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fic - the faithful and the brave : 5 [novella] - the turnip patch
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turnippatch
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fic - the faithful and the brave : 5 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  5



The Faithful and the Brave
Part 5


Fortunately for Hilde, she found that not all of the princess' guardians were so forbidding.  It was simply that they'd left their two friendliest members behind in the city to acquire supplies.  With their return, the atmosphere eased considerably.  Quatre was quite charming, and she and Duo got on fabulously once Hilde explained that she was an engineer from the Clockwork City of Goug.  The city had been built atop ancient ruins, and artifacts from that long-dead civilization were unearthed regularly.

Duo oohed appropriately over a piece Hilde had with her.  "I've heard of these, but never seen one."

She deftly reclaimed the gun from his reverent but ignorant hands.  "A variety of weapons manufacturers have attempted to copy its design, but none have yet succeeded well enough to rely upon them in battle."

"But this one's not a copy, right?"

"No, it's not.  I just didn't use it because I don't have much ammo with me.  People have had better luck producing ammo, though there's still the occasional dud."

"So that means you can at least practice shooting as much as you want, right?"

His innocent tone made her hold on to her weapon just a little bit more tightly.  "Sure.  If I actually had enough ammo on me."  When he backed down with a can't-blame-a-guy-for-trying grin, she relaxed.  "There's not a lot of mass production of ammo going on, either, since there aren't enough guns to justify it yet.  And even then, well, we can catch up to this level of technology, but I don't think we'll ever get back to how things really were.  Tales tell us of guns that actually fired magic!"

"Tales, sure, but have you found any actual proof?"

Hilde took the skepticism in stride.  "We've found written accounts, but no actual weapons yet.  The magic may have faded after all these millennia.  Or perhaps we just don't know how to activate it yet."

From her other side, Quatre added his own input.  "We can make rods that can be infused with a variety of spells, to be used by people without magic skills of their own.  It doesn't seem that far-fetched to spell a bullet or the gun itself with something that could be activated with a pull of the trigger.  Unnecessarily complicated, perhaps, but well within the realm of possibility."

"Seems too easy to me," Duo answered.  "I can't imagine Wufei over there would be very happy if I could shoot fireballs as well as he could, with just a fraction of the time and effort."

"The world would be a much more dangerous place if you could, Maxwell," Trowa called back lazily.

"But technology is basically created to make things easier," Hilde pointed out, ignoring Duo's look of longing as she put the weapon away.  "We know for a fact that there used to be great airships flying across the skies.  We've found records mentioning them, fragments of text describing their inner workings, pieces of machinery fitting the descriptions.  They could cross the whole continent in a day!"

"But we're nowhere near rebuilding airships, are we?"

"Nope.  One day, maybe.  That, and a whole lot more."

"It's depressing, isn't it?" Quatre sighed.  "That civilization could reach such technological heights, and still lose it all to the Cataclysm."

"There are some theories that all that technology caused the Cataclysm."

"I can't say that's any less depressing."

"You think there were air pirates?" Duo asked out of the blue.  He fielded their blinks with wide-eyed aplomb.  "'Cuz if there were air pirates, I'd totally run off and be one.  Enough with the merc business.  Doesn't that sound great?"

"It sounds disreputable," Wufei retorted.

Duo sighed patiently.  "Wufei, we attack people for money.  Sometimes, we even kill them.  It seems like merely stealing their stuff would be a step up on the morality ladder."  His attention swiveled over to Heero when he thought he heard what might have been a dry chuckle, but as Heero's back was to him, he couldn't tell for sure.  He wanted to throw another comment in Heero's direction to see if he could draw something more definitive out, but reconsidered almost immediately, not interested in pushing his luck.  Instead he settled into his seat with a smug wiggle.

"Kweh," his bird agreed.



The day's travel brought them to Bariaus Hill, where they made camp at its base.  The next day would see them to Lionel just after midday.  Heero stood guard over the princess this time, with Noin taking her turn in helping to set up camp.  Relena herself had volunteered to shoulder her share of the burden -- surely gathering wood for the fire was not outside her capabilities -- but the others declined.  Regardless of whether or not it was appropriate, she was the one that was being targeted and there was no sense in going out of their way to make her more difficult to protect.

They were slightly off to the side from the main camp, simply to keep from being underfoot as camp was set up.  After a bit of idle walking to loosen the legs after a day's ride, she sat down on the large rock beside which stood Heero.  The slope of the hill offered them a slight view over the valley below.  Farming was good there, with a couple of villages to tend to the fields.  It was strange for her to think about, what fate had in store for her.  Would she really be crowned queen one day?  Would these lands be hers to protect?

She glanced over to her silent guard, and empathized with what she thought was a similarly contemplative air about him.  "You seem troubled."

Heero's expression blanked as he straightened, eyes immediately scanning their surroundings with much sharper focus than they had been a moment ago.  "My apologies, Your Highness.  My attention won't wander again."

Relena blinked at him, puzzling over the unexpected reaction until she had it figured out.  "That was not a rebuke.  The others are nearby, no doubt keeping watch as much as you are.  It was merely... an observation."  Her correction did not seem to make much of an impact on him.  "Tell me about your friend.  Sir Zechs.  You said you had not expected to see him again.  Why?"

The explosion even now could blind him for a moment, a bright sunburst of light against the inside of his eyelids, accompanied by the vast roar of the air as it knocked him over.  He blinked rapidly for a few moments, clearing his sight.  "I had thought him dead.  Perhaps he was blown clear."

"Was he a dear friend of yours?"

Heero surprised himself somewhat with his own hesitation.  "Yes.  Yes, he was," he answered slowly, but his perspective had shifted significantly since those days.  They had been raised side by side in some ways.  Heero's father had clearly intended for Zechs to be Heero's adjutant, as Une was to Treize.  They had entered the academy together, learned and trained together, got into and out of trouble together.  So much shared experience had cemented their bond to each other.

But he could see now how that friendship had been formed within the bubble of his own naïveté, visible to him only now that the bubble had burst.  He had thus far avoided any further analysis of the relationship, for Zechs was dead and the friendship with it -- only that was no longer the case, and he would no longer shy away from the truth.  He owed Zechs that much.  He could see now that Zechs had never been so happily ignorant, that their friendship had perhaps been uneven since the beginning.

Nevertheless, Heero had been earnest and sincere in his friendship, however idealistic it might have been.  Yes, Zechs had been a dear friend.  He would stand by that answer.

"I've never really had... dear friends," Relena confessed.  "Friends, now and then.  But they've always come and gone."

"You've been in the monastery..."

"Eight years now.  And others like it before, for as long as I can remember.  To be honest..."  She tucked a lock of hair shyly behind her ear.  "I don't feel much like a princess.  I've never... attended a grand banquet.  I've never been waited upon, nor worn fancy jewels."

"True nobility is not expressed in the wealth one wears.  Rather, one must show compassion for one's people, and care for and protect them, for in one's people lies one's true wealth.  And by that measure, Your Highness, I am sure you shall have great success."

She blushed.  "I can only hope to prove worthy of your faith.  Heero... Yuy, wasn't it?  You are a noble yourself, yes?  I'm sorry I'm not as familiar with all of the noble families as I perhaps ought to be."

"Please do not fault yourself, Your Highness," Heero answered somewhat stiffly.  "'Yuy' is the name of my mother's family."

"Oh.  Is that..."  She realized she could determine the answer to her question based on Heero's closed-off expression alone.  A noble did not forsake his family name lightly.  "Forgive me.  It seems I shall have to correct my ignorance of the noble houses as soon as possible."

Lips pursed as he listened with keen ears behind them, Duo took pity on them and broke the awkward silence, making a bit of extra noise to announce his approach as he called them back to the camp.



The underground cellar was more extensive than they had anticipated, but that turned out to be fortunate for them since it gave them more opportunity to sneak up upon their prey.  They were able to overhear a heated argument as they approached.

"We can't back down now, Quinze!  Not when we've come this far!"

"You've brought us to this point, you mean.  This was not an action you should have undertaken on your own.  Now you've brought the Marquis here and endangered us all!"

"He's here," Karl whispered excitedly, ready to charge to the rescue.

Zechs pulled him back down.  "Your hubris is exceeded only by your foolishness," he hissed.

"If they're busy arguing amongst themselves, then they're too busy to hurt the Marquis," Heero offered, quickly and reasonably.  "We need to make sure we have the advantage in this."

"The opportunity was there, and I seized it," the unknown man continued.  "Those degenerate nobles will have to take us seriously now."

"Seriously enough to send in a true force to wipe us out!  We have given them no cause to do so before this.  Our aims are respect and recognition, that is all!"

"All we've done is annoy them up to this point.  That's all we've accomplished.  I hardly think that is our aim.  If we want things to change, we have to make them change!"

"Quatre?" Heero said once he heard the mage sigh softly as he completed his casting.

"I sensed only three men.  The two arguing, and a man most likely the Marquis, unconscious."

"Is he hurt?" Karl asked anxiously.

"No."

The odds were heavily in their favor.  The likelihood of a trap seemed slim.  Heero nodded.  "Quatre, protect the Marquis.  Wufei, be on guard for another exit."

He was interrupted by the continuation of the argument.  "Such cowardice is merely an obstacle to our cause!"  The clang of sword meeting sword rang out.

"Move!" Heero commanded, drawing his own blade as they rushed into the chamber, around the corner and through the partially closed door just in time to see Quinze deflect an attack and ram his sword into his erstwhile comrade's midsection.  "Quinze!"

Quinze pushed the body away from him and backed up, keeping himself between them and the Marquis' slumped body.  "So we meet again."

Karl stepped forward.  "You vile, ungrateful--"

Heero blocked his forward passage with his off-hand.  "Karl."  He could feel the gentle tingle of Quatre working his magic slowly, unobtrusively, building a shield up around the Marquis beneath most people's notice.

"Ungrateful?"  There was an amused lilt to Quinze's query.  "Just what do I have to be grateful for?  You nobles conscripted us for your armies, had us fight and die for you, and when the battles were over, you tossed us aside, to return to ruined towns and drought-stricken fields.  Should I thank you for that?"

"You were conscripted to help protect your lord's lands," Karl sneered.  "The very land on which you live, by your lord's pleasure.  But I wouldn't expect a commoner like you to see or understand the larger picture."

"It's the nobility that is blind, too distracted by their endless petty squabbles to care that their people are suffering.  Who would tend your fields if not us?  Who would work your mills or forge your weapons?  Who would pay you taxes?" he added ironically.  "But enough ideology for today.  Your Marquis is unharmed.  I will let him go without a fight if you let me go in exchange."

Karl snorted.  "Don't be ridiculous.  We have you cornered.  You don't have a chance against us.  Is this some sort of trick?"

Zechs shook his head.  "He's serious."

"Will you be fooled by this nonsense?  Spouted by a man who killed his own ally?"

Quinze gestured impatiently.  "He ceased being my ally the moment he violated the ideals of White Fang and abducted the Marquis without my knowledge or approval.  He has paid the price for that action."

"A convenient lie," Karl spat.  "Your little scheme didn't work out, so now you've turned on each other like a pack of mangy dogs, to each his own survival.  Do not trust him, Heero."

"We overheard their argument," Zechs pointed out.  "I doubt the entire scene was acted out for our benefit."

After some thought, Heero lowered his sword, though he did not sheathe it.  Their previous encounter with White Fang's leader had been in Dorter, where Quinze had had the opportunity to fight dirty, but had declined.  Clues they had found left behind led them here to this hideout.  "We're just here for the Marquis."

"Heero!"

He ignored Karl's protests and kept his eyes on Quinze.  "We won't be so forgiving next time."

Quinze nodded his understanding and stepped away from the Marquis.  The two parties maintained a careful distance from each other, keeping to opposite sides of the rooms as they circled around until they had switched places.

"I expected more of you, Heero Khushrenada," Karl growled as the rebel leader made his escape.  "All of their actions will be on your head now."

Heero stiffened, but that was his only outward reaction.  "Quatre?"

"He's fine," the white mage responded, confirming his earlier assessment of the Marquis' condition.  "Unconscious, but unharmed."

"Will you be so lucky next time?" Karl pointed out scornfully as he headed over to see for himself.

Wufei wandered the room, inspecting its contents for information regarding White Fang's activities.  "White Fang has shown signs of fracturing of late.  Cold, hard reality weighs more heavily upon their cause than ideology.  It won't be long before the group falls apart."

"For what it's worth," Zechs said quietly to Heero.  "I expected nothing less of you, Heero, my friend."

Heero offered a nod and a tight smile in return.




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Comments
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: March 17th, 2014 11:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting that this world was technologically developed before…and if the Cataclysm really was technologically related.
Was that second scene a flashback? Did Zechs really think of Heero as a dear friend? Heero seems to have his doubts about that friendship, even though the friendship seems to have been sincere on his part.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 18th, 2014 06:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes, the world was technologically developed before... but don't think too much of it, because in reality, it's mostly just a huge retcon by the series creators to try to tie a bunch of games into the same universe. =p Well, rather, it was technologically developed to begin with, probably just as an excuse to put out-of-place stuff in the game, but the retcon tried to make it all meaningful.

Yes, the second scene was a flashback... or rather, the third?  I'm hoping they've been clear, because I didn't want to italicize all of them.  As to Zechs... well, what about Zechs is ever uncomplicated? =p
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: March 17th, 2014 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Something still doesn't feel right to me about Zechs. Sorry, but he's a character I'll just never trust, even if you make him a good guy. :-)

I liked the conversation between Relena and Heero. I can see him having an influence on the kind of ruler she becomes.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 18th, 2014 07:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, I'll consider it a mission accomplished with regard to Zechs, then.  It'd be kind of boring if it were too easy to pigeonhole him as good or bad. =)
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: March 20th, 2014 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the "bird" said it best... "Kweh." Little ripples inside of big ripples really, really cool weapons. I feel for Heero; he's still trying to figure it all out. O.o Nothing like trying to jigsaw on the fly.

Somehow, it would have to be Duo who yearns to be a sky pirate. ^__^ With really, really cool weapons.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 20th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Heero's unfortunately caught in a role he is not well suited for.  Fortunately for us, he tends to rise to the occasion anyway.

Goodness, who wouldn't want to be a pre-cataclysm sky pirate?
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: March 20th, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a good thing Heero's a 'rise to the occasion' kind of guy. ^_^ Sometimes, though, I wonder if he wouldn't rather just leave it to someone else, just once? Then again, if he left it to Duo things could get really loud and smokey.

Oh my... O.O That is *some* ship. No wonder Duo wants to be a pirate. ^__^ And bunnies for crew?!

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 21st, 2014 02:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Canonically, I feel like Heero likes Duo above all others because Duo doesn't expect Heero to 'rise to the occasion' every single damn time.  At least, the way I envision a canonical Duo.  He always seemed more facepalmy than impressed to me, when it came to one of Heero's little feats.

They're moogles, not bunnies... Note the wings and the bobbles.  They just redesigned them to look like bunnies in this game for some reason.  This is a the most recent version of the moogle in a published game, I think.  The moogles in the game of this vidclip are largely mechanically inclined and serve as mechanics and engineers.

The bunny-girl is actually a Viera, and no relation to moogles at all. =p
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