by girl starfish
"But Wufei, someone there needs our help. I just know it."
The black haired warrior snorted. "Quatre, ‘special feelings’ are for weak onna’s. That’s why it’s known as woman’s intuition."
"Wufei! It’s real! We have to go to that town!" Quatre sighed realising his companion was not about to be shaken. "You wouldn’t want to chance some miscreant fleeing justice just because you were afraid of a little detour—"
"After all, it will only take an about an hour to get there. And its not like we’ve got anywhere else to go."
"Besides if I refuse you’ll sulk all day and give me those little pouty looks until I’m about ready to keel over from guilt, right?"
The blond youth beamed. "Right!"
What the hell, Wufei thought. May as well get this over with. "Fine! Let’s go to that stupid town."
"Yay! Thank-you Wufei!"
"But don’t think this means you can walk all over me. Justice will be served no matter what—"
"And I can put up with those pouty looks of yours. I just happen to be in a good mood today. I’m enduring your nonsense for no other reason."
"So you can stop looking so insufferably happy!"
Shenlong snorted. Wufei glared suspiciously at his horse—surely Shenlong wouldn’t laugh at him? Then again, there was probably a conspiracy going on between him and Winner. He decided to be quiet and simply observe the route our new path was taking us on.
Shenlong whinnied softly.
"And I’m not sulking either!"
"So this is the village you wanted to come to?" The black haired warrior raised an eyebrow looking around the to all appearances typical small country town.
"Yes." Quatre said frowning. "Although . . . I’m not so sure it’s the town that’s the source of the problem."
"You’re new here," a woman said to them suddenly. Wufei started, they’d hardly been in the town a few minutes and hadn’t even dismounted. "What do you know of our problem?"
"Excuse me?" the chinese youth said icily. "I do not remember asking you for your opinion."
She nodded. "An oversight I am willing to forgive. Am I to believe you’ve come to help us?"
As Wufei spluttered incoherently Quatre nodded. "We’ve come to help. Who, I’m not sure. I sensed a great distress coming from this area."
"Then you must have come to help us. Follow me to the Inn, I’ll see you get refreshments and stabling for your horses."
She turned and walked off. Wufei looked at Quatre. "Let’s not."
"Wufei, we didn’t go out of our way to get here just so you could take an unreasonable dislike to the people of this place and refuse to help."
Damm, he was right. Wufei slid off Shenlong’s back and led his horse towards the Inn. Beside him, Quatre dismounted Sandrock and did the same.
The onna met them in the Inn where she’d chosen a table and already ordered for them. "Thank-you gentlemen. By the way, I’m Relena, the ruler of this city. I hope you’ll forgive my presumption," she said. "But it really is important that you bring this monster to justice as quickly as possible."
"Monster?" Quatre asked.
"Oh yes. For as far back as we can remember the woods round here have been inhabited by a gorgon."
"That’s terrible!" Quatre said.
They both looked at him.
"Gorgon?" he said. "As in an onna with snakes for hair and that can turn people to statues by looking at them?"
"You’ve heard of her?"
"Yes. I don’t see what the problem was." He took a bite of the food laid out and continued. "In fact, I’m surprised you don’t have the town overflowing with heros queuing up to get a chance at the Gorgon’s head. After all, it would make a powerful weapon."
"That’s disgusting!" Quatre said.
"What? The power to turn people into stone? I would think it would be pretty useful."
"No! Who would want to go around holding a disembodied head! That’s gross!"
"As a matter of fact, we do get quite a few heroes going through." Relena sighed. "That’s the problem. They don’t come back."
"Please—you must get rid of this hideous monster. Before she claims more victims!" Her pretty eyes brimmed with tears. "I can’t let what happened to Heero happen to another."
Quatre and Wufei looked at each other and gulped.
"Yes," Relena blinked at them. "You know him?"
"How long ago did he come through here?"
"It wouldn’t be more than a month ago . . . although it feels like years since I last saw him." She sniffed. "Poor Heero."
The two warriors exchanged glances. "What happened?"
"He went out to face the Gorgon. He never returned." Relena burst into tears and sobbed prettily. "And I miss him so much!"
"You miss him?" Wufei asked, not sure if he’d misheard.
"Oh yes. You see—We were in love."
"Um, are you sure?" Quatre asked.
"Of course I’m sure!" Relena snapped. "What do you take me for? An idiot?"
Quatre elbowed Wufei before he could reply. "Wufei is just surprised. After all, we’re colleagues of Heero’s, and we’ve known him some time, and well, we never expected him to fall in love. It just doesn’t seem very Heero-ish."
Wufei snorted. That was an understatement. He would sooner believe that Heero had voluntarily sawed his leg off than that he’d fall in love with this . . . um, female.
"I suppose this must be something of a shock for you," Relena said. "Oh my poor Heero! Please, say that you’ll rid the woods of that poisonous creature!"
"There there," Quatre rubbed her back as she cried again. "Wufei and I will do what we can to help."
Wufei raised an eyebrow. They would?
The forest was still, quiet. All except for the plaintive echo of song that drifted through the cool night air. Creatures who heard it stopped a moment in respect—they recognised grief when they heard it.
In a tree above the clearing of statues, Trowa watched the surrounding forest warily. His heart ached for his companion’s sorrow—but he knew the dangers of the gorgon’s actions too well.
He noted the sudden flight of a flock of birds from a distant clump of trees with concern. It could be nothing—a simple scare or a collective decision to roost. Or it may be a traveler—
With the agility of a squirrel Trowa swung himself down the tree, landing gracefully on the ground. "Duo, time to go."
The gorgon didn’t stir.
"Duo? We need to go—"
"I haven’t finished Trowa," the black robed youth said, back still to Trowa. He leaned against the statue of Heero, one arm looped around his cold shoulders.
"It won’t make any difference," Trowa said, taking hold of the gorgon’s arm. "Come on—"
He was forced to release Duo’s arm as the three snakes nearest him, hissed, all showing their fangs.
Duo didn’t seem to notice. "I have to—"
"It won’t matter. Just this once—" Trowa knew how important the daily ritual was to Duo but he had to get his friend to shelter soon.
"But Trowa! I haven’t been through them all yet. How do you think they feel, all stuck like that—"
"We don’t even know if they feel anything at all," Trowa said, moving forward so he could study the stubborn set of his friends face. "Even assuming they are aware of anything you do for them, I’m sure they won’t mind if you miss them just this once. Now go." As the gorgon hesitated, Trowa played his last card. "Or would you willingly add to them?"
It was a low blow. Trowa regretted it as Duo’s eyes brimmed with tears. "Fine. But I have to say good-bye to Heero."
Trowa nodded, and gave the gorgon the privacy in which to do so. It was a pity, he thought, that the humans who lived in the villages around them had never imagined this side of the gorgon. Duo visited his victims everyday, talking to them, singing to them, bringing them news and carefully clearing away moss and weeds from them. It was the only thing he could do to assuage his guilt. Trowa thought scornfully that he would be surprised if any of those human statues would have shown the gorgon the same mercy—any, except perhaps one.
Duo laid his head against Heero’s unmoving chest.
"Sorry isn’t enough . . . I’d say it forever if it would bring you back . . . even if you hated me. I mean, you must hate me . . . look what I did to you. Oh, Heero . . ." Duo sighed, lowering his head as another of his tears ran down Heero’s body. "I miss you. All the time. So bad, its not even funny. Trowa told me this will go in time, that I should let go . . . but I can’t you know? You liked me, you said you wouldn’t hurt me. Heero . . . you thought I was beautiful . . ." Duo wept.
A few minutes later, his sobbing back under control, the gorgon pressed a kiss to the unfeeling lips in front of him before returning to the dark cave.
Trowa noted his departure with equal sorrow and relief. Climbing back into the tree he set out through the branches to find out the source of the bird’s disturbance.
"Remind me again why we are running errands for a whining brat?"
"Because if something has happened to Heero, this is the only way we’ll find out what it was." Quatre said. "That and she cried."
"The only reason I’m doing this," the black-haired warrior announced, "is to find out what monster could possibly be mean enough to take out Heero Yuy."
"Yes Wufei." Quatre sighed, then jumped. "What’s that?"
A stone hand protruded from the bushes in front of us. Wufei pulled back the bushes to see a statue of a young man, a few years older than them, slenderly built and dressed in delicate finery. The expression on his face was one of mild surprise.
Quatre and Wufei stared in silence.
"Who do you suppose he was?"
"He’s not dressed like a warrior. I’d say a noble of some sort . . . although why a nobleman would be wandering around these woods—"
A rustling in the leaves before them had alerted them to someone’s arrival. Quatre and Wufei hastily scrambled for our shields.
"Damm," Wufei swore as his seemed to slip from his hands. Quatre yelped as he fell over.
"It’s all right," an amused voice said. "I’m not a gorgon."
"How do we know that?" Wufei snapped, not looking up.
"One, I don’t have snakes for hair. Two, I’m a dryad. Will that do?"
The warrior gave him a cautious look. There were no snakes. "What do you mean, wandering around these woods, scaring people?" he demanded.
The dryad shrugged. "I thought I’d let you know you’re in dangerous ground. I can take you back to the town in safety if you wish."
Wufei snorted. "I don’t think so. We’re here to seek the gorgon."
"I see," the green eyes of the dryad glittered nastily. "Well I’m afraid I can’t help you there."
"Why not? You’re a magical creature, you should be immune to the gorgon’s attacks."
Quatre hastily stepped between the two. "Hi! Ignore Wufei, he makes a point of never using manners while on a mission." As the dryad blinked at him, he thrust out a hand. "I’m Quatre Raberba Winner! It’s such a pleasure to meet you."
"Trowa." The dryad shook hands cautiously.
"Trowa—what an interesting name—"
"Winner! We are on a mission, not attending a banquet!" The blonde warrior was shoved aside by his companion who scowled. "You didn’t answer my question before," he accused the forest spirit.
"It might just happen that I do not wish for you to find the gorgon."
"Oh, that’s how it is, is it?" Wufei demanded. "The two of you work as a team to waylay innocent travelers? Step aside, justice is going to be done."
He pushed past the dryad to continue walking down the path. He didn’t get far.
Brambles stretched out over the path in a thick wall, effectively blocking it. As Wufei watched, more branches joined the barrier.
"I would strongly advise not proceeding," the dryad said. "There’s a patch of stinging nettle not far away that I can use."
Wufei sulked. "Have you no honor? How can you shelter that venemous beast, knowing what she does?"
"The issue is not as clear cut as that," Trowa said. "You’d have to meet the gorgon to understand."
"How? I doubt you’re going to let us past your brambles."
"There might be a way, if you were willing to surrender your weapons—"
Wufei threw a tantrum. "Put our weapons aside so you two have us at your complete mercy? I doubt it!"
"Then I guess you go no further in these woods," Trowa leant back against the tree impassively.
Wufei glared at him then turned and stomped back down the path towards the village.
Trowa permitted himself a small smirk . . . before realizing that Quatre remained on the path. "Well?" he demanded.
The blond human blushed. "You know . . . I’m not currently seeing anyone!" he blurted out suddenly, before turning and running after Wufei.
He left one very startled wood-spirit behind him. Trowa continued to stare down the path a long time. That had been . . . weird.
By the time Quatre caught up with Wufei he was back at the Inn. Yelling at someone. Quatre sighed, heading up to his room at the inn to wait out the storm—only to come down again a minute later.
"Wufei, what happened to our stuff? Everything in my room is gone!"
Wufei scowled at a harrassed looking Relena. "Apparently she decided we weren’t coming back and decided to sell our stuff."
"Well it wasn’t an unreasonable assumption—after all, no one has returned from facing the gorgon—not even Heero." The blonde’s eyes filled with tears. "My poor Heero—"
Wufei swore as she began to cry. "I’m going to find Shenlong and Sandrock. You—do something to her!"
"Like what?" Quatre asked.
"I don’t know—just make her stop crying!" Wufei stormed out of the room.
Quatre smiled after him. Poor Wufei, he thought. He can face a cyclops in battle without turning a hair, attack a force outnumbering his by 5 times as much without raising a sweat, but give him a crying person to comfort—and the poor guy ran like the wind. Shaking his head, the blond slipped an arm around Relena’s shoulders, murmuring soothing things quietly.
Some day Wufei would have to deal with emotions. Some day.
Quatre’s eye fell upon a painting on the wall opposite and he started.
"Is something wrong?" Relena sniffed, dabbing at her eyes as he felt silent. "You don’t think poorly of me do you, for being so weak? I know Heero would not approve—"
"Not that, nothing like that," Quatre said, hastily. "I was just startled by that painting there. The portrait—it looks familiar."
Indeed it did, although Quatre could not place just where he’d seen the finely featured blond youth before.
"My brother, Milliardo," Relena explained. "He’s away on business at the moment. I’m in charge of the city until he returns." She sniffed. "Dear Milliardo—he’s been gone such a long time."
Quatre could only stare at the painting. Wufei has got to see this, he thought.
"They were looking for you," Trowa said, looking across the dimly lit cave.
Duo shrugged, busying himself with his stew. "Big surprise." The snakes, weaving through the air without direction were a good indication that his feelings weren’t quite as set as he was trying to convince him.
Trowa sighed. Talking to Duo when he was in this sort of mood was next to impossible. Although usually easy going, the gorgon could be extremely stubborn.
"Maybe we should move on—"
"NO!" Duo was on his feet instantly, "Trowa are you nuts? We can’t leave this valley!"
Trowa just managed to catch the bowl of stew. "Why not? It’s not safe here anymore. These warriors are coming more frequently—"
"Well, Relena couldn’t keep them away for ever. What can I say, Trowa? News like me travels fast," the gorgon shrugged. Even if Trowa had known his friend so well, he wouldn’t have been fooled by Duo’s blasé attitude. The way his snakes were trying to twist themselves into knots also helped.
"We might be able to find somewhere more secluded—"
"To do that, we’d have to go through the populated areas. Even if we travelled at night, sooner or later someone would see us. And it wouldn’t take long for people to twig. A trail of statues only means one thing, and then you’re waking up to mobs with torches and those sharp pointy things, what are they called?"
"Pitchforks," Trowa said.
"Yeah. Those." Duo sighed. "A gorgon can’t hide, Trowa. As dangerous as staying here is, its better than the alternative."
"How do you know that? Have you ever tried to leave?"
"Trowa, how do you think I got here? I wasn’t born here you know."
The dryad shrugged. This valley was where he’d met Duo, and the gorgon had never mentioned anywhere else. He pushed the bowl of stew towards the gorgon and said, "Tell me."
"I used to have a family, sisters and everything you know? We lived on this island. It was mostly deserted except for us. Then, there was a ship wreck. Sailors—well after the first couple got petrified, they agreed to wear blindfolds, and we said we’d help them find food, etc. They repaired their ship and went away. They came back with weapons."
Trowa sat beside Duo. "And?"
"What do you think? My mother and sisters they slaughtered out right. Me . . . I don’t know why they didn’t kill me. I guess because I’m a guy, and gorgons are supposed to be girls. I guess they thought I’d be more useful alive. But they slipped up somewhere along the way, and I managed to get away. Not that there was anywhere for me to go. I mean, most people don’t take kindly to their relatives becoming garden ornaments, and well, the number of times I just managed to escape certain death on the end of a sword—well, its more than that water snake has stripes."
Trowa raised an eyebrow at the snake in question, now curling itself benignly around the gorgon’s shoulders. "Where does Relena come into this?"
"I found my way into these woods, found the caves, figured they were a good place to stay awhile, and did so. While looking for food, I kind of . . . well, turned her horse into stone. She freaked a bit at first, but then told me she realized it wasn’t my fault, and would be happy for me to stay on her and her brother’s lands, in return for not going into the village and that she’d see to it I wasn’t disturbed."
"She doesn’t seem to be doing a pretty good job of keeping her end of the bargain. Those travelers I met today seemed to know where to find you—"
"Does it matter?" Duo said. "We stay. We have no choice." He stood, snakes casting twisting shadows on the wall behind him. "I am Death, Trowa. If staying here is my curse . . . so be it."
With that, he faded into the shadows.
Trowa sighed. Duo had been every bit as difficult as he’d expected. However, he at least now knew why. Given what Duo had said of his past experiences outside the valley, Trowa thought it would not be easy to convince him to leave. Yet, something told him it was too dangerous to remain in the valley—
Pulling a sack towards him, he began to pack.
"There, Wufei. What do you think?"
The Chinese youth chewed his lip thoughtfully. "It does look familiar," he conceded. "Who did Relena say it was?"
"Her brother Milliardo, who’s away on business."
"Hmm." Wufei said. "He hasn’t happened to be away on business an awfully long time, has he?"
"As a matter of fact, an extremely long time," Quatre said. "The villagers would be concerned if it wasn’t for the fact that he occasionally sends his sister scrolls from abroad."
"He sends scrolls from abroad?" Wufei said. "That must be extremely hard to do when you’re a statue in the middle of a forest not an hour’s walk from your village."
"Hah! I knew there was something familiar about him!" Quatre thumped Wufei on the back in triumph. "I knew your memory would work it out!"
"You’re welcome," Wufei said, disentangling himself. "And just for the record—"
"Yes?" Quatre paused mid-celebration.
"I told you so," Wufei said smugly. "I knew that onna was trouble."
"I guess you were right on this one. That doesn’t alter the fact that there is someone in this district—"
"In dire need of our help, I know. Do you have my sleeping potion? I’d like to go to bed now."
Quatre nodded, finding the vial among his belongings and handing it to Wufei. "Here you go. What do you want to do tomorrow?"
"What do you think? Track down this gorgon. No treacherous nymph is going to stop this warrior from righting wrong."
"Dryad," Quatre said sleepily.
"What?" Wufei snapped.
"Trowa’s a dryad, not a nymph. I think he’s quite nice, actually." Quatre smiled.
"You would," Wufei muttered shortly. "Oh, and Quatre?"
"Don’t tell Relena we’re going out tomorrow. In fact, let’s leave before she wakes up."
The black haired warrior sat back. After a moment he reached for his blade and began to polish it. The gorgon had eluded them once.
It would not be so fortunate twice.