9-4-2001 (revised)

Title: Enemy of My Enemy part 04
Author: Em (lys_ap_adin@yahoo.com)
Category: Drama
Warnings/Labels: AU, fantasy, OOC, weird, angst angst angst, original characters, future shounen and shoujo ai.
Archived: www.gwaddiction.com, under Lys ap Adin, and lotsa other places too!

~~~
Enemy of My Enemy
part 04

 

[14 May 1243 Post Alliance]

 

The messenger brushed past the guardians and servants who sought to detain him. "I don't care if she's sleeping," he snapped angrily to the woman standing watch outside the grand double doors of the duchess's bedroom. "Her Grace gave me explicit orders to report to her immediately, and I do not wish to incur her displeasure."

The woman tried to reason with him. "But, sir--she's engaged at the moment."

He snorted. "Then she's not sleeping, is she? If you please, madam." He shouldered past the wincing woman and into Dorothy's inner sanctum.

The duchess was not currently entertaining, he noted, as the attendant outside had intimated. He coughed, announcing his presence. "Your Grace, an attempt was made this evening on the life of Relena Peacecraft," he said formally.

The girl sharing Dorothy's bed shrieked, startled by the intrusion, and clutched the sheets to her chest. The duchess herself merely snorted as she rose; with utmost disregard for the man's presence she selected a robe to throw over her body. "You said attempt, Ferdinand," she remarked. "I take it that the good woman survived?"

"Yes, she did. She sustained grave injuries, of course, and her recovery is expected to be slow without the benefits of a healer. The assassin escaped," Ferdinand elaborated.

"I see. I do believe this is what my dear cousin had wanted me to wait for." Dorothy smirked. "Rouse my general staff, Ferdinand."

He bowed. "At once, Your Grace."

~*~

Dressed much more conservatively, Dorothy swept into her study to find her commanders already waiting for her. "I have received my sign," she announced. "It is time to prepare the second strike." She moved to a map. "The bulk of our army will be placed at these points."

One of the younger generals spoke up. "Your Grace, those points are roads leading into Peacecraft."

"Congratulations, Vitel, you have a gift for the glaringly obvious," Dorothy retorted. "We will advance into Peacecraft at the moment we are fully assembled--"

"Your Grace, it is unheard of for one duchy to invade another," Vitel protested.

Dorothy sighed and turned to her bodyguards. "Remove him, please, he's useless."

"At once, Your Grace." Faces expressionless, the two men dragged the general from the room.

"I don't suppose the rest of you fine gentlemen have anything to add?" Dorothy inquired sweetly. Dead silence met her question. "I thought not."

~*~

 

[15 May 1243 Post Alliance]

 

Hirde settled herself more comfortably on the ground, relaxing her muscles and clearing her mind of all distractions. As her breathing and heartbeat slowed, her eyes slid shut and she began reaching for the words of the spell she needed.

Reaching. Searching.

There.

They felt cold and crystalline, immeasurably fragile against the brush of her mind's touch. Hirde smiled, a trifle pleased with herself. Evoking this spell was becoming easier each morning that she used it. But there would be enough time to exult later; for the moment she was more concerned with summoning her guide.

Hirde let herself slip into the easy cadence of the language of spell casters, careful to pronounce the words exactly as they felt to her. That was one of the drawbacks of being an evocationalist rather than a true wizard - spells came easily to most wizards, but evocationalists had to struggle with each arcane syllable, and failure was a frequent visitor.

Hirde grinned. *Not this morning,* she thought triumphantly, completing the spell and opening her eyes.

The tiny sprite reluctantly manifested with a swirl of wind, large eyes sullen and discontented. "You again? Wanting to know great secrets yesno? I can tell the not-wizard many secrets, yes?"

"No," Hirde told it firmly. "Tell me the location of Quatre Raberba Winner."

The sprite pouted. "Stupid boring not-wizard. He's in the place he is." It attempted to flit away, content that it had fulfilled its duties.

"Stop!" Hirde barked, and it slunk back guiltily. "No games this morning. Where is he?"

"You're no fun, no fun at all," it protested.

"Be that as it may, tell me, or I'll feed you to my horse," Hirde threatened.

The sprite guffawed. "Strange not-wizard. I'll tell, I'll tell... the one you seek is a day's travel to your east."

Hirde paused, trying to discern whether the sprite was playing another trick or not. "Fine. Go."

Giggling, the sprite whirled away, leaving the bounty hunter to her thoughts. If within a day's travel of Winner... that meant it as time to consider what to do when she found him.

~*~

"You know, Trowa, I'm beginning to think you don't like me," Quatre said lightly.

The ranger looked at him, seeming faintly amused. At least, Quatre assumed he was amused--it was sometimes hard to tell. "What makes you say that?"

"Well." Quatre held up a hand and began to enumerate his grievances, ticking them off on his fingers as he went. "First of all, you only speak when spoken too; you never laugh at a joke; I have yet to see you smile; you give me nothing but dirty, smelly, unpleasant tasks to do; and most normal humans would have let me seduce them three days ago!" He glared at Trowa petulantly. "You don't like me, do you?"

The ranger sighed. "I never said that."

"You never say anything!"

"I live in a forest. I'm not used to conversation," Trowa pointed out.

"Then you do like me?" Quatre pressed. He seemed on the verge of pouncing the ranger right then.

Trowa took the precaution of retreating several feet. "... I suppose."

Quatre beamed. "Well, good. I was starting to get discouraged."

Trowa shook his head. "You don't believe in hiding how you feel, do you?"

Quatre grinned. "Not at all. I had my fill of saying what I don't mean and hiding how I feel while I was growing up." He smiled.

"Hn." Trowa shook his head and busied himself with the inspection of his bow.

Quatre huffed in annoyance. "There you go again, with the ignore Quatre routine. We were communicating, don't stop now!"

"Just because I am not looking directly at you does not mean I am ignoring you," Trowa said absently.

Quatre frowned. "You think that if you don't pay attention to me, I'll go away, don't you?"

"The thought had crossed my mind."

Quatre smirked. "Just so you know, I really enjoy a challenge."

"I'm glad for you. Why don't you pay some attention to your horse? He's favoring his left front leg."

Quatre made a face at Trowa, but left the subject for the time being.

~*~

"There it is." Cathrine pointed ahead, to the monstrous double gates set in what seemed like the solid side of a mountain.

"It's huge." Sally couldn't quite keep the awe from her voice as she stared at the fortress soaring into the sky. "I've never seen anything like it."

Cathrine chuckled. "It's impressive, all right. They don't open it up to visitors often, that's for sure. You picked a good time to hitch a ride with us."

Sally smiled. "I haven't regretted it yet."

The caravan fell in with the line of people progressing forward at barely more than a crawl to the plain before the gates. "This must be a large festival," Sally noted.

"Yes. No. It's more that the clans rarely ever let outsiders enter their gates," Cathrine shrugged. "They're very wary. Have a real superiority complex, too. But they pay well enough to make the hassle worthwhile."

"So most of the people here are merchants?"

Cathrine's eyes roved up and down the lines of people. "Well... that's what most of them say they are," she replied neutrally.

"So they're not."

"Probably not." Cathrine thought about saying more to the healer, but decided against it. No need to alarm the woman (assuming, of course, she even knew of the political tensions between the duchies). She would, however, head around to the other wagons and have a word with each of her people about the soldiers sneaking in undercover as rogues and traders. She didn't think any of the duchies would be foolish enough to break the neutrality of Dragon Keep, but it never hurt to be cautious.

As they passed by the gates with their huge carvings of dragons in flight, the Telati made a superstitious sign against evil.

Sometimes legends contained a kernel of truth, after all.

~*~

*Strange that he didn't go to ground,* Heero thought, bent low over the neck of his galloping horse. The warrior knew that he was good, but if would have been nearly impossible for him to have hunted the assassin down if the braided man had chosen to melt into the mass of people in Escand, or if he had veered off the main road. As it was, however, this Shinigami was riding in a beeline straight for Khushrenada, barely stopping long enough to switch horses.

*Khushrenada.* That in itself was damning enough, in Heero's mind. Unfortunately, even the vindication of his suspicions about Treize's intentions were not enough to assuage his guilt.

*I never should have left my post.*

*It's my fault.*

*If there is war, it comes from my failure.*

*I must atone for my failure.*

*Shinigami, I will kill you.*

~*~

*Today is the day.*

Meiran crushed the urge to groan and instead buried her face in her pillow. Her servants would come to wake her soon enough, she supposed. She didn't want to hurry them too much.

She sighed heavily. *All those years, spent training, proving to my clan that a woman can be just as strong a warrior... for nothing. I still get handed off like a piece of land to seal a contract. It's injustice! And that--man! He infuriates me! Always so smug, so detached--the only emotions he ever shows is anger. How can I possibly marry such a man? He doesn't even value his own accomplishments as a source of pride...*

Meiran growled quietly. Wufei hadn't said anything at all to her about that humiliating exercise in the practice rooms. In a way, it was comforting to know that her degraded status was not to be broadcast. Yet every time she looked at him she could only remember that he had beaten her, and now that too would be between them.

"It shouldn't be this way," Meiran muttered miserably.

~*~

*Today is the day.*

Wufei sighed, staring blindly out his window as the first light of sunrise began to creep across the craggy landscape.

*We're too alike, both too stubborn and too proud, to unwilling to bend at all. Neither wants to seem weak before the other, so we go on fighting against each other and unbreakable tradition. Fools. We're both fools.*

What was really ridiculous was that he knew, somehow, that if he and Meiran could get past the barriers, something good could come of it.

"It shouldn't be this way," he mumbled absently.

~*~

"Father."

"Yes, Iria, what is it?"

Iria cast her features into a suitably grave expression. "Father, a courier report this morning says that Relena Peacecraft was gravely injured by an assassin last night."

The duke was shocked. "An assassin?! Hurt that child? Good heavens, the world must be going mad. Send a letter at once, of course, and tell them how positively outraged we are."

"Yes, Father, I'll see to it." Iria smiled faintly. "I'll draft it up immediately."

~*~

Sally surveyed herself. "I feel ridiculous like this," she informed Cathrine.

"Nonsense, you look fine," Cathrine reassured her.

Sally shook her head. "I'm barely dressed!"

Cathrine leered. "All the better to show off with, my dear. Don't worry so much, you look good, really you do."

Sally made a face. "You're only saying that because I'm dressed the same way you are."

"It's still the truth. Anyway, enough talk, it's suitable clothing for a celebration, and you don't have any other clothes for a performance."

"Performance?" Sally repeated numbly as Cathrine grabbed her and half-dragged her from the wagon.

"Of course! Any time we go out in public, it's a performance."

~*~

Noin read the dispatch from Peacecraft, nausea churning her stomach with each terse, informative line. Already the decision to tacitly support Treize with her passive neutrality sickened her, taunting her with her own impotence. She and Relena had practically grown up together, had giggled together about boys and speculated what it would be like to someday rule a duchy. She'd been within a few months of marrying Relena's brother, uniting Noin and Peacecraft with ties of blood, before Milliard had gone off at Treize's invitation and then broken off ties with his family.

"It was only logical, Your Grace," Herot pointed out gently. "Khushrenada has his pieces all in place, and is ready to move. I'm sure you knew that he would strike at Peacecraft first."

Noin nodded absently. "Yes, yes, I knew in the abstract, of course, but it's only just hitting home... They said Relena will survive--a relief--but I wonder if he'll make a second attempt."

Herot shrugged. "Difficult to say. Since her recovery is expected to be slow, maybe not. I suspect he really only wanted to cripple Peacecraft."

"Ah." Noin thought about it for a while. "I expect the next message will tell us that troops are moving against Peacecraft."

Her general nodded. "You are probably correct."

Noin frowned. "Herot, what is the status of Noin's army?"

"Your Grace--"

"What is the status, Herot?" Noin snapped. She winced, and softened her tone. "Please, Herot."

"If we mobilized now, and pushed hard... we might be able to reach Peacecraft at about the same time as Duke Khushrenada." Herot laid a gnarled hand on Noin's shoulder. "Your Grace--"

"Herot, I will not allow Treize to trample over me and my duchy just because we are the weakest of the five!" Noin flared. "Peacecraft and Noin have been allies for centuries, and I'll be damned if I'll be the one to let that tradition fall by the wayside."

"Your Grace... you do know that we cannot win."

Noin sagged in her chair. "Yes, old friend, I know... but we shouldn't let Treize have his way simply because he and Dorothy have the superior forces. He may have his way with the duchies, but it will not be unopposed." Her lips thinned. "Mobilize the troops. We're going to Peacecraft's aid, and I only hope that we're not too late to be of any use."

Herot lifted his hand away from the duchess's shoulder. "As you wish, Your Grace." He turned to go, then turned back with a weary smile. "It's about time someone stood up to Duke Khushrenada. We'll give him hell for you, Your Grace."

Noin smiled tightly. "I know. I'm going to be going with you."

~*~

While her companion alternated between embarrassment regarding her "immodest" clothing and eagerly observing the spectrum of people at the festival, Cathrine concerned herself with scrutinizing the crowd. She disliked what she saw--soldiers, and many of them, mingling too casually with more innocent people. This preoccupation bled over into her transactions with various dealers, so much that several of her bargains were barely that. Even Sally noticed. "What's wrong?"

Cathrine brushed it aside. "Nothing important, don't worry about it."

Sally snorted, but held her peace.

~*~

"No sign of him?"

The soldier shook his head. "No, my Lord. All reports indicate that he road east, in pursuit of the assassin."

Ralph shook his head, trying to dispel the lingering headache that was an aftereffect of the drug the assassin had inflicted upon him. "Fine. Either he'll track down the assassin and take steps, or he'll conclude that his services are more necessary here." *And the gods help us if he decides to kill the ones responsible...*

The soldier shifted uneasily. "My Lord, there are other reports... our operatives in both Catalonia and Khushrenada ... report mobilization of the armies."

"Of course... we all know Treize was more complex in his plans--a direct assassination isn't his style." Ralph paused. "What are the estimates for their arrival?"

"For the Catalonian troops--they should be in Peacecraft within three days. Treize's troops will be in the country within in two, and we can expect the Specials to be knocking on our gates a week after that."

"Understood. And, of course, we don't have a standing army of any threatening size..." Ralph resisted a deep-seated urge to groan. "You are dismissed, sir."

The man bowed and departed, and Ralph left the room, heading for the suite where doctors were tending to Relena. Guards filled halls in a belated effort to protect the duchess's life. It was a little like cutting off the monster's head after it had eaten the princess, in Ralph's opinion, but it improved morale among the ranks of those who had suffered a keen blow to their honor and pride.

The doctor attending Relena awarded Ralph a severe glare. "No talk of politics."

Relena, pale against her pillows, protested. "Pargan! I have to know what's happening! You can't expect me to govern if Ralph doesn't brief me!"

Pargan shook his head. "Don't be a fool. You're in no condition to govern, young lady, and that is why your consort is doing it for you. Your job now is to concentrate on healing up."

Relena glared at the doctor. "You beastly man, you must be the only one impertinent enough to order your duchess around like that."

Unperturbed, Pargan shrugged. "May I remind you, young lady, that it was I who delivered you... and my authority as your doctor is absolute. No politics in the sickroom."

Relena smiled. "You old tyrant."

"Was there something, Your Grace?"

"Just a little politics? Please? For me?" she coaxed winningly. "So that I can have an idea about what's happening to my duchy?"

Pargan stared at her, astonished. Then he chuckled. "You haven't changed one bit since you were a child." Relena smiled at him sweetly, and batted her eyes for effect. "Only a few minutes, then you rest."

"Thank you, Pargan." As the doctor left, her expression turned serious. "What's happening?"

Ralph seated himself closer to the bed. "Heero's missing, and it looks like Dorothy and Treize are getting ready to invade Peacecraft."

Relena smiled sardonically. "And what's the bad news?"

"Our standing army is miniscule and large composed of either old men or green boys, and Escand and the castle are pretty much unprepared for any sort of siege," Ralph continued. "Our commanding officers are at their wits' ends, and--"

"Enough, I'm sorry I asked." Relena sighed, closing her eyes wearily. "How are the people?"

"Outraged, shocked, angry..." Ralph shrugged. "We've downplayed it as much as possible, of course, and they don't know how close it was."

His wife nodded. "Appropriate, of course. Start mustering the army as best as possible without creating too much alarm. Gods. War. What the hell's Treize thinking?"

"Power is what he's thinking about, Relena, I think that's always been his focus." Ralph paused. "And I believe that your brother craves the same thing."

Relena winced. "Milliard... this certainly makes it difficult to keep faith in him, doesn't it?"

"In Zechs, yes... maybe not so much for Milliard."

"I don't understand it, Ralph... I just don't understand it," Relena said tiredly. "Why doesn't he stop Treize?"

Ralph took her hand, rubbing soothing circles into her palm with his thumb. "I don't know... maybe you'll have a chance to ask him."

Relena looked away. "That's what I'm afraid of."

~*~

A lesser man would have fallen out of the saddle after spending fifteen hours riding furiously (and after a full day's work scrubbing floors, to boot). But the man hunched over in the saddle, braid whipping behind him like a pennant as he urged the horse to its limit, was by no means ordinary. What was more, he had a desperate desire to reach his home before--

*I don't care what happens to me, live or die, it doesn't matter, just as long as they don't suffer for my crimes.*

There was a sliver of hope, that if just long enough a time elapsed before news of Relena's survival reached Zechs, he'd have time to warn--

It was barely more than a ghost of hope, but the only thing he had to cling to.

He smiled, faintly, despite the grim circumstances. At least he'd never have to work for Zechs ever again, one way or another.

If only he hadn't underestimated Heero Yuy... that had been his only mistake.

He promised himself that it was the only time he'd ever do that.

~*~

"My Lord--"

Wufei turned from his window. "Yes, I know. The sun is almost setting."

"Marriage is not the end of the world, my Lord."

Wufei snorted. "Yes, but it may be the end of me. But the rite can't be delayed, I know." Moving carefully in his ceremonial finery, he followed his manservant to the outdoor pavilion, where he and Meiran would wed beneath the light of the setting sun and rising moon.

~*~

"I can't believe we got this close to the pavilion with all these people," Sally murmured, pressed close to Cathrine.

"Mm." Cathrine looked around. "You know, maybe the view would be better a little further back."

"Don't be silly," her companion laughed. "The view's great, here!"

~*~

So few minutes of freedom left... Meiran glared at the western skies, willing the sun to stop in the sky. It was a useless thing to do, of course, but it was all she had. *Anything. I'd do anything to be able to get out of this idiotic marriage.*

Her grandmother smiled at her. "Don't fret so, child. Arranged marriages are hard at first, but it will get easier."

Meiran snorted and watched as Wufei marched to his place before the cleric. Her grandmother elbowed her gently, and the young woman sighed and began the final march to her doom. Her only comfort stemmed from the fact that Wufei looked as uncomfortable as she.

~*~

"You know, Sal, I've been thinking... this is gonna be boring, why don't we cut out early? I've got a skin of wine, we can have our own party back at the camp," Cathrine said suddenly.

Sally gave her an incredulous look. "Are you insane? Besides, the crowd's so thick we'd never get back there now."

"Gods, I hope you're wrong," Cathrine said urgently, grabbing her hand. "Look, don't argue, just--"

But it was too late.

The men who had been jostling for a better view of the wedding pavilion let out a sudden, startling roar, producing weapons that had been hidden away.

~*~

Staring down at his and Meiran's clasped right hands, Wufei
contemplated the ceremony. *So much preparation for such a minor thing,* he thought idly as the cleric blessed the red ribbon tying them together. Then, following the formula, he said the words. "I, Wufei Chang, take Meiran Ron as my wife and lady."

Meiran ground the words out from between gritted teeth. "I, Meiran Ron, take Wufei Chang as my husband and lord--What the hell?"

"Who would dare--" Wufei snarled, turning to glare out across the courtyard. Then his eyes widened as he understood what he saw.

Dragon Keep was under attack, and the invaders were already within the gates.

~*~

All of a sudden the life she'd known in Peacecraft took on a new perspective for Sally. Shrieking, she ducked a sword. "Cat, I think I've changed my mind!"

"Too late!" the woman yelled back, leaping out of a soldier's way. "Head for the gates!"

As the soldiers pressed forward, sweeping her along, Sally struggled against the tide. "Yeah, sure, I'd love to! Any clue how?"

Having a similar problem, Cathrine shook her head. "I was hoping you knew--Duck!"

~*~

Twisting her hand free from the symbolic ribbon, Meiran howled indignantly. "Injustice!"

The courtyard was swiftly changing into a chaotic bloodbath, as soldiers turned on civilians or rushed the pavilion. Small knots of the keep's own soldiers fought back, but, isolated from one another by the enemy, they were swiftly being pulled under. Screaming innocents were rushing for the gates, but the invaders were already closing them.

And Meiran--his wife, a tiny part of Wufei's mind reminded him-was rushing forward, as if she could turn back an army by herself. But arms were grabbing her, grabbing him, pulling them away from the pavilion, and Wufei looked at his manservant and saw the grim expression on his face.

Meiran struggled, still yelling, until one of Wufei's men slapped her. Wufei winced. "My lady, you must escape," the man said urgently. "Forgive my impertinence, but you must go, now!"

Wufei had to argue this. "No! I am not leaving my people to die!"

One of the men pulling them away from immediate danger shook his head, no. "You must carry on the line of the dragons. Avenge us if you must, but you must live on!"

And then a door was opening in a wall to a passage Wufei had known nothing about, and he and Meiran were being shoved through, and the darkness swallowed them both.

~*~

"Shit!" Sally screamed and punched the warrior who had just tried to decapitate her. "Ow! Damn it!" She shook her stinging hand.

"Nice uppercut you've got there!" Cathrine commented, seeing a break in the crowd and dodging through it.

"Thanks." Sally gasped. "They're closing the gates!"

"So move faster, damn it!" Cathrine yelled. "C'mon!"

*We'renotgonnamakeitwe'renotgonnamakeitwe'renotgonnamakeit.*

"Faster!"

*We'renotgonnamakeitwe'renotgonnamakeitwe'renotgonnamakeit.*

"Duck!"

*We'renotgonnamakeitwe'renotgonna--*

"We're through!" Sally panted, as a few stragglers sprinted out the gates behind them.

Then the doors thundered shut with implacable finality.

Cathrine looked back, then at Sally, horror in her eyes as screams continued to echo from beyond the barrier. "My tribe."

They set off at a run for the camp.

~*~

"Let me out, damn you!" Wufei pounded ineffectually on the wall.

"They probably can't even hear you," Meiran said. "Give it up."

"No, my people--my people--" Wufei could feel his voice wanting to break, so he swore instead. "Somebody is going to pay dearly for this."

"That is the first sensible thing I've ever heard you say," Meiran said, voice a little too calm. "Do you know where we are?"

"This place is honeycombed with secret passages and no one knows all of them," Wufei said tiredly. "The only way to find out is to follow it."

"Let's get started."

There was a moment of fumbling in the pitch blackness, before Wufei barked out an order. "Shield your eyes."

"Why?"

"Just do it." There came a stream of unintelligible words, followed immediately by Meiran's vitriolic curses as the effects of Wufei's light spell hit her sensitized eyes. "Idiot, I told you to cover your eyes."

"And I don't take unexplained orders from anyone, even if he is my husband!" she snapped.

A startled silence, then Wufei nodded. "Fair enough. Let's go."

~*~

Four.

Sally kept a hand on Cathrine's shoulder, trying to say by touch what words couldn't adequately express.

Six, including them. Six strained, grief-stricken faces huddled around a tiny fire. Out of how many, Sally wondered. Thirty? Forty? It was hard to say, the children had made an accurate count impossible, running about as they had...

An old, toothless man who'd slept the afternoon away.

A young woman, heavily pregnant, who'd elected to stay off her feet.

A young boy, being punished for some transgression or another.

And the man who'd gone back to the wagons because he'd "had a funny feeling."

"Where'd you learn to punch someone like that?" Cathrine rasped, breaking the silence.

"I grew up with brothers," Sally said softly. "They treated me like just another boy."

"I thought... you didn't have family," the young woman across the fire ventured.

"Not anymore... a plague took them when I was fifteen. That's how I came to be a healer."

"I see... I'm sorry."

"Me, too."

Silence again, till the old man spoke up. "Where is everybody?"

"They aren't coming back," Sally said shortly.

"Why would anyone do this?" Sally whispered.

"That's what we want to know, too."

~*~

They'd argued long and hard, in fierce whispers, when the cobwebby tunnel had finally spit them out on the rocky plain before the dragon gates. Meiran had wanted to approach one of the handful of scattered campfire--to reconnoiter, she said. Wufei was adamantly against it.

In the end, she had just marched away, and Wufei had followed here, muttering imprecations under his breath the whole way. And then, after eavesdropping, she'd baldly invited herself into the conversation.

Wufei prepared himself for a fight, promising himself that he'd kill his wife later.

The headwoman of the tribe leapt to her feet, face angry. "Who are you?"

"Wufei. Meiran. Refugees, like yourself." Wufei nearly chocked on that as Meiran said it.

The tiny group relaxed, slowly. "Then you're welcome. I'm Cathrine Bloom."

Wufei and Meiran entered the circle, warily, as Cathrine introduced the remnants of her tribe. "I must say it's an honor to have the Dragon Lord and Lady at my fire."

"What the--How did you know?" Wufei demanded.

Cathrine pointed to the ribbon still dangling from his wrist. "Lucky guess."

"Ah."

"I still don't know why anyone would do that," Sally mourned.

"Consolidation of power," Meiran said tersely.

"You think that--" Cathrine jerked here head at the keep "was because of the war brewing."

"Yes. Even neutrality can only be a temporary shield." Meiran gave Wufei a significant look.

He stayed silent.

"Catalonian soldiers, probably," Cathrine said quietly. "I'd like to make them pay..."

"I am going to make them pay," Wufei said softly. "There will be justice for my people... and yours, if you'll help me."

 

~tbc~

 

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