Chapter 2: The Instruments of Assassination
by Casey Valhalla
Heero Yuy was not happy.
It was clear to everyone he passed as he stormed through the gilded corridors of the Sanc palace that he was not happy. He had changed out of the livery of the royal guard and swept along in his own clan colors, stark black with an emerald green panel tunic that brushed his shins; his father's sword, usually handled with the utmost care, bounced unnoticed against his left thigh from where it hung on a silver studded belt. Unkempt mahogany hair ruffled with his movements, and eyes the color of the evening sky shot sparks of ice at anyone unfortunate enough to pass within his line of sight. Judging from his state of dress and the small pack slung over one shoulder, he was leaving, and the palace staff was more than willing to let him go.
The princess, however, was not so inclined, and planted herself firmly in his way as he reached the foot of the stairs in the grand foyer.
"Where do you think you're going, Heero?"
He paused long enough to compose himself and unclench his balled-up fists, fingering the enchanted silver chain mesh that covered the palm and back of his right hand. "My contract states that I can leave at any time I choose," he replied tonelessly, brushing past her and continuing towards the doors. "I choose to leave now."
She spun to follow him with a flick of her blonde hair. "Just like that? Without a word or an explanation?"
He stopped as his hand touched the door handle, and replied without turning to face her. "We both know two things, Relena. One is that I work for your brother, *not* for you. Two is that I only do so when I need to go underground for a while. I have no obligations here. I came here to hide, and I've hidden long enough, so now I'm leaving." He moved to open the doors.
"At least tell me where you're going and when you'll be back!"
Heero bit back a curse and calmly turned to look her in the eye. "I'm going to Kaji, if you must know, and with any luck I won't be back for a very, very long time."
"*Kaji*? In the *Modicum*? Heero, there's nothing but *criminals* out there! It's all syndicate run!"
"I'm well aware of that. You know what I do for a living."
Her voice quieted. "You don't have to, Heero. You could stay here and-"
He raised one hand to stop her. "Don't, Relena. I need to go. I have business to discuss with the Mandate of Kaji and my Relic refuses to contact me."
Relena marred her features with a disgusted frown. "I understand now. You're off to go chasing after that disobedient pet demon of yours."
Heero's look darkened. "He has sensitive information he can't transfer to me over normal lines. Now, if you'll excuse me, princess-"
"You are *not* excused, Heero Yuy!"
"That's too bad." He flung open the door and disappeared into the falling twilight.
He was most definitely not happy.
Wufei waved away the maid with one hand and regarded Duo from across the remains of their early dinner. The demon was sprawled casually in an easy chair, studying the ceiling with one arm crooked behind his head. Yoko had long ago discovered the fireplace and was curled on the hearthrug, snoozing quietly. The Mandate frowned at his guest. He obviously wasn't going to start talking by himself - at least not about anything important.
Duo finally turned his head to meet Wufei's look, and offered a cheeky grin. "So, what's it like, being upper management?"
The demon laughed and reached for his neglected cup of java. "Accomplished anything groundbreaking yet?"
He nodded thoughtfully. "Treaties with Whitesnake and the Catharta syndicate."
Duo sputtered and almost dropped the mug. "*Both* of them? You guys were the three biggest rivals in the Modicum!"
"This planet and our allies lost three different clans to all the infighting that went on when we were kids - or rather when Heero and I were kids and you were, well," he shrugged, "you. Where is he hiding out these days, anyway?"
"Sanc, in the Outer Rim."
Wufei snorted. "Remind me to offer my sympathies when he gets here."
Murmuring an agreement, Duo turned back to the ceiling and allowed the silence to stretch. A little ball of violet light formed in his right hand, and he idly rolled it around his fingers as though in thought. When the amusement passed he turned slightly and tossed the ball in Wufei's direction with a casual, "Catch."
He held up two fingers. "Dispell." The ball vanished.
"Aw, you're no fun."
"I'm not in the mood for Cantrips  right now, Duo. Are you going to tell me, or do I have to beat it out of you?"
He groaned and sat upright in his seat. "Let's start with whatever you heard about it all."
"What I heard is that the Galactic Republic has pulled out of its agreement to act as a moderator between the Outer Rim and the ISG due to the fact that one of their dignitaries was assassinated two weeks ago by members of a rogue syndicate on Sonata IV."
Duo leaned back and closed his eyes. "Yeah, that's the short story."
Wufei's eyes flashed. "Did you do it?"
"No!" he exclaimed, bolting up. "You know I can't harm civilians, Fei, the Bond won't let me!"
"Unless your controller orders it."
"Heero handles the assassin stuff. I'm just the spy."
Duo rubbed a hand through his long bangs. "Heero got a message from his intel on Sonata IV about a month ago that the ISG had some sort of plot going to assassinate a visiting representative from the Galactic Republic. He sent me there to stop it."
Wufei's eyes widened. "The *ISG* set it up?"
"Yeah. They sent an undercover to hire out Red Tiger for the job, and had an insider there to take it. But we didn't know that at the time."
"That's a bit elaborate just to take out an unwanted moderator."
"Exactly. So, Fei, if you were the head of the Red Tiger syndicate and were offered an extremely high-profile case, who would you send out?"
It only took him a moment to scroll through his knowledge of the big names in Outer Rim crime circles. "The Valhalla Brothers." 
"Same conclusion we made. So I went off and did my infiltration thing, got into Red Tiger's smuggling ring and caused a little uproar. Not a big one, just enough to get the big boss's attention."
"I've decided I really don't like being on the wrong end of a sniper rifle."
Wufei laughed out loud. "They sent the Valhallas out to kill *you*?" Duo nodded. "And why, if I may ask, are you still alive?"
He winked. "Professional courtesy."
Duo's chuckle ended in a frown. "Whole thing was a bust though. I followed those two around for a week, and they didn't even get the job. I didn't realize we'd made a huge mistake until it was too late."
Wufei looked at him questioningly, and he continued. "Let's try this again, and think of it from your own standpoint. If you, right now, were offered an extremely high-profile case, would you *really* send out your two most high-profile assassins - or the next guy down the ladder?"
"But the ISG patrol caught one of the brothers, I thought..."
"Yeah, they did. And executed him in the capitol city center square, in front of everyone. I was there."
The Mandate's coal-black eyes widened in realization, and the wheels of his mind started whirling into overdrive. "You're saying the ISG framed the Valhalla Brothers for the assassination to make some kind of example? To gain local popularity?"
"And to turn the hearts of the good public against the acceptance of widespread syndicate government."
Wufei shook his head. "But it's the Modicum Freestates that are syndicate-run, not the Outer Rim territories. Why would they..." Duo's glowing eyes flashed at him, and his jaw worked soundlessly for a moment. "They're starting a war."
"That's my suspicion, yeah."
Abruptly, the black-haired boy rose and started pacing in the small space by his chair, hands clasped firmly behind his back. "It's *ludicrous*! The Outer Rim territories aren't nearly as technologically advanced as we are, even with the ISG colonizing every planet they can get their grimy hands on. They'd be decimated!"
Duo, for his part, threw one leg over the arm of his chair and returned to lounging. "I think that's part of the plan. It's easier to take over a planet in ruins than one that can fight back."
Wufei nodded slowly. "And once they have all the territories they have enough resources to move in on the Modicum. Dear Kami..." He stopped pacing and looked up at Duo, cocking his head to one side. "You said you were at the execution? Why? You should have reported this straight to Heero-"
"I was rescuing the other esteemed Valhalla," he replied, waving off the admonishment. "Heero knows most of what happened, I think, and that kid didn't deserve to get caught, too."
"Where is he now?"
"Dunno. He decided to repay my kindness by kiping my hot cargo and taking off."
Wufei chuckled and slid back into his seat. "Would that classify as more professional courtesy, or honor among thieves?"
Duo shrugged. "If you're gonna go underground for a long time, you gotta have some capital. It was just part of my cover, anyway, not like I really needed it. So that's my story, Wu-man. What's yours?"
"Now that I think about it," he sighed, "some of what I found out yesterday correlates to what you just told me. For starters, the Resistance is now fully funded and insured, and has a new prime operative."
"Shit. Are you serious?"
"That's the good news. The bad news is that Grand Minister Winner of Sabaku  is dead."
That brought Duo back to full attention. "He's fucking DEAD?"
"That's what I said. He died two days ago in a satellite explosion, an accident by all appearances, *but*..."
"Sabaku is the Outer Rim's closest system to the Modicum. Strategic advantage. And I suppose the ISG's poised for a takeover."
"That's what I thought at first. But the even better news is that the heir to the Winner clan isn't as inclined toward a passive-aggressive stance as his father was."
"Hold on a sec, Fei. You're telling me the new Grand Poobah-"
"Whatever - of Sabaku is funding the Resistance and taking position as our prime operative?"
"Very good, Maxwell. You get an A in today's class."
Duo slumped back in his chair. "Holy shit."
"From what I hear, he intends to advance our current standings from a sabotage network into an armed force, and is probably capable of doing it."
"He must have intel."
"And covert ops. I don't know. I've been expecting to hear from him any time. What's Heero's ETA?"
Duo closed his eyes, probing the back corner of his mind that was tied to his controller's consciousness. "I can't get a fix. He must be in hyperspace. Early morning, possibly."
Wufei regarded the curtained windows across the room for a moment. "Perhaps we should call it a night."
"Information overload does *not* make for a peaceful night's sleep, Fei." The purple ball reappeared in his hand. "So, are you gonna play with me this time or get all surly again?"
Leaning back to put his feet up on the low table, Wufei cast a lazy, contemplative look at his guest. "I feel like I'm entertaining my neighbor's pet."
"Technically, that's very accurate. Play!"
"Don't even get demanding on me, Duo."
Backlit violet eyes took on a mischievous glow, and Duo sent the ball to hover between the two of them, twisting the fingers of his two hands together into a symbol. "Darkness."
In an instant the room became pitch black save for the ball of light and the faint shining of Duo's eyes. Wufei smirked and gestured, calling up a wisp of luminous red mist that coalesced into the snaking form of a dragon. "Don't get carried away. I know what you can do at level seven, and I rather prefer my castle intact."
"Loser serves the other breakfast in bed!"
"Then you'd better win, cause I have servants who'll do that for me."
Outside the walls of Dirin Roth, a hooded figure dislodged itself from the shadows, ambling silently across the grassy courtyard to sink to rest against the bole of a towering oak tree. One slim hand rose in a gesture, and a low voice murmured, "Message." 
~*Glad to hear from you*~
In the shadows of the hood, the corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile. The voice chimed like silver bells in the back of his mind. ~*Interesting arrival today*~
The opposite end of the telepathic bond fell silent for a full minute. ~*Does he belong to Chang?*~
~*His controller was never identified, but he and Chang seem to be friendly. He traveled alone*~
~*Security First Class. Intriguing. Did you happen to catch the rest of his credentials?*~
~*I was at the security checkpoint when he arrived. It was quite a scene - I'll have to tell you the whole story sometime*~
~*He's the Eldest, and his name is Duo Maxwell*~
~*The Eldest Relic? Are you certain?*~
~*The guard cleared it. He's also operating at a level seven restriction*~
He felt a mental cringe leak across the link. ~*That's an awfully low restriction for a Relic with that kind of power*~
~*I apologize, Trowa. I'm not prejudiced against demons, they just ... make me nervous. Be careful*~
~*I always am*~
~*And Chang - what is his current stance?*~
~*He's a peace-minded leader, and very bright. It's no coincidence that all the operatives in the network have been taking direction from him. I'll keep watch a few days longer, if you like, just to be certain he has no malignant intentions towards you*~
~*I would appreciate that, Trowa. Thank you*~
~*You're welcome. I'll report again later. Trowa out*~
Another hand gesture broke the connection, and the figure under the tree stood and stretched, moving from beneath the branches to gaze up at a canopy of stars. "They seem, at first, too many to count. Who could hope to own them all? Yet they are finite, and there are those who aspire to such." A hand pushed back the hood to pool around his shoulders, and green eyes stared at the vastness of space from behind a shock of tawny hair. "They should be free, Quatre, and I will help you keep them free."
 Cantrips are simple (and mostly useless) spells that require no MP - that's Magic Points, for you non-gamers out there.
 Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking - but this doesn't really count as self-insertion, since Casey Valhalla is the name of my role-playing character, and he exists in this universe.
 Sabaku = desert. More Japanese dictionary fun!
 Message is a telepathy spell, if that wasn't fairly obvious. Quite useful when you're undercover and don't want to risk using a phone.
There tis folks. Lost? Uh, sorry. Tell me so! Feedback! Yay! ... next part will probably be posted next week.