Dark Cloud Rising
by Dyna Dee
"Good morning!" An unfamiliar but cheery young voice helped to wake him further. Blinking
open his eyes, he was greeted by the slightly blurred vision of a boy sitting on the edge
of his new bed, a bright smile on his fair face.
"Morning," Duo replied with a thick voice.
"I'm Quatre," the stranger announced, still smiling. "And you're Duo.
Welcome to the Halls of Dornan. I arrived here just before winter began, so I can
now claim to not be the newest rider any longer." He looked rather pleased by
that fact. "My quarters are next to yours and Garron asked me to show you
around. You better get up and dress or we'll be late for breakfast."
The blond boy stood to allow Duo to slide his legs out of his bed. The
sleepy-eyed boy rubbed at his eyes and then slowly sat up, keeping an eye on
the other boy. Looking at Quatre, he decided, was like stepping out of a dark
dwelling and into the morning's light. There was a brightness about him which no
doubt began with his generous smile, blond hair, fair skin and shining blue eyes.
He appeared both confident and happy, and Duo wondered what kind of life the
other boy had lived before coming to the Halls of Dornan that he could appear so.
He found himself unable to resist smiling back.
"I've brought you your clothing," the blond continued, nodding to a stack of
folded cloth at the end of the bed. "We all dress the same here. The only
difference is that we fledglings wear a yellow sash that distinguishes us from the
other riders. Not that anyone here doesn't know we're fledglings, but those in the
castle above and in the cities below can tell by the sash that we're new to the
Halls when they see the sash."
Duo watched as Quatre picked up each article of clothing one at a time. At
first glance, they looked exactly like what the other boy was wearing: brown,
loose-fitted pants with an egg-shell colored, long-sleeved shirt that was gathered
at the wrist and the neck. Duo wondered at the simple clothing, if there was a
purpose for it being so plain - not that plain bothered him; he just imagined
dragon riders would wear clothing made of fine cloth and more fitted to the body,
like the clothes he'd seen Garron wear.
"Come on, I'll help you dress." Quatre smiled encouragingly, setting the
clothes on the edge of the bed again.
Scrambling out of his bed, Duo rushed to say, "I can dress myself."
"Of course you can," the other boy laughed with good humor. It was a very
Duo wasn't sure how to react when the persistent blond began tugging at
his night shirt with the intent to pull it up and over his shoulders. When his body
had begun to change, to gain hair in places that marked his path to manhood,
he'd become rather shy about being without his clothing. He felt his face and
ears heat up with embarrassment as the cloth was pulled over his head, he tried
to hide his nakedness from the other boy with his hands and a turn of his body.
"Oh, I see," Quatre said with a look of understanding. "You're
embarrassed." Then he shrugged. "You'll get over that soon enough for we all
bathe and dress together later in the morning, after training. Except for the girls,"
he amended. "There are only two of them and they're allowed to bathe in a
Duo wondered if he could bear the embarrassment of being undressed in
front of other boys. Garron and Howard had seen him undressed, but they were
people he knew and trusted. Everyone here was a stranger. He felt his cheeks
felt like they were burning at the mere thought of being naked in front of other
boys. He was relieved to feel a familiar presence in his mind; Wufei was rousing
from his slumber.
//I'm very hungry,// was Wu Fei's morning salutation. Duo didn't have time
to reply because Quatre was handing him some finely woven short pants,
explaining them as undergarments. There was nothing else to do but slip on the
unfamiliar clothing. Finished with that task, he put out his hand and was promptly
given his new pants and then the shirt.
"You really have nothing to be embarrassed about," the blond boy began
chatting again. "You have a very nice body."
Duo stood still and looked anywhere but at the other boy while Quatre tied
the laces on his sleeves. After that simple task was finished the yellow sash was
placed over his right shoulder and draped across his chest, the tip of it resting on
his left hip bone.
Quatre stepped back and his pale, blue-green eyes lifted to look into Duo's.
He tilted his head and asked, "Can I meet your dragon now? Sandrock has been
talking endlessly about him so naturally I'm very curious to see more of him than
just his head over the balcony. He's black all over, right?"
"Yes, except the skin of his wings, they look black, but in the sunlight they
appear a deep, blood red," Duo answered, somewhat taken aback by the other
boy's ability to talk. He was sure Quatre had said more to him in the scant time
since they'd met than any of the boys or girls his age in Ha'ber ever had. He
smiled at this, feeling hopeful that here was his first human friend who was close
to his own age. Quatre must have taken his grin as his agreement to meet the
black dragon for the blond boy grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the
door that led to Wu Fei's lair.
As the door opened, the resting dragon lifted his head off of his bed of
straw. "Morning, Wu Fei. This is Quatre, Sandrock's rider," Duo said.
"Hello, Wu Fei," the blond jumped in cheerfully. "Sandrock was right, you
are a beautiful dragon. I've never seen a dragon that was all black before, and
look how strong you are. To have brought your rider such a great distance in one
day is certainly proof of your prowess. You'll be a fine addition to the Halls of
Hearing his rider's voice, the white dragon popped his head over the
balcony that separated the two lairs. "Sandrock!" Quatre visibly bubbled with joy
at the sight of his dragon. "Good morning to you once again."
As the boy stopped speaking in order to hear his dragon's reply, Duo
looked at Wu Fei.
//I like him,// the black dragon purred.
Duo laughed. //Of course you do. He just flattered the scales off your
Wu Fei craned his neck and turned his head around to survey his back.
//No he didn't.//
//It's just a saying, Wu Fei,// the braided boy chuckled.
//You were speaking falsely?//
//No! It just means that he said what you wanted to hear. He probably
wants to earn your good opinion of him.//
//Was he speaking falsely?//
Duo made a mental note to remember that his dragon took everything he
said as fact. He would have to try and express himself more clearly in the future.
//No, Wu Fei. He spoke true. You are a most beautiful dragon who also happens
to be very strong, just as he said. We traveled very far yesterday and you're hale
and hearty, if not very hungry.//
A tug on his sleeve brought him back to the awareness that Quatre wanted
to speak to him. "While we're busy this morning, Sandrock will take Wu Fei to
hunt for food. He must be starving after his long day yesterday."
//I am hungry,// the dragon again told his rider. Wu Fei then brought his
head close to Duo, who reached out to hug his face, as he always did when they
//Good hunting,// Duo said. //I'll see you after the sun is half way across the
"Good day, Wu Fei," Quatre said the moment Duo stepped back. Without
waiting for the dragons to leave, the blond grabbed the braided boy's hand and
led him back through the door to his room and then out the door that led to a
Duo listened to the blond as he described the various doors they passed
and what or who was behind them. He didn't know how he would ever remember
everything he was being told. the Halls of Dornan looked like it only had one very
long corridor that was lit by torches placed high on the wall. Between the torches
were a multitude of doors that all looked alike. How would he ever tell them
apart? As the two walked, they passed several boys who were similarly dressed,
minus the yellow sash. Quatre greeted each one by name but didn't stop to talk
further or to introduce his companion, but continued leading the newest rider to
They came to a stop in front of two large, ornately carved wooden doors
just as several other riders arrived. Curiously, Quatre's manner abruptly changed
when the taller boys stopped in front of them. Duo observed the blond stiffen
and grow quiet, and he immediately dropped his hand. Duo wondered if maybe
his new friend was afraid of the other boys, who appeared to be slightly older
than either of them. The other two paused, and Duo felt unusually shy when
their inquisitive gazes came to rest on him. He wondered if he should expect this
type of appraisal for the time being, seeing that he was the newest dragon rider.
"Good morning, Trowa. Heero." Quatre greeted the two, his voice softer
than Duo had previously heard. The blond appeared a bit unsure of himself and
his cheeks were beginning to pink. Duo wondered if he was mad or perhaps
From under the long fringe of hair, Duo's eyes shifted so that he could
observe the boy closest to him. He was taller than he was, probably a little bit
older, too. His skin was a warm, golden brown color and his hair was a deep
brown color and fell about his head in a disorderly manner. He was a very
attractive boy, he thought. The object of his curiosity must have sensed his
appreciative gaze, for his deep blue eyes turned and caught Duo in the act of
staring. The moment their eyes met Duo felt a strange, tingling sensation go up
his spine, similar yet different from the thrill he felt each time he flew high in the
sky on the back of his dragon.
"This is the rider of the black dragon?" the dark haired boy asked in an
even-toned voice, his eyes intent on the new fledgling.
"Yes," Quatre turned to look at his companion, motioning to him with his
hand. "This is Duo. His dragon is Wu Fei. Duo, this is Heero and Trowa." The
blond pointed to the darker haired boy first and then the other as he said their
Duo felt relieved when the penetrating blue eyes shifted away from him to
the blond. His relief was brief, however, for a scant moment later they returned
and the boy Quatre had named Trowa joined Heero in studying him from head to
toe, each pausing a moment to stare at the long brown braid hanging over his
right shoulder. It suddenly occurred to Duo that he'd forgotten to take his braid
out and brush it that morning. Now added to his growing embarrassment, he felt
self conscious under their scrutiny, wondering if he looked like the simple boy
from a small village that he was. He brought his free hand up and hastily tried to
straighten out some of the hair that hung over his forehead. Almost in unison, the
two older boys gave him an acknowledging nod of their heads, then the tallest
boy turned to Quatre with a faint smile on his lips.
"Morning, Quatre. Are you ushering Duo around today?"
Duo watched the blond reach forward and pulled the wooden door open
with his free hand, the pink in his cheeks deepening. With a nod of his head he
motioned the two older boys inside. Heero promptly moved forward and
disappeared through the open doorway. "Yes," the small blond replied shyly, still
holding the door for the older boy.
Trowa paused a moment to turn his attention to the newest rider once
more, "It's nice to meet you, Duo."
"Nice to meet you, too," Duo returned, feeling as nervous and shy as
Quatre seemed to be.
A small amused grin came to the taller boy's face. "We better get in there
or the food will be gone." He then entered the room, following his friend.
Quatre turned his head to Duo, "As fledglings we open doors for the riders
more advanced in training than ourselves. It shows respect."
"Is Trowa your friend?" the braided boy asked, curious about the lingering
pink in Quatre's cheeks. "He seemed more friendly towards you than Heero."
Looking embarrassed, Quatre said in a hushed voice, "He's not really a
friend.. yet. But I like him. He's often been kind to me."
Duo looked confused. "Isn't that what a friend is, someone who is kind to
The blond turned to look at the other boy and a bright smile adorned his
face. "Yes, you're right. That is what makes a friend, and I hope you and I can
be very good friends."
Duo bit his lower lip, wondering how much he should share with the other
boy. He looked into the smiling face and decided to trust Quatre. He leaned
close and whispered, lest anyone else overhear their conversation. "I've never
had a friend before, Quatre, other than Wu Fei, Howard and Garron."
Quatre looked at Duo shocked. "Surely that's not true."
"I don't lie," the braided boy stated firmly.
Quatre blinked several times, trying to understand what he'd been told.
"I'm sure there's a great story behind this, but save telling of it until this afternoon
when we have some spare time, all right?"
Duo nodded, then found himself being dragged by his wrist through the
door the other two walked through moments before. Quatre called the room a
Even though the mountainside structure was the largest he'd ever seen,
the dining hall was definitely the largest room. Made of wood and stone, it had a
large hearth that was ablaze with a hot fire that took the normal chill out of the
large space. Duo's wide eyes traveled upward to the ceiling of the room. He was
impressed by the four large chandeliers holding more candles than all of Ha'ber
owned. The room's height ,from floor to ceiling, could be compared to the last
dwelling the people of Ha'ber had built for Wu Fei. It was considered the tallest
structure in the entire Gerza valley. Equally impressive was the breadth of the
room, for it was many times longer in both directions than it was high. Four long
wooden tables stretched out in the room's length, with benches resting beneath
them on both sides. Riders young and old, all similarly dressed, sat at the tables,
in the process of breaking their fast.
Duo's eyes scanned the assemblage, looking for Garron. He felt a moment
of disappointment in not seeing him, hoping to see at least one familiar face. He
turned his attention to the room's occupants, quickly observing the other riders
and coming to the sad conclusion that he and Quatre appeared to be the smallest
and probably the youngest of those gathered in the room.
With a tug on his sleeve, Duo was led by his guide to an empty space at ta
table to the far left. Quatre sat first and motioned for his companion to sit across
the table, facing him. Duo quickly took his seat, aware that all those in the room
had turned their attention in his direction. At first glance, he was pretty sure he
saw the two girls Quatre had spoken of earlier, sitting together two tables from
where he was seated. One girl had black hair that was unusually short for any
female of his acquaintance. Her body appeared small and it didn't seem possible
that she could be a rider. She sat next to a darker blond haired girl who
appeared a little bit taller than her companion.
A platter was set in front of him, distracting Duo from his observations of
his fellow riders. He glanced up in time to see a worker quickly moving away. He
felt remiss that he hadn't thanked the man for his meal. Deciding to express his
thanks at the next meal, his gaze eyes turned to his food. He stilled, stunned by
the unbelievably large portion that had been placed before him. There was more
food on the platter than he usually ate in an entire day. It included a ridiculous
mound of eggs, meat, cheese and bread. A pleased smile grew on his face. No
porridge, he thought with glee. Using the flat bread, he scooped up and took
several large bites of the warm eggs to ease his hallowed belly, then glanced up
to his friend and hummed his pleasure. After swallowing, he asked, "So, how
much boot licking are we going to have to do to the riders who have been here
longer than we have?"
Quatre looked up from his food and shrugged. "Well, we have to do
whatever they ask of us, as long as it doesn't put us in danger. For the most part,
the others aren't too demanding." Then the blond leaned in a bit close and spoke
in a barely audible voice. "But there are a couple who wrongly take their position
and power over others and sometimes go too far. You'll find out who they are
soon enough and you'll learn to avoid them."
Bullies, Duo thought. He'd dealt with the bullies from Ha'ber until he'd
been chosen by Wu Fei. He would have to keep an eye out for them, just as he
had with Kale, Jaff and Hagar, the tormentors of his youth.
After placing more food in his mouth, Duo looked away from Quatre to scan
the room again, thinking he might be able to tell just by looking at the group who
he needed to be wary of. He quickly found the boy he'd met earlier, Heero, the
one who made him feel so... unsettled. He was startled to find the piercing blue
eyes were looking right at him and their intensity strangely seemed to hold his
gaze. It wasn't until the dark haired boy broke eye contact that Duo was able to
look away. Leaning forward, he lowered his voice and asked his new friend, "Is
the boy sitting next to Trowa one of those I need to avoid?"
The blond turned his head to look down the table. "Heero? As far as I
know he's a decent fellow. He's never bothered with me one way or another.
Trowa seems to like him, so I guess he's all right. I don't know much about him
other than he's from the eastern hills of Amulah and an influential family."
Howard had told him once that in joining one's life to a dragons some riders
receive unexpected gifts: the ability to dream of future or past events, to tell if
someone was truthful or deceptive, or receiving premonitions. These "gifts" were
discovered months and sometimes even years after having gone through the
torturous experience of dragon's bane. Duo wondered again about the feeling
he'd had when his eyes had met those of Heero's. Could he possibly have been
given the gift of foreknowledge? While looking into the other boy's eyes, he'd
sensed something, possibly that Heero was going to have some kind of impact on
his life. Whether that was a good or bad thing he didn't know, but he'd felt an
undeniably strong pull towards the other boy. Even now it was hard for him not to
keep casting glances in Heero's direction. He definitely needed to learn more
about the other boy and keep an eye on him as much as possible, at least until
he discovered whether he was a potential friend or foe.
With that decided, Duo turned his attention to the large platter of food in
front of him. He felt starved. Normally a rapid eater, he single mindedly worked
on consuming the overly generous meal and didn't pause until Quatre, an
apparently slow eater, pushed his half eaten meal away. With a glance at Duo's
nearly empty platter, an expression of disbelief crossed the blond's face.
"Do you always eat that much and so rapidly?" Quatre asked, looking with
wide-eyed disbelief from the plate to the braided boy.
Duo pushed the remainder of his meal away and, now that he'd stopped
eating, his stomach began to ache from being so full. "No, but I've never been
given so much food before either."
"Do you come from a large family?" Quatre guessed. "I do, and at
mealtimes I've learned to quickly take what I wanted to eat before it disappeared."
"No," Duo answered, looking uncomfortable. "Howard is my only family."
"He was Ha'ber's hermit. He became my guardian after Wu Fei chose me
for his rider."
"You have no family?" Quatre appeared shocked by the idea.
Duo merely shook his head. He really didn't want to talk about his past,
especially when his aching stomach was so miserably full.
Quatre looked around the room to see that quite a few of the riders had
already finished their meal and were leaving the room. "We better go. The
others are leaving and we don't want to be late for training." He stood and
stepped out from the bench and waited for Duo to do the same. Taking the
newcomer's arm once again, the blond boy led Duo out of the dining hall and
towards the practice room further down the hall.
As they walked, Duo extended his thoughts to Wu Fei, but drew back after
realizing his dragon was in the process of hunting. He didn't enjoy the thrill of the
hunt as Wu Fei did, nor his dragon's feasting on his kill. And at the moment, he
was feeling so miserably full that it wouldn't take much form him to become very
ill if he thought too much about his dragon using his sharp talons and teeth to tear
apart his next warm meal.
Duo followed Quatre's lead and soon found himself in another room equally
as large as the dining hall. Yet in this room the stone floor was covered loosely
with golden straw and was empty of all furniture other than a couple of wooden
boxes against one wall. In the center of the room a group of young riders of
varying ages were gathering together. One of boys turned and smiled warmly at
them as they approached. He immediately spoke to the others then broke from
the group to intercept them. Duo noted that the approaching boy had extremely
dark skin, the color of the rich soil of the Gerza valley. His nose was more
prominent on his face than Quatre's pert one, though his eyes were as equally
large. His hair was thick and black and was pulled back from his face and
appeared to be tied in a knot at the base of his neck. He also wore a yellow sash
and a worried expression. Duo's first thought was that the boy must come from
a far distant part of Amulah, for he'd never seen anyone quite like him before.
"I didn't think you'd ever get here," the newcomer said in greeting, his eyes
casting about as he continued in a quieter voice. "Zechs is in a foul mood this
morning and Une is snapping at everyone. She and Treize must have had
Quatre nodded thoughtfully, his expression turning serious. The new boy's
eyes turned to Duo. "You're the new rider," he said, a smile tugging at his lips,
displaying white, slightly crooked teeth. "I'm Ze'an, rider of Amir the gray. Now
that you're here Quatre and I are no longer the newest riders." Like Quatre
before, Ze'an seemed inordinately pleased by that fact.
"Duo," the braided boy introduced himself. "Rider of Wu Fei."
"The black dragon," Ze'an said with awe. "There's been talk of him all
winter. From the moment Garron described him to us he's been the topic of
much conversation and a curiosity. I look forward to meeting him."
"Quatre!" A deep voice called out to the blond and Duo witnessed his
friend flinch at the sound. The three of them turned as one to see a tall young
man with long, loose blond hair striding purposely towards them, his face pinched
and unhappy looking.
"It's Zechs," Ze'an whispered aside to Duo before he turned to face the
"You're late," the tall blond teen stated churlishly. "I want the three of you
to bring out the long and short staffs for practice." Once the three nodded, Zechs
turned aside and cast his eyes about the room, and Duo thought that he was
probably looking for someone else to order about. He jumped slightly when the
other two grabbed his arms and propelled him towards the two, long wooden
boxes located against the wall on right side of the room.
"That was a rude welcoming," Ze'an muttered under his breath, casting a
glance back at Zechs.
"Why's he so angry?" Duo asked, nervously looking over his shoulder to
see the blond had turned his narrowed-eyed gaze back to them, as if he didn't
trust them to do as he'd ordered.
Surprisingly, a chuckle came from Quatre. "Neither Ze'an nor I were here
last spring when it happened, but from what I've learned he's been rather
unpleasant ever since his lover's dragon was chosen by another as a lifemate."
"It's his own fault," Ze'an said, critical of the slightly older rider. "They both
have male dragons. Everyone knows you're not supposed to lose your heart to a
rider whose dragon has the same gender as your own. Zech and Treize were
foolish to dally with a relationship they knew was discouraged by the older riders.
They know the story of Garron and Howard just as well as we do, and yet they
were foolish not to learn from their example."
"What?" Duo looked shocked and dumbfounded at the dark skin and
haired rider. "What did you just say about Garron and Howard?"
Ze'an shrugged. "I guess you haven't heard the story, that riders Garron
and his boyhood friend, Howard, both riders of male dragons, became lovers
after their first year in the Halls. It is said that they were extremely secretive,
keeping their feelings for each other from the older riders, who would have
warned or separated the two. To make a long story short, Garron's silver was
chosen by Raven's green, Lilith, as a mate. Howard, it is said, was devastated
when Garron accepted."
Duo was shocked. "He never told me he had been a dragon rider or that
he and Garron..." His words trailed off as he tried to absorb what he'd just been
told. With a shake of his head he thought he should have guessed Howard was a
rider because of all he knew about dragons and everything about their life in the
Halls and Rydell. I just thought everyone from this part of Amulah knew all about
the riders and dragons. But he and Garron? Lovers?
"What are you mumbling about?" Quatre asked.
Duo came out of his stupor of thought to answer his new friend, "Howard.
He was my guardian."
"Your guardian in Ha'ber was Howard the rider?" Ze'an asked, appearing
stunned by Duo's announcement. "He's been missing from the Halls for over
twelve winters. After the death of his dragon, everyone thought he'd followed him
to the great beyond."
Duo felt a sharp stab of sadness and grief at this news. "What was his
dragon's name and how did he die?" he asked with a small voice.
"What's taking you three so long?" An angry voice yelled from behind
them. They turned in unison to see Zechs striding towards them, the angry scowl
still present on his face.
"I'll tell you later," Quatre whispered back hurriedly. Warily eyeing the
approaching blond, he pulled on Duo's sleeve and the three boys scrambled to
take the short and long poles from the large wooden chests before Zechs caused
an uncomfortable scene by giving them a verbal scolding.