lap. She let out a high pitched yelp, scooting backwards. The resulting explosion of laughter at her and the soldiers’ expense attracted Treize’s attention.
He rose gracefully, the men loitering in the room scrabbling out of his way as he moved easily across the floor towards Relena. She stared up at him apprehensively when he towered above her. Sinking down to balance on the balls of his feet, he reached out and gently grasped her chin in his gloved fingers.
“You remind me of the boy,” he said quietly.
“Pardon?” Relena asked, trying to inch away from him.
“The boy with the power.”
“What power?” Relena said, furrowing her brow.
“The power,” Treize repeated, rising to his feet and stepping way.
“Are you drunk?” Relena demanded, resting her hands on her hips.
“You remind me of that boy,” Treize said again, cryptically, staring out a tall window.
Relena threw her hands up in the air and made an annoyed sound, stomping out of the room and tripping over the prone body of a soldier. She sprawled on the floor, her cheeks turning red as the room erupted into laughter and, scrambling to her feet, fled the room with tears glistening in her eyes. A couple of bored looking men followed her.
“She’s very easily upset, isn’t she?” Treize said, laughing. The soldiers’ merriment faded and a few men nodded sympathetically. He narrowed his eyes, his mouth thinning into a fine line. “Well?” he said expectantly.
The men started to nervously laugh again as the king glared at them, and Treize threw back his head and laughed with them.
Meanwhile, Duo wandered through the maze, straining for a glimpse of his destination as he followed the twisting paths. He came to yet another fork and paused, debating which way to go. On impulse, he reached into his pocket, his hand coming into contact with the lip gloss and dark eyeliner he had taken from Sally’s cosmetic tray. Taking out the liner, he gave it an appraising glance, finally stooping down to drew a rough arrow on one of the flagstones, pointing to the left fork. Satisfied, he headed in that direction.
Once he had disappeared around the corner, the flagstone shifted and buckled up from the ground. A tiny sprite crawled out, muttering angrily as it flipped the stone over. It jumped up and down, emphatically waving its little fist in Duo’s general direction, its chattering growing louder and more heated. Then it slipped back into the hole, letting the stone clatter down.
In the next passage, unaware of the pissed off little sprite, Duo looked at the paths he had to choose from. Drawing another arrow on the stones under his feet, he stepped into another section, sighing when it turned out to be a dead end.
Behind him, another sprite emerged from under the marked flagstone, lifting it up and rotating it so that the arrow pointed in the opposite direction. It hushed at a second sprite that popped up out of the hole behind it and the newcomer disappeared once again, the first sprite following after gently settling the stone back into place above its head.
Treize was once again seated on his throne, Relena seated stiffly at his feet. He leaned down, close to her ear and whispered, “In nine hours and twenty-three minutes, you’ll be one of mine.”
Relena made a breathy snorting sound, but turned worried eyes toward the ancient clock perched on the wall.
Duo turned away from the dead end. He looked down at his mark, noticing that it was pointing in the opposite direction, not the way he had just come. He hunkered down on the balls of his feet, staring at the mark and then glancing quickly around him.
“Something changed my marks,” he muttered. “That’s not fair!” he shouted, slamming the eyeliner down to the ground.
“That’s right, it’s not fair,” a deep male voice said from behind him, in the dead end.
“But that’s only half of it!” another added.
Duo turned around, facing the speakers. Two doors had appeared in the walls, each with something humanoid standing in front of it. Each had spindly legs stuck out from both the top and the bottom of odd, gold coloured panels covering the centre of their bodies, and four gnarled hands curled over the each corner of the panels, holding it in place. The right one, with a huge nose and mushroom like-hair, was peering out from under the bottom of its panel. The left had strange, miniature goggles stuck over its eyes and a hugely wrinkled forehead. One hand of his hands, though, the bottom right, was made out of something that looked like metal.
“This was a dead end a minute ago,” Duo said, walking towards them to get a better look.
“No, that’s the dead end behind you!” Mushroom said.
Duo looked behind him, startled to see that the passage he had just come through had been closed off, leaving him trapped in the small space with the two odd panel people. He heard snickering and he turned around to glare at them. Two extra heads had appeared at the top of each of their panels. Duo’s eyes widened, noticing that Goggles’ extra head had a dark black nose and oddly pointed hair, and Mushroom Hair’s had a freaky black moustache before they vanished behind the panels again.
“It keeps changing,” Duo said, exasperated. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Well,” Goggles said, “the only way out of here is to choose one of these doors.”
“One leads to the castle at the centre of the labyrinth,” Mushroom said, “and the other leads to…”
“Bum bum bum bummm,” Moustache sang dramatically, popping out from under the panel to wiggle the fingers on all four of his – their – hands.
“Certain death,” Mushroom finished in a low voice.
Black Nose and Moustache popped out from behind the panels, saying “Ooooooh,” before vanishing again.
Duo’s gaze shifted from one door to the other. “Which is which?
“We don’t know!” Mushroom jumped in.
“But they do.” Goggles said, sticking his neck out to look up at Black Nose.
“Then I’ll ask them,” Duo said simply.
“Uh…no, you can’t ask us, you can only ask one of us. Those are the rules,” Moustache said with a nod.
“And I should warn you,” Black Nose chimed in, “one of us always lies, and one of us always tells the truth. He always lies,” he added, pointing at Moustache.
“I do not, I tell the truth!”
“Oooh, what a lie!”
The third and fourth heads popped out to join the first two, all four snickering at the exchange.
Duo firmed his lips, stepping up to Black Nose. “Answer yes or no,” he said shortly. “Would he tell me that this door leads to the centre of the labyrinth?” He glanced over at Moustache.
Black Nose ducked behind his panel, whispering furiously with Goggles. “Yes,” he said, reappearing.
“Then,” Duo said confidently, “the other door leads to the castle and this door leads to certain death.”
“How do you know?” Black Nose demanded. “He could be telling the truth.”
“But then you wouldn’t be,” Duo said. “So if you told me that he said yes, I know the answer is no.”
Black Nose jerked his head back. “But I could be telling the truth!”
“But then he would be lying,” Duo responded, grinning. “So if you told me that he said yes, I know the answer would still be no.”
“Uhh…wait a minute. Is that right?” Black Nose said, looking over at Moustache.
“I don’t know!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never understood it!”
The other two heads popped back out, laughing loudly. Goggles flexed his metal fingers, chuckling.
“No, it’s right,” Duo said, turning towards Moustache. “Hey, outta the way.”
Moustache shuffled to the side, watching as Duo pushed open the ornate door. “This is a piece of cake.”
No sooner had the words left Duo’s lips than the floor fell out from beneath him. “Shit!” he cried out, falling through a narrow tunnel. “Help! Help would be nice!” Bluish, hand-like things lined the tunnel, grasping and groping at him as he fell. “Damn it, that hurts! Quit it! Help!”
The hands tightened their grip, finally ending his fall. A few grasped him under the arms, another supported his back and still more were digging into his thighs.
“What do you mean, ‘help’? We are helping!” The hands formed a face using the many fingers, moving them to create a mouth as it spoke.
“We’re Helping Hands,” another said, forming near the back of Duo’s head.
“You’re hurting,” Duo said, squirming away from a particularly rough Hand.
“Oh?” another face said, appearing down by his leg. “Would you like us to let go?”
On cue, the Hands pulled back, letting Duo freefall. “No!” he yelped, trying to grab onto one of them as he tumbled down.
The Hands reappeared, jerking him to a halt. “Well then,” one said from behind him, “Which way?”
“Which way?” Duo echoed.
“Up or down?” This one formed right beside his face.
“Oh.” Duo looked up and then down, nibbling on his lip.
“Come on, come on,” yet another face said.
“We haven’t got all day,” the face behind him urged.
“Well, it’s a big decision for him,” an older sounding voice put in.
“Which way do you want to go?” This one sounded very proper.
“Yes, which way?” a high pitched voice asked.
“Well, since I’m pointed that way,” Duo murmured, looking into the blackness below him, “I guess I’ll go down.”
“He chose down!” one laughed.
“He chose down?” another asked, incredulous.
“Heee!” the high pitched one squealed.
“Was that wrong?” Duo shouted as the hands let him go and he started falling again. He grabbed for them, but they were always just out of his reach.
“Too late now,” the final face said to him as he rushed passed. Their cruel laughter echoed in his ears as he fell.
Duo hit a grate, making it fly open with a cloud of choking dust as he was dumped into another room. There was no light anywhere, except from the tunnel he had just fallen down. He hit the ground in a heap, the breath knocked from his body. Then the grate slammed shut, blocking most of that light as well. He lay still on the cold, stone floor.
“He’s in the oubliette,” Treize said to the men gathered around him. He was looking into the small crystal he had offered Duo at their first meeting. Relena sat off to the side, nervously chewing on a lock of her hair.
The soldiers started to laugh uproariously at Duo’s plight.
“Shut up,” Treize snapped at them. Instantly, the room fell quiet. “He should not have gotten as far as the oubliette, he should have given up by now.”
“He’ll never give up,” a blue-eyed solider said softly.
“Won’t he?” Treize asked. “Yuy is about to lead him back to the beginning, he’ll soon give up when he realizes he has to start all over again!” He started to laugh loudly while the soldiers around him shook their heads sadly and made sympathetic noises.
The king stopped abruptly, narrowing his eyes and frowning deeply. “Well?” he said, intensifying his scowl. “Laugh.”
The room erupted into laughter again. Treize glanced at the men around him, smiling. Then he too resumed laughing, tossing the crystal ball high into the air over his head.
Duo’s eyes fluttered open. Groaning and slowly levering himself up on his hands and knees, he looked around. He sat down on the floor, wincing slightly. Nothing beyond the tiny circle of light surrounding him. A small sound reached his ears. Quiet footsteps.
“Who’s there?” Duo asked, staring blindly into the dark.
“Me,” a vaguely familiar, deep voice said from the blackness.
There was the sound of a match being struck, then a tiny spark flared. Heero’s face was illuminated by the dancing flame as he lit an ancient candle that was set in a holder not far from Duo.
“Oh, it’s you!” Duo said, feeling relieved when the darkness was pushed back.
Heero grunted, walking towards Duo. “I knew you were going to get into trouble as soon as I met you.”
Duo took advantage of the light to glance around. The rough stone walls were slimy in places, shimmering in the candlelight. The walls seemed solid and unbroken.
“There is no door, only the hole,” Heero said, watching the longhaired man take in his surroundings.
Duo climbed to his feet, looking up when Heero mentioned the grate. “How’d you get in here – whatever the hell here is?”
Heero merely smirked. “This is an oubliette. The labyrinth is full of them,” he said, ignoring the first question.
“Really,” Duo said, annoyed. “I didn’t know that.”
“You don’t even know what an oubliette is.” Heero looked smug.
“Do you?” Duo asked irritably.
The dark-haired man walked past Duo, making him turn around to keep him in sight. “It’s a place to put people to forget about them.”
“I need to get out of here,” Duo said, eyes following Heero as he circled him like a hungry predator.
Heero ceased his circling, walking away from Duo as he spoke. “I know a way out of the entire labyrinth.”
“I am not giving up now,” Duo said, narrowing his eyes. “I’ve come too far.”
Heero remained silent, facing away from him.
“No,” Duo said softly, “I’m doing fine…” He sat down again on the cold floor, resting his head in his hands.
“It gets worse from here,” Heero said, coming back towards Duo and sinking down beside him, balancing on the balls of his feet.
“Why do you care if it gets worse or not?”
The other shrugged. “Maybe I don’t.”
Duo stared at him appraisingly. “And maybe you do. If you help me, I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” Heero asked flatly.
“I’ll owe you,” Duo said. “A favour, a thing, whatever you want.”
Heero’s expression didn’t change. “In exchange for leading you out of the labyrinth.”
Duo shook his head. “In exchange for helping me find the castle.”
“No,” Heero said, straightening up and turning away.
“Wait!” Duo exclaimed, surging to his feet. He made a grab for Heero, catching his hand and tugging him back. “If you can’t take me to the castle, take me as far as you can. Please.”
Heero looked down, eyes fixed to where Duo’s hand grasped his. “I promise nothing, but I will take you as far as I can. In exchange for whatever else I want and that,” he said, pointing down at a small glint of silver peeking out from Duo’s back pocket.
Duo reached back with his other hand and pulled out the tiny pocket knife. He didn’t answer right away, doubt showing in his eyes. He nervously licked his lips. He needed to find Relena. “Okay,” he said finally. “For whatever you want.” He offered the knife to the other man.
Heero gave a curt nod, taking his eyes away from their clasped hands to look at Duo’s face as he took the folded blade. The man’s hand slipped from his as he turned away, heading to where a pile of rubble lay against the wall. He kicked away a few rocks, reaching down to pull on the edges of a tarp that lay covered under the dirt. Heero picked up a wide plank of wood and set it against the wall. There was a doorknob on the left side. He turned it casually, as if he expected it to open.
Duo’s mouth fell open when the door swung away from the wall, revealing an opening. Buckets, boxes, a few knives, sheaths, several guns, a laptop, a black case and an oddly curved sword fell out, making a huge clattering noise.
“Damn.” Heero bent over to pick up a small handgun, polishing the dirt off of it and tucking it into the waistband of his pants. “Storage closet,” he said to Duo, stuffing the rest back into the closet.
Duo raised his eyebrow.
Heero closed the door and unhitched the doorknob, placing it on the right side. This time when it opened, a flood of light came into the oubliette. “This is it,” he said, ducking into the brightly lit underground passage.
Unable to help himself, Duo smiled and followed Heero out into the new passageway. The walls were smoother here, with giant faces carved into them. Each one was different, resembling the Moais, the stone heads of Easter Island. Heero marched ahead purposefully, ignoring them.
“Don’t go on,” one of the heads droned, rolling its great stone eyes around to focus on Duo.
Duo jumped back, hissing a sharp breath out from between clenched teeth. Heero remained unruffled. The longhaired man hurried to catch up, turning from side to side as each head they passed spoke.
“Go back while you still can,” another said, its gravelly voice carrying a warning tone.
“This is not the way!”
“Take heed, and go no further,” yet another carving said in a deep, echoing voice.
“Soon, it will be too late.” This one’s voice was rough.
Duo had steadily been inching closer to Heero, practically huddling beside him. Heero grunted.
“Don’t pay any attention to them. They’re False Alarms. You get a lot of them in the labyrinth…especially when you’re on the right track.”
“Oh no, you’re not!”
“Shut up,” Heero stopped and growled at the carving.
The carving somehow managed to look contrite. “Sorry, just doing my job,” it said petulantly.
“You don’t have to do it to us,” the short-haired man snapped, stomping passed the carving.
“Beware! For the path-”
“Forget it,” Heero snarled.
“Oh, please! I haven’t said it for such a long time,” the head pleaded.
Duo stopped, curiously watching the stone mouth move. His companion halted as well.
“Alright,” Heero said grudgingly. “Don’t expect a big reaction.” He crossed his arms over his chest, scowling.
“No, no, no, of course not!” the head said quickly. It coughed a few times, clearing its voice. Tiny bits of dust floated in the air. “Ahem. For the path you will take will lead to certain destruction!” it said in a grand voice.
A small glass ball rolled along the ground, slipping between Duo’s legs and down the path. Heero looked down, watching the crystal. “Damn,” he muttered again.
“Thank you very much,” the stone head said casually.
“Uh oh,” Duo murmured, following Heero’s line of sight.
The crystal rolled on with the two men following cautiously in its wake. A stooped figure emerged from the darkness, its bird-like face wrinkled and worn. The crystal left the ground, flowing into the air and landing in the tin cup the creature carried with a soft plink.
“Ah,” the creature piped, shambling forward. “What have we here?”
“Nothing,” Heero said, stepping in front of Duo and forcing him back into the shadows.
“Nothing?” the creature echoed. “Nothing?” It started to straighten, doubling its height until it stood taller than either man. The old and pinched face faded away. “Nothing?” it said again, its voice deepening and growing rich. “Nothing!” In the creature’s place stood Treize, tall and imposing. There was a dark scowl on his face as he stepped menacingly towards Heero.
“Your Majesty,” Heero said, bowing his head slightly.
Treize’s mouth turned up at the corners. “Hello, Heeyore.”
“Hero,” Duo said, manoeuvring out from behind his companion.
“Heero,” Heero snapped, glaring at Duo.
“Heero,” Treize said, calling their attention back to him. “Can it be that you’re helping this boy?” He took a few steps forward, staring down at the short-haired man.
“Helping in what sense?” Heero asked, refusing to back up.
“In the sense that you’re leading him towards the castle.”
“No,” Heero said. “I’m taking him back to the beginning.”
“What!?” Duo shouted.
Treize cocked an eyebrow at both of them.
“I told him that I was going to help him solve the labyrinth, but I’m taking him back to the beginning.”
Treize took another step forward, finally forcing Heero to give ground and step back. “And what would you gain?”
“Whatever I wanted from him,” Heero said simply.
“Ah. Hero-” Treize began.
“Heero,” the dark-haired man automatically corrected.
“Yes,” Treize said absently. “If I thought for one second that you were betraying me, I’d be forced to suspend you head first in the Bog of Eternal Stench.” As he spoke, his voice gradually raised until he was fairly shouting. He leaned down closer and closer to Heero until his face was mere centimetres from his own.
Heero’s eyes grew impossibly wide. “No,” he breathed, clenching his fists at his sides until the knuckles turned white.
“Oh, yes, Heero,” Treize said, curling his lips into a cruel smile. “And you, Duo,” he continued, pinning the longhaired man with a malicious look as he walked towards him. “How are you enjoying my labyrinth?” Treize was now standing directly in front of him, backing him inexorably into the wall. He placed one hand flat on the wall, leaning forward into Duo.
Duo looked down, avoiding his piercing gaze. “It’s…it’s a piece of cake,” he said, meeting Treize’s gaze defiantly.
Heero groaned low in his chest.
“Really,” Treize said softly. “Then how about adding mistakes?” He raised one hand, pointing a finger at the far wall. A clock materialized on it, ticking quietly. The minute hand sped up until it was spinning rapidly, slowing only after the third complete circuit and three hours had been taken from Duo’s time limit.
“That’s not fair!” Duo exclaimed, glaring at the man above him.
“You say that so often,” Treize said, leaning closer to Duo and whispering in his ear. “I wonder what your basis for comparison is.” He broke away, taking several steps back towards the gloom that he had first emerged from. “So, my labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it?” He held his hands out in front of his chest, crossing them as the wrists and passing one hand behind the other. Another crystal appeared between the fingertips of his hands. “Let’s see how you deal with this little slice.”
With that, he threw the crystal into the darkness. And faded away as the small reflection the crystal cast spun into the shadows and grew.
“Shit,” Heero said, staring at the dark tunnel.
“What?” Duo asked, trying to make out what the crystal had transformed into.
“Run?” Duo echoed.
“Yes, run!” Heero shouted again, grabbing Duo’s hand and dragging him down the passage, away from the steadily growing silver glint that had been the crystal.
Duo glanced back over his shoulder. The crystal had transformed into something huge and metallic. It filled the entire tunnel, scraping along the edges of the rock. It grated along the ceiling, smashing small protrusions of stone. The front of it was covered in sharp pieces of steel that scratched and ground against each other, filling the passage with the high pitched shrieking of metal on metal.
Duo turned back around, too late to avoid a crack in the floor. He tripped, sprawling face first onto the ground. Heero jerked to a stop, roughly hauling Duo to his feet. The longhaired man scrambled to get up, grabbing onto Heero. He stumbled again, twisting Heero’s arm and making him wince.
“You okay?” Duo gasped as he righted himself.
Heero gave him a quick nod, running down the tunnel at breakneck speed. Ahead of them loomed a gate that filled the entire width of the passage. Chains looped around the bars.
“Oh no!” Duo yelled, frantically glancing back at the steel death-trap bearing down on them and then at the walls penning them in.
Duo jerked the chains wildly, nearly screaming in frustration as the thing behind them steadily rumbled closer. Heero slammed his body against the gate, trying to break the old, rusted doors down. The longhaired man cast about again, noticing a section of the wall that looked more like a giant door than wall. Running over to it, he started pushing and gave a shout of elation when he felt it give under his body weight.
“The Cleaner, the Bog of Eternal Stench…you sure have his attention!” Heero shouted over the chaos, finally looking over to where Duo was slamming himself against the panel. He quickly abandoned the gate, adding his strength to Duo’s.
As one, they looked back down the tunnel. The Cleaner was close enough now that Duo could distinguish the different metal blades endlessly turning, light glinting off of the razor edges. He gave a scream of rage and desperation, throwing himself against the panel. It gave a great shudder, then fell back with a great crash and billowing dust. The two men collapsed on top of it and each other, breathing heavily with adrenaline and exertion. The Cleaner thundered passed them, breaking through the grate as if it were paper. Dirt and steel flew into the air, adding to the chaotic noise. The sound of metal scraping on stone gradually faded as it disappeared down the black tunnel.
Heero gave Duo a startled look when he realized where he was lying and quickly picked himself up. He glanced around their new surroundings. A ladder was set against one wall, leading far up into a thinner passage. “This is what we need,” he said, heading towards it. “Follow me.”
Duo crawled to his feet, staring at the other incredulously. He dusted the dirt off his pants and vainly tired to tame the errant strands of hair that had worked loose from his braid. Tucking a strand behind his ear, he said with an exasperated sigh, “How can I trust you, now that I know you were taking me back to the beginning?”
“I wasn’t,” Heero replied, looking up the shaft and testing the first rung of the ladder. “I just told him that I was taking you back to the beginning.”
Duo crossed his arms over his chest. “Heero,” he said coolly, “how can I believe anything you say?”
“Let me put it this way,” Heero answered, climbing the ladder and adamantly avoiding Duo’s gaze. “What choice do you have?”
The longhaired man looked back through the crumbling doorway that they had fallen through, then back up at Heero. He threw his arms up into the air. “You’re right,” he sighed finally, walking to the base of the ladder and climbing up after Heero.
“You see,” Heero said after a few moments, “you have to understand my position. I live in the labyrinth, Treize controls it.”
“What kind of position is that?”
“A bad one. That’s my point.” Heero paused and looked up, checking the remaining distance. “If you knew what the Bog of Eternal Stench was like…” he trailed off, an involuntary shudder passing over him. The rung his foot was resting on groaned, then broke free with a sharp crack. Heero quickly moved up to the next step.
Duo watched the piece of wood fall down into the blackness below them, his eyes widening when he couldn’t hear it strike ground. “Is that all it does? Stink?”
“Believe me, that’s enough,” Heero growled. He reached up, pushing against something covering the shaft’s exit. There was the sound of stone grating against stone, and then a tiny stream of light showed through. The short-haired man grunted and heaved the stone off.
Heero’s head appeared over the rim of a giant pot as the lid clattered to the ground. The pot was set high on a stone table, in the middle of a clearing of the well-groomed hedge maze. Other pots and statues were set in various places around them, and a worn, stone stairwell beside them led back down into the underground tunnels. The tall, smoothly carved walls with the pointing hands rose up beyond the leafy shrubs. Duo emerged beside him, mouth falling open in disbelief.
“You’re on your own from now on,” Heero said, jumping down from the pot. “That’s it, I quit.”
“What?!” Duo nearly screamed, heaving himself up over the rim. “Wait a minute,” he ground out. “Heero!”
“I said I promised nothing; that I’d take you as far as I could go.” Heero shrugged his shoulders, glanced around, and started heading into the maze.
“You cheat! You nasty little cheat!” Duo shouted, storming over to Heero and grabbing him by the arm. He flung the other around, glaring darkly.
Heero scowled at him, violently shrugging off his hand.
“I don’t owe you anything!” Duo shouted at his companion.
Heero merely snorted.
Duo’s eyes narrowed, then flicked down, catching sight of the black glint tucked in Heero’s waistband. “Oh yeah? It’s like that, is it?” he quickly grabbed the butt of the gun and backed away.
“Give that back to me,” Heero hissed, bearing down on Duo as the other man danced away, keeping small trees and statues between them.
“Now, there’s the castle,” Duo said when Heero stopped trying to grab him and merely stood still, seething with anger. “Which way should we go?” He tucked the weapon into the back of his pants.
“That’s mine,” Heero snarled, jabbing a finger in the direction of his gun. “It’s not fair.”
“No, it isn’t,” Duo said softly. “But that’s the way it is.”
Heero didn’t look one bit impressed by Duo’s revelation. At that moment, a small movement from the other corner of the square caught both of their attention. An older man, accompanied by a girl with black hair so dark is almost appeared purple strolled into sight. The man had light grey hair that stuck off in odd points from the sides of his head. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes from view. He made his way to a chair carved of stone and settled himself on it. The girl perched negligently on the arm, looking down at him and speaking quietly.
Duo and Heero exchanged a look. The dark-haired man shrugged. Duo quirked an eyebrow, then headed towards the two newcomers. Heero sighed and followed.
“Excuse me,” Duo said, coming to a halt in front of them. “Can you help me?”
The man turned to face him, surprise clearly showing in his face. “Oh. A young man…?”
The girl followed his gaze, making an approving sound deep in her throat.
“And who is this?” the man asked, raising a bushy eyebrow and nodding at Heero.
Heero glared at him.
“My…friend,” Duo said hesitantly.
Giving a tiny start of surprise, Heero glanced over at Duo.
“And what can I do for you?” the old man asked.
“Please, can you tell…that is…” Duo stopped, his thoughts scattered. “I have to get to the castle at the centre of the labyrinth,” he said finally, gathering himself together. “Do you know the way?”
“Ah,” the man said.
“Ah,” the girl echoed.
“Ah,” he said again.
“Ah,” she repeated.
“Ah…yes. You…want to get…to the castle?”
The girl snorted. “How’s that for brain power, eh?” she said to the two men.
“Be quiet!” the man snapped.
“Aw, nuts,” mumbled the girl.
“So, young man,” he said, turning back to Duo.
Duo smiled hopefully.
“The way forward,” he continued, leaning ahead in his chair to pin Duo once more with his glasses-covered gaze, “is sometimes the way back.”
An extremely puzzled expression crossed Duo’s face.
“Ach, will you listen to this crap,” the girl said.
Heero grunted his agreement, and Duo shot him a sharp look.
“Will you-” the man started to say.
“Okay,” the girl cut him off.
“I’m sorry,” she huffed.
“Alright?” asked the man.
“Okay,” the girl answered.
She harrumphed again.
“What?” he asked.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
The man let out a long sigh. “Finished?”
“Yes,” she said shortly.
“Quite often, young man,” the man said, turning again to Duo, “it seems like we’re not getting anywhere, when in fact-”
“-we are,” the girl interrupted.
“We are,” the man grated out, glaring up at the girl.
“I’m certainly not getting anywhere at the moment,” Duo said, glancing around.
“Eh!” the girl snickered. “Join the club!”
Heero smirked again, nodding his agreement. The man had slumped against the chair back, snoring softly.
“I, eh, think that’s your lot,” the girl said, looking down at the old man. “Please, leave a contribution in the little box.”
The sleeping man snored loudly, rattling the box he held in his hand.
Duo raised both his eyebrows, perplexed. He glanced down at himself, looking for something. His hand drifted toward the gun.
“Don’t you dare!” Heero growled. “That’s mine.”
Duo pursed his lips, but dropped his hand away. Heero grunted. The longhaired man finally reached for the armlet. “Well, I guess I can spare this,” he said, unclasping it and letting it slip into the box.
Heero made a disgusted sound as they turned away.
“Gracias, senior!” the girl called, waving.
“You didn’t have to give them that,” Heero grunted once they were out of earshot. “They didn’t tell you anything.”
Duo pointedly ignored him.
“Well, well then,” the girl said, watching them turn the corner. “There go a couple of suckers.”
The man snored his agreement.
“Ach, it’s so stimulating being your friend,” the girl complained, rolling her eyes.
Duo and his companion wandered through the tall hedges, choosing their route at random. The longhaired man scratched absently at his neck and flicked his braid over his shoulder. He peered around a corner, looked both ways and chose the right hand path.
“Why-” Heero started to say.
“Do you hear that?” Duo asked, stopping short. He listened for a moment, but the soft pitter-pat that he thought he had heard was gone.
“What?” the other asked.
“Nah, nothing,” Duo mumbled and started walking again.
A few minutes later, Heero tried again. “Why did you say that? Calling me your friend?”
“Because you are,” Duo replied, peeking around another corner. “You may not be much of a friend, but you’re the only friend I’ve got in this place.”
Heero grunted again, but the sound had a wondering quality to it.
Duo stopped again, frowning. “Do you hear something?” he asked, drawing his brows together in confusion.
Another grunt, then, “No.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and moved on.
“Friend…” Heero said mostly to himself. “I like that.” He turned the corner, following Duo. “I’ve never been anyone’s friend before.”
As soon as the words left his lips, a strained cry echoed from somewhere in front of them. Both froze and Duo shot Heero a wide-eyed look when he heard a high-pitched scream of pain.
Heero glanced around, then abruptly decided that the opposite direction, the way they had just come, looked more promising. He gave a little snort and said, “Goodbye.”
Duo’s mouth dropped open. Whirling on his heel, he turned on Heero. “Wait a minute!”
“Keep the damn gun,” he growled, staring straight ahead as he walked away.
“Are you my friend or not!?” Duo shouted, grabbing the other’s arm.
“No. No, I’m not! I’m no one’s friend. I look after myself, like everyone does!” Heero snarled and roughly shook Duo’s hand off.
“Heero! You idiot!” Duo stumbled and watched Heero stalk away with a sinking heart.
Another cry sounded, making Duo wince. The echo of laughter filtered down the path and a desperate scream filled the air.
Duo glanced over his shoulder, then back down the path where Heero disappeared. He straightened and glared determinedly in the direction of the commotion. “Well,” he said, trying to convince himself, “I’m not afraid. Things aren’t always what they seem in this place…”
There was a loud shriek that made Duo jump. A chorus of snickers followed it and he firmed his lips as he leaned carefully around a smooth rock wall.
The air was filled with frustrated groans and cruel laughter. A rough group of five men in dirty, rumpled uniforms had another man strung up by his ankles, poking and prodding at him with a stick that had a tiny, ugly animal wrapped around the end. Each animal had a mouth full of yellowed, sharp teeth and were happily biting the unfortunate prisoner whenever the stick-wielding men swung them close enough. Duo winced in sympathy when one bit him high on his right thigh, alarmingly close to something sensitive. The man shouted in pain and flailed his arms about, trying to keep the little nipper things away.
Duo bit his lip, thinking furiously. His hand strayed towards the gun, but he let his arm drop. He couldn’t’ just shoot someone. “If only I had something to throw…”
The man nailed one of the nippers, sending it flying. Taking the chance given by the small reprieve, he slapped at his jeans, searching for something.
Duo raised his eyebrows and looked around his feet for something useful.
The man was still madly slapping at his pockets with one hand while trying to bat the nippers away with the other. He started spinning with the effort and was bit several more times on his hand for his trouble. Then he shouted again, this time in triumph. When he hit his pocket, Duo heard something…squeak.
Deciding that he was on his own if he wanted to help, Duo looked down, hoping to find a sizeable rock. Instead he saw an amazingly tiny, oddly-painted car swerving towards him. Duo looked at it apprehensively, glancing up at the swinging man again. The man swatted at another nipper, trying to point down at the car when he saw Duo looking at him.
Duo’s eyebrows shot up again, but he reached down hesitantly to pick up the car. When it didn’t explode in his hand, he relaxed a little. At a loss for what else to do, Duo carefully aimed and let the car fly at one of the men.
The car stuck a man directly between the eyes, making him wobble on his feet. He lost control of his nipper stick and smacked another man in the rear with the business end of it. The nipper happily sunk its teeth into the man’s backside and he jumped away with a yelp. “That’s my ass!” he shouted, rubbing the tender spot.
Duo heard another squeak and felt something bump into his foot. He picked up another car and threw it at the group of men. It whacked the back of a man’s head, sending him sprawling into a second man. The two tumbled down, taking a third man with them. A nipper went flying into the first man Duo hit, latching onto his leg. He started hopping around, backing into a forgotten nipper stick belonging to someone else. Jumping away from the snapping teeth, he stepped on yet another man.
“Retreat!” one shouted, scrambling up and getting nipped. “Retreat!”
The other men quickly took up the cry, shouting and scrambling all over each other in their haste. One man danced around with a nipper stuck to his leg while waving his arm wildly in an attempt to dislodge the nipper on his arm. He whacked someone else in the head and sent him flying into another man as they all tumbled down another path.
Duo stepped out from around his corner, ginning crazily at the shouts and yelps coming from behind the hedges. He heard someone curse and fall, then the sounds faded as the men moved further away. Satisfied that they were far enough away and not coming back, Duo headed over to the still-swinging man. He reached out to stop him from spinning, but snatched his hand away when the man shouted and tried to punch him.
“Hey! Stop that!” Duo said indignantly.
The man opened his eyes and took stock of the situation, quickly calming down and then looking up at Duo expectantly. Duo glanced him over, noting that he wore faded jeans that seemed either a size too small or were just plain tight and a green tutleneck. He didn’t see any blood on his clothes, but there were several shallow scratches on his face and a deeper wound on one of his hands. His eyes were startlingly green, a colour that made Duo think of glittering, priceless emeralds.
“Ahem,” the man said, his eyes narrowing.
Duo jerked back. “Ah, sorry,” he said, absently rubbing his hands on his thighs.
“Would you mind letting me down?” the man asked, crossing his arms. The movement made him spin half way around again.
Reaching out to stop him, Duo couldn’t stop the grin that formed on his face. “Sure.” He looked up, followed the line of rope and saw where it was tied around a large tree root that had broken through the cobblestones. He knelt beside it and gave it a few tugs. Suddenly the rope skimmed through his hands and the man was rudely dumped on the ground.
“Shit!” Duo exclaimed, surging to his feet and running over to him. “I’m sorry! Are you alright?” He quickly untangled the rope from his legs.
The man rolled over and pushed himself up on his elbows. His hair fell over his face, nearly obscuring an entire half. “Ouch,” he said after a few moments consideration. Looking up at Duo, he sat up and brushed off his hands. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Duo said, smiling. He offered the man a hand. “I’m Duo.”
“I have no…never mind. Trowa,” he said, taking Duo’s hand and hauling himself to his feet.
Duo looked up and found himself staring straight into Trowa’s chest. He took a step back and tilted his head back in an attempt to meet the other’s gaze.
“Well, you’re damn tall, aren’t you?” Duo said before he could stop himself.
Trowa raised an eyebrow. “Maybe you’re damn short.”
Shaking his head and grinning, Duo said, “Maybe. You sure you’re okay?”
The taller man brushed off his clothes and slid a hand into his pocket. Seemingly satisfied, he answered Duo, “I think I’ll invent a few new skin colours, but otherwise, fine. Again, thank you.”
“Could I…ah, ask you something?”
Duo hesitated. “I have,” he began tentatively, then his words tumbled out in a rush. “I have to get to the castle in the centre of the labyrinth. Do you know the way?”
Trowa’s face was blank for a heartbeat. “Oh,” he murmured, finally making sense out of what Duo had said. “No, I don’t. Sorry,” he added when he saw the disappointed expression on the other’s face.
“I wonder if anyone knows how to get through this place?” he said quietly, his eyes drifting over to where the castle stood on the hilltop, shrouded in haze.
Far away from them, wandering among the leafy green hedges, was Heero. He moved swiftly through the paths, making his way back to the pond that he had abandoned when Duo had first made an appearance.
“Get through the labyrinth,” he muttered in a disgusted tone of voice. “Get through the labyrinth. One thing’s for sure,” he grunted, “he’ll never…get through the labyrinth.” Heero’s face clouded over and his voice dropped off to a whisper. His steps faltered and then slowed, worry showing in his features as he turned and glanced over his shoulder.
“Anyway, if you’re going to help me…” Duo was saying to Trowa, frowning at a rip in the side of his shirt. He glanced up and stopped short. “Hey,” he said, “where did those come from?”
“Hm?” Trowa said, turning around and following the longhaired man’s gaze.
Behind him, two doors had appeared in what had been blank stone walls. They sat in a corner, vines trailing across the ground and winding snake-like up the rock. Large doorknockers sat in the middle of the wooden planks, glinting dully metallic in the sun’s light.
“What do you think? Should we…?” He jerked his chin in the direction of the doors.
Trowa glanced at Duo, then looked back at the corner. Both knockers were shaped like male human faces. The left knocker was bronze, the curved ring used to knock, secured to the figure’s ears, hung low on the door. Its open eyes shone bright. The right, moulded from a now-tarnished silver, had the ring suspended from its mouth, an odd band resting low on its forehead. Duo stepped closer to the doors.
“It’s very rude to stare!” shouted the left doorknocker, glaring down at Duo.
“Dammit!” Duo cursed, jumping back and landing in Trowa’s arms. The tall man looked down at him, his lips curling up at the edges. He righted Duo, pushing him gently.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, straightening. Turning back to the doorknocker that had spoken, Duo said, “I was only trying to figure out which door to choose.”
“What?” the knocker said loudly.
“It’s no good asking him, he’s deaf as a dolt,” a garbled, muffled voice chimed in.
Duo glanced over to find that the right knocker had joined the conversation.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” the left said, glaring.
“I’m not talking with my mouth full!” the right half-shouted. At least, that’s what it sounded like he said.
“Hang on,” Duo said, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. “I can hardly understand you.”
“What were you saying?” the left knocker said loudly.
Duo shot the left doorknocker a dark look, then walked over to the right one and, grasping the ring with both hands, pulled it out of his mouth with a loud, metallic clunk.
“Oh! It’s so good to get that thing out of my mouth,” the right knocker said, smacking its lips.
Duo handed the ring absently to Trowa, who raised his eyebrows and gave it an appraising look. “You were saying?” Duo prompted.
“I said,” the right doorknocker began, clearing its throat, “it’s no good talking to him, he’s deaf as a-”
Duo knitted his brow in confusion. It didn’t look like the doorknocker had a throat to clear.
“Mumble, mumble, mumble!” the left doorknocker said, cutting his companion off. “You’re a wonderful conversational companion.”
“You can talk, all you do is moan!” the right said, snickering.
“No good,” the left said, pausing to sniff disdainfully, “can’t hear you.”
The right knocker sighed explosively.
“Where do these doors lead?” Duo asked suddenly.
“What?” the left knocker shouted.
“Search me, we’re just the knockers!” the right one said, laughing.
“Oh.” Duo ran his hands over the door, searching for a knob or a latch. When he didn’t find one, he tried pushing. The door didn’t budge.
Trowa was still sizing up the ring, weighing it in his hand and giving it an experimental toss into the air.
“How do I get through?” Duo asked the right knocker when he couldn’t open the door.
“Huh?” the left one said.
“Knock, and the door will open,” said the right knocker, lowering his voice to a whisper.
“Uh huh,” Duo said, raising an eyebrow and turning back to Trowa. The taller man was tossing the ring and several other much tinier objects Duo didn’t recognize high into the air and easily catching them again. He caught Duo looking at him and shrugged sheepishly.
Smiling at the look on Trowa’s face, Duo held out his hand for the ring. Trowa caught it and tossed it to him, quickly stuffing the other objects into his pockets. Shaking his head, Duo walked over to the right hand door. He held the ring next to the knocker’s mouth. The doorknocker glanced around, humming tunelessly under its breath.
Duo nudged its lips with the ring.
“I don’t want that thing back in my mouth!” the doorknocker cried, clamping its lips shut.
“C’mon, I wanna knock,” Duo said, letting out an annoyed breath of air.
“Huh, doesn’t want his ring back in his mouth, eh?” the left knocker said. He sniffed again, looking to the side. “Can’t say I blame him.”
Casting a glance back at Trowa, who shrugged in response to the silent question, Duo nibbled on his lip. He looked back up at the right doorknocker. Suddenly, he grabbed onto its nose, pinching it tight. The knocker rolled its eyes, trying to keep its lips firmly shut. A few moments later, though, it gasped for air. Duo triumphantly shoved the ring into its mouth and knocked. He smirked as the doorknocker mumbled under its breath and around the ring.
“Sorry,” Duo said with a shrug, unable to stop smiling.
“S’alright, I’m used to it,” the knocker grumbled with a mouthful of metal. The door slowly opened with a mournful creak, and the two men walked inside.
Just past the door, Trowa hesitated. Duo stopped, looking around. Tall trees filtered out the sunlight, leaving dappled patterns scattered across the swampy ground. Vines dangled from trees like thick green ropes, tangling in the half-buried roots that wound over the dirt path. The still, moist air clung to his skin, almost suffocating in its weight. Close by, a chorus of insects chirped, followed by the rusty croak of a frog. Behind them, the door closed, sending a rain of dirt and dust down from the earth it was set in.
“Nice,” Duo said.
In the castle, perched high on a wall in the twisted corridors, a clock ticked the seconds away steadily. A solider glanced up at it, noting that only four hours and ten minutes remained. He continued on his way, passing by a small, cosy room. Inside, a fire crackled merrily in a worn fireplace, fighting off the chill of the ancient stone walls.
Treize sat in a plush chair on one side of a small refreshment table, facing his guest. He handed Relena a plate of biscuits. She pondered for a moment, then selected one. “Thank you.” She smiled contentedly, taking a bite.
“You’re quite welcome,” Trieze said. A small, mysterious smile graced his lips.
Another clock chimed the time, bells tinkling happily. Relena never noticed.
Duo climbed carefully over a fallen log, checking to see where his feet would land. Trowa followed, a frown firmly on his face. Straightening, the longhaired man brushed his hands together, then scratched his cheek as he looked around. He left a small smudge of dirt on his pale skin when he moved his hand. Duo’s pants were spotted with dirt, patches of the jean worn away by the constant abuse of trekking through the labyrinth. His braid had loosened, bits and pieces of his hair hanging free.
“I don’t like this,” Trowa repeated.
“Want me to hold your hand?” Duo asked, grinning.
The taller man gave him a withering look. “No.”
Duo looked around the dim swamp. “You wanna hold mine?” he said with a small laugh.
Trowa smiled a tiny little smile. Satisfied, Duo turned back to the path and plodded onward.
Minutes later, the swamp fell eerily quiet. Looking behind him, Duo realized that Trowa was gone. His eyes widened. He whirled around, frantically casting about for the only friend he had left.
“Shit, Tro! That’s not funny! Where are you?” he shouted.
The swamp remained silent.
“Trowa? Hello? Heero!?” he called, turning in a small circle as he searched. “God damn it!”
High above the murky swamp, Heero made his way carefully around the uneven, rocky ground. Heads carved out of the white rock lay strewn about, broken and chipped. He stepped over one and heard the faint voice calling him.
Heero froze. “Damn it,” he muttered, swiftly turning around and coming face to face with Treize. The king leaned casually against one of the carved heads that had managed to remain upright.
“Well,” he said. “If it isn’t you.” He pushed himself away from the rock and stalked toward Heero. “And where are you going?”
“I hear Duo. I’m going to take him back to the beginning,” Heero stated coolly.
“I see. For one moment, I thought you were running to help him.” A dark raven perched on a tree behind Treize let out a throaty croak. “But, no. Not after my warning. That would be stupid,” Treize finished easily, stopping directly in front of the man.
Heero grunted and moved to walk around him. Treize put a hand out to stop him.
“Oh, dear. Poor Hero,” he said with false concern.
“I’ve just noticed that your favourite gun is missing,” he continued, sliding an arm around the frowning man’s shoulders.
Heero stepped away, his frown deepening. “I know where it is. I’m taking Duo back now.” He walked quickly away from the older man.
“Wait.” Treize said. When Heero stopped and turned halfway around again, he said, “I’ve got a better idea. Give him this.” He raised his hand, a perfectly round crystal balanced on the tips of his fingers. He twirled it between his fingers, letting the light reflect on its shiny surface. Twisting his wrist slightly, he tossed it to Heero.
Heero snatched it from the air. In his hand, he held a healthy looking peach, slightly warm as if it had been sitting in the sun. “What is it?” he said, not trusting his eyes.
“It’s a present.” Treize’s voice was sharp.
“It isn’t going to hurt him, is it?” Heero asked, turning the piece of fruit over in his hands experimentally.
“Oh, now what a concern,” the king said mockingly.
“It won’t do anything to harm him,” he pressed.
“Come, come, come, Heero. I’m surprised at you, losing your head over a boy.”
“I haven’t lost my head,” was the indignant answer.
“You don’t think a young man could ever like a nasty little thing like you, do you?” Treize said, poking a finger in Heero’s chest for emphasis.
Heero scowled. “He said we were-”
Treize had begun to turn around, but looked back at Heero when he heard him speak. “What? Acquaintances? Bosom companions?” He arched an eyebrow. “Friends?” he finished, letting his voice drop.
Heero sighed and caught himself. He finished with a noncommittal grunt.
“You’ll give him that, Heero, or I’ll dip you straight into the Bog of Eternal Stench before you can blink,” Treize snarled, staring down at the shorter man menacingly.
Heero gave a small shake of his head and finally turned to leave.
This time, Heero merely stopped, refusing to look back at the ruler of the labyrinth.
“If he ever kisses you, I’ll turn you into a prince.”
“What?” Heero asked, looking over his shoulder, a shocked expression on his face.
“Prince of the Land of Stench!” Treize finished grandly, holding his arms out and laughing.
Heero turned away, a deep frown upon his face and worry in his eyes as his thumb gently stroked the peach.
Alone, Duo wandered the swamp, looking for both a way out and for his lost friend. Ahead of him, a bright flash lit up the air. A few seconds later, the ground shook underneath his feet.
“Holy shit!” Duo yelled, falling against a tree trunk. He stayed there for a minute, waiting to see if there would be another blast. When the ground stayed still, he pushed away from the tree and moved toward the area. He hoped that Trowa was nowhere near that.
Through the scraggly trees, Duo saw a group of men in uniforms huddled around a tiny, blackened crater. Tendrils of smoke drifted upwards in a straight line, undisturbed by any breath of wind. They were talking easily amongst themselves, casual.
As short distance from Duo, another explosion rocked the ground. He yelped in surprise, grabbing onto the nearest tree. The men froze, turning to scan the area around them. One spotted the longhaired man.
“Hey! I know you!” the man shouted.
Another turned, and Duo recognized him as one of the soldiers that had been tormenting Trowa. “Get him!” the man yelled, pointing.
“Yeah, c’mon!” a rumpled soldier shouted.
“Oh, shit,” Duo said under his breath.
He whirled around, running flat out away from the men. Glancing behind him, he saw them leaping over logs and rocks, catching up. Duo turned back in time to jump over a tree root, stumbling when his feet hit the ground again. Scrambling to get his feet back under him, he rounded another corner and met with a rock wall. A quick look to the side showed another path.
“Somebody stop him!” someone shouted.
“Come back here!”
“Yeah, right,” Duo muttered, running down the second path. “Sure.”
“Ah ha! Got ya!” A soldier appeared in front of Duo, his arms held wide and waiting to trap him.
“Leave me alone!” Duo shouted, reflexively punching the man in the face.
The soldier’s head snapped back, a surprised expression on his face. Duo punched him again, aiming for his stomach. The man doubled over and Duo didn’t wait to see if he stayed down, but jumped over him and zigzagged through the trees.
“Get up and catch him!” someone else shouted.
Duo ran straight into another dead end. He looked back, seeing the soldiers close in a half-circle around him. He pressed himself back into the cliff face, swearing under his breath.
“You’re ours now,” one soldier grinned, rapidly closing the distance between them.
“Dammit!” Duo shouted. He felt the gun he had taken from Heero press into his side. He was turning the idea over in his head when a rope fell against his shoulder. Duo risked a glance up. “Heero!”
“Grab it!” Heero called down from the top of the rock wall.
Duo’s face broke out into a wide grin. He wrapped the rope around his wrist and started to climb. A shout of dismay rose from the group of soldiers and one of them lunged at Duo’s legs.
“Get off of me!” Duo snarled at him, kicking out viciously and nailing him in the chest. The man went down with a sharp cry.
Duo’s arm appeared over the side of the cliff, and Heero reached down to haul the other man up. A bright smile covered Duo’s face as he climbed to his feet.
Heero looked down over the edge. “Go away,” he said flatly, glaring at the soldiers and hauling the rest of the rope up.
“Heero!” Duo shouted with relief, throwing his arms around the other’s neck.
Heero’s mouth dropped open. “Hey!” He closed his mouth and tried to pry Duo’s arms away.
“Thank you!” he said, planting a light kiss right on Heero’s lips.
Heero blinked. Duo was grinning manically at him. “No!” he yelled, “You kissed me!”
Duo pulled back, confusion and anger on his face. “So?”
And then the ground dropped out from under them.
Duo spat out a curse as they were dumped feet first into a sharply sloped, dirty stone tunnel. He fell down on his back behind Heero, cobwebs and leaves catching on his clothes and face. Ahead of him, Heero scanned the walls, hands frantically searching for something to grab onto in the dim light. Suddenly, the tunnel ahead brightened.
“Damn!” Heero shouted as he was flung out of the tunnel, over the edge of a steep wall. He managed to catch himself on a huge, rusting nail protruding from the stone and dangled there, relearning how to breathe.
“Whoa, shit!” Duo cried, turning on his side and catching a root creeping up the side of the tunnel opening. His arms ached when he was snapped to a halt, the root making a horrible breaking sound but holding.
Duo hauled himself back in, wiggling to get his legs up onto the small ledge. Heero braced his feet against the wall, groping for a handhold to drag himself up. Once Duo was standing on the ledge, he pressed his back close to the wall surrounding the tunnel exit and scooted over to where Heero dangled, and crouched.
Heero grunted, reaching up for Duo’s hand when the other held it out to him. Duo had started pulling Heero up when his nose was assaulted by a horrible smell. He paused, muttering, “Oh my God,” and tried to breathe through his mouth.
Far below them, the ground was covered in a thick, deep green slime. It gurgled and bubbled, hot tendrils of steam released when a bubble popped with a loud, wet sound. Dead trees were spread throughout the mass, reaching up out of the gelatinous liquid like skeletal fingers.
Heero made a sound of annoyance.
“What is it?” Duo asked, staring at the gooey strings hanging from a branch. A thick bubble gurgled and popped, sending a fresh wave of the choking smell into the air. He gagged.
“The Bog of Eternal Stench,” Heero grated out, feet slipping on the rock wall.
“I’ve never smelled anything like it!” Duo said, trying to pull Heero up while he stared in macabre fascination at the bog. “It’s like…it’s like…”
There was a loud burble and another bubble grew, expanding until it was larger than the ones surrounding it. It exploded with a moist pop, and Duo started to choke when the stench hit him.
“It doesn’t matter what it’s like,” Heero hissed, still dangling dangerously over the edge. “Get me up!”
“Hold on,” Duo said, refocusing on his friend. He tightened his grip and roughly hauled Heero up.
The other scrambled up the slimy stone wall and Duo kept pulling. He fell back and Heero collapsed on top of him, crushing him into the stone. Duo stopped breathing for a moment, staring at Heero’s face, so close to his own. The short-haired man’s gaze was fixed on Duo’s.
“What did you do that for?” Heero barked suddenly, jerking away from his companion and leaning against the wall.
“Do what?” Duo said, slumping back and trying to breath through his mouth. “You mean help you?”
“No,” Heero snapped, searching for secure footing on the tiny ledge. “You kissed me,” he grunted just as the rocks slipped out from under their feet and tumbled into the bog below. Both scrambled for footing, dust rising in a dirty cloud. Heero’s expression darkened.
“Don’t pretend to be so hard,” Duo panted, falling back against the wall as he waited for his heart to stop pounding. “You came back to help me; you’re a friend.”
They both inched along, hands and backs pressed against the rough rock behind them. “I did not, and I am not,” Heero insisted, creeping along behind Duo. “I came to get my property back.”
Duo reached out for a tree branch as Heero spoke, using it to balance himself as he hopped over a gap in the ledge.
“And give you…” the other continued, glancing down for a moment.
Duo shot him an absent look before concentrating on staying on the ledge again. “Give me what?”
Perched on the stone just before the gap, Heero opened his mouth to reply as the rock started to crumble again. “Shit – Heero!” Hearing Heero’s sharp intake of breath and the sound of ground giving way, Duo jerked around and reached for him, their fingers touching and gripping moments before both unbalanced and tumbled to the dirt below.
Rocks and dust scattered as Duo landed with a thump on something surprisingly soft. Something that grunted, rolled over, and sat up with Duo sprawled across its lap.
“This place reeks,” Trowa stated, dust settling around him.
“Tro!” Duo grinned and scrambled up, sending more rocks skittering. His smile faltered for just a moment. “Where’s Heero?”
“Get off of me!” came the half-muffled, irritated shout of the short-haired man.
Trowa looked around, noticed that he was indeed sitting on someone, and stood up with a bland, “Oh.”
Staggering to his feet, covered with dust, Heero peeled his lips back in a snarl and stared at Trowa. Trowa, unconcerned, returned the look with a glare of his own.
Duo’s gaze flicked between the two. “It’s okay,” he said, his voice faltering slightly. “This is Trowa, he’s…a friend, too…”
“A what?” Heero grumbled.
“Christ, the smell…” Duo muttered, clamping a hand over his nose. The three stood at the very edge of the burbling slime, the stench of the gooey mass choking the air.
“We know,” said Heero.
Duo ignored him, kept his hand firmly over his nose, and looked around, trying to find a way out of the stench. “There’s a bridge,” he said finally, pointing with his free hand toward it. They set off in single file, Duo in the lead with Heero and then Trowa following behind him, each one looking a little sick and devoting their entire attention to avoiding the sludge.
“Watch it,” Heero said as Trowa crowded close, the dirt path around the edge of the slime growing thin. “Step in this stuff and you’ll stink forever.”
Reaching the hill in front of the bridge, Duo trotted ahead, desperate to get out of the stinking air, with Heero and Trowa eying each other and following at a normal pace. One step away from the bridge, Duo stopped short, jerking back as someone jumped in front of him.
“Stop!” the newcomer shouted, one hand raised in warning. Heero ignored him, and he spoke again, indicating the sheathed sword at his side. “I said, stop.”
Slanted, coal black eyes watched them warily, shoulder-length hair of the same deep hue falling around a face with sharp, high cheekbones and skin a lighter gold than Heero’s. The man wore loose dark pants that flowed around his legs, partly hidden by a long-sleeved jacket that fell to his knees, a trail of small, glinting buttons closing it from thigh to neck. His expression was hard, his hand on the sword hilt and his stance ready.
Duo stepped back, flanked by his two companions. “We have to get across-” he started.
“What?” Trowa asked, looking from Duo to the man blocking their way and back again.
Frustrated, Duo tried for honesty. “I only have a little time left-”
“We need to get out of this stench,” Heero said, cutting him off.
“It reeks,” Trowa agreed.
A dark brow arched, challenging. “That is nothing.”
Duo gaped. “This smell!?”
The man shrugged with one shoulder, though his posture remained alert. “It is nothing.”
“You’re joking,” Heero said flatly.
“My senses are keen,” the man said, ignoring the roll of Trowa’s eyes. “I can tolerate this air, it is nothing to me, and none may pass without my permission!” he finished, dropping into a fighting stance and whisking the blade out of its sheath.
“It reeks,” Trowa insisted.
Heero growled, “Get out of my way,” and stomped past Duo, heading straight for the man in front of the bridge. Abruptly, the sword point was pressed to his chest and he jerked to a halt.
“I warn you,” the man said, “I’m bound to do my duty.”
“C’mon,” Duo tried again, “let us get across.”
“Hold!” the man repeated, the sword tip swinging up to dance in front of Heero’s face. Trowa shifted, moving to stand in front of Duo while Heero backed up another step. “I don’t wish to hurt you,” he finished.
Ignoring him, Heero took another step back and separated himself from the two, searching for a way to the bridge. The man’s attention swung to him, and then quickly back to Trowa as they attempted to flank him. Seizing the moment, Heero dashed by the bridge guard and across the wooden planks.
“Heero! What are you doing!?” Duo shouted, pissed off that he’d once again been left behind.
Trowa faced off with the man, looking not at all certain what he was expected to do while the latter merely waited. Trowa took a half-step forward, and the sword point whistled dangerously close to his cheek; he jumped easily back out of the way, stumbling slightly when an ear-shattering shout echoed through the bog.
There was a flurry of blond hair and pale skin, and the man, apparently the owner of the shouted name as he had winced and drew back as soon as it was called, started to say something when he was cut off with a resounding thwack on the ass. Duo’s eyes were wide, Trowa’s mouth slack with surprise as they watched a short, wooden-spoon wielding man glower furiously at the swordsman.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” the dark-haired man said to the blond.
“Then don’t try to skewer the company, Wufei!” was the sharp retort.
Wufei muttered his apologies, grumbled something about sacred duty and grouchily sheathed his sword.
“Um…hi?” Duo ventured.
The blond turned around, fixed startlingly blue eyes on Duo’s face, and raised eyebrows as light as his hair. “Hello.”
“We’d like to cross the bridge….” Duo continued, encouraged by the dazzling smile the blond bestowed upon him.
“Well?” the blond said, turning back to Wufei, who had crossed his arms moodily over his chest.
“You have my permission to cross,” Wufei groused. “You always ruin my fun, Quatre,” he continued, his voice going up several decibel levels. “That one could have been a good fight!” he said, jabbing a finger at Trowa.
Trowa merely shrugged.
“Where are we headed?” the one identified as Quatre asked. He suddenly noticed he was still gripping the wooden spoon, and tossed it negligently over his shoulder with a slight flush and cleared his throat.
“What?” Duo asked, dumbfounded. It was impossible to keep up with them.
“Wufei wants to go with you,” the blond said, as if it were obvious. “So, where are we going?”
Duo blinked, stared at Wufei. In response, Wufei merely jerked his shoulders and replied, “It’s boring here. And it stinks.”
“It reeks,” Trowa corrected.
“Unh…the castle?” Duo offered tentatively.
“Good enough for me,” Wufei said with a nod, and waved them ahead.
Duo looked at Trowa, then at his two newest companions, still not quite certain he was following. Three expectant stares met his, and, with a shrug, he walked towards the rickety bridge.
“Have no fear,” Wufei began, noting Duo’s reluctance. “This bridge has lasted for a thousand years.” The longhaired man gave him a withering glace but started to make his way across. “And your other friend made it across safely,” Wufei concluded, patting one of the stone anchors.
“Some friend,” Duo muttered, already halfway across the bridge. There was a low rumble, and a groan, and suddenly the planks started sliding out from under his feet. Frantic, he grabbed a low branch, tried to haul himself up and let out a shout as it cracked alarmingly. The bog spit and burbled as Duo dangled above the slimy goop.
“It seemed solid enough,” Wufei said to Trowa by way of apology when the latter gave him a flat look.
“Help would be good!” Duo shouted as Heero stomped back around a corner, the semi-permanent scowl set on his face.
Quatre blinked rapidly, then elbowed Wufei solidly in the side. “Help him!”
“What am I supposed to do?”
Trowa had already moved, tugging a long vine from a tree and trying to rip the end away from the gnarled trunk. At the threat of another elbow, Wufei turned, slashed the vine free, and watched with grudging admiration as Trowa wrapped it securely around his wrist, backed up several steps and took off at a run, using the vine to swing across the bog, snatch Duo out of the air and land safely on the other side. Politely, Wufei and Quatre applauded, and Trowa bowed.
Duo sat flat on his ass in the dirt, gasping for breath and immediately regretting it as he inhaled the stench of the bog. On the other side, Wufei was busy finding a second vine for himself and Quatre as Heero held down a hand, his expression mildly apologetic. “Here,” he said.
Rolling his eyes, Duo accepted it and stood up in time to watch Wufei and the blond swing across the sickly green mess. “Thanks, Heero.”
“That worked amazingly well,” Wufei said to Trowa, who merely offered a small smile in response.
Glancing from face to face, Duo attempted to brush the dirt from his clothes and indicated people with his free hand as he spoke. “Heero, Trowa, Quatre, Wufei, and I’m Duo.” He straightened up and winced as his stomach growled loudly. “We’re going to the castle, right?” There was a chorus of agreement and a few nods. “Let’s get out of here.”
Duo took the lead again, followed again by Trowa and Heero, with Wufei and Quatre bringing up the rear. Both newcomers gradually overtook Heero, and Wufei murmured, “Excuse us…thank you,” as they passed him.
Light gradually waned, night falling lazily around them. Lagging behind, Heero watched as the group trudged forward, small snatches of conversation floating back to him. He turned his hand over, looked at the still-warm peach nestled in his palm. Stepping softly to the edge of the bog, he hesitated for a moment before starting to loosen his grip on the fruit.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the king’s voice echoed in his ears. With a grunt, Heero snatched his hand back, his eyes worried. Sighing, he turned to catch up with the rest.
Wufei had taken the lead, trekking out of the bog and into a deep, almost pleasant forest. They stepped around giant roots, passed under the dark canopy and listened to the sounds of night. “Well, come on then,” he said, turning back to watch Quatre and Trowa. “We should reach the castle well before day.”
Moonlight shone through the castle windows, spilling into the throne room of the king. He leaned forward in his seat, holding a small crystal ball in front of Relena’s face, murmuring softly to himself. The ball showed the image of Duo and his friends picking their way through the forest, and gradually, the others faded to show only Duo.
“Look, Duo,” he said, flicking his gaze to Relena. “Is this what you’re trying to find? So much trouble over such a little thing….” Relena remained oblivious, sitting with her hands folded neatly, a teddy bear in her lap. “But not for long,” Treize continued. “He’ll soon forget all about you, my lady.” He turned his gaze back to the crystal, cool blue eyes watching as Duo walked. “Just as soon as Heero gives him my present…then, he’ll forget about everything.”
Wufei and Trowa talked easily, with Quatre following close beside them. The conversation halted for a moment, Wufei tilting his head curiously to the side at the sound of an angry rumble. “Is that my stomach or yours, Quatre?”
“Might have been mine,” Trowa replied.
Duo stepped over a root, looked mournfully at his own stomach. “Yeah, well, we can’t stop now. Maybe we can find some berries or something.”
Beside him, Heero made a hesitant gesture. “Ah…Duo?”
Taking his own suggestion, Duo had begun searching the undergrowth for berries. “Yeah?” he answered absently.
“Here,” Heero grunted, thrusting the peach toward him.
Duo made a curious sound, looked up and caught sight of the fruit. “Heero, man – thanks. You’re a life saver.” He took the peach, started to wipe it off with his shirt and gave a short laugh as he noticed the shirt was dirtier than the peach was. With a shrug, he bit into the sweet flesh and chewed slowly.
Cautiously, Heero watched, and as Duo’s expression changed his eyes clouded with worry. He took a few horrified steps back when the other looked at him.
Duo swallowed slowly, a shudder passing over him. “Tastes strange…” he murmured, stumbling slightly as the world began to spin. His vision darkened, eaten away by black at the corners. “Heero…what have you done….” He started to fall, slipping down to the leaf-strewn ground.
“Damn you, Treize,” Heero snarled, reaching out to touch Duo’s arm and jerking his hand back before he did. “And damn me, too.”
Lounging on the edge of a window sill, back against the dark stone, Treize sat gazing out over the labyrinth. In his hand, balanced on top of his steepled fingers, he slowly turned three clear crystal balls. Perched on top of them, undisturbed by the twirling ones beneath it, was a forth, shining brightly in the white light. The reflection shone in his cool blue eyes, eyes that held a ghost of sorrow as he lifted the forth crystal away. Cradling it in the centre of his palm, he let the breeze take it, watched as it floated lazily on the air.
Unsmiling, he took a second and let it drift away, the remaining two still twisting easily in his fingers. Smooth, clear, they sailed on the wind away from the castle, drifting lower through the leaves and branches to where Duo lay slumped against a tree, eyes clouded and dazed. Bemused, he looked up at the delicate glass, puzzlement crossing his features as he saw an image form in the depths.
“There it is,” Wufei said, gesturing. “The castle is straight ahead.” He turned, gaze drifting over first Quatre and then Trowa, then the darkness of the forest stretching behind them. “Duo?” he said, voice hushed with realization.
Quatre’s eyes widened and with a low sound of worry, he pointed toward the castle. Wufei turned slowly to see a string of glass balls drifting on the air, dipping low to wind between him and his companions. Inside, turning in sluggish circles and staring in mystified wonder at what they couldn’t see, was Duo.
He stood in the middle of a world gone white. Huge, soaring, the ballroom teemed with people. The floor gleamed with marble tiles, tall columns spearing up out of the floor, the tops of them lost in long sweeps of white silk and satin that draped from the ceiling, spilled down the mirrored walls. More warm velvet and softly shining cloth whirled around him, masked women in elegant cream-coloured dresses twisting and turning in the arms of men clad in flowing shirts, form-fitting trousers and tall, ivory boots. His vision was filled with shades of not-quite white, light golden browns, sweeping coats, trailing skirts and a sea of masks, horned and leering.
A woman leaned close, the horns of her dark demon mask dipping low as she looked at him, her skin as pale as the snow silk of her dress, her lips a precious dark red. She smiled and twirled away, her partner’s eyes a flash of dark green behind his mask.
Music surrounded him, pressed against him until his lungs ached. The sound of their laughter, high and decadent, echoed in his ears. Hands brushed over him as he turned, his limbs slow and sluggish, and caught his own reflection in the glass.
Dark tan leather boots, butter-soft, covered his calves and ended just below his knee. He wore snug trousers of off-white, a shirt only a shade lighter with billowing sleeves and a collar left carelessly loose and open. His hair fell down in a glossy line of chestnut, small braids hidden and twined through the thick mass.
Mind clouded and reeling, he met the ice blue gaze of another in the mirror, shadowed by the coffee-coloured mask he wore. A hand touched his shoulder, and Duo turned, looked up at the demon’s face and the softly curving lips beneath it. His clothes were darker, the colour of melted milk chocolate and startling against the backdrop of white on white. The man’s hand took his, an arm sliding gently around his waist and pulling him close. Soft blond hair, almost as light as the silk they both wore, brushed his skin and suddenly Duo was engulfed by the whirling crowd, trapped in the blue-eyed man’s arms as he led the dance.
Unable to think, Duo let himself be led in the steps of a waltz, seeing nothing but the endless array of masks and dancers, the frosted blue eyes of his partner and the knowing curve of his lips. A woman laughed in his ear, and he turned to see her slender fingers trail over the masked brow of another man. She looked at him, pressed those same fingers to the smooth line of her throat and laughed again.
Watching them, lowering his own mask, Treize’s expression was unreadable. Blinking dazed eyes, Duo caught sight of him as he spun in the other man’s arms; saw the dark blue of his clothes like the frenzied ocean between froth-covered waves. Another turn, another step in the dance and he was gone. Duo whipped his head around, searching. His partner merely laughed low, wickedly. There, again, through the crowd was the shock of midnight blue, a split-second before it was gone and Duo doubted he had ever seen it.
His partner leaned close, soft hair bushing Duo’s face, the edges of the mask pressing sharply into his skin. Lips close, brushing Duo’s ear, the man whispered quietly and the words were lost in the muddle of his mind. When he pulled away, Duo found himself staring up into a painfully familiar face, unadorned. At the look of pure shock, Treize merely smiled, and led the man in his arms through the unending dance.
Duo’s vision blurred again, the parade of masks and smiles blending and melding into one. The white crystal world began to spin around him as the sound of a tolling clock reached his ears through the laughter. Worry flickered behind Duo’s eyes as his brow creased. He began to struggle, tearing out of Treize’s grasp and elbowing through the crowd that pressed close, laughing and leering at him. He broke free, and Treize let him go, simply watching again as Duo ran to the mirror walls. Desperate, he grabbed a heavy chair, caught sight of the blond man with ice blue eyes watching him seconds before he slammed it against the smooth surface.
Shattered pieces rained down, hitting the marble with the sound of tinkling chimes. The wall burst outward, then up, and the laughter behind him abruptly turned to piercing screams. Gravity failed, the shattered glass began to fall upward, silk and marble following. Long confused and frantic moments passed before Duo realized he was falling, the ballroom dissipating into the air. The white darkened, vanished, and he was drifting through the night sky. Slowly, the ground rose up to meet him, and he was set down with the quiet rustle of clothing, consciousness already fading.
Heero sat hunched over a pitifully small fire, eyes tortured and lips thin. “He’ll never forgive me….” His voice was a strained whisper as he dropped his head in his hands. Behind him, mountains of junk, as discarded and useless as he felt, loomed like dark shadows. There was the sound of something dropping on the rusted piles, and curiously, he turned to look.
Duo blinked bleary eyes, hand automatically going to hold his spinning head still. He blinked again, this time in confusion as he realized he held something in his hand, and, after a moment of attempting to focus, he saw the peach with rotten core and a bite taken out of it. A worm started to crawl out of it, black as the rot, and Duo jerked back with a curse and flicked it away. “Jesus! Gross!” He scrubbed his palm roughly against his jeans and ended up displacing the pile of junk he was flopped against, sliding down a few feet before grabbing randomly at things and bringing himself to a stop.
“Get off my back!”
Startled, Duo jerked back again, rolling away to his feet as the pile shifted and moved, revealing a gnarled old woman with a carefully tied bundle of junk on her back. “Why don’t you look where you’re going, young man?” She demanded, stumping around to glower at him.
Expression clouded, Duo muttered, “I was looking….”
“Hmm?” the junk lady said, shuffling closer. “And where were you going, hmm?” she sneered.
“I…don’t remember,” he admitted.
“You can’t look where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going!” she shouted, jabbing at him with a rusty pot.
Still dazed and uncertain of his memory, Duo merely shook his head and looked around. “I was searching for something.”
“Well,” the old crone said, stomping over to a mountain and digging around in it. “Look here,” she said, emerging with Duo’s pocketknife in hand and passing it to him.
Blankly, he looked down at it, still unsure. “Thank you….”
“That’s what you were looking for, wasn’t it, my dear?”
“…yes, I forgot.”
“Now why don’t you come in here,” she said, shuffling over to another mountain and pulling things out of the way, “and see if there’s anything else you like, hmm?” She gave a cackle of a laugh and tugged a curtain aside, gesturing for Duo to go ahead.
He walked in, not noticing as the curtain fell behind him and vanished. He stared at what was his own room, his own things exactly as he’d left them. With a grunt, he flopped face first down on the bed and lay there for several long minutes. “Just a dream,” he said finally, voice muffled. “Crazy, fucked up dream; should lay off on the clubbing.” He remained motionless for a moment more before lifting his head with a second grunt. “Better check on the brat.”
Swinging his legs off the bed, he flicked his hair out of his eyes and strode toward the door. As soon as his hand touched the knob, it burst open, the junk lady shambling in and muttering, “Better to stay in here, dear, there’s nothing you want out there. Oh, no.”
Duo sucked in a breath and stared as the crone bustled about, picking and poking at his possessions.
“Oh, what have we got here?” she rambled on, shoving things as she named them towards Duo. “Oh, your little car models. You like your little car models, don’t you? Oh, you remember this, don’t you? Yes, yes, yes. Now, what else have we got….” Patting Duo’s arms as he clutched the painstakingly assembled retro cars she shuffled on over to his desk. “What’s this – it’s a pencil box! Lots of pencils, too,” she said, rattling it as Duo slumped down in the chair, disbelief etched plainly on his face.
“There was something I was looking for,” Duo repeated slowly, as if trying to convince himself.
“Don’t talk nonsense, it’s all right here.” When Duo shook his head, she gave a nervous, grating laugh and said, “What’s the matter, my dear, don’t you like your things?”
“It’s all junk.” Duo said, expression hardening.
The junk lady hesitated and grabbed randomly at Duo’s things, thrusting a portable CD player at him. “What about this? This is not junk,” she said, waving it under his nose.
“Yes, it is!” Duo said, dropping the models, snatching the player from her and throwing it at the mirror behind the door. “I have to find Relena!” he shouted, standing up, sending the chair flying.
Around him, the walls started to crumble, dirt and dust choking the air. Garbage started to fall through the collapsing walls, skittering across the floor and tripping him. He looked wildly about, searching madly for an exit.
Duo looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, reached through the flying dirt to grasp Trowa’s hand. There was a grunt, the sound of more junk tumbling down, and Trowa hauled him up, stumbling back a few steps as the mountain continued to fall in on itself.
“Finally found you,” Wufei said, voice flat but eyes light.
“Where are we?” Duo asked, coughing and patting the dust from his clothes.
“Junkyard,” Trowa said with a shrug.
Quatre snickered quietly and Wufei shook his head. “Look,” he said, pointing. “We’re almost there. Those are the gates to the city.”
Duo slowly stopped and turned to follow Wufei’s gaze, letting out a slow breath at the sight. “Then let’s go.”
“We don’t have much time,” Quatre said, his own gaze on the lightening of the horizon.
“Yeah,” Trowa agreed with a slight nod.
“Alright,” Wufei said, hand resting on his sword hilt. “Forward.”
Duo rolled his eyes behind Wufei’s back, making Trowa smile as they moved off.
Behind them, peering over an old broken dresser, Heero watched with obvious worry. “Oh, no,” he muttered, and jumped down from his perch, skirting the bottom of the hill.
The sun rose slowly, listlessly climbing up from the horizon and creeping across the dusty, bare expanse in front of the city. Marching straight up to the gate and the snoring guard, Wufei pounded on the giant gates. “Open up,” he demanded. “Open the door!”
Duo, eyes nearly bugging out of his head, ran up and grabbed Wufei’s arm. “Ssh! Christ, Wufei.”
Ignoring him, Wufei kicked the wood. “Open up!”
“Wufei, you’ll wake the guards!” Duo hissed, trying to drag the other man back as Trowa watched with an odd little smile and Quatre warily eyed the guard.
“Well, let them all wake up!” Wufei said, storming over to the dozing guard, drawing his sword and rapping him smartly on the head with the pommel. Happily he watched as the hapless guard slumped to the ground, knocked out cold.
“Wufei,” Duo said, grabbing him by the arms and spinning him around. “Shut the hell up.”
“He’s upset I made him miss his fight with you,” Quatre said conversationally to his tall companion.
“Ah,” Trowa said.
Wufei opened his mouth to say something more and Duo cut him off by slapping his hand tightly over the other’s mouth. Wufei glowered and crossed his arms, tapping his foot slowly against the ground. Cautiously, Duo took his hand away. “Fine, have it your way,” Wufei muttered and satisfied himself by giving the slumped guard a disdainful glance.
“Right,” Duo said as Trowa wandered up to the gate and started looking for a way to open it, voice low. “We sneak in.”
“You expect to sneak in after that?” Quatre asked.
“I don’t see why we have to be so quiet,” Wufei continued to mutter as Trowa swung the gates open enough for them to squeeze through. “It’s only the damn city.”
Paying no attention to them both, Duo looked ahead at the stone portal. The streets beyond were quiet in the early morning, haphazard dirt paths leading through the hodgepodge of houses. “I smell trouble,” Duo said uneasily.
Wufei gave a small grunt while Trowa warily glanced behind them. “I don’t like this,” he stated.
“You want me to hold your hand?” Duo asked with a grin.
“…erm, Duo?” Quatre tapped him on the shoulder, drawing his attention back to the stone portal.
Underneath it, two giant gates were swinging shut, the metal armour of a golem set into the wood catching the early morning rays of light. The air was suddenly filled with metallic clanks and the grinding of gears. Slowly, steam hissing, the golem’s eyes opened.
“Who goes?” it demanded in a booming mechanical voice. “Who goes?” it rumbled again, shifting away from the barred gates.
Behind them, sharp metal spikes sprung out of the ground, cutting off their escape. Duo let out a sharp breath as the golem swung around to pick up a humongous double-headed war axe set against the stone.
“I knew I didn’t like this,” Trowa said.
“Watch out!” Duo shouted, staring in horror as the axe headed straight towards Quatre.
“Quatre!” Wufei cried at the same time, relieved as the blond dived and rolled out of the way.
Abruptly the golem shifted forward, sweeping the axe in a wide, low arc and making them all scramble out of the way. Duo stumbled back against the spikes, letting out a sharp curse as they sliced through his shirt and nicked skin. Trowa rolled out of the way of one giant stomping foot, jumping up to grab Wufei as the axe swung again, just missing shortening Duo by a foot as he ducked.
“I hate this,” Quatre stated, ducking behind a stone outcropping as the axe passed over his head, raising sparks as metal screeched against stone.
“Jesus Christ – Heero!”
At Duo’s shout, Trowa started and looked up. Heero was running low across the top of the wall, heading straight for the golem. They watched as he took a flying leap at the golem’s shoulders, swung around to the back of its head and vanished from sight. The war axe sailed through the air again and Duo dived face-first into the dirt to escape it. There was the sound of metal grinding and controls squealing as the head of the metal golem tumbled off to reveal a bald man staring at Heero in disbelief.
“Duo, look out!” Wufei warned, and Duo quickly rolled and scrambled out of the way of the falling head.
Duo couldn’t help but grin as Heero drew back and punched the man in the face and heaved him out of the pilot’s seat, tossing him over the edge with a negligent, “Bombs away.”
Sputtering, the man scrubbed dirt off his face. “That wasn’t very nice,” he said, sitting up and brushing off his clothes. Trowa stared at him as Wufei drew his sword with an evil little smile. “Ah….” the man said before shrugging and making a run for it.
“My turn now.” Heero slipped into the seat he’d emptied, frowning at the array of controls. “How do you drive this thing?” he asked no one in particular, punching a button.
“Drop the axe!” Duo shouted, ducking as the axe wobbled above them.
“I’m trying,” Heero grunted in response. Curious, he grasped the controls and swung the axe again, burying it deep in the stone. He grinned, poking at a few more things and giving a satisfied grunt as the machine started to smoke.
“Get out of there, Heero!”
Brushing off his hands, Heero climbed up out of the pilot’s seat and shimmied down the side of the convulsing machine, sprinting across the ground as the golem made a series of loud clanks and bangs, ending with an ear-shattering explosion as everyone dived for cover.
Spitting grit out of his mouth, Duo peeked up at the smoking wreckage. Heero stood in front of him, hand out, as the others slowly got to their feet and wandered closer.
“I’m not asking you to forgive me,” Heero said as Duo took the offered hand and heaved himself up. “I don’t care what you think of me-”
“Man, I forgive you.” Using the hand clasping his, Duo dragged a startled Heero in for a quick half-hug and a pat on the back. “S’alright.”
Heero merely blinked.
Trowa smiled his little smile and reached out to pat Heero’s back, resting his other arm on Quatre’s shoulder. Wufei stood beside them and added, “Rarely have I seen such courage.”
“This belongs to you,” Duo said, finally letting go of Heero’s hand and passing over the long-forgotten gun. “Thanks for your help.”
Heero stood for a moment, looking from face to face before he gave a small grunt and tucked the gun back into his pocket. “What are we waiting for?”
Duo grinned. “Right.”
Wufei nodded his agreement as Trowa said, “The gate.”
Heero wandered forward, sizing it up with Trowa by his side. As one, they set their shoulders against it and started to push. The gate groaned in complaint, scraping the ground and moving only a little before the other three joined them. Ponderously, the heavy wood was pushed back.
The city was still deserted; the only sound the soft trickle of water in a fountain at the centre of the main street. A clock high on a roof showed a mere twenty minutes remaining until Duo’s time was up. An eddy of wind disturbed the dust, sending it twirling around them.
“Cosy,” Quatre murmured.
Treize lounged on his throne, watching indulgently as Relena wandered the Great Room. Outside, there was the sound of a scuffle as the tall blond strode in, stopped in front of him and bowed perfunctorily. “Your Highness.”
Treize merely cocked an eyebrow.
“Your Highness, the man-”
“What?” Treize said, only mildly interested.
The blond bit back a sigh and continued with the news. “The one who ate the peach and supposedly forgot everything-”
“What of him?”
“He’s here, with all four of them.”
“What?” Treize demanded, his full attention now fixed on the man before him.
“They’re through the gates and on their way to the city, Your Highness,” he man with ice-blue eyes reported.
“Stop him!” Treize demanded, moving quickly down the steps. “Call out the guards, take the girl and hide her,” he said, pointing at Relena.
The man bowed again and turned smartly, the call to arms already sounding as he moved to collect the girl.
“He must be stopped!” Trieze thundered.
“I think we’re going to make it,” Duo murmured as he and his companions snuck from alley to alley, the stairs leading to the castle already in sight.
“A piece of cake?” Heero asked wryly.
“I don’t like this,” Trowa added.
The sound of stomping feet gradually grew louder, and the five paused, hidden in the shadows. On top of the wall and one after another, lines of soldiers marched into place. Around corners more appeared, blocking off all entrances to the castle.
Quatre winced. “You shouldn’t have said that.”
“Company, halt!” came the ringing voice of a solider.
Duo exchanged worried glances with his friends. “I don’t like this,” he said.
High above them, Treize braced a foot on the sill, fingers cupping his chin as he watched. There was the rustle of weapons, then the same commander called, “Forward!”
“Run!” Duo shouted.
“Split up!” Wufei called, ducking and dashing across the plaza with Quatre close behind him.
Duo glanced from side to side, then took off in the opposite direction. “Quick, this way!” he hissed to Heero and Trowa.
Wufei burst out of an alley, came face to face with a canon and abruptly about-faced. “No, not that way,” he said, grabbing Quatre’s shirt as the other dashed past and hauling him back seconds before the canon fired.
Across the street, Duo peered around a house, darting back quickly to where Trowa and Heero crouched as a line of soldiers marched by. “Okay, come on, guys,” he whispered after checking the way again, and the three of them sprinted into the next alley.
Quatre shot up the street they had just vacated, followed quickly by Wufei. A troop of soldiers marched after them, and they split away from each other, ducking into separate side streets. They circled back, just missing Trowa as he followed the other two down another street.
“Where’s Wufei?” Duo muttered, receiving two blank looks in response. He took a sharp corner, skidding to a halt when he came face to face with a line of soldiers manning canons. Two sets of hands grabbed his arms and jerked him into an alley as the line fired, sending smoke and dirt into the air. “We have to find Wufei and Quatre,” he hissed.
Heero nodded. “Down this way – the soldiers are spread out across the entire city.”
Two streets over, Wufei and Quatre skirted another contingent, slipping into an empty house at the same time the other three ducked into a long, low building and out the other side. Two soldiers were posted outside, scanning the street, and were quickly taken down as the three jumped them from behind.
“Wufei’d approve,” Trowa said, nodding at where Duo had rapped one of the soldier’s head’s hard against the brick wall. Duo just grinned.
Quatre and Wufei jogged up the street, tailed by another three guards. Heero whistled, and, taking the cue, both turned and headed for the other three. They ran past the alley, leading the soldiers on; as soon as they were clear, Duo, Heero and Trowa tried another from-behind attack. Again, Quatre and Wufei did an about-face, turning and taking down a guard of their own.
The five grinned at each other and split again, slowly and methodically making their way back to the poorly guarded steps of the citadel. From his high view, Treize saw the confusion of his soldiers and the now-carefully coordinated movements of the five intruders. His mouth set in a firm line, he turned away from the window and vanished back into the depths of his castle.
Catching a break in the defensive line, Duo made a dash for the front stairs. Suddenly a canon rolled out in front of him, already smoking. “Whoa! Shit!” He dived out of the way as it fired, jumping up and sprinting around again as the soldier debated between giving chase and reloading. Heero ran by, made the decision for him and nailed the guard squarely in the stomach. Trowa waved a little as he jogged past.
“This way!” Duo called, ducking through another alley and around to the steps again.
He stopped short as another group of soldiers trotted in front of them, Trowa just missing barrelling straight into Heero. “Now we have you!” the lead soldier declared.
Wufei turned the corner with Quatre beside him and both aiming abandoned canons straight at the guards. One caught sight, abruptly turned and fled, knocking over another soldier in his haste. Sputtering curses, the commander picked himself up, saw the two canons and dived out of the way as they fired.
“And now you don’t,” Heero said.
“Quatre!” Duo called, pausing in his mad dash up the castle steps.
“Coming!” was the response, and seconds later, both Quatre and Wufei ran up the stairs to meet him.
At the top, Heero and Trowa were already pushing the doors open, and one after the other, they slipped inside the eerily silent fortress. Wufei kept watch while the other four quickly closed the heavy doors, sealing them with the giant metal crossbar.
Ahead of them, more steps led the way up, with two corridors branching off and circling the main hall. The walls were made from dark brown stone, evidence of the rushed marshalling of the troops strewn across the floor.
“This way,” Duo said, heading towards the wide staircase. The others followed close behind, each warily keeping watch.
They crested the stairs, spreading out into Treize’s empty throne room. The ticking of a clock pierced the unsettling silence, and Duo cringed when he saw he had mere minutes remaining.
“That’s the way he would have gone,” Heero said, nodding towards a dark spiralling stair that led up and away from the Great Room.
“Well, then,” Wufei said, turning with Quatre to climb it.
Four pairs of eyes turned to Duo, the same question in each gaze.
“I should go alone,” Duo said by way of explanation.
Looks were exchanged, puzzlement, understanding and worry in each.
“Why?” Wufei finally asked.
Trowa said, “I don’t like this,” and Heero gave a small grunt. Quatre merely looked disappointed.
“Because…I should.” Duo shook his head, not fully comprehending but certain he was right. “Because that’s the way it’s done.”
“Well,” Wufei said, glancing at the rest of their companions. “If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it.” He hesitated, lifting coal eyes to meet Duo’s. “But…should you need us?”
“What will you do?” Trowa echoed.
Quatre asked, “How will we know?”
There was a moment of silence before Heero spoke up, saying, “What if you need us?”
Standing at the base of the steps, Duo faltered. He faced them, one hand braced on the stone arch. “I’ll call,” he promised, turning to quickly climb the stairs after one last hesitation.
The four watched, silent as the shadows closed around and swallowed him.
The walls gradually shortened and fell away, spilling Duo out into a world that couldn’t exist. He hesitated, mute and awe-struck as staircases spread out before him, climbed above his head and under his feet. Upside down, turned on sides, stairs led to more stairs, marching along beside him horizontally and ending at doorways built into floor, wall and ceiling. M.C. Escher’s Relativity, with all its mind-bending impossibility, surrounded him.
The sound of slow, unhurried footsteps echoed on stone. Duo turned toward the sound, turned and faced the cool eyes of the labyrinth’s sovereign king.
“How you’ve turned my world,” Treize said gesturing at the staircases with his lips curving into a sinful smile, his voice as soft and deliberate as his movements.
Duo fell back a step as Treize approached, momentarily unnerved by the surroundings, the atmosphere and the company he found himself in. He started to speak, words dying on his lips before he could give voice to them.
“You exhaust me,” the king continued softly, a hint of steel under the velvet of his voice. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you.”
Grabbing onto those words, ready to protest, Duo cut himself off once again as Treize began to climb another set of stairs running parallel and upside down to the set Duo stood frozen on. He turned again, searching as he lost sight of the other man.
“You’ve come so far,” Treize said quietly, leaning against one of the stone arches at the end of the stairs intersecting Duo’s. In his hand he held a single crystal, turning his gaze to watch the other as he lifted it, Duo’s eyes drawn and held by the clear glass. “But I could be cruel,” he whispered, letting the crystal fall to the floor.
It hit the hard, cold stone with the sound of a small, delicate bell, and rolled across to the stairs. One by one, it bounced down the steps, each time it struck stone sending a high, clear chime through the air. With a final, echoing ring, it jumped into Relena’s hand. She looked up, looked straight through Duo, and turned back to the ball in her hand.
“Relena!” Duo called, and when there was no indication that she had heard, he started to run over the stairs towards her.
Treize watched, silent now. Expression guarded, his eyes clouded and betrayed him. Blue shone with sadness, and he breathed a soft breath.
Relena stood on the stairs across from Duo, still out of his reach. He called her name again, and this time, she looked at him. Looked, turned and walked away, crystal held lightly in her hand. Unwilling to give up, Duo whipped around and sprinted up another staircase, winding his way closer to her.
He slowed and halted, losing sight of both Treize and Relena. Silence deafened him as he searched, and suddenly halted again, spotting Relena sitting on a ledge below him. Clenching his hands into fists, he took a step back, hesitated, and jumped, finally defying the laws of gravity that constrained only him.
There was no wind rushing in his ears, no jarring landing, but a slow, gentle glide as he fell. The staircases, like the ballroom, began to separate and fall upwards as he drifted down. The sky was full of stars, no land, nothing but the stone he was set lightly upon and the steady, quiet tick of a clock moving backwards through time. Treize stood before him, clad in the same clothing that he had worn the night he’d first appeared.
“Duo,” Treize began.
“Let Relena go.” Duo strode forward, face set and voice determined.
“Believe me, I have been generous up until now,” Treize said, warning in his tone. “But I can be cruel.”
“What the hell have you done that’s generous?” Duo demanded.
“Everything,” Treize said with a sharp gesture. “Everything you have wanted I have done. You asked for the child to be taken, I took her.” He stalked around Duo, his frustration tangible and tightly controlled. “I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside-down, and I have done it all for you.”
Shaking his head quickly in an attempt to clear it, Duo felt a thought flitter through his mind, gone like breath on the wind. He struggled to grasp it, hold it through the sound of Treize’s voice battering his mind.
Treize paused, standing close to Duo, leaning down to bring their faces close together. “I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me.” He brought his lips close to Duo’s ear, whispered, “Isn’t that generous?”
Memory rose through the haze gripping Duo’s mind, rose up and made him suck in a sharp breath as the remembrance of a soft brush of warm hair danced along his skin, of ice-blue eyes, of a small sad and knowing smile as whispered words echoed in his ears.
“Stop,” Treize commanded, reading the change in Duo’s expression. “Look at what I’m offering you,” he said, calling one last crystal to his hand. “Your dreams.”
Duo’s eyes hardened, his chin raised defiantly.
“I ask for so little,” the other said, and Duo saw in his eyes that Treize knew his own time was at an end. “Let me rule you, and you can have everything…that you want….”
Slowly, Duo shook his head. “No.”
“Fear me, love me, do as I say, Duo, and I will be your slave.” Treize’s voice had dropped low, the crystal in his hand glinting dully.
Whispered words echoed in his mind again, and finally, Duo gave voice to them. He spoke quietly, knowing victory with a bitter, cutting edge. “You have no power over me.”
Treize stepped back, held Duo’s gaze for a mere moment before tossing the crystal high into the air. The clock finally chimed, peal after peal of echoing bells. His lips curved, a smile of sorrow that faded as he did, and Duo raised his hand to catch the crystal ball that fell through the air. It touched his palm and burst into nothing, and then Duo was falling again, the remains of the castle dropping away. And still, the bells tolled.
At the final stroke of midnight, Duo was standing in the middle of the main hall of his home, staring at the now-silent grandfather clock. He stood immobile for a long, long time before shaking himself out of his daze, the sound of a television finally registering. He walked on soft feet towards the den, peered inside to see Relena curled up against his father, his stepmother seated on the couch with them, relaxed and smiling.
“Huh,” Duo murmured to himself, stepped away again. He looked at his clothes; saw that there were no tears, no dirt covering him. He felt tired, almost exhausted, but instead of taking the stairs to his bedroom, he slipped out the front door, walking through the misty night with no destination in mind.
Light clouds drifted overhead, the air heavy with the scent of rainfall and spring. Moonlight shone, reflected in the puddles scattered over the sidewalks and streets and fragmenting as his boots broke the surface. He walked on, not realizing when his steps had taken him to his usual club haunts.
“Duo! How will we know?”
He whipped around at the new and familiar voice, eyes going wide as he saw Quatre grinning at him from across the street, standing in front of one of his favourite bars. The blond waved and, stunned, Duo lifted a hand to return the greeting, stopping mid-step as a truck rumbled between them. When it passed, Quatre was gone.
Duo hesitated, not certain of the implications. He wasn’t certain about anything, but curiosity compelled him to move. He trotted across the street, ducked into the building and searched the crowd. He saw nothing.
He turned to leave, stopped again and turned back around as he caught sight of Wufei striding through the crowd. The other man smiled, dark eyes shining in the fitful light, and keeping his gaze fixed on Wufei’s, Duo headed straight for him. A couple jostled him, made him break contact for a split-second, and when he lifted his gaze again, Wufei was gone.
Sliding a hand through his hair and gripping, Duo dragged in a long, deep breath. Released it slowly and glanced around again. Music pounded, people danced and people sat, sipping brightly coloured drinks and laughing.
“Should you need us,” Wufei whispered in his ear, and when Duo turned, the dark-haired man was gone again.
“What will you do?” Trowa asked, his quiet, strong voice coming from directly in front of Duo.
Duo turned, looked up at eyes gone dark, shining green, and tried to find the breath to answer. He blinked, and suddenly Trowa was gone, striding away through the crowd. Duo immediately followed, dodging people and furniture alike, desperately keeping Trowa in his field of vision.
He passed by a low table set against the wall, moved without hesitation into the hallway and up the stairs. A man with white-blond hair seated at the table raised frosted blue eyes from another man seated across from him, smiled slightly and nodded his head. Turning around in his chair and leaning back, the blond’s companion watched as Duo rounded a corner and vanished from sight before returning to his attention to conversation and echoing the other’s smile.
At the top of the stairs was a door, pushed open only a crack. Setting his hand to the warm wood, Duo pushed it wide and stepped in the small room, gaze flicking over tables, chairs and couches, landing finally on the sight of Heero leaning against a wall, arms negligently crossed and a small, winged female perched on his shoulder.
“What if you need us, Duo?” Heero said, focusing midnight blue eyes on Duo. “For any reason at all.”
Duo scratched the back of his neck, mind racing. “You know, Heero, sometimes, man…” He dropped his hand, gave a small shrug and tried to ignore the pounding of his heart as he walked further into the room. “For no reason at all, sometimes, I’ll probably need you.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Wufei demanded, grinning as Duo whirled around and gaped.
“Jesus, man!” Duo whipped back around to look at Heero, breaking out into his own grin as he saw the little fairy smirk and jerk her tiny thumb in the direction of a small, thin collar wrapped around Heero’s throat. In the mirror beside them, he saw Trowa and Quatre flank Wufei, and he turned around again as his friends moved closer.
“Hi, Duo,” Quatre said casually.
Trowa grinned slowly, slipping his hands into his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “I like this.”
Cast (in order of appearance)
Duo Maxwell . . . . . . Sarah
Sally Po . . . . . . Stepmother
Father (Lawrence) Maxwell . . . . . . Father
Relena Darlian . . . . . . Toby
Treize Khushrenada . . . . . . Jareth the Goblin King
Heero Yuy . . . . . . Hoggle
Dorothy Catelonia . . . . . . The Worm
Ozzies . . . . . . Goblins
Doctor J and Doktor S . . . . . . Left Riddle Door
Professor G and Instructor H . . . . . . Right Riddle Door
Zechs Merquise . . . . . . Right Hand Goblin
Howard . . . . . . Wise Man
Hilde Schbeiker . . . . . . Wise Man’s *cough* Head
Trowa Barton . . . . . . Ludo
Alex . . . . . . Left Doorknocker
Muller . . . . . . Right Doorknocker
Chang Wufei . . . . . . Sir Didymus
Quatre Winner . . . . . . Ambroscious
Ponderosa . . . . . . Fairy