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fic - the faithful and the brave : 29 [novella] - the turnip patch
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fic - the faithful and the brave : 29 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  29

The Faithful and the Brave
Part 29

They woke to the clanging of the morning bells, muffled somewhat in the library, but more than sufficient to bring them to alertness.

Heero indulged in a few seconds to blink the sleep out of his eyes before taking in the sight of his friends at the table.  Quatre and Wufei were both still awake.  Wufei had the notebook to himself for the moment while Quatre stretched in his seat.  Quatre met his gaze with a pause and a nod.

He got out of the chair with a wince and absently patted feeling back into his buttocks.  The hard wooden chair had been slightly alleviated by the thin cushion on the seat, but it wasn't much in the grand scheme of things.  But then, the ache itself wasn't much in comparison to what significance the notebook might hold.  "Well?"

Quatre thought it over for a bit before answering.  "There is no demon."

Duo yawned loudly and ostentatiously before lifting his head from the table and rubbing his neck.  "Did we already know that?" he asked, thinking back to the scholar's last mysterious words before passing out.

"We knew... that there were secrets within the Church.  But this..."

Trowa came to his feet from the corner of the room he had occupied and joined them wordlessly at the table.  Now that they were gathered, Quatre collected his thoughts and began his report.

"We haven't gotten through the whole thing yet, of course.  But it appears to be the real deal.  The Scriptures -- or writings, at least -- of Germonique.  Pargan has been working on translating it for years now.  And... it's no wonder he was keeping it all a secret.  And no wonder I felt the burden of such a secret upon his soul."

"Well, don't keep us all in suspense," Duo prompted.  "Germonique, former disciple, sold Ajora out to the Empire.  They nabbed him and hanged him, and boom, first martyred saint in the Church of Glabados.  Lemme guess...  Germonique's got a different take on the matter?  Doesn't make himself out to be such a bad guy after all?"

Quatre stared at him, perhaps a little off his game from lack of sleep.  "That's..."

Duo could tell from his expression that his guess was pretty accurate.  "Heh, well, I know my Church writings, and I know my bad guys always trying to claim they're just misunderstood.  Actually, not all that unusual in Church writings.  They've tried to justify all kinds of shitty things during its history under cover of faith.  But that's probably neither here nor there.  And probably also a total matter of personal opinion.  Anyway.  What's ol' Gerry got to say about himself?"

"It goes beyond that," Wufei intoned, lifting his attention from the notebook mostly so he could rub at his eyes.  "It speaks of St. Ajora as a mere mortal.  No child of the gods, but a man with his own ambitions, his own agenda."

Duo whistled in appreciation.  "Okay, that's ballsy.  Do we believe him?"

"Pargan believed him.  And as a man of the Church, I suspect he would be much more difficult to convince than a man like you.  But convinced he was.  There may be further explanation later on in the notes.  But at this point, I feel comfortable taking Pargan's word for it.  Well, not 'comfortable', exactly, given the nature of the text, but..."

"Tell us," Heero said simply.

"Ajora, child of the gods," Quatre recounted.  "Delivered prophecies, healings, wisdom.  When the King of Limberry summoned a demon in hopes of seizing all of Ivalice, St. Ajora set forth on the quest to gather the twelve Stones and summon forth the Zodiac Braves to defeat it, thus cementing the Braves' place as great heroes come forth in time of dire need.  This was just one of his many deeds.  St. Ajora gathered quite the following, and the Pharists of the Holy Ydoran Empire feared his rising power.  Germonique sold information to them on Ajora's whereabouts, the Pharists captured him, hanged him, and a short while later, their seat of power in Murond was overwhelmed by a great tsunami."

"According to Church teachings," Wufei concluded before beginning the next account.  "Germonique writes of Ajora's rising power and the Pharists' fear of the challenge to their own religion.  That's about all that remains the same.  He writes of Ajora as a man, a revolutionary paid by an enemy of the Empire, whose guise as a holy man allowed him to wander throughout the Empire, creating a network of spies, gathering information, spreading rebellion among the people.  Germonique was also a spy, employed by the Empire itself to counter Ajora's activities."

"Oof," Duo said softly.  "I'm a hell of a lot more skeptical than the average guy, but..."  He looked around the table.  Trowa's lips were pursed, but he was otherwise expressionless.  Duo knew him to have only a casual relationship to the faith.  Quatre and Wufei looked as if they had been wrestling with this knowledge for the past few hours already, and it had been a long and exhausting fight.

"Pargan believed this?" Heero asked once more, though the question had already been answered.

"He did," Wufei confirmed.

"Then..."  He trailed off uncertainly, trying for a few seconds to wrap his head around the whole thing before deciding it would take longer than they had at this moment.  With a bit of effort, he shifted his thoughts back to more concrete and relevant matters.  "There is no demon?"

Quatre nodded.  "Germonique mentions Ajora seeking the Stones, though he makes no note of the purpose of Ajora's search.  In some of Pargan's personal notes, he writes of the Church taking advantage of this, folding the pre-existing myth of the Zodiac Braves into Ajora's origin story to bolster the 'child of the gods' narrative."

"But... he was a man of the faith."  Heero had not wanted to return to the question of Ajora's true nature, but it was not something set aside easily.

"Was indeed.  He writes of his conflict.  It wore heavily upon him.  I get the sense that he no longer had faith, but he still believed in the Church's teachings.  And he was too much a scholar and a historian to abandon the Church's resources so carelessly.  He could not bring himself to leave."

"So...," Duo interjected.  Issues of faith were best discussed with a lot of ale, preferrably in the evening, perhaps around a warm fire.  "We've been barking up the wrong tree or what?"

"We were mistaken about the nature of the demon we fight," Wufei admitted.  "Or maybe not.  The story of the Zodiac Braves pre-dates St. Ajora's involvement -- or his supposed involvement.  The Church may have co-opted the story for their own purposes, but that doesn't mean the root of the story does not hold true.  We know there are demons.  We have seen them and we have fought them and we have felt their evil.  We know that the Stones are still significant in some way.  We now know that the demons seek a key of some sort, and that they had reason to believe that Pargan here might have been able to tell them where to find it.  Let us hope that they cannot proceed with their plan without it."

"I don't want to sound cruel, but should we put the squeeze on the old man?  Make sure he really doesn't know what they were talking about?"

"I don't want to sound cruel, but I don't think the old man strong enough to withstand an interrogation by demons if he had the information to offer."

"We can ask him further, once he has rested," Quatre said.  "We know Templars are involved.  We've seen enough of them that we must assume they are all complicit in this conspiracy.  Also, someone had the authority to order Heero's arrest for their purpose."

"They have no further need of me," Heero murmured irritably.  "What does it mean?  I am nothing special.  All that comes to mind is my kinship to Treize, and even that is nothing special.  And the Cardinal, he said nothing.  I am not even the one that struck him down."

"We'll figure it out, Heero."  Quatre smiled reassuringly at him.  It turned into a stifled yawn.

Heero pushed himself out of his chair and paced restlessly for a few seconds before announcing, "I'm going to get Sylvia."

Duo blinked after him for a couple of seconds before standing as well.  "I'm, uh, gonna help him.  You two oughta catch some Zs while you can."  His eyes flicked to Trowa, who accepted guard duty with a nod.

He caught up quickly to Heero, walking beside him down the hall without comment for a while.  No one seemed to be in this wing of the monastery this early in the morning.  "You faithful?" he asked eventually, angling the conversation straight into the thick of things.  He'd learned that Heero had little appreciation for arriving at the point in a contrived, roundabout fashion.

Heero didn't answer immediately, but Duo had also learned that about him.  "I believed.  Even with... recent events.  I accepted the teachings as the way of things."

Duo made a listening sound and waited to see if Heero would say anything more.

"And you?"

He had to admit, he hadn't really been expecting that.  "Me?"

"You have great familiarity with the Scriptures."

"Ah.  Yeah.  Well."  He rubbed his nose to downplay things.  "I cut my literary teeth on them.  Spent a year or two learning my letters at a Church-run orphanage.  Scripture was about the only books they had there."

"You retained a lot of it."

"Yeah.  Well.  Some of it's cool stories.  Some of it... Yanno.  Made some of 'em happy to see us learning."

He maybe sounded a little wistful.  Maybe Heero picked up on it.  "I'm sorry, I did not mean to pry."

Duo let out a soft, sharp laugh.  "Ha, that's hardly prying."  The old memories had fallen from his lips with so little effort.  It was quite unusual, but he didn't stop it from happening again.  "And later on, yanno... Holy books are lying around everywhere.  Easiest things to get your hands on, when you feel like getting some practice in.  Hardly anyone ever misses them.  And even if you do get caught with 'em... not a lotta people gonna get angry with some angelic-looking kid quotin' the holy at 'em, like he mighta had a calling."

Heero absorbed that in his thoughtful way.  "Angelic?"

He chuckled.  "Heh, what, I can't pull off angelic anymore?"

"Angelic... is not the word I would use to describe you."

That faint little tilt to his mouth made Duo pretty curious to know what other word Heero might have had in mind.  "Yeah, think I had a calling, alright... Just kinda the opposite of the Scripture thing, though."

"You're a good man, Duo."  A slight pause.  Heero kept his eyes forward.  "Your skills have been invaluable to the team so far."

It took a few seconds for Duo to draw the mental connection from his own words to those.  It almost kinda made him want to blush, in a self-deprecating kind of way.  This was not the first time Heero had said such a thing.  He wished he could discern the meaning behind them.  And all those thanks earlier, for last night.  It could have been anything from mere politeness to awkward flirting.  "Well.  I'm glad we came with."  He left that out there for a few comfortable seconds before moving on.  "Maybe, though... not so opposite, given... recent events.  He said 'maybe we already know.'  Guess he figured he could drop that bombshell on us and, well, recent events would probably soften the blow a little."

A small shiver tingled down his spine.  The explosive nature of bombs reminded him of the exploding windmill, that night he lost his faith the first time.  "I believed... But I'm not sure I have it within me to put all my faith in a higher power."

"Well, you're a fighter.  It's only natural for you to put your faith in your sword-arm.  It's more likely to save you than anything else."

Heero flexed the fingers of his right hand.  They felt weak.  The bone was in one piece now, but fragile still.  He'd kept the sling.  "Some believe it's the gods that guide their sword-arms to victory."

"Those aren't the survivors.  The survivors keep on fighting, even when the gods have abandoned them.  Even when we thought those wargs had us, we kept on fighting.  And it saved us in the end.  That, and running like hell."

"And our friends."

"And our friends.  I'll put more faith in them any day of the week, than I would the gods."

"Some believe that brotherly love is an extension of --"

"Oh, spare me," he said good-naturedly.  "Weren't you supposed to have lost your faith?"

"Different kind of faith."

"Right."  He didn't quite get how Heero could be so glib about it.  Wufei had described the etymology of it as faith in the universe, faith in oneself, and Duo didn't quite see how its loss could be taken as anything other than serious.  Much worse by far than any loss of religious faith they might have just suffered, but maybe the upshot was making this morning easier to swallow by comparison.  "Color me impressed, though.  By that little light you conjured."

"Didn't accomplish much."

"Little bit of light goes a long way when there's nothing but a few scraps of wood between you and certain death by mauling."

"I am not certain what I want to tell Sylvia."

"What, about our near-death experience, or 'recent events'?"

"Both.  More the second than the first."

"Oh?  Figured she fuss more about the first."

"I broke my arm.  Quatre has tended to it.  She need know nothing more.  It will be more difficult to avoid speaking openly of those recent events, however."

"Is she faithful?"

Heero frowned faintly.  "I don't think she is overly devout, but... I have spent some years apart from her.  She has received much learning from various monasteries."

"Hm, well... I'm sure she believes in you way more than she does any saint, so I'm sure she'll be okay."

Acolytes were beginning to emerge from the dormitories.  They paused for a minute to take the lay of the land.  "Where d'you think she'll be?" Duo asked.

Heero was silent for a few seconds.  "To be honest, I'm surprised we haven't run into her yet.  She knows this place, but I do not think she would have sought out a place to sleep.  Only somewhere safe to wait.  She may have drifted into sleep during her vigil, but the morning bells should have woken her."

"You checked the nearby places last night, you said?"

"The adjoining libraries, yes.  I came about this far before turning back."

"Hm.  Well, vigil, you said.  Maybe she's in the closest chapel or something.  Let's ask one of these fellows for directions."  Duo automatically filtered the acolytes for a likely target, selecting one that looked like he'd been awake for a while, coming from around a corner.  "Hey," he greeted amiably.  "Don't suppose you've seen a young lady around?  She's a guest here.  Was wearing green and --"

"Young lady?"  He shook his head.  "No, haven't seen any ladies here this morning.  Good morning, Glen."

An acolyte walking past them attempted to respond with his own greeting, but barely a syllable got out before it was lost to a yawn.  "'Morning.  Sorry.  Didn't sleep well."

"Oh?  Me, too." their acolyte responded.  "Finally just gave up."  With a nod and a wave, the second acolyte continued on his way.

"Then...," Duo led with slowly, to draw the young man's attention back to them.  "Could you point us toward the closest chapel?"  They released him after he directed them back the way he had come.

Heero's pace was almost hesitant as they drifted in that direction.  "I am not very familiar with monasteries or their early morning rituals.  Do you think... the people here seem unusually sleepy for this time of morning?"

Looking around with a more careful eye, Duo nodded slowly.  "They should be used to getting up at this hour.  Hell, some of them don't look any better than us, and we only got a couple of hours last night."

"Perhaps the more sensitive among them felt the darkness beneath them last night."

"Yeah, possible.  Creepy.  Loiter for a sec."

Heero stopped, his attention seemingly caught by a pair of birds swooping playfully at each other among the trees.

A trio of acolytes strolled by, one of them describing his uneasy dreams to his sympathetic companions.

"Yeah.  Possibly," Duo repeated.  They resumed their journey, turning the indicated corner to spy a modestly ornate door leading to a small chapel.  Sylvia was not within.  They cornered a priest sweeping up and made their inquiries, but he had no information to give them.

Duo shepherded Heero out the door before his dark frown could frighten the innocent man.  "Maybe we should head back to the libraries.  She may have gotten around us somehow."

Heero glared at him skeptically, but allowed himself to be pushed back in that direction.  He didn't give up on his search while in transit, however, scanning the area vigilantly while dragging his heels and even stopping one more group along the way to inquire.

His pace quickened as they turned down the empty corridors back to the others, until they reached the door and he nearly threw it open in his haste.  Duo was behind him but could tell immediately by the abrupt slump of his shoulders that Sylvia was not within.

"Oh good, you're back," Quatre said, eyes opening blearily.

"Oh goodie," Wufei grumbled irritably, not bothering to open his eyes.  "Back to fighting evil knight-things intent on summoning some demon overlord to rain darkness upon the land."

"Uh, guys," Duo started, moving past Heero with a sidelong glance.  Heero had stopped and was staring at the sleep-deprived mage with a strange look on his face.  "We didn't find --"

There was a sharp gasp behind him.  "Sylvia!"

He turned around quickly, expecting to see the girl in the door, but there was nothing.  Only Heero not even looking at the door, his strange expression transformed to one stricken and horrified.  But not for long.  Heero whirled around and got a few quick steps closer to the door before Duo snagged his upper arm and dragged him to a halt.  "Whoa, wait, Heero!  What --"

Heero tore his arm from his grip, which must have been painful since it was the recently broken one, but he didn't flinch.  "Sylvia!"

"Yeah, but --"

"They took her!" Heero roared.

Duo stumbled back a step before the sudden ferocity.  "What?  You mean the --"

"That's what they want her for!  That's what they wanted ME for!"

Duo grabbed at him again as he nearly charged out the door, ready to do gods only knew what, and only by his quick reflexes did he manage to avoid an elbow to the face.  He ducked and slid around him quickly.  "Heero --"

"Out of my way!"  Heero's good arm shot out to shove him aside, but Duo fell back in a dodge.

"Heero!" Quatre's voice rang out sharply.  "Explain."

"They took her!" he repeated, facing him with a wild look his eyes, but Quatre stood his ground as Heero's aggressive steps toward him sputtered out.  "They... They...!"  He left off with an incoherent shout and took a few loud, shuddering breaths before forcing his thoughts into spoken word.  "They... Why me?  What makes me so special.  It's not my parentage or... or anything!  It's the channeling.  Because they're summoning a goddamned demon and what the hell good is channeling except for summoning!"

He reached the end of his self-control and spun around again, ready to leave.

Duo had taken the opportunity to close some of the distance between them, secure in the knowledge that Trowa had stealthily closed the door and was standing before it.  "And Sylvia --"

"Can channel, just as I!"

"Yeah, I remember."  It had been just an offhand comment in their conversation, gods, just yesterday afternoon?  That they'd been discussing magic and Heero's rare talent for energy transfer while waiting for the others to return from speaking to Pargan.  "But where do you think you're --"

"I don't know!" he shouted, practically in Duo's face.  "But I have to -- They took her... instead of me!"

Duo saw the fear in Heero's eyes now, mixed with guilt.  "Hey, okay, we'll --"  He gave up momentarily on his attempt at reason when he had to push Heero back, seeing him ready himself to simply bowl Duo over.  "Hey, slow down."

Heero's fist shot toward his stomach, clumsy in its left-handedness and Heero's distress.  Duo had expected something of the sort, and doubled over the blow to absorb the momentum of it.  He heard Trowa move, but didn't wait for the assist, instead grabbing Heero's arm and using his lowered shoulder to shove him back a few steps.  Heero's right elbow came down on the back of his head and he stumbled to his knees.  He felt the whoosh of air behind him and guessed Trowa had swung his glaive around and leveled it at Heero.  He knew he was right when Heero put his hand to the hilt of his sword, seemingly unconcerned by the fact that his sword arm was still in a sling.  "Fuck, wait...!"

Instead of drawing his weapon, Heero staggered back a step before twirling around unsteadily to pin a fierce glare on Quatre.  "You...!"

Quatre glared back as he lowered his hand.

Duo made it back to his feet just in time to catch Heero as he collapsed, and ended up on his butt for his troubles.

"No...," Heero mumbled, head jerking as if he could shake off the spell, but he succumbed nevertheless.  "Must... Sylv..."

Duo stared with no little consternation at the man in his lap for a few seconds.  He recalled Quatre's magical energies had good resonance with Heero's, but even so, it was no easy feat to put a man to sleep when he was filled with such raw, powerful emotion.  He lifted an eyebrow at Quatre, but the mage had turned to Wufei.

"It's plausible," Wufei said slowly, rolling the idea around in his head.  "We haven't been thinking of it as a summoning, but... It's possible they were seeking three things here last night.  The Stone, the key... and a conduit."

"Uh.  Guys?" Duo said once more.  After a moment, they turned to him.  "Sylvia?"

"They'll need her alive," Quatre asserted calmly.  "Duo.  Go see if you can confirm whether or not Sylvia was taken last night.  Trowa.  Assume that she was.  Start looking for signs, leads."

"And... uh."  He gestured vaguely at Heero.

"Hmpf.  He needs to rest that arm."  Quatre turned back to Wufei and they started a discussion on summoning.

"Uh."  Duo looked at them, at Heero, then over his shoulder at Trowa.  "Little help here?"

Trowa knelt by his side.  He looked at Heero with a snort, then at Quatre with appreciation, and then back to Duo.  "So hot," he whispered confidentially.

note: resemblance to any religions, alive or dead, is strictly coincidental.

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8 comments or Leave a comment
ramenkuri From: ramenkuri Date: March 19th, 2017 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I love how you can end such a dramatic chapter with a little humor from Trowa.

And lol at the hmpf from Quatre

Whew! What a thrilling set of chapters!
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 20th, 2017 07:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh no, Trowa is completely serious, I assure you. ^o^

Quatre doesn't have much patience when he's running on about 20 minutes of sleep.
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: March 19th, 2017 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Trowa just doesn't let stuff bother him. *snicker*

Hope they at least give Heero a pillow of some sort. He's gonna be so pissed when he wakes up.

And a tidy little cliffhanger. ^__^ Love it.

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 20th, 2017 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, Trowa's always considered Heero to be Duo's problem.  Unless Heero is threatening his best bud, of course.

Duo has served as a good enough pillow so far...
sunhawk16 From: sunhawk16 Date: March 29th, 2017 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yeah... somebody is going to be seriously put out when he wakes up. :D Another moment there, even if it was just a little bit spoiled by the revelation.
Quatre is a trip when he's verging on cranky... ^o^
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: March 30th, 2017 05:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, better put to sleep than to get into a serious brawl with his friends, I guess.

Yeah, gotta shove their moments in where I can. =D

One must never forget what a take-charge brat Quatre can be.
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: April 1st, 2017 01:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like that Duo knows Heero well enough that he expected him to try something. I guess I would try something too, if someone I was close to got kidnapped. Friends mean a lot, but so does family.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: April 2nd, 2017 03:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Whole lotta props to Duo for standing his ground, knowing Heero was gonna try something.  That takes some balls.
8 comments or Leave a comment