Chapter 2: Darkness Rises
Harsh gasps echoed in the chamber as the two women stumbled to a halt to catch their breath. Behind them came the faint screams of the dying, and the smell of smoke. The older woman took in a deep gulp of air, turning her face to look at the frightened girl by her side. She looked down at the whimpering child huddled in her arms, her heart tearing within her. Then she tugged the tiny arms away from her neck and thrust the wailing baby into her companion's arms.
"Quickly!" she breathed, glancing over her shoulder fearfully. "You must take her and escape! I'll buy you time."
The young girl gasped, arms tightening around the sobbing child instinctively, even as it reached for the woman desperately with little hands. "No! We can't leave you! Aunt Iris-"
"You must!" The woman grabbed the younger girl by the shoulders, staring at her intently. "You must not die. You can't let my baby die." Tears welled in her eyes, even as she clenched her teeth and forced her voice to grow harsh. "Do as I say, Isabelle. Go!"
The girl hesitated, torn, tears leaking from her eyes. Shouts from down the hall sounded, and she gasped, taking a step back. She looked quickly towards the stairs and then back at her aunt, mouth opening helplessly.
"I'll hold them off." The woman reached out fleetingly, fingertips brushing against the baby's cheeks, her heart showing in her eyes. Then she glared fiercely at the teenager before her. "GO!"
The girl gave a muffled sob and whirled, racing down the corridor with the screaming baby, cloak flapping behind her.
She had always been the fastest runner in the group, and now she ran like the wind, feet seeming to barely touch the ground as she raced down the hall and up the spiraled stone staircase, taking the stairs two, sometimes three at a time. All the while the baby in her arms was crying, reaching plaintively over her shoulder for its mother, and the screams and shouts were getting closer.
How could they?
How COULD they? Rage rushed up to clash with her anguish, and she thrust a hand under the collar of her dress, grasping the stone charm around her neck. At the top of the stairs, two men were blocking her way, one of them holding a torch, the other a sword. Throwing all that she had been taught behind her, ignoring her aunt's urging to never use her strength in hate, she lashed out with her Power, the Power that was even now the cause of death and fear all around her.
A rolling wave of angry energy slammed into the two men, and they screamed as they were thrown like rag dolls. Isabelle flew past them, not even stopping to check if they were alive. She no longer cared.
"There! There's one of them!" came a shout from a side passage. She turned quickly around another corner, her breath catching. She stumbled once on a broken chair that had been thrown from a room, almost dropping her wailing cousin. She fumbled with the child, casting about desperately as angry voices grew closer. She ducked into a room and whirled, slamming the door and locking it with shaking fingers. Turning quickly, she looked around frantically for any means of escape. Her heart sank as she searched the trashed room. No other doors. No way out.
She screamed as someone began pounding on the door, the angry, hate-filled shouts coming through the thick oak. She stumbled back, terrified eyes glued to the door, squeezing her precious charge to her breast protectively.
Then suddenly there was a harsh voice, and the sound of people moving quickly out of the way.
And the door exploded.
Isabelle screamed, twisting around and huddling over the child to protect it with her body as wood flew everywhere. Coughing, she shot a frightened glance over her shoulder, already knowing who she would see.
The figure that emerged from the settling dust was regarding her with a cool expression, hand resting on the hilt of a sheathed sword. "Naughty girl. Where do you think you're going?" The traitor's voice grew hard. "Hand over the child."
Isabelle gasped on her sobs, shooting one last, desperate look around.
She dove for the sill just as the murderer in the doorway leapt to intercept her. She lashed out frantically with her Power to buy herself a precious second, and her attacker grunted at the blow, but only faltered for an instant, stumbling back a step.
That was all the time she needed.
Isabelle slammed the window open with her elbow and thrust the baby outside into the cold air, its shrieks renewed. "Goddess," she gasped, eyes blurry from her tears as the sound of a sword being drawn came from behind her, "protect this child."
And she released the wailing bundle into the night.
"Duo! Over here!"
Duo grinned, tugging on Heero's arm and waving with the hand grasping his ice cream cone. "Hi~" he called. "There they are. Come on, Hee-chan."
Heero had fumbled with his ice cream at Duo's sudden tug, and gave his lover a tolerant look as he switched the treat to his other hand. "Be careful."
"I'm always careful," Duo said loftily, dragging him across the park towards the blond boy flagging them down by the fountain. "C'mon."
Quatre beamed at them as they approached, golden hair shining in the sun. "Duo! Heero! I'm glad you could make it!"
"You're late," Wufei informed them from where he was lying on the grass, head propped against the side of the fountain with his eyes closed. He opened one eye to look up at them in an assessing manner. "You haven't killed each other, yet," he observed calmly. "I guess that's a good sign."
"Wufei, be nice," Quatre chided.
Duo stuck his tongue out at the lounging Chinese boy. "Nyaaa~ Nice to see you too, Justice Boy."
"Don't call me that," Wufei said automatically.
Trowa nodded in greeting, leaning against the edge of the fountain, trailing a finger in the crystal clear water. Heero nodded back to him.
Duo glomped Quatre. "Damn, it's been what- four months? Glad you see you, Q-man!"
Quatre hugged him back readily. "You too," he agreed warmly. Then he paused, staring quizically at his friend, seeming unsure of himself. "Duo.. is it just me, or..."
"You're not wrong," Heero said quietly, glancing towards his lover, his face carefully neutral. "Duo's eyes are getting darker."
Duo managed a lop-sided grin, darting his eyes to the side self-consciously. "Yeah, just a little bit," he admitted lamely. "Griffin said I had the same gift as Atreusio, so I guess after awhile my eyes will be like his." He sighed, reaching up unconsciously, as if to touch his eyes. "Kind of a bummer. Always liked having purple eyes. Made me exotic, y'know?" He waggled his eyebrows at his friends and grinned.
Wufei and Trowa had exchanged a solemn look at this announcement, but Quatre made a "pfft" noise, waving his hand dismissively. "Purple, black, what's the difference?" He smiled. "Duo is Duo."
Duo smiled back at his friend, flushing a little. What would he do without Quatre? "Aa," he agreed quietly.
Heero flicked the Arabian a grateful look that Quatre acknowledged with a little smile. The sensitive blond had immediately sensed that Duo was a little uncomfortable with the noticable color difference, and had brushed aside his concerns with a kindness that was purely Quatre.
"Let's get something to eat," Wufei offered, rising to his feet, hands in his pockets.
"Great idea," Quatre agreed cheerily, seizing his arm in affection and turning a smile on Trowa. "I'm starving." Trowa smiled gently back.
"I never thought I'd see the day Heero Yuy would be found in a park with an ice cream cone," Wufei snorted in amusement, looking pointedly at the former perfect soldier.
Heero glared balefully and declined to comment.
"I've addicted him to sweets," Duo chortled, licking at his own ice cream. "Aren't I good?"
Trowa's lips quirked in the beginnings of a smile. "I'm sure," he drawled, flicking a pointed look towards Heero.
Heero actually blushed.
"Any other changes?" Wufei asked as they sat at one of the round tables outside a small diner finishing off their lunch, finished with idle chatter. The Chinese boy waved a fry in Duo's direction. "Aside from your eyes, I mean."
"Well... actually, yeah," Duo admitted, playing with the pickles he had removed from his hamburger. "I'm starting to remember my dreams easier, now. It's still mostly the words that stick out in my mind, but at least I'm not remembering shit days or weeks after I dream it like I did a year ago."
"More dreams?" Quatre looked at his friend anxiously. "Anything bad?"
Duo shrugged uncomfortably, flicking a pickle across the table at Heero, who levelled him with a Look. "Just little things, weird conversations that only last a minute or so, sometimes only a few sentences. They don't ever seem very important."
"You never know," Trowa disagreed. "Any that stick out in your mind?"
"Well.." Duo nibbled on the prongs of his fork thoughtfully. "I hear a baby crying a lot in my dreams. Sometimes laughing. Those dreams always stick out the most, I guess. I feel happy when the baby's laughing, but when it's crying, I feel really mad."
"At the baby?" Quatre looked surprised.
Duo shook his head. "No. At something else. Something... threatening the baby, I guess." He frowned, reaching across the table to steal a fry from Wufei. "I feel like I'm supposed to be protecting it."
Wufei calmly pulled his plate out of Duo's reach. "Is that all?"
Duo hesitated, and Heero glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. In his mind, Duo could hear again that familiar scream for help, and see those eyes, burning crimson in the darkness of his subconscious. It was a nightmare he had frequently, vague and threatening.
Trowa looked up at him sharply, frowning a little.
Duo scowled, lowering his eyes. 'Stop that,' he ordered.
Trowa was still frowning at him. 'I can't help it if you practically throw your thoughts out.' Then his eyes turned contemplative. 'You're louder than you were a year ago- easier to hear.'
'Great, now you can hear private thoughts, too?'
'No, just... ones that invade all your thoughts.' Trowa looked back down at his half-eaten meal, reaching for his fork calmly as if there wasn't a conversation going on that the other pilots couldn't hear. 'It's probably another change, with your eyes and your dreams.'
'Lovely.' "I don't want to talk about it," Duo told Quatre out loud.
Quatre looked upset. "Duo, you shouldn't bottle things up," he protested.
"More importantly," Wufei growled, "you could be witholding information that could help us prevent something like the Davarius incident from happening again." He leaned forward. "Don't you remember what Neo said about Atreusio?"
Duo looked up at him sharply.
"When Atreusio had those dreams, he let the others know about it so it could be prevented if possible. What if he had kept some of those things to himself?" He nodded his head towards Quatre. "Even though things did go a little out of control last year, if Atreusio hadn't chosen to share his information so that Quatre could be taught by Avarion, if Duo hadn't followed Atreusio and caused Trinity to follow him, things would have ended on a much more sour note than they did."
Duo was staring at his friend. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he murmured, reaching up to finger the tip of his braid, frowning in concentration. "You're right, I guess... I followed Atreusio because he'd told us he knew what was going on. Trinity, who was following me, ended up tagging along, and so was able to kill Davarius."
"And if he had told us too much at the beginning," Trowa pointed out calmly, "things would have happened otu of order or we would have messed something up."
Duo shuddered, holding up a hand for silence as Wufei opened his mouth. "Please. That's enough. I don't want to think about it."
Heero was frowning down into his tea, listening to Wufei's argument. Unbidden, his thoughts drifted back to that night a year ago, when he had extended his hand in a desperate last-ditch attempt to prevent suicide. Atreusio's question that had puzzled him back them whispered in his mind.
Do you believe in fate?
There was an uncomfortable silence at Duo's quiet plea, the former Gundam pilots looking down at their food, lost in their own thoughts and memories.
Heero glanced around at them all and broke the silence, voice calm, as if they hadn't just been discussing a painful subject. "Duo wants to see Trinity this week," he said, reaching calmly for the ketchup. "Do any of you want to see him again?"
"Oh," Quatre said, looking up quickly with a bright smile. "Of course! Is he still with Avarion?"
Duo shook himself out of his gloomy thoughts. "Last we heard," he affirmed. "We still write each other."
"Speaking of prodigies," Wufei said drolly, "what's Relena doing these days?"
"We haven't seen her since last year," Duo said with a grin. "She kept her promise. She's no longer chasing down Heero. She did e-mail us a month ago, though, checking up on us, little chit chat, that kind of harmless thing. She mentioned she wanted to see us again." He raised his eyebrows, still grinning. "Us," he repeated. "Big step for a prior obsessive stalker, ne?"
"Duo," Heero said, looking at him disapprovingly.
Duo gave his lover an innocent look. "Yes, dear?"
Trowa coughed into his cup to hide a chuckle. Heero scowled at him.
"We should all go and visit them," Quatre said enthusiastically. "I would like to see Trinity and Avarion again, and we might as well stop by and see Relena while we're down there."
Wufei shrugged in compliance. "Might as well. We did say we'd see them again."
Trowa flicked Duo a pointed glance, and Duo squirmed before blurting, "Watch out for red eyes."
Everyone stared at him, nonplussed.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Wufei demanded finally.
Duo scowled at them, uncomfortable. "I don't know. Just trust me. Look out for someone with red eyes." 'Happy?'
Trowa lowered his eyes in demure approval.
Heero frowned. "Another enemy?" he inquired.
Duo shrugged. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "Just keep your eyes open." Everyone was staring at him, and he squirmed under the scrutiny.
Trowa's quiet voice broke the stillness. "When did you want to visit Trinity?"
Quatre quickly caught on. "How about tomorrow?" he smiled at his two lovers. "No time like the present. We could-" Suddenly he stiffened, eyes going blank and unseeing, a strange look on his face.
Wufei rose halfway to his feet in alarm. "Quatre??"
Trowa reached out and grabbed Quatre's arm. "Quatre," he said sharply, trying to get his attention.
"What's wrong?" Duo demanded, also rising to his feet, glancing around quickly in an attempt to find the source of Quatre's numb state.
Then Quatre relaxed, blinking azure eyes at them in faint bewilderment. "Oh," he breathed quietly, reaching up with a trembling hand and passing it across his brow.
"Daijabou?" Wufei asked tersely, hand on the other boy's shoulder.
"What was it?" Heero demanded.
Quatre shook his head as if to clear it, looking directly at Duo with a little frown. "I'm not sure," he said slowly. "I think it was Silverwolf. Or maybe Trinity."
"What?" Duo leaned forward, hands on the table and food forgotten. "Is something wrong? What did they say?"
Quatre frowned in concentration, nose wrinkling. "It wasn't really words," he admitted. "More like a sense or a thought."
"Do you know what they wanted?" Trowa asked quietly.
Quatre nodded hesitantly. "I think so," he murmured. He looked back up at Duo again. "I think it has something to do with Juniper."
Duo's mind pulled a temporary blank. "Who?"
"Juniper," Heero repeated, eyes narrowing, his voice like steel. The pilots exchanged a long look. "The woman who predicted the whole Davarius uproar in the first place."
"Oh. Her." Duo sank back into his seat slowly, a frown tugging at his mouth.
"Looks like we're definately paying Avarion a visit, it seems," Wufei said with a scowl, still hovering over his blonde lover protectively.
Heero nodded, and they all looked instinctively to their retired leader. "We'll leave tomorrow," he said brusquely. "Early."
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