"You can do this, Duo. It's just like with the fire, all you have to do is concentrate."
Duo opened his eyes and turned to Quatre. "You're not helping," he grated.
"Sorry," Quatre replied, smiling at the braided boy's frustration.
"The fire is easy, all I have do is point and shoot. But this..." Duo sighed.
Duo had come to rue the morning he'd asked Quatre to teach him to use his powers. The small mage was a relentless teacher. They practiced almost every waking moment. 'And some unwaking ones,' Duo groused to himself, thinking of the times he'd dreamed he was training. But he had to admit, under Quatre's tutelage, he was gaining more and more control over his mysterious abilities. He'd learned to call the winds that had blown through Heero's tent that night at will. He'd also learned, to his great delight, to make things explode and to start fires with just a slight exertion of his power. The latter was a big hit with the soldiers as meals could be prepared even more quickly with an instant campfire.
However, Quatre had claimed that Duo should also be able to use his power to move objects. Hence, there he was one morning, several weeks after coming to accept the truth about himself, staring at a pile of rocks.
"This is the same thing," Quatre admonished. "Just as with the winds and the fire, you must allow your power to flow through you and then bend it to the task at hand. I know that the winds and explosions and such are the result of an unfocused use of your power, but it's time to learn some fine control. Now, feel your power coursing within you, harness it, and use it to move the rocks."1
"Okay," Duo sighed. He turned back to the pile of rocks and tried to ignore the feeling of eyes upon his back. The rest of the camp, although pretending not to, was watching closely and Duo was feeling a bit of performance anxiety.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His tattoo tingled as he felt his power deep within, eager to do his bidding. Ever since deciding to accept it, his power had become a constant, almost comforting presence. With a minimum of effort, he gathered up the coursing waves of energy. Clearing his mind of distractions, he directed his power towards the stones, visualizing in his mind what he wanted to do.
Deep in concentration, Quatre's sudden gasp seemed as though it came from far away. Duo was lost in the amazing feeling of calm he got whenever he channeled his power in this way. He opened his eyes and, with the barest motion of his hand, directed to rocks to move so that they formed a design identical to his tattoo. Duo smiled in triumph and quieted his power back to a more dormant state.
"How was that, o teacher?" he gloated.
Quatre beamed at him with evident pride. "Excellent! I knew you could do it!"
Hilde chimed in, "Duo, that was incredible! But...Quatre, why can't I do these things? You say my power is the same as Duo's, but I can't start fires or make things explode."
"As near as I can figure it, Hilde, Duo's powers are more offensive while yours are more suited to defense. Duo can affect the domain of the physical while you can access the mental realm. Your abilities are just as impressive, although a bit more subtle. However, you can both channel your power into weapons, remember?"
Hilde nodded, thinking back to a week ago when Quatre had showed her and Duo that they could make weapons stronger and more powerful by charging them with their energy. Hilde had been amazed when, after letting her power flow into a sword, she'd used the sword on a rock and the rock split in two as easily as if she'd been cutting through butter.
"Aww, come on, pixie. Don't be jealous." Duo laughed as Hilde swatted playfully at his arm. Turning to Quatre, he became more serious. "Quatre, I do have another question. Everything you've told me about what you've read concerning the Scepter and the Shi power says that I shouldn't be able to do any of these things, like the fire and moving the rocks, unless I'm actually holding the Scepter. You've never explained why I've been able to use my power without it."
Quatre frowned slightly and scratched his head. "To be honest, Duo, I really don't know. You are correct, all of the scholars say that, to truly harness the Shi power, you must be in physical contact with the Scepter. My guess is that, as the most recent in the line of Shi royalty, somehow you must be stronger than those who came before you. Somehow, you are able to access the Scepter's power from a distance. The same goes for Hilde. She should not be able to have these flashes of clairvoyance without holding the Scepter. And yet, we've all seen her do so."
Duo and Hilde shared a glance, amazed by the thought that, not only were the members of the Shi royal family, but that they were apparently the most powerful in that line. Their introspection was cut short when Heero called that it was time for them to depart. There were a few hours of daylight left and the prince wanted to make the most of them. After gathering their things, the group continued on its journey.
The afternoon was waning as the travelers passed through a clearing in a lightly wooded stretch of land. Duo rode as close to Heero as possible, occasionally stretching his foot out to nudge Heero's boot. Heero favored him with a glower but returned the playful gesture. Duo beamed at the prince, his amethyst eyes promising loads of fun later in their tent, but his pleasant thoughts were disrupted by Hilde's sudden scream.
"They're coming! They're coming!"
Duo and Heero sent each other a concerned glance before turning their mounts in tandem and riding back to the hysterical girl.
Wufei, who'd been riding beside her, asked the obvious question as they other two arrived. "Who, Hilde? Who is coming?"
"Not who, what!" Hilde's blue eyes were unfocused as she gazed at what the rest of them could not see.
Quatre and Trowa quickly joined them. "Hilde, can you describe what you are seeing?" Quatre inquired.
Duo took hold of his cousin's hand and the gesture seemed to calm her. He looked at her with worry filled eyes. Hilde didn't scare easily. Feeling her terrified shivers through their joined hands, he determined that she must have seen something truly horrible.
"Wings like leather ... talons like knives ... glowing green eyes ..."
Duo briefly though his poor cousin had gone mad. Surely nothing like what she was describing could really exist. However, Quatre's sudden gasp put an end to his denial.
"Demons," the blond mage growled.
"What?" Duo asked, his brow furrowed with confusion.
"Terrible creatures summoned by the foulest magic. They will obey whoever summoned them. They are ferocious and have terrible strength. They are nearly impossible to kill."
Duo thought for a moment. "Wait, what if Hilde and I charged everyone's weapons? They could be used to kill these things."
Quatre shook his head. "I'm afraid it doesn't work like that. You must actually be in contact with the weapon for the enhancement to take effect. You are right, though, a weapon charged with the Shi power should kill them, but I'm afraid you'll have to wield the weapon yourself."
Duo tightened his jaw and nodded. He looked back at Hilde who had been released from her vision. "Hilde, how many are there?"
"I'm not certain, but there must be at least twenty of them. Too many for you to fight on your own." She took a deep breath. "I'll help you."
Duo opened his mouth to protest but Wufei, of all people, forestalled him.
"She is correct, Duo. That is too many for you to fight alone. Hilde, why don't you take one of the archers' bow and arrows. You can charge them and use them on the demons without getting too close. I've seen you practicing and you've become quite proficient. You can do this."
Hilde blinked at him in astonishment. Not only was he encouraging her to fight, but he was praising her new found skills at archery. Breaking from her shock, she favored him with a bright smile and nodded her agreement with his plan.
"Alright. The rest of us will help you as best we can," Heero declared. "Quatre, do you know of any spells that you can use to help Duo and Hilde destroy these creatures?"
Quatre shook his head. "No, all I can do is slow them down. The magic that spawned them is far beyond me, I'm afraid."
"Hn," Heero replied. "Do what you can. Hilde, how much time do we have?"
"As near I can tell, they'll be upon us in minutes."
"Good enough. Let's get ready."
As they moved to take defensive positions, Quatre placed his hand on Hilde's arm. "In all of this confusion, I don't even think you realize what you've done."
"What do you mean?" She looked at him, puzzled by his statement.
"In the past, how much warning did your visions give you before an attack?"
She thought for a moment. "Umm, usually only a few seconds."
Quatre smiled. "That's what I thought. Don't you realize that you were warned of the demons attack several whole minutes beforehand rather than just mere seconds?"
Realizing the implications of his statement, Hilde smiled with the knowledge that, just like Duo, her abilities were increasing. Quatre returned her smile before directing her to a spare bow. Hilde took up position on a slight rise at one side of the clearing while Duo defended the other side of the clearing directly opposite of her. Quatre and Wufei waited near Hilde while Heero and Trowa stood a slight distance away from Duo, ready to help if needed.
Hilde's warning that they only had a few minutes turned out to be accurate. A noise that sounded like dozens of leather cloaks flapping in a strong wind reached the group moments before the first demon appeared above the tree line.
"By the ancients ..."
"Cut the chatter," Heero reprimanded.2 "Duo, are you ready?"
Duo nodded wordlessly, his eyes fixed upon the shapes appearing in the skies above them. Almost without conscious thought, he let his power flow into his long knives. Although Heero had wanted him to use a sword, Duo decided that he'd better stick to what was familiar.
Hilde gasped at the sight of the demons. Even though she'd seen them in her mind's eye, seeing them in the flesh was overwhelming. Each creature was as long as a grown man from nose to tail but had a wingspan wider than two men lying head to foot. Their elongated heads resembled some ancient bird of prey and their feet were tipped in talons that looked capable of ripping a man to shreads.3 Their hides were covered with leathery scales that appeared more than tough enough to repel any ordinary weapon.
This latter point was demonstrated as the archers let loose a volley of arrows at the demons. To the archers horrified surprise, they bounced harmlessly off the creatures' tough hides. As though mocking the defenders, the creatures leisurely glided towards them, unfazed at the archers' assault.
Taking a deep breath, Hilde charged her bow with her power. The energy flowed into the weapon as well as into the arrow she held ready, causing them to glow with subtle power. Ridding her mind of distractions as Quatre had taught her, she aimed at one of the demons and released her arrow. The demon shrieked in pained confusion as the arrow passed completely through it. Mortally wounded, it plunged to the ground. The other demons shrieked in fury and dove towards the travelers with increased speed.
Smiling at his cousin's success, Duo turned his attention to the rest of the demon horde. His concern that he and Hilde would be unable to slay the demons before they killed one of his companions was put to rest as half of the remaining creatures headed straight for Hilde and the others straight for him. He realized that they were the targets of this attack. 'Fine with me,' he thought grimly as the fastest of the demons reached him, the other close on its tail.
Duo stood firm in the face of the attack. The demon's screech was loud enough to draw blood from the ears as it dove at him, claws extended. Duo waited until the last possible moment before diving out of the demon's path. As it passed him, he reached out quick as a flash and slashed the demon along its hide. The blade cut deep and the demon went down, screaming in agony.
Duo dispatched two more of the creatures in a similar manner, using his knives to block and slash at the beasts. The other demons that were attacking him had wheeled away as their comrades were defeated. However, they'd soon regrouped high in the sky and now had begun a long dive towards him to attack in force. Although the demons seemed to be affected by the mere touch of his charged blades, Duo realized that he would never be able to take the eight demons that were charging him at once. Seeing that the creatures had learned from their mistakes, Heero rushed to Duo's side to lend him aid, ignoring the cries from his men to halt.
Duo heard the soldiers' shouts and turned to see Heero hurrying towards him..
"No, Heero, get away from here! You have no chance against these creatures!" Duo yelled, fearing for his lover's life.
"I won't let you face them alone," the prince growled in reply.
Duo ground his teeth at Heero's loyal stubbornness. "Heero, please. I know what I'm doing."
Heero turned. Deep blue clashed with determined amethyst for several heartbeats before Heero nodded.
"Alright," he snarled. "But if you get yourself killed, you'll have to answer to me."
Duo flashed the prince a grin at the convoluted logic but just nodded in acknowledgement. He sighed briefly in relief as Heero moved away and turned his attention back to the rapidly approaching demons.
Hilde was acquitting herself well against the creatures that flew at her. She had managed to take down four more of the beasts but was running out of time as they started to get too close for her to use her arrows. Seeing her distress from his position several yards away, Quatre summoned his most powerful offensive spell and aimed it at the demons. A bolt of energy flew from his outstretched hands and struck the foremost of the demons. Though they howled at the attack, they were unharmed and continued onward.
However, their brief pause gave Hilde enough time to fire three more arrows and take down three more of the creatures. There were only two left but they were approaching fast. No longer able to use her arrows, Hilde's chest heaved in terror as the demons came at her but she stood her ground. Quatre loosed another bolt at the creatures but they were unfazed. Determined to meet her death bravely, Hilde stared at the demons as they neared.
She could almost feel the hot stench of their breath when she was suddenly knocked violently to the ground. Shaking her head to clear the ringing, she looked up at the demons, watching them fly high to begin another diving attack, and then looked down to see who had tackled her. She gasped in horror as he saw Wufei lying face down beside her, blood pouring from the terrible wounds in his back caused by the demons' claws.
She placed her hands against the wound, trying to staunch the steadily pumping blood but there was too much. Tears streamed down her face as the life of the man she'd come to love flowed past her fingers. She felt hands against her own, trying to move her away from Wufei. She turned to snarl at the intruder but exhaled in relief at the sight of Quatre. As he initiated a healing spell on the fallen warrior, she raised her head to look at the swiftly approaching demons. She bent over Wufei, hoping that she would at least be able to protect him even if it was with her own life.
Duo heard Hilde's cry of terror and turned briefly away from the creatures coming towards him to see that she, Wufei, and Quatre were in serious trouble. Clenching his jaw, he closed his eyes and summoned his latent power. It seethed within him and he gathered it with his will. When he felt his power reach its peak, he opened his eyes and stretched his hand towards the demons that were now mere feet away from him.
With a yell, Duo released his energy and the seven attacking demons exploded in a fiery blaze that lit the sky. He then turned to the two creatures bearing down on Hilde and destroyed them as well.
Hilde raised her arm to cover her face at the tremendous blast. She looked up in wonder as the demons' ashes rained down upon her. She turned towards Quatre who's awed expression mirrored her own. They both turned to look at Duo who stood defiantly at the other side of the clearing.
Heero stood mesmerized at the sight of his beloved. His amethyst eyes sparked from the power coursing through him. Tendrils of hair that had loosened from his braid flew about him, buoyed by the currents of air stirred by the exertion of his energy. The look of serene calm on his beautiful features made Duo look like the prince he truly was. Then Duo turned to Heero and smiled. Heero loosed the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and returned the grin.
Duo's smile faded as he looked back over at Hilde who knelt beside the still unconscious Wufei. With a quick look to Heero, he ran across the clearing towards the others, Heero a mere step behind.
"Quatre, is he..." Heero breathed as they reached the grim trio.
"No, he is still alive. But I don't know for how long."
Hilde looked up from Wufei's surprisingly serene face as her hand gently stroked his midnight black hair. "What do you mean? Can't you heal him?"
Quatre shook his head. "I'm sorry, Hilde, but he's too far gone. The demons claws not only cut extremely deep, but they were full of poison." Quatre bit his lip to quiet a sob. "There's nothing I can do." He looked up at Trowa who had just joined them. The tall guard placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and Quatre felt a tear escape and course down his cheek.
Hilde shuddered, a cry of despair tearing from her throat. She leaned over Wufei and placed her cheek against his back, heedless of the blood soaking his tunic.
"I'm so sorry, pixie." Duo voice was raw from the sight of his cousin's pain. He placed a comforting hand on her head, stroking her short dark hair. He closed his eyes, a feeling of grief at his failure to save Wufei pouring through him.
Hilde felt Duo's hand upon her head. She also felt the power within him, still stirred up from his recent use of it. His power called to her own and calmed her. Without thought, she let her energy flow into Wufei.
She didn't hear the gasps from the others as a bright glow surrounded her and the dying guard. She just continued to pour her love and her power into the man lying beneath her. Suddenly, she felt Wufei's lungs expand with a deep breath. She raised her head from his back and stared at him in shock as he opened his eyes and lifted his head.
Wufei turned over slowly and regarded the wide-eyed assembly that surrounded him. "W-what happened?" he asked weakly.
For a moment, no one replied. Then Quatre shook his head. "I... I think Hilde just saved you," he whispered.
Hilde looked up at the mage in surprise. "What?" she whispered.
"I'm not sure. I've never read anything about the Shi power being able to heal, but that's the only explanation for what happened. I don't know if Duo can do it, but apparently, Hilde, you have the ability to heal. And it's much more powerful than any of my spells, I can tell you. There was no way I would have been able to save Wufei."
Wufei regarded her with wonder. "So it seems you hold my life in your hands, as well as my heart," he murmured.
Hilde laughed through her relieved tears and threw her arms around his neck. After a moment she backed away and began to cover his face with kisses. The others smiled and moved away to give the couple a measure of privacy. But they hadn't gotten far before Hilde cried yet another warning.
"I can't believe this, but there's something else coming."
"What now?" Duo asked.
"They look like, like they're dead. But they're walking and they're close. They'll be upon us in moments."
"Liches," Quatre moaned. "They're even worse than the demons. They are the walking dead and since they are already lifeless, short of tearing them to pieces, they can't be stopped."
"I'll stop them," Duo growled.
"No, Duo," Hilde warned. "There are hundreds of them. I don't think even you'll be able to fight them all."
"Then we run," Heero commanded.
"I don't think that will be enough," Quatre said quietly.
No sooner did Hilde shout in alarm than a horrible moaning sound filled the clearing. The travelers looked around in horrified awe at the sight of the multitudes of undead creatures that moved out of the trees and inexorably towards them.
1."Yoda, you seek Yoda!" Yes, this scene was inspired by The Empire Strikes Back. Sorry, I just could resist...
2. Yeah, yeah. I know. Another Star Wars reference. "Look at the size of that thing!" "Cut the chatter, Red Two." What can I say, I'm obsessed. ^_^
3. Think pterodactyl.
AN: The scenes in which Duo and Hilde were fighting the demons were supposed to be occurring at the same time. Was that clear? I hope it didn't seem like he did something then she did something later. If that was the case, the demons would have had to have been really slow in order to give them all of that time for dialogue. Anyway, hope it wasn't confusing.
Also, Hilde wasn't able to give more warning about the liches because her power was otherwise engaged with healing Wufei. Just thought you might like to know. ^_^