The Blood of Peace
Second Movement, the Fourth Part: Crescendo
Noin and Hilde walked the wide marble corridors of the palace with purposeful strides. Their destination was near and neither one showed any signs of nervousness which was playing havoc with their internal digestive system. It had been two and a half weeks since they departed Earthian much to Odin Lowe's misgivings. If his son and his companions were free to roam in enemy territory, they would do no less. That did not mean that they weren't seriously rethinking their positions right now although they had been well received at the palace, shown exceptionally fine rooms to use and received an invitation to the ball to be held this very night.
Right now, they were more nervous about facing Milliardo Peacecraft than the endless numbers of Oz nobles and Treize himself. Coming to a halt in front of an elaborate doorway carved with phoenixes and dragons, Noin raised her hand and knocked on the door. When it opened, her heart plunged to her feet, feeling both ecstasy and dread in facing the love of her life, Milliardo Peacecraft. He looked at her, then motioned for her and Hilde to enter the room by slightly twitching his head. Both ladies entered and the door shut behind them. A moment of silence was followed by Milliardo's fluid voice.
"Well, Noin, I guess the rumors were true since you're standing right here. Did my sister send you?"
Noin's heart made a valiant climb back up to its previous and normal position. He did not seem angry or disappointed. Just mildly curious.
"No, Milli. You can say I sent me here. I just wanted to see you."
It pained her to keep secrets from him, but it was necessary. He did not need to complicate the situation with the knowledge that Heero and company were rooting around in Oz. But what she said was true. She had wanted to see him. Milliardo smiled at her, warming her with its affection. He was happy to see her, even if it was in Oz and in the middle of a very delicate and frustrating situation.
"I'm glad to see you too, Noin. I'm flattered and happy that you came all this way to see me. I also know you have an ulterior motive, but I won't pry. So tell me, dearest Noin, what took you so long to get here? It only takes a week or so to get here from Earthian."
He knew she was keeping something, but he would never press her to tell him. He trusted her judgment and that made Noin feel even more guilty. However, some things had to be kept quiet.
"Hmmm. It took us so long because we took the scenic route. And because we were trying to check out Oz's preparations for this war. For a country about to go war, it seems a little too open and friendly to ambassadors barging in unannounced. I wonder about what is really going on."
Her worries were valid and Milliardo had wondered about the exact same thing. It was unusual for someone to announce a war (well, maybe it wasn't an announcement but it was pretty damn close) and then let everyone in to check out their state of preparedness. Maybe he and Noin had special status to enter because they were from the Sanque kingdom and pacifists posed no threat. He wondered if Treize would be as open to Earthian ambassadors. That reminded him of the one thing that had bothered him and he asked Noin about it.
"Noin, did Relena send word to Odin and Heero?"
Noin considered the question and treaded carefully before she answered. One wrong move and she would do damage to Heero's little infiltration operation.
"Yes, I and Hilde went as the messengers. Odin was, shall we say, a bit complacent about the message. So rather than sit in Earthian and bite our nails, we came to Oz to investigate. Although it seems it was rather unnecessary considering how open Treize has been so far. He even invited us to some party tonight."
Milliardo felt that Noin was hiding something, but again, he trusted her. So they fell into a comfortable conversation about the party, possible methods of drawing Treize into a private conversation, and what they thought of Oz in general. Meanwhile, Hilde sat back into her chair and got cozy. It seemed that they would talk for a while and she was not involved. Again. Resentment was quickly quashed because she respected Noin and Milliardo. They would eventually confide in her about something. So Hilde listened with half an ear while they talked and thought back to the time when she met Heero and his Masters.
One in particular had caught her eye. The one with the long braid and incredible eyes. She had found out that his name was Duo Maxwell and he was one of Heero's Masters. But which one, no one had said. So she contemplated Duo and tried to figure out which one he would be. The short meeting had only revealed that he was good looking. He hadn't spoken, and they had departed so quickly that she had not a chance to start a conversation with him. Duo had reminded her of her older brother who had died three years ago in a training accident. They seem to radiate the same type of kindness. From this impression, Hilde decided that Duo was not the Master of Assassins or Whispers or Swords. She came to the conclusion that someone as nice as he had to be an empath.
Unaware of her gross miscalculations, Hilde went on dissecting Duo's personality. She was so engrossed in her musings that she failed to notice that Noin and Milliardo had stopped speaking. Instead, they were holding hands and throwing subtle hints at each other. Soon, they would ask Hilde to leave and Hilde would wonder what the hell happened as the door closed on her face.
Trowa stood with fifty other men and boys while Lady Une gave a small speech. Basically, they would choose ten to become part of the elite forces who would answer directly to Une. They would be tested against each other in combat, intelligence and various other things and at the end of the day, ten would remain and the rest would be sent back to their posts. The point of this elite force was to protect the Lady and the princess Mariemeia. Trowa liked the odds – he had assessed the other candidates and saw that he would be able to best them all without even trying. And he hadn't even brought Heavyarms. When Une finished speaking, she stepped off her make shift podium and directed the candidates to a flat stone arena. Each drew their weapons and faced off against the person across from them. Une signaled and the trials began.
Une watched as the candidates fought each other and eliminated their competitors from the field. The fighting styles varied and each had their own strengths, but one stood out from all. He had unusual hair, a long patch of light brown hair that hung over his left eye, but that obstruction of vision did not seem to have any effect on his skills. His movements were swift, sure, and graceful. He handled his weapon as if he was born to it, never missing a stroke and taking down his competitors quickly and efficiently. He would definitely make one of the ten, if not the leader of the ten. She would have to speak to him after the trials and assess his loyalties, of course, but she felt sure that he would be perfect for her elite forces. She looked down onto her roster and found that his name was Trowa Barton and that he had joined the palace guards not even three weeks ago. New blood with so much talent was rare. She had no suspicions however – Oz always produced the finest of warriors. His talent, apparently hidden until now, would be allowed to flourish under her command. Her day was looking up.
WuFei muttered under his breath as Meiran followed him to his tent. Ever since the both of them made the bodyguard squadron, she had not left him alone. She was there when he woke up, staring at him from across the tent. When he went to take a bath, he was sure she was peeking at him from some bush somewhere. He did not even want to think about if she followed him when he went to relieve himself. All in all, the job was easy but keeping the girl off his back was proving to be hard. As she had promised herself, Meiran never let WuFei out of her sight. The past two weeks were probably as aggravating to WuFei as they were to her, but she had to know who he was. He was the best swordsman she had ever met, she was sure. He had not fully deployed his skills and talents, but she could see that if he wished, he could wipe out a significant number in this camp before he disappeared into the mist. And he made her angry. So she stuck by him and follow him. He seemed to be too much of a gentleman to hit her anyway. Unless she attacked him.
WuFei walked to the edge of the forest clearing where his tent was and sat under the tree next to it. He could see Meiran staring at him and decided that he had finally found a person more annoying than Duo. He had no idea why she kept following him around, just that she did. She didn't speak to him or acknowledge him when he spoke to her, but her dark eyes constantly followed him. If she was looking for a weak moment to try to get even with him for whatever he did wrong to her, she had a long wait coming. Nobody, with the possible exception of his brothers, would be able to get a drop on him. But, she had proven herself to be a more than competent swords handler (he wasn't sure still what to refer to her as). During the try outs, she had bested everyone in quick order and made the squadron without breaking a sweat. So had WuFei, but that was a different matter entirely. This girl, Meiran of the Centaur Valley, with her stalking and ability to handle a sword annoyed him as much as intrigued him. Only if she would stop following him around..
"Hey, girl, haven't you stared at me long enough today? Don't you have other things to do?"
Meiran sniffed and continued her staring. He occasionally talked to her but she never said anything back. And no, she hadn't had enough staring. She would continue to watch him until she figured out who he was.
"GIRL! I'm talking to you. If you keep looking at me like that, rumors are going to fly. And I don't mean the nice gooey kind."
WuFei smirked at the girl's stunned expression. Obviously, she had not thought about what her behavior could do to her reputation. If she wanted to be taken seriously as a swordsman, she should not be acting like a suspicious child. Catching WuFei's meaning and smirk, Meiran walked over to him and sat down across from him, her sword on her lap. She considered what to say for a while and decided that planning never resulted in anything positive. She would just say what was on her mind and see what happened.
"Boy, who are you? Why are you here? Where did you learn your skills?"
"Girl, it's none of your business."
She had expected an answer like that but it still infuriated her.
"Boy, I don't care if it's none of my business. You and I are comrades now so you should tell me about yourself. It's common courtesy."
Comrades? WuFei thought about that. He was a spy, only in this camp to find out vital secrets so that he and his brothers could devise a method to destroy them all. So, technically speaking, he was not any of their comrade. He only had four people on this planet he considered thus – his brothers. It was too bad that this girl had no idea what she was talking about.
"Girl, I'm not your comrade. We're just in the same squadron. That means nothing."
Meiran narrowed her eyes and gave him the best glare possible. He must be implying that just because she was a girl, she was not worth his notice. In that case..
"Fine, we're not comrades. We're not even equals. You have no sense of honor!"
WuFei could feel his eyes trying to jump out of his head at that comment. Never, in his entire life, had anyone accused him of lack of honor. It was the opposite, in fact. And this girl had just pronounced that he, Chang WuFei of the Dragon Sect, had no honor. She was clueless!
"If you can say that to me, girl, you have no idea what honor is."
AARGH! Meiran just barely stopped herself from voicing her frustration and disbelief. No matter what she did or said, this boy just insulted her. He didn't answer her questions, he made fun of her, and now he was implying that it was SHE who had no honor. Instead of starting a scene, Meiran walked off to the opposite side of camp. She would not give that boy the satisfaction of seeing her angry. Not again, since the last time he had totally embarrassed her. Still, she only went far enough to be away from him without losing sight of him. From her vantage point, Meiran calmed her breathing and watched WuFei sharpen his sword. One of these days, she would get him. She bet her honor on it.