Dark Cloud Rising
by Dyna Dee
Evening was drawing near as the two dragons and their riders flew over the
mountain top that housed the royal palace. The green foliaged garden of the
courtyard was dotted with people wearing rich colored cloaks. The scent of
flowers carried a sweetness into the air, a pleasant welcome to the two riders as
were the waving of hands by several of the garden strollers who had shaded their
eyes with their hands to better see the two dragons flying home. Garron lead the
way to the Halls of Dornan, and with a wave of his hand he parted from the boy
and black dragon to land on a balcony several tiers above Wu Fei's designated
lair. The black dragon paused over the straw-strewn floor to release Duo from his
talons, allowing the boy to safely drop the short distance. Though his wings were
weary from two days of flight, he waited until his rider stepped back before he
came to rest on the ledge of the balcony. Both rider and dragon had noticed
upon their descent noticed that Sandrock was absent from his lair.
//He and his rider are visiting the city Skeer and will be back by nightfall,//
Wu Fei reported.
//You can hear Sandrock from such a distance?// Duo asked, surprised.
//He is not so far that I cannot hear nor speak to him, though his voice is
faint. I may not be able to do either if he were any farther away.//
Duo was disappointed by the absence of his new friend. He was extremely
hungry and didn't want to venture out of his room by himself for something to eat.
Quatre's presence, he was sure, would be a buffer against the teasing he was
bound to get from the other riders.
Standing back, the boy watched as Wu Fei settled down on his bed of
straw and shifted around until he felt comfortable. Once his dragon stopped
fidgeting, he moved closer and sat down in the crook of his folded forelegs, then
leaned back against the strong chest, ignoring the ache in his belly caused by his
lack of food that day. He told himself that he'd been hungry before and, as
uncomfortable as he felt, it wasn't going to kill him. After closing his eyes, a deep
weariness stole over his mind and body, the events of the day finally catching up
to him. He burrowed further into his dragon, gave into his weariness and
promptly fell asleep to the steady and soothing sound of his dragon's beating
The boy slept peacefully and undisturbed until the flapping of wings nearby
woke him from his dreamless sleep. Climbing out of Wu Fei's comforting hold
and getting to his feet, he was greeted by the sight of the white dragon landing on
the upraised lip of his lair. Quatre, sitting astride the base of his dragon's neck,
waved in greeting before Sandrock stepped down.
The sky was bright, with red, pink and orange lit clouds on the horizon, the
last signs of the sunset. In the fading light, Duo easily found his way to the door
leading to his room only to find his own chamber was very dark. Leaving the lair's
door open, he entered and searched the dark until he found a candle and carried
it out to the corridor to light the wick by using the nearest flaming torch set on the
stone corridor's wall.
"Duo!" Quatre burst out of his door. The braided boy turned to see the
blond rushing towards him. "Are you all right? Why did you run away? I was so
worried about you."
Duo led the way back into his room and began to light some of the candles
with the one in his hand. "Why do you think I ran, Quatre? I was humiliated in
front of the others and they laughed at me."
The blond shut the bedroom door behind him and leaned against the wood
surface. "Yes, I can imagine it was embarrassing for you, but you didn't need to
run away. All of us have done things that have embarrassed us, especially when
we first arrived here and in the training room."
"Have you ever lost your breakfast in front of a group of strangers who then
mocked and laughed at you?"
The blond boy chewed on the inside of his cheek a moment, then
answered with a quiet, "No." He then rushed to assure the newest fledgling by
adding, "But tomorrow will be better, I'm sure of it."
Duo gave the boy a skeptical look as he set the candle down in its holder.
"Do you happen to have anything to eat in your room? I'm really hungry."
Quatre shook his head with a look of regret in his eyes. "We're not allowed
to have food in our rooms, it attracts rats. But it's almost time for the evening
Duo frowned at the idea of going into the dining hall and facing all the other
boys he'd embarrassed himself in front of that morning. Quatre, watching him
closely, anticipated his problem. "If we go later, towards the end of the meal,
some of the other riders will most likely have finished and returned to their rooms.
"That might be all right." Duo chewed worriedly on the inside of his cheek,
still feeling uncomfortable by the thought of having to face the other riders.
Moving to his bed, he sat down, prepared to wait until it was late enough to
venture to the dinning hall even though his stomach complained loudly about its
empty state. To distract himself, the changed the subject. "Tell me about the
place you went to today."
"Skeer?" Quatre asked. "It's a large city south of here. They have open
markets and taverns and many of the riders go there to relax. I'll take you
sometime." After a short pause, the blond asked, "Where did you and Wu Fei
"Over the mountains," Duo replied, purposely being vague.
Quatre's eyes widened with understanding. "You didn't go to the Plains of
Grennal, did you?"
"We didn't know that's where we were until Garron told me," he answered
"You must never go there."
"I know that now," Duo said, startled by the blond's shocked expression
and adamant tone.
"Duo, you could have been attacked by the northern dragons." Quatre was
obviously horrified by his outing.
"I won't do it again, all right?"
"Do you give me your word that you speak the truth?"
"What?" He was surprised by the other boy's concern.
"Give me your word that you won't go there again."
The braided boy frowned. "Can I do that? Don't riders ever go there?"
"Not fledglings like ourselves. We're too vulnerable right now. We could
be persuaded to change allegiance through bribery or coercion. It's said that the
northern riders have tortured dragons in order to get their riders to cooperate,
bending them to their will."
Now it was Duo's turn to be shocked. That anyone would try to hurt a
dragon, especially Wu Fei, was something that was too abhorrent to even think
about. "I won't go there again until the time comes that I'm asked to by the guild,"
he said solemnly.
"You swear?" the blond asked.
Duo put his hand over his heart. "I give you my word."
At last Quatre seemed content and the matter appeared settled. The two
boys took turns describing their day and what they'd seen in the places they'd
A bell sounded in the distance, its echo carried through the Halls of
Dornan. "The evening meal is ready," Quatre announced. "We'll wait a bit longer
before going." Despite his apprehension about facing the others, Duo's empty
and cramping stomach told him he really needed to eat.
When at last they peered into the dining hall, Quatre's prediction seemed
to be true; a good number of places at the tables were vacant. Several riders
approached the door, so Duo held it open for them, keeping his head down to
avoid their gaze. Once they had passed through, both fledglings entered the
room together and Duo couldn't help but hear the whispers and sniggering which
were most likely were directed at him. He and Quatre moved forward to sit in the
very same place they'd occupied that morning. Platters filled with food were
promptly set down in front of them once again by the efficient and silent servers.
Remembering his resolve that morning, Duo caught the sleeve of the tall, burly
man who was just turning away. "Thank you, for the food and for serving it to
The older man stopped and turned. His server's garb covered broad
shoulders, a thick neck and ruddy skin. Thick and wavy brown hair, tied at the
back of his neck, framed a rugged face and brown eyes that displayed the man's
patience as he listened the boy speak. Then a brief smile tugged at the corners
of his mouth. Giving the fledgling a nod of his head, the server murmured, "It is
my pleasure to serve you, dragon rider." And then he was gone, back to carrying
out his duties.
Satisfied, Duo turned his attention back to his platter of food, both delighted
and dismayed by the large amount of food that had been set before him. Though
he felt famished, the comments he'd overheard that morning regarding his over-eating
hardened his resolve to eat less and much more slowly than he had at
From out of the corner of his eye and under the cover of the hair over his
forehead, he watched Quatre, thinking to learn from the other boy about how he
should eat in a proper manner. The blond ate his meal as if he had no appetite at
all, picking slowly at his food and chewing on it for what seemed an impossibly
long time. Though frustrated by the slow pace, Duo matched his own
consumption with the blond boy, and a moment after Quatre pushed his platter
away, signaling he'd had enough, Duo did also. His hunger was only slightly
abated, but he was determined not to embarrass himself again.
"Hello, Quatre. Duo." Trowa's familiar voice came from behind them and
Duo felt the blond shift to address the taller boy.
"Evening, Trowa. Did you have a pleasant day?" Duo wondered at the
blond's enthusiasm. Was he always so outgoing and cheerful?
"Yes, a very good day." Duo didn't turn around, but he could hear a smile
in Trowa's pleasant voice. "How are you, Duo? Are you feeling better?"
The braided boy's spine stiffened. "I'm fine," he mumbled, picking at a
crust of bread on his platter.
"Duo." A hand came to rest on his shoulder and the newest fledgling
looked over his shoulder to see a look of compassion on the taller boy's face.
"It's all right," Trowa said and offered him a gentle smile.
The braided boy managed to return it until his eyes caught sight of
someone else over the taller boy's shoulder. It was Heero, the person
responsible for his humiliation that morning. He glared at the dark-haired boy,
who looked like he was about to say something. Before Heero had a chance to
speak, Duo turned his focus back to his companion. "Thank you, Trowa," he said
quietly, rising from his seat. Without looking up he added, "I'm going to my room,
Quatre. I'll see you later."
Without pausing, Duo turned and walked briskly towards the door. Once
he crossed its threshold, he broke into a run, bolting for his room and ignoring the
curious stares of the boys he ran past, wanting to get as far away from Heero as
He went to bed shortly after he'd shut and latched the door to his room,
ignoring the slight tapping that came later, figuring it was Quatre. He hugged his
pillow to his face as the ache of loneliness set in. He'd felt this way from time to
time, growing up in Ha'ber and those had lessened after Howard became his
guardian. He wished more than anything that he was safely back in the dwelling
he'd shared with his former mentor, and that the stillness of the room he now
called his own could be replaced by the older man's comforting snores. By the
time he fell asleep his pillow was damp with tears shed for the only place Duo
had called home.
Quatre came for him again the next morning, greeting him with his usual
smile, yet there was a hint of wariness in his eyes. Duo silently scolded himself.
If he wasn't careful he'd lose the only friend he made so far. From under the
strands of hair that hung over his forehead, Duo looked aside to the blond boy as
they walked to the dining hall. "Are you angry with me?" he asked timidly.
"No, but you were rather rude to Trowa and Heero last night," Quatre
answered. "I can understand you're feeling awkward, but Trowa was trying to be
nice to you."
"I know he was," Duo sighed, feeling badly that Trowa might have been
upset by his abrupt departure from the dining hall. "It wasn't Trowa I was upset
with, but Heero."
"He didn't mean for you to be sick, Duo."
"He could tell I didn't know how to fight, not like he did. I've only had to
fight when I got caught. Believe me, running and hiding is a lot easier than
fighting off the village bullies."
A look of sadness crossed Quatre's face. "Were you picked on a lot,
"Look at me." Duo turned and motioned to his slight frame. "I'm short,
skinny and I don't have a family. The village I came from considered me their
dark cloud after my mother and adoptive family died. Of course I was picked on,
by bullies young and old."
The blond looked shocked by Duo's past, and probably by the bitterness
evident in his voice. Duo was slightly surprised by it himself. "Oh, Duo." The
look of pity on his new friend's face not only made him feel uncomfortable, but
"Don't you dare feel sorry for me, Quatre," Duo said sharply. "I might not
have had it easy, but I was good enough for my black dragon to chose me over
others who had families, homes and food on the table every night. He even
choose me over those of royal blood. Nobody needs to feel pity for me, not when
I've got a dragon for a best friend."
"I... ah." the blond stumbled for what to say, clearly at a loss for words, so
he simply said a shaky, "I'm sorry."
The two walked together towards the dining hall with an air of strained
silence between them, forming a breach that neither boy knew how to break.
Quatre was afraid of further offending the other fledgling, and Duo figured he'd
made another mistake, one that could cost him the other boy's friendship.
"Are you going to stay mad at Heero?" Quatre asked, breaking the silence
between them. "He's Trowa's closest friend."
"He hasn't proven to be a friend of mine," Duo replied, sounding a tad
Both boys stopped once more in the middle of the hallway to regard each
other. Duo looked at the blond and saw the uncertainty in his bright blue eyes.
"Like I told you, I've never had a friend before, other than Howard and Garron.
But you're nice, Quatre, and have been kind to me. I guess that makes you my
friend, doesn't it?" The blond nodded. Then a curious look entered the blue-violet
eyes. He tilted his head and asked, "Why?"
"Why what?" Quatre looked puzzled for a moment. "Why have I been
nice to you?"
Duo nodded. "Why do you want to be my friend?"
Quatre smiled shyly. "Everyone needs a friend, Duo. Even me."
"Don't you have other friends?"
"Yes, but no one close enough to confide in and to tell my secrets to."
"What about Trowa?"
The blush that Duo had seen Quatre display before, especially when Trowa
was close by or the topic of conversation, made its appearance yet again. "I like
Trowa," Quatre answered. "But he's a old than I am and had been here in the
halls longer. We're friendly, but not close enough to confide in each other. I
could use a friend to talk to, someone to spend my free time with. Would you
mind very much being my friend, Duo?"
A strange warmth began to grow within Duo's chest, and impulsively, he
lunged forward and embraced the other boy. "Your friendship is a true gift that I
gladly receive and give back to you," he answered sincerely. "Thanks, Quatre."
He beamed a brilliant smile when felt the other boy's arms come up and embrace
him also. They stepped apart a moment later, both wearing bit shy smile after the
"Come on. I'm starving," Duo said, suddenly feeling very happy. He
grabbed the sleeve of Quatre's shirt and pulled his friend towards the direction of
the dining hall.
The room wasn't nearly as full as it had been the day before, still, those
who were sitting at the tables turned one by one to look at the late-comers. Duo
stiffened, unsure of how to react, then Quatre slipped his hand into the crook of
his arm and leaned in to whisper, "Smile and keep your eyes on me." The blond
then stepped forward, leading Duo to what the braided boy was coming to
considered their place at the table.
Once seated and the platter of food had been set before them, Quatre
began to distract Duo by telling him of his home and family. The other boy
listened with disbelief at the tale of a nomadic people who lived in tents and
traveled frequently, trading goods in places both near and far. Quatre was the
youngest child and his father's only son. He had more older sisters than Duo
could count on his hands and feet.
"Morning!" The boy he'd met the day before, Ze'an, greeted them as came
forward and sat next to Duo, straddling the bench in order to look directly at the
braided boy. "Ready to face the training room again, Duo?"
Picking at the remains of his meal, remembering all too well the pain and
embarrassment of the day before, Duo looked up at the dark hair and skinned
boy to see no meanness in his expression. Instead, he found a look of concern
that had equaled Quatre's expression earlier. Maybe he was so used to other
boys finding fault and belittling him that it was hard to believe anyone would really
care about him, especially people he barely knew. He decided to try harder to
not think the worst of others before they had a chance to prove themselves, one
way or another.
"I guess," he answered Ze'an. "I just hope Sims won't make me the center
of attention again."
"He won't," the other boy said with confidence. "He always brings the
newest rider to the forefront, as you were yesterday, to show them how hard
they'll need to work to become as good as their opponent. Though he's not much
older than us, Heero's undeniably one of the best, and we all look to him as the
fighter we want to become."
Duo contemplated this information while playing with his food. Yesterday
he'd shown the others just how pathetic of a fighter he really was. Sims' tactic of
showing him his faults hadn't given him the desired incentive to work harder to
obtain the same level of skill that Heero had. Instead, it made him feel resentful
towards the person Sims had chosen to teach him that lesson.
"So where'd you go yesterday when you took off?" Ze'an asked casually.
"Over the mountain," he replied, keeping his voice down.
"You mean this mountain?" The brown eyes of the other boy widened. "To
the Grennal Plains?"
Duo shrugged, then nodded. He couldn't help but notice the stillness
around him and pushed his platter away. "I didn't know, all right? Are you
finished, Quatre?" Even though the blond's platter had hardly been touched,
Quatre indicated he was done by standing from his seat. Ze'an rose with them
and the three walked from the room together. As they left, Duo felt a prickling
sensation at the back of his neck, telling him that there were eyes on his back,
following his exit.
He was about to say something when he was brought up short by Quatre's
hand on his arm, stopping him in his tracks. Duo followed the direction of the
blond's gaze to see two boys in a confrontation not a stone's throw down the hall,
neither of which seemed to notice them. Heero had his back against the stone
wall and it looked like he was being forcibly detained by the taller blond he'd met
only momentarily the day before.
"Zechs," Quatre hissed under his breath. From the expression on their
faces, it appeared the two were having an intense conversation. Heero was
frowning and they heard a distinct and firm No come from him as he shook his
head, his dark hair moving back and forth across his forehead. The boy from
Ha'ber gasped with shock after the towering blond suddenly bent and forcibly
kissed the other boy on the lips. At the sound of flesh hitting flesh, Duo's eyes
widened at the same time Quatre made a sound of surprise, and Zechs reel back
and away from Heero after the shorter boy's fist connected solidly with his jaw.
Quatre and Ze'an leapt forward and Duo followed, running toward the two
as Zechs threw himself at the dark haired rider.
"Zechs!" Quatre shouted as fists were thrown and hands grasped for
leverage. Ze'an and Quatre worked together to grab the taller blond and pull him
away from Heero. Neither boy appeared hurt, though the look in Heero's eyes
spoke of his desire to cause some harm to the tall blond.
"Concede to the inevitable, Heero," the smugly smiling older teen said,
ignoring the two boys holding his arms. His pale blue eyes were focused solely
on the boy in front of him as he added with confidence, "You're going to be
Heero wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked at the
restrained blond with disgust. "Neither you nor I know yet who Relena will pick as
her mate. Unlike you, I'm willing to wait and see," Heero replied, then in a low
and deadly calm voice he added, "You have no claim on me, so leave me alone."
"Epyon is superior to all other dragons. Of course she'll choose him."
"I beg your pardon," Ze'an said, rightly offended by the remark. "Just
because your silver is a bit older than our dragons doesn't mean he's in any way
superior. Heero's blue has her choice of any male dragon, including my brown,
Quatre's white or Duo's black."
A derisive snort came from the indignant blond and he glanced over, and to
Duo in particular. "As if that would ever happen."
Those words, spoken with such disdain, riled Duo's seldom called upon
anger. "What's that suppose to mean?" he demanded, stepping forward to glare
up at the taller rider, his hands fisted on his hips.
The tall blond turned scornful eyes to the newest rider. "What female
dragon would want a black dragon and his weak rider? He's as foreign to
Amulah as gold rain. Your dragon not only chose a nobody from the peasant
population as his rider, but he doomed you to a life of being unmated. No dragon
in Amulah will choose a freak of nature that your dragon is."
Something snapped inside of Duo at those insulting words. Wu Fei was his
dragon, and he was beautiful, bold and majestic. And as long as there was
breath in him no one would ever call him a freak and get away with it. For a
moment it didn't matter whether or not he was unskilled or that Zechs was older,
much larger and had been well trained, the rider of the black dragon was furious
and he launched his slight body at the tall blond with the intent to do as much
damage to the arrogant teen as he could, and to wipe the snide smile off his face.
Surprisingly, by the time he was pulled off of Zechs by his fellow fledglings,
the offending blond had suffered deep scratches on his face and neck and was
bent over from the pain in his groin caused by Duo's wild kicking as he was
forcibly pulled away.
Zechs took a moment to compose himself, then looked up with tears of
pain and hate burning in his eyes. ‘You little dung heap, you'll pay for that," he
spat out. Then just as he moved to retaliate against the braided boy being
restrained by his friends, a commanding voice filled the area around them.
"What is going on here?" Sims demanded as he rapidly approached the
five. The rider set himself in the middle of the young riders, noting the tension in
the air. He looked to Zechs and studied his damaged face and the pained
posture. "Who did this?" he asked, turning to the three youngest riders.
Duo shook off the other boys' hands and stepped forward. "I did," he said
without remorse. "He insulted my dragon and no one speaks badly of Wu Fei
and gets away with it."
Sims studied the boy for a moment, and after seeing no harm had come to
the boy, he turned his attention back to the tall blond. "Go to the healer then
report back to me." Zechs frowned, nodded and then turned. The entire group
watched, feeling various degrees of relief as he slowly limped away.
The older rider turned back to the braided boy. "Now that's the kind of fight
I was looking for yesterday. Bring that strength of will to the training room, Duo,
and you'll do very well. Now, I want the lot of you to go the training room."
Having given them a direction, Sims turned and led the way.
Duo wasn't sure at the moment who was more surprised by what had just
happened. The three wearing yellow sashes turned to watch the rider walk away,
all a bit stunned that they hadn't gotten in trouble.
Ze'an leaned forward and whispered, "Zechs is an arrogant bastard." He
then looked to Heero who had stepped closer to join them. "Are you all right,
The shaggy, dark-haired boy nodded, retaining an unhappy expression,
obviously disturbed about his confrontation with Zechs. He slowly looked away
from Sims' retreating back to the other three with a slight tinge of embarrassment
rising on his cheeks. "Thank you," he mumbled, his eyes shifting momentarily to
Duo's mind was in a turmoil, thinking that he now had two enemies: one
chosen and the other earned. Ignoring Heero words of gratitude, he lifted his
chin up and started after the older rider and didn't stop moving even after Quatre
called out his name.
The four entered the training room one by one, and Sims quickly took
charge, dividing the young riders into teams. Duo was relieved to find himself
paired with Ze'an. He'd been a bit worried that once again Heero would be
chosen as his partner by Sims. With that fear put to rest, he refocused his
thoughts, ignored any random comments about the day before, and began his
training with the long staff of wood in his untrained hands.
By the time Sims called an end to their training that morning, Duo was both
tired, sweaty and sore from some of the hits he'd taken. All in all, he was pleased
with what he'd learned and how he'd performed. Sims himself had stood by and
watched his progress, giving instruction and showing him different techniques for
using his staff as he and Ze'an practiced how to defend and attack each other.
"That was a good beginning," the older rider declared with a pleased grin,
then patted the newest rider on the shoulder before moving on to the next pair of
Duo looked from Sims retreating back to Ze'an who was grinning at him.
"That's a high compliment coming from Sims," the dark skinned boy said. Then
slinging a warm and damp arm around Duo's neck he said, "Come on. Let's go
to the bathing room."
Duo's eyes widened. He'd forgotten all about the bathing room.