++Chapter 17++
"The Dark Circle"

"Element of surprise?" Wufei repeated, breathing a little harshly from the run. They had paused to get a breather; Neo had ran ahead, supposedly to check for traps or hidden enemies. "You mean jump them? That bastard will probably have some kind of spell to alert him when we get too near."
"No." Heero straightened, wiping sweat from his brow and squinting at his team mate. He had recovered his breath quicker than either of the two boys. "Davarius doesn't know that we know his secret. He'll expect us to approach him as a friend. As Gable."
"Then we can't let him see that Atreusio and Neo are with us," Trowa pointed out, brushing sweaty bangs from his face.
"Right," Heero agreed. "He'll probably know we're coming and already be ready to act like Gable by the time we get to him. We can't act hostile at all."
"Why not?" Wufei demanded. "Even if we pretend to still think he's Gable, we all remember how he threw us with his mind just now."
"Did we?" Heero arched a brow and flicked Trowa a meaningful glance.
Trowa frowned slightly and looked away.
Wufei looked at both of them, confused. "Of course we did, and he'll know it," he snapped. "You can't expect us to fake that."
"I didn't remember for a couple minutes," Heero said quietly, "until Trowa reminded me. I just remembered blacking out. I think he meant for us not to remember."
Wufei started to argue, but stopped, recalling suddenly when he had first woken up.
~"Nnnhh... What happened?"
"Gable happened."~
"Yeah," Wufei said slowly, grudingly. "I didn't really remember... but as soon as Trowa said his name it all came back to me." A chill went up his spine as he shot his silent friend a sharp look. Trowa looked tense and unresponsive, however, so he decided it was best to drop it for now.
There was more to Trowa than met the eye, it appeared.
"I think we weren't supposed to remember," Heero said, confirming his partners' suspicions. "If when we see him we act like we think he's 'Gable' and don't remember what happened..."
"Then we have a slight advantage," Wufei said quickly, straightening.
"Not bad, Yuy." Neo dropped from a tree above, startling them, not out of breath in the least. He turned an expresionless face on Heero. "It just might work. Or give you a few precious seconds, anyway, while me and Atreusio do our thing."
Heero frowned. "You're telling us to distract Davarius," he guessed shrewdly. "Why? What are you two going to do?"
Neo shrugged. "What else? Get Quatre's holy ass out of there ASAP."
"And Duo," a quiet voice interjected, and Atreusio fell from above to land as graceful as a cat beside his partner. He flicked a dark-eyed look around at the assembled pilots. "You distract Davarius. We'll get your friends out of there."
Neo nodded.
Wufei scowled suspiciously. "Wait a minute, why the hell would you want to help Duo and Trinity?" he demanded. "Especially you, Neo. What do they matter to you?"
"Not even I'm bad enough to leave some kids at Davarius's stinking hands," Neo admitted, looking disgusted at the idea. "I'll leave them there if it makes you feel better, though," he added nastily.
Wufei raised his fist, but Trowa smoothly intervened. Neo's bad attitude did not seem to affect him any longer, despite their fight from just yesterday at the hospital.
"All right," he consented. "With your powers you'd most likely have more luck, anyway. But now that this whole 'vision' has gone through, you need to tell us what the hell is going on."
"Is Gable a witch?" Wufei interrupted. "He threw us the way you did," he shot Neo a Look, "the day you took Quatre."
"It's Davarius," Neo corrected. "And as for what he is..." he shrugged. "Like us, he used to be a witch. Now he is... something else."
"It hurts to be different," Atreusio murmured, sadness flickering in his depthless eyes. "He just chose to twist his hurt- and his powers -differently than we did. He turned it into hate."
Trowa frowned, looking as if he wished to question them further on what they were talking about, but Heero spoke up first.
"Fine," he said shortly. "Then we'd better come up with a plan so this works."
"I was spying as best as I could from a distance," Atreusio offered. "I couldn't find Davarius and the others, but I did find where he's probably going to take them, and I've alerted Silverwolf."
"Who?" Wufei interrupted.
"The wiccan Priestess who wanted to see Quatre," Atreusio said. "She doesn't like that Neo forced him to come, so you should like her." His smile was wry.
"A coven," Trowa said sharply. "Can you contact other covens in the area quickly?"
Neo frowned at him. "Yeah, so?" he demanded. "What does it matter?"
"Duo and I rescued a few people from different covens when we found 'Gable'," Trowa explained. "They offered their help if either of us was ever in danger."
"Impressive, Mr. Barton," Neo said, arching a brow, his tone not quite so condenscending. "And just what were the names of these two covens?"
"Red Crystal and Earthfire."
Atreusio balked as if he'd been struck. "Not Red Crystal," he blurted, shooting Neo a look close to desperation.
Neo didn't even look at him, but his voice was firm as he locked gazes with Trowa. "You helped the wrong coven," he said evenly. "I'm not involving Red Crystal in this. Earthfire should be willing to help, however."
"What's wrong with Red Crystal?" Heero asked impatiently.
"We need all the help we can get," Wufei added.
"Red Crystal is..an uncertainty," Neo said slowly. "They could switch sides at any time. There were rumors that Davarius was among them for a time. Their priest is known to touch on magick that should be left sleeping."
"They break the harm none law?" Trowa guessed, frowning.
"Aa," Atreusio said in a small voice. "If they think you are.. unnatural or... evil, then they will..."
"Enough," Neo said harshly, cutting him off. The glare he turned on the Gundam boys was surprisingly fierce. "Don't make him talk about it," he snarled. "Drop it."
Wufei blinked, a little taken aback by the almost protective attitude, but Neo's strange anger was short-lived.
His face smoothed out a moment later, and his tone was casual once more. Atreusio subsided, glancing away, lost in thought. "All right then, Yuy." He extended his hand with a faint arrogant air. "Better call a truce, or this will never work. I don't feel like watching my back against that trigger-happy brunette over there."
Heero clasped the hand without hesitation, hard eyes meeting Neo's cool dark ones unflinchingly. "Then we need a plan."
"Even I'm not sure what everyone really wants with blondie," Neo admitted as he shoved his hands in his pockets, glancing towards Trowa. "Atreusio and I only have vague ideas. Silverwolf and Davarius both want him badly, though for different reasons."
"There is one thing we do know," Atreusio said suddenly, still staring off into the trees. They all turned to look at him.
"What?" Heero asked.
The boy was pensively silent for a moment, but just when Heero was about to repeat himself, Atreusio looked right at him. "Quatre," he said softly, "isn't the only one they're after."
Heero's eyes narrowed.
"There's someone else," Atreusio murmured. "And I think that Duo is the one Davarius has truly been looking for all this time."


The unease that had been stirring inside of Duo mounted as Lucias led them uphill, the ground becoming rockier and more barren. Every few minutes he would catch movement out of the corner of his eye, and a quick glance to the side would reveal cloaked figures darting behind rocks, keeping up with them. They were being followed.
Davarius and Lucias didn't seemed disturbed, which meant they knew the mysterious people. 'This isn't good,' something in Duo informed him sourly.
No shit, Sherlock.
Trinity and Quatre stuck close to him, and he was quietly proud of them. Neither of them whimpered, complained, or tried anything stupid. It was evident that Trinity was nervous in the way he was practically rubbing shoulders walking so close to Duo and the way his eyes widened a little whenever he saw the people behind the rocks. But he kept his mouth firmly shut and his chin high in defiance. Looking over to Quatre, Duo was secretly surprised at the boy's attitude.
After his initial shock and fear at being confronted with the man that supposedly wished him so much harm, Quatre had mellowed out considerably. He strode on with cool confidence, his face as calm and expressionless as Trowa's. He seemed not to notice the cloaked, darting figures; either that, or he was not intimidated by them. He ignored everyone, silently placing one foot in front of the other, and Duo felt a surge of pride for the soldier that was tinged with uneasiness and... awe.
Quatre was cool-headed in dangerous situations, but this was a totally new attitude for the boy. Perhaps, Duo mused, it's because there has always been someone there to protect him. First Trowa, then Wufei... and of course the Maganocs and his sisters. And now, exposed and captured with very little chance of an escape, Quatre was showing his true colors.
And yet... there was something more behind that composed mask than simple calm. It was almost like... acceptance. And something else.
Whoever Quatre had been with... they had changed him.
Duo snapped out of his thoughts as Lucias came to a halt before them. They had reached the hill's peak, standing in a rocky area with a large space cleared of all rocks, leaving only sand. Different colored candles were scattered all over the rocks, burning dimmly in the late morning sunlight. Most of them were black, and there were no white ones. Strange symbols had been painted in red on some of the larger boulders, and more were scratched into the sand in patterns that failed to make sense to Duo. He glanced around, body tensing as the cloaked figures emerged from the brush and the rocks, silent as shadows as they padded across the sand, careful not to disturb the scratchings as they formed a large circle, all of them facing in. Davarius, Lucias, and their prisoners stood just outside the circle.
Duo swallowed hard. Even in the daytime, it was an ominous sight, and he felt desperately helpless..
If only it was night...
The thought flitted through his mind one second and was gone the next, and before he could wonder about it, Davarius was seizing Trinity by the arm, pulling him roughly aside.
Trinity stumbled at the abrupt movement, making a little noise of surprise, and Duo instantly stepped forward, raising his fists without hesitation. "You slimey little shit," he snarled. "Let go of him!"
"He has nothing to do with this," Davarius stated, unconcerned as he levelled his gun at Duo in warning. "Lucias, get this brat out of the way. Tie him to that big rock over there."
Lucias hurried to obey, lifting the small boy easily when he tried to struggle.
Duo bit his bottom lip to prevent himself from saying anything that might anger Davarius, afraid that he would take it out on his friend. He reached into his pocket, fist closing tightly around his stone. His citrine.. he had almost forgotten about it. For energy, the lady at the shop had said. How was that going to help him *now*?
Quatre didn't seem to notice what was going on. He was studying the circle with a detached, thoughtful air.
Davarius turned to them with an unpleasant smile, spreading his arms wide in greeting. "Welcome," he said loudly, his voice echoing on the barren summit. "You are the man of the hour, Quatre." He held his gun to Duo's temple again. "Now please, enter the circle."
Quatre flicked him the briefest of glances, face still an impenetrable mask.
Two men stepped aside, leaving a gap in their ring. Quatre hesitated for one second while Duo held his breath...
Then he took a bold step forward and entered the circle.

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