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fic - the faithful and the brave : 27 [novella] - the turnip patch
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turnippatch
turnippatch
fic - the faithful and the brave : 27 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  27



The Faithful and the Brave
Part 27


The air grew mustier as they descended, the stones cooler.  The hallway widened somewhat on the floor where the Virgo Stone kept its altar.  The old walls held a hint of more formality with its lighting sconces, many of them obviously no longer the original, and the distance between the doors was longer.

Duo halted them on the landing and pointed at the floor, speaking quietly.  "Dust is intact.  No one's visited this place for a while.  Stone's probably still there."

"There are creatures that need not touch the earth with their feet," Wufei pointed out.

Trowa glanced down the hall to the second door on the left, as indicated by Pargan's instructions.  "Beasts with wings generally have poor hands.  They'd have left marks, attempting to open the door.  I see none.  Besides which, if Heero could sense them all the way upstairs, they probably aren't the subtle type."

"We can check on the rock," Duo advised.  "But we're still hearing sounds coming from farther down.  I'd prefer not to leave our own trail through the dust straight to the artefact without good reason.  I think we should keep going."

They glanced amongst themselves and came quickly to consensus.

Onward they went, Duo in the lead, with Trowa by his side for support.  They were followed by the mages, and Heero guarded the rear most vigilantly.  One and a half staircases later, they came to the spot that likely marked the point beyond which acolytes occasionally dared to tread.  Part of a wall had collapsed across the path, but the passage of many young daredevils before them had made the traversal easy.

Duo stopped them at the next landing.  "What just changed?" he hissed nervously.  Even the magically disinclined among them could feel an oppressive twanging of their nerves from the dark spellcasting as they descended.  Something in its tenor had shifted.

"They're casting out," Wufei answered.  "The magic is searching for something.  But... I don't think it's the Stone.  They're casting out... and down.  Where the Stone obviously isn't."

Duo's mouth twisted irritably as he refrained from asking the question they didn't have the answer to.  He asked another instead.  "That way, right?"  He got confirmation from the mages and led the way down the gloomy hall.

They walked in the soft, steady illumination of their magelights, tuned low to keep advanced notice of their approach to a minimum.  The detritus of daily life gone to rot lay scattered across the floor, collecting along the walls, spider webs and broken wooden frames and the bones of vermin and crumbling plaster.  Most of the doors were closed, keeping the past life of this former palace basement hidden away.  Here and there, a portal was open, the door ajar or hanging awkwardly in its frame.  They did not explore.

When the power washed over them, Duo and Trowa noted it in the flicker of the magelights, like torches in the wind.  The chill in the magical currents around them made Quatre frown and Wufei's eyes narrow.  Behind them all, Heero felt it as an almost physical thing, as if the energy invaded his personal space and groped him inside and out, trying to find a foothold before it continued along its way.

Quatre turned at the choked off sound behind them.  "Heero?"

He exhaled carefully as he straightened from the reflexive hunching over of his body wanting to protect itself.  "That was unpleasant."

Wufei placed a hand on his shoulder to read his aura and reassure them that no harm had been done.  "Did you get anything from that?"

Heero shook his head, eyes looking without focus down the hall in the direction from which the energy had come.  "It's... searching.  And now it knows that we're here."

"Uh, okay," Duo said after an oppressive silence.  "Does that mean we run and hide, we charge on ahead, or...?"

Quatre pursed his lips in thought.  "It may know we're here, but it may not care, not if it finds what it's looking for first.  We need to press on."

The halls grew wider in structure, but more close in practice.  They passed several rooms that looked as if they had been looted in the far off past, contents strewn about inside and out, narrowing their passage artificially as they picked their way carefully around the deteriorating debris.

Another staircase down, and they passed into an area more properly referred to as 'vaults' rather than a mere 'basement'.  A large hole in the floor forced them to backtrack.  It was not the first failure of stability that they had encountered, but it was the first to have scorch marks ringing the stones around it.  No one commented on what appeared to be bones rising out of the pile of rocks below.  There were additional signs that this great palace had fallen in violence.  Several skeletons, discarded weapons, rust-colored stains upon the stones.

Trowa motioned for them to stop, head cocked as he listened.  With a sharp intake of breath, Quatre flooded the hallway with light, illuminating the six ahriman flying slowly toward them, their leathery wings stirring the air with lazy flaps.  These were a smaller breed of the creature.  The 'demon eye' from which its nickname was derived was typically the first thing a person noticed about the ahriman.  It dominated its round body, almost masking the wide toothy grin beneath its uncanny stare.

"Fuckin' eyeballs," Duo muttered, planting a throwing star in one of said eyeballs with pinpoint accuracy.  It fell with a shriek to the floor, wings kicking up a cloud of dust as it thrashed in pain, but its clamor was lost among the screeches of its companions as they cried out the discovery of their prey.

"Guess they found us."  Trowa gave his polearm a dramatic twirl.  The ahriman were as wary as any other creature and would hesitate to attack a profile so much larger than themselves.

While the flock jockeyed for position, Heero drifted forward.  "Trade," he murmured, and Duo fell back to support Wufei.  He was at a relative disadvantage with the shorter reach of his knives.

The ahriman sorted themselves out quickly and flew at them.  Trowa's glaive greeted the first.  The second skirted the edge of his range and met Heero's sword instead.  It reeled away from the slash at its wings and ran instead into Quatre's staff.  The mage knocked it smartly toward the wall where its mobility was hampered, and Duo dashed in quickly with a debilitating strike to its back.

Light flared warmly at the rear of the ahriman pack as one of them combusted with a bit of assistance from Wufei.  It flailed in distress, pushing its only whole remaining packmate into easy range of Trowa's weapon.  He nearly severed one of its wings, and Heero ran it through once it fell to the ground for his second kill.  With a shake of his head, Trowa put the final flaming beast to rest with a neat jab of his polearm.

They glanced down the hall in both directions alert for additional enemies, then at each other to confirm their status.  All seemed well for the moment and they lowered their weapons just slightly.

"Wufei," Heero called softly.

The mage looked at him expectantly.

He glanced pointedly at the last ahriman to be put down.

"Ah."  The crackling fire was subdued with a quiet whoosh.

Their weapons came back up at the sound of footsteps down the hall and around the corner, from the direction the creatures had come.  These feet seemed to be wearing well-heeled boots.  Quatre dimmed his light slightly to reveal another light approaching.

The men, when they came into view, wore the raiment of Knights Templar.  Not an unusual sight within the halls of a Church site such as Orbonne, but definitely unexpected deep beneath one such site.  They approached the group with casual purpose and called out across the distance.  "Heero Yuy of House Khushrenada.  You are charged with heresy, high treason, and murder.  You will come with us."

Heero wasted a second being perplexed before he scowled, suddenly frustrated by the absurdity of those words.  "Come and take me!"

The four knights ran toward them, drawing their weapons.  Something about their gait seemed unnatural, but there was no time to analyze it.  He and Trowa met the first two, and the impact of his parry jarred his sword arm and rattled his teeth.  "Look out!" he shouted to the others, not entirely certain what threat he was warning them against.  He only knew with certainty that there should not have been that much strength behind the knight's attack.

Duo dodged the incoming attacks by custom and personal style, but when he caught glimpses of their two front-line fighters slowly yielding ground to these templars, he made a greater point of moving out of the way when he could.  His opponent had an uncanny strength, but fortunately, no unnatural agility to go with it.  Duo's knives found their way into the gaps in the knight's armor.  The wounds did not seem to bother the man much at all, which was somewhat intimidating, Duo had to admit.  But even a man in a berserker rage had to notice when his arm was nearly sheared off at the elbow.  The knight's sword clattered to the floor and with a noise that was a cross between a roar and a growl, the knight lowered his shoulder and slammed into Duo.

The attack drove the breath from his lungs as he was shoved toward the wall, but his hands knew what to do.  They took advantage of the proximity to push his knives deep into the knight's belly.  He hit the wall hard, hot blood soaking through his trouser legs and running into his boots, and he thought that was that, but the templar made that rumbly growling sound once more and reached with his good hand toward Duo's neck.  Their eyes met, and even after Duo widened the wounds in the knight's belly, it took a few long seconds for the unholy fervor to die in those eyes.

He shoved the body off of him and looked around quickly.  The mages were holding their own.  Somehow Wufei was using Quatre's staff in combat while Quatre muttered spells.  Trowa was fighting on, cool and calm as his opponent.  Heero didn't appear in his field of view until he turned his head and saw that he had been separated from the others.  Three additional beasts had joined the fray, each longer than a man was tall, snapping at Heero with slavering jaws.  He was using what appeared to be an ornamental shield picked up from some pile of debris to assist in fending off their attacks, but Duo got the immediate sense that they were deliberately herding him away from the others.

The templar that had been Heero's initial opponent stood now in the middle of the hall, between the two sides, his sword held out to the side as he summoned power into it.  Duo didn't know what variety of knight this templar was, but he recognized a sword technique when he saw one, and it was pointing in their direction.

"Incoming!" he barked out as he sprinted toward the templar, staying low.  Energy crackled dangerously past him when he tackled the knight, released in the wrong direction as the two of them tumbled to the ground.  The ceiling exploded, but mostly Duo was occupied with getting himself untangled and away from the knight as quickly as possible.

He was just coming to his feet when he heard Heero shout his name.  There was enough time to look up, maybe enough time for an expletive to cross his mind, before the warg leapt at him.  Duo still had some momentum left and used it to pivot somewhat clumsily out of the way of the flying beast.  It passed close enough for him to smell it, but all that mattered was that it passed without eviscerating him with those wicked claws.  He scrambled instinctively toward Heero's voice while the warg skid to a halt and reoriented itself smoothly in his direction.

They met in the middle of the hall and stood together against their enemies.  There would be no assistance coming their way from the others any time soon.  Stones from the ceiling were strewn across the hall, along with a beam, part of a wall, and furniture from the floor above.  Large pieces of several heavy wooden chairs thick with embellishment, two rugs, and most of a banquet table joined the mess.

"Ceiling got one," Heero informed him.

"Just the two, then, eh?"  A low growling sound.  "Oh, and that guy, too."

"Aah."  A pause as the two wargs paced into position around them, a considerate distance away.  "I think they're trying to take me alive."

"Oh.  Shit."  Both because it wasn't good that they had some sort of business with Heero, and because that probably meant he himself was fair game.

Heero edged forward to take the brunt of any incoming attack.

The knight approached them, between his two beasts.  "Alive need not be in one piece."

"Templars calling upon demon eyes?" Duo scoffed.  "Why don't you arrest yourself for heresy, eh?"

"Heresy?"  The knight smiled coldly, as if he found some irony in the word.  His weapon appeared to have been lost in the explosion, but he seemed no less threatening.  He gestured, and the wargs attacked.

The first leapt at Heero.  He pushed aside the attack with his shield, but the second leapt at Duo while he was out of position.  Duo got the heck out of the way, knife flashing out to score a mark down its side.  Heero's first instinct was to try to stay close so they could guard each other's flank, but it took a mere second to realize that that was not going to work in this situation.  Duo was not going to stand his ground against this kind of opponent.

But the duck and dodge strategy was dangerous.  He did not doubt Duo's agility, but their circumstances were interfering with his movements.  This corridor they were in was generous, but it was still a corridor, and though they could not stand back to back, they could not afford to be separated, either.

When the opportunity presented itself after wounding his warg into a moment of wariness, he chanced a slash at the second.  His sword was stopped mid-swing by a hand upon his arm.  The knight was simply there suddenly, unexpectedly, immobilizing his arm with an iron grip that grew tighter with each passing second.

"Heero!" Duo shouted in concern.

He cried out as the knight calmly broke his arm, plucking the sword from his nerveless fingers and tossing it aside.  "You will come with us."

Heero cried out again, this time in wordless rage as he rammed his shield into the knight's face.  He was released as the knight stumbled back, and kicked the knight's feet out from under him.

A hand grabbed him again, around his upper arm this time.  He struggled, but a moment later there was a bang he recognized as one of Duo's little tricks, and a foul smoke quickly filled the air.  They made a break for it down the hall as the wargs growled and whined in confusion, their senses obscured.

"Shit, shit, shit," Duo panted out softly as they ran.  They were running out of what light the templars had brought with them.  They darted down a side hall and into one of the rooms, shutting the door shut behind them.  It looked none too sturdy, though, and by the light that leaked in around it, they found a large shelf nearby and pushed it in front of the door.

They collapsed to the floor in the darkness, backs against the shelf as they caught their breath.  "Not one of my best ideas," Duo whispered.  "Can't see shit in here, but I'm gonna guess, no other exits."

Aside from the sound of his breathing, Heero was silent for half a minute.  And then a soft glow came into being in the palm of his left hand.

"Huh," Duo said, reaching out to block some of the light, dim though it was.  "Thought you couldn't do magic anymore."

"Not well."

"Can you...?"  He motioned into the darkness.

Heero concentrated, trying to will the light out of his hand, but it barely budged.  He shook his head.  Not today.

"Hm."  Well, he wasn't about to complain.  He looked at the arm Heero was holding carefully against his chest.  "You okay?"

Heero grunted irritably.  "You?"

"Huh?"

"Covered in blood."

"Ah.  Not mine."  He shifted uncomfortably, now that the matter had come up.  "Well, since... Take a walk?"

Heero eased himself to his feet and paced the perimeter of the room.  It was a medium sized space.  He edged cautiously around crates, a few statues, what appeared to be paintings, though he could make out no images in the faint light.  When he returned to his seat in front of the door, it was obvious from his silence that he had found no convenient exit points.

A growl from outside carried through the door and the shelf at their backs.  Duo automatically clamped down on Heero's hand to shut out the light.  A few heartbeats later, a heavy weight thumped against the door.  It was followed by the harsh howl of a warg and another bang of a body hitting the wood.

Duo let go of Heero's hand as a lost cause and braced himself.  "How long, you think?"

"Until that templar takes my sword and does to this door what he did to the ceiling."

"Shit."

The wood creaked beneath the repeated blows.  And then the attacks stopped suddenly, followed by the approach of a presence they could somehow feel through the door.  "We're done here," a deep voice said.  "We have what we came for."

"And this one?"  That sounded like the voice of their original pursuer.

"We no longer have need of him."

A chill ran through Heero and he turned his head, parted his lips as if to demand answers from those voices, but he was not so foolish as to follow through on the impulse.  His eyes met Duo's, not much more than two faint glimmers in the darkness but somehow just as worried.

The feeling of that presence faded away and they both let out breaths they hadn't been aware of holding.

And then they were both pushed forward a handspan by another slam against the door and they hastened back into their braced positions.

"Don't stand a chance in here," Heero noted with relative calm.  Each impact sent a stab of pain through his injured arm.

"Run for it, then.  Let 'em in and run like a couple of wargs are on our tails?"

It could have been a grunt of amusement, but it was probably the force from another attack driving an audible exhalation from his lungs.  A chunk of wood splintered off.  He glanced up and could see the gap above their heads.  The light outside was no stronger than it had been when they had gone to ground, but their eyes were adjusted to the darkness now and the paltry illumination seemed luxurious.  "Toward the light?"

"If we're gonna die, I'd rather see it comin'."

He made another of those ambiguous sounds before reaching for the shield he had set down and settling it securely upon his left arm.  "Ready?"

Duo had taken up his knives.  With a deep breath, he nodded, and after the next slam against the door, they rolled to opposite sides of the threshold and stood ready.  The next attack knocked the door out of its frame, pushing the shelf forward.  The gap thus opened was large enough for a man to squeeze through, though the painful death waiting on the other side of that opening made that an unattractive proposition.  A warg's paw shot through the gap, claws seeking prey.  Instead, it met Duo's long knife, and the limb disappeared with a furious roar from its owner.

The next blow cleared the path, the shelf screeching far enough for the door to form a sort of ramp over it.  Heero blocked an attack from one warg while the other clamored onto the obstacle and snapped its great fangs at Duo.  He ducked underneath its head, arcing his blade up somewhat blindly.  He scored a cut to the beast's neck, but it was no fatal wound.  The warg flinched back instinctively before slinking up the ramp and over the shelf.

Duo wasted no time in vaulting onto the door, but as he did, the warg that was still vying for ground against Heero's shield swiveled to occupy the vacated space and get a better angle on his enemy.  As nimble on his feet as he was, even Duo couldn't make the tumble across the beast's back look particularly graceful, though his recovery was slick as he made the most of it.  The warg bounded away from the blade that opened a large gash in its side, freeing space for Heero to make his escape.

The spilling of their own blood seemed to make the creatures slightly more cautious in their attack.  The two men had a few precious seconds head start in their flight before the wargs stalked back out of the room to begin pursuit.  They skid clumsily around a corner and back into the corridor where the fight at first begun.  The dust had settled in their absence and they could see more clearly now the damage that had been done by the templar's errant strike.  Strong light streamed through the gaps in the debris obstructing their path.

Trowa's voice shouting Duo's name from the other side came to them at the same time the wargs caught up to them.  They whirled around to face the hunters.  Once again, Heero caught the attack of his adversary with his shield, having to go low to block the feet while ducking beneath the teeth.  He was driven to one knee both by the weight of it and by the claws that slid down the shield to rake across his thigh, but conversely, the position gave him greater leverage to bash forward in attack.  He caught the warg on the nose, then swung the shield into the side of its head as it recoiled.

He spared a glance for Duo and saw him off angle to his attacker.  Without a thought, he slipped the shield off his arm and flung it like a discus.  It wobbled and landed low, but caught the warg on the front leg, tripping it up in the process of gathering itself for a final takedown of his prey.  It stumbled and Duo dashed past it, snatching at Heero's arm to put more distance between them and the wargs.

The beasts recovered and gave chase.  It was a dead end in front of them, or might as well have been, where the ceiling had collapsed.  There was no time to find their way through before the beasts would be upon them.  Along the hall, there were doorways, one last side passage.  Duo was about to gesture frantically toward it when they heard Trowa's voice ring out again.  "Get down!"

He responded instantly and grabbed for Heero again, arm going around him to push him down.  As they dove for the floor together, Duo remembered Heero's broken arm and caught him around the waist, twisting as they went down so he could break Heero's fall.

Before they even hit the ground, he could feel the tingle of one of Quatre's protective shells wrapping around them.  A moment later, fire roared over them, a wave so large as to cover the width of the entire hallway, so suddenly bright that it made their eyes water as they reflexively jerked their heads away from the sight and squeezed their eyes shut.  They could feel its heat through the shield, like standing in the sun on a blazing summer day, but not enough to burn.

The hungry flames rolled past them, and they gasped for air in its wake.

"Hey!" Trowa yelled.  This time it was a question.

"Clear?" Duo shouted back.  Heero flinched slightly from the proximity to his ear.

"Clear!"

They lifted their heads to confirm.  Two charred bodies lay alarmingly close to their feet.

"Holy fuck," Duo said, letting his head drop back to the ground.  "Let's not do that again."





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Comments
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: November 9th, 2016 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Sheesh, I'm not sure whether I actually breathed or not during that fight! I hope the guys decide not to leave Heero alone; something he knows or is seems to be critical.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: November 10th, 2016 07:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, and one day, they'll actually find out what.  I happened to glance at some dates here and I posted the first chapter of this story three years ago. x_x Thanks for sticking with it!
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: November 14th, 2016 02:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm amazed I have any fingernails left. I was biting them through almost the whole chapter. It was very exciting!

If the pursuers don't need Heero anymore, I wonder what they got instead that they said they needed?
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: November 16th, 2016 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay!  Necessity/desperation becomes the mother of invention when trying to figure out a fight that still manages to meet the story's needs. ^^'
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: December 11th, 2016 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I will restrain myself from all the fangirling about how well they fight together and such stuff like that.
But must second (third) the nail-biting, breath-holding stuff. Wow... intense.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: December 13th, 2016 05:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I managed to write a fight scene with a little gratuitous hand-holding in the middle of it. ^o^v
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: December 17th, 2016 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
*high five*
Soooooo.... are you doing the Christmas thing this year?
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: December 18th, 2016 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)
OMG so last night gmail ate my draft of 9 out of 12 ficlets.  I save them all in gmail drafts for portability and there was a slight snafu of clicking and a lag in response time and *poof*, stupid gmail gives you about half a chance to get your draft back before it disappears into the ether and my laggy click clicked right past it.

So I hit the internet in quite the huff to see what stupid solutions there could be, and somehow retrieved it from the ether, i.e. downloaded a hex editor that would allow me to peer into the RAM my Chrome session was using, and then I had to do a search for words that would appear in my fics (luckily, not that hard) and copy/paste them out and I got back about 90% of my draft in pieces that I had to reassemble. x_x Maybe I could have squeezed out the last bits if I'd tried harder, but it had already been an hour and I was kind of at work.

But OMGomgomg.  Would have been super duper DUPER annoyed.
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: January 2nd, 2017 12:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Holy crap, I bow to your superior tech skills! O_O I once copied an entire days worth of writing in the wrong direction (copied the backup file over the new, instead of the other way around), and just sat and cried. 'Annoyed' is a very graceful term... :)
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: January 3rd, 2017 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that's pretty much why I ended up switching to my new system.  I tried Google Drive once (because ooh fancy cloud) but didn't like the text editor for some reason.

On the other hand, if I'd had more than one copy of a work in progress, I wouldn't have had such an issue deleting one draft of it...
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