When the light dissipated, they were still in a forest - but now it was night, and there was no sign of the mansion. The trees were much larger, the canopy thick on top but with very little undergrowth - the sign of a very old, virgin forest.
"Where are we?" Quatre's voice wavered just the slightest bit.
"The GPS isn't registering anything," Heero commented, voice emotionless as ever. "And the compass isn't working."
Duo gasped. "The sky! Look at the sky! There're two moons!"
All five cockpits hissed open, as the boys climbed out to get a better look - almost as if they thought their viewscreens were lying. The first moon hung close and full in the sky, FAR larger than it ever appeared on Earth. Mer Serenitus was just visible on one side, along with several other recognizable features, which identified it beyond a doubt as their own, though they were viewing it from a different angle than they were used to. Beyond it, glowing white and blue in the clear night air, hung what was, unmistakably, the Earth.
"The Mahou no Tsuki," Dana breathed, wings fluttering. "It's the Mahou no Tsuki!" She leapt off DeathScythe's shoulder, doing somersaults in the air in sheer joy. "We're on Gaia! I'm HOME!" Her silvery laughter rang through the silent night air, as all five pilots continued to stare into the sky in shock.
She finally came to rest on the platform beside Duo, her wings mantled, feathers flying, and eyes shining with excitement. "I'm home, Duo, I'm home! I can't believe I'm really home!"
He grinned and tugged her in for a brief kiss, ignoring the presence of the others. "Looks like it." He glanced over at the scowling pilot of ShenLong. "Well, Wufei? NOW do you believe her?"
Wufei growled something incomprehensible, and turned and stalked back into his cockpit.
"Demo, what do we do now?" Quatre asked, his sweet features creased with worry.
Dana glanced around, squinting at a pair of twin mountains in the distance. "I'm pretty sure I know where we are - about 30 miles from the capitol city. Otousama used to take me hunting out here, sometimes." She gestured off to their left. "The city is that way."
"We should be trying to find a way back," Heero commented emotionlessly. "We still have missions to finish, and OZ isn't going to wait for us to take a vacation on a strange planet."
Dana shrugged. "Well, I don't know how to make the light come back, and neither does anyone else on Gaia - as far as I know, anyway. But if there IS some way of doing it, you can bet you'll find out about it in the capitol."
"What about the Dragons?" Trowa gestured at the two large carcasses which had been transported with them.
Dana blinked at them, and hummed for a bit in thought. "Take the Energists, and leave the bodies here," she said finally. "They're poisonous, can't be eaten, and the hide is too thick to cut. Someone from the city will most likely come to bring the bones and claws in later - or the Wolfmen will make use of it. They have a tribe in this area, I think."
Heero nodded. "Ninmu ryoukai," he intoned, and climbed back inside Wing. His voice came over the intercom as the hatch hissed shut, sounding tinny and even flatter than usual. "We'll head for the city, then."
Shenlong activated its beam weapon, and sliced the still-glowing Energists from the Dragon's chests. Wufei then carefully lifted them to where Trowa and Quatre, still on their platforms, could take the small orbs from its giant hands. The two boys then climbed back into their respective cockpits.
Duo glanced at Dana, whose face was still alight with excitement at returning to her native world. "You wanna ride inside with me? It'll be a tight fit, but I'm sure we can manage it." He leered at her suggestively.
She shook her head, laughing at his expression. "No - I want to fly. It's been far too long since I flew beneath the Mahou no Tsuki!" So saying, she leapt off the platform and soared upwards, doing lazy circles around the giant mechas. "Come on, come on, let's go! I want to see my family!" She banked sharply and arrowed off in the direction she'd indicated the city lay.
The Gundams followed at a moderate speed, keeping pace with her slower flight capabilites. It took a little over half an hour to reach the city, by which time dawn had begun to break over the horizon.
The capitol city was spread out over the valley like a shining jewel in the early morning sunlight. As they approached the huge wooden gates in the tall protective wall however, it became evident that it was a flawed jewel. Large sections of the obviously once-impressive city were burned out husks, charred and abandoned. Other areas showed signs of construction, the burned buildings slowly being replaced by new ones. The city had suffered some time in the not so distant past, but was rising from its own ashes like the legendary phoenix.
As they approached the gates, five odd-looking mobile suits clumped out. They were consideribly smaller than the Gundams, perhaps even smaller than Leos. They carried giant swords and no other visible weapons, and they moved with a fluidity that seemed odd to the pilots, used as they were to the jerky, constricted movements made by mobile suits. As one, they landed before the gates, out of sword's reach from the other mechs.
"Who goes there?" A deep voice challenged from within one of the strange suits. It had none of the tinny quality of a radio transmission, but rather was muffled, as if the voice came directly from within the suit. Their swords were up menacingly, but it was obvious even to a casual onlooker that their weapons would do no harm to the shining, metallic Gundams.
"ALLEN-SAN!!!" Dana swooped down from where she had been flying above, to land on DeathScythe's outstretched arm. She hopped up and down a few times, barely able to contain herself. "ALLEN-SAN! I'M BACK!!!"
The faceplate of the lead suit slid back, to reveal a human face, eyes wide with shock. "Dana-sama? Is that truly you?"
She laughed and clapped her hands. "Hai! Allen-san, I've missed you so!"
Duo found himself critically eyeing the face of the pilot of the other suit. An older man, his features were decidedly handsome still. Dana had never mentioned him, and he discovered that he was jealous of the obvious affection between them. Why hadn't she mentioned him, when talking about her family and friends? This was obviously someone she was very close to.
The joy in the man's face abruptly transmuted to utter seriousness. "Have you returned with a Dragu-Energist?"
She pulled the orb from where she had tucked it inside her shirt, and held it aloft. It caught the rays of the morning sun, shining and shimmering and glowing from within. "I have Hunted the Dragon successfully, and returned with the Dragu-Energist!" The orb flared brilliantly for a moment, then subsided to a gentle, pulsing glow.
The other four suits went down on one knee, as Allen brandished his sword in a salute. "We, the five Warriors of Fanelia, confirm it - Dana Fanel has returned from the Hunt with a Dragu-Energist!"
Duo blinked. Fanelia? Was that the name of this country? Strange, she'd never mentioned it. Odd that her last name would be so simliar. Or perhaps here, last names were an idication of one's country?
There was cheering from within the city, as the gates were pulled back to reveal a massed throng of people. From within the crowd, a procession was approaching, led by a regal man on a fine warhorse. As they reached the gates, Dana fluttered to the ground, and the five Gundam pilots opened their cockpits to stand on the platforms once more.
The tall man on the horse nodded in acknowledgement as Dana went down on one knee before him, her wings swept back behind her. :Must be the king,: Duo thought, seeing the heavy golden crown on his brow.
"King Van of Fanelia, I, Dana Fanel, have returned from the Dragon Hunt with the heart of a Dragon - Dragu-Energist! I ask that you recognize this deed."
The king appeared to be upset and trying to contain his emotion, though Duo wasn't certain why. "You have been missing for more than two years. Explain yourself, Dana Fanel."
She raised her head and gestured behind her to the Gundams. "I have traveled to the Mahou no Tsuki." There was an awed murmur from the crowd, quickly hushed by the king's raised hand. Dana glanced at Duo, who grinned at her in reassurance and gave her a thumbs up. She turned back to face the king, and continued. "While there, I learned a great deal. These five warriors have aided me, and were caught with me when the light returned me to Gaia."
Again, a great deal of murmuring, and the soldiers in the king's retinue were eyeing the Gundams, obviously impressed. The king nodded slowly, seemingly reluctantly. "You have completed the Hunt, and proved yourself worthy. The ceremony will be held today at high noon. In the meantime," he lifted his head and addressed the pilots directly. "You are welcome in my kingdom, and in my home. Please come to the palace, where rooms will be assigned to you. You may store your Guymelefs." he blinked, and frowned. "Hmm.. They're far too large to be stored with the others. Very well, you may store them in the side courtyard. I shall arrange protection for them from the elements."
Quatre inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Thank you very much for your kind offer. We were very pleased to be of assistence to Dana." The others remained silent, leaving it up to the blond Arabian noble to handle the courtly affairs.
The king nodded once more, then turned and spurred his horse back to the palace. His entourage followed, and the crowd began to press in on Dana and the Gundams.
"Return to your homes, please," Allen entreated them. "Prepare for the ceremony. There will be feasting and celebration tonight, ready yourselves." For the most part, the crowd broke up, the few remaining curiosity-seekers held at bay by the four mobile suits.
Dana stood and shook herself, and her wings folded against her back and disappeared. She blushed as the wind fluttered the rags of her shirt against her back, then turned at Quatre's hand on her shoulder. He'd used the pulley to lower himself from SandRock's cockpit, approaching her from behind.
He handed her the purple vest that he always wore. "Here, Dana - this should cover most of the damage." Thanking him, she pulled it on. He turned to squint at the palace, hand raised to shade his eyes. "Should we just go now?"
"If you will follow me, I will lead you to the courtyard for you to store your Guymelefs," Allen said, the faceplate of his suit closed once more. Quatre turned to Dana in confusion.
"He means the Gundams," she supplied, answering before he could even ask. "They're called Guymelefs here." She moved with him back to the others, and accepted the pulley Duo lowered for her. Swinging up to DeathScythe's cockpit and squeezing in on Duo's lap, she watched as the hatch hissed shut again.
"I thought you didn't have high technology?" Heero's face appeared in a side screen.
"We don't," she answered. "The Guymelefs are nothing like your Gundams. They're completely mechanical, no computers or anything like that, and they're powered by Energists. The Zaibach empire possessed more technology, and they were therefore formidable enemies, but their knowledge was lost with them."
They followed Scheherezad through the winding city streets, careful of the placement of their Gundam's feet so as not to destroy the cobblestones of the roads. The palace was not as impressive close-up, with rubble lying in odd places and most of the reconstruction done with wood, not rock. "King Van insists that the city be rebuilt properly before the palace is restored," Dana told them as they lowered themselves to the ground. "He wants the resources of the country going to help the common person, not the nobles." Quatre nodded and beamed, while Wufei looked moderately impressed.
Duo wrapped his arm around her waist as they moved into the palace. "So, what's this ceremony? And where's your family?"
She looked somewhat shamefaced. "I - haven't quite told you everything about me. The ceremony is."
"DANA-SAMA!!!" A high-pitched tenor squealed, and the oddest looking creature any of the pilots had ever seen came tearing around the corner on four feet. "Dana-sama! You're home!" The creature launched itself into Dana, knocking her flat on the ground.
"Toran!" She exclaimed, and hugged him tightly. The pilots stared at the reddish fur, pointed ears and long tail the boy sported. He was small and wiry, a squirming bundle of energy in her arms. "Toran, oh, I've missed you!" The neko-boy began licking at her face, causing her to giggle. "Oh, stop it! Stop it, Toran, your tongue is rough!"
He backed off, allowing her to stand up, then hugged her tightly again. "You've been gone for so LONG, Dana-sama!"
She stroked his short red hair soothingly. "I know, sweetie, I know. But I'm back now, and I won't ever leave you again, I promise!"
He turned his head and glared at Duo, who was standing flabbergasted on one side. Sharp fangs poked out as he bared his teeth slightly. "Who's HE?" the neko-boy demanded. "And how come his arm was around your waist? I'm the only one you let touch you like that!"
She laughed, and tugged him away from her. "A lot has changed in the two years I've been gone, Toran. I'll tell you everything later, I promise. For now, please treat my friends well?"
He sniffed disdainfully, then turned and bounded away. He stopped at the corner of the hallway, looking back over his shoulder, ears and tail twitching. "Well? What are you waiting for? Your Otousama is waiting!"
Wufei finally found his voice. "WHAT is that?" he asked, his voice slightly shaky.
She blinked at them. "Who? Toran? He's a Nekojin. Haven't you seen one before? His mother was my father's best friend in childhood, so I kind of inherited him.
"Nekojin?" Duo shook his head, amazed. "Dana, you make it sound like their normal."
She turned confused eyes on him. "Of course they are. I mean, they're fairly rare - previous generations hunted them down and killed them out of prejudice." Her face was sad. "But otousama won't allow it in Fanelia. The Nekojin and Ookamijin are our allies and friends."
"Ookamijin?" Quatre spoke, eyes wide. "Then, when you said 'Wolfmen' earlier, you meant it literally?" She nodded.
Wufei snorted and gripped his katana uneasily. "First Angels, then Dragons, now cat- and wolfmen. What's next?"
"Dana-sama!" Toran was insistent. "You know he'll get mad if you keep him waiting."
Dana nodded. "I'm coming, Toran." She slid her fingers through Duo's and he squeezed them gently, knowing how important meeting her father again would be to her.
They entered a small room, obviously designed for personal meetings just such as this. Before them stood the king, his armour gone, dressed now in soft-looking trousers and shirt. The crown was gone, replaced by a small golden circlet. He stood stiffly before them, his eyes never leaving Dana's face.
She paused, also standing stiffly, as if waiting for some signal. As they eyed one another, her chin rose proudly. "I completed the Hunt. You cannot deny me my rights!"
The king sighed, and was suddenly nothing more intimidating than a tired, ordinary man. "I will not attempt to, though you have defied me at every turn. Exasperating child!"
Dana's chin wobbled slightly, and she bit her lip. Then suddenly, she threw herself forward, into the king's welcoming arms. "Otousama! I've missed you! Please, forgive me the harsh words I spoke when I left. I was so worried that I'd never see you again, and that those words would be your last memory of me!"
As the pilots' jaws dropped in shock once more, the king cradled Dana gently in his arms. "You are forgiven. I only wished to spare you the rigours of ruling."
She made a face at him, her eyes full of unshed tears. "I'm YOUR daughter, you should have known I'd never be content to sit back and let some strange man rule my life for me. I inherited your headstrong streak."
"You're a PRINCESS?" Duo was staring at her in complete shock, his jaw practically on the floor. She nodded, shamefaced, and suddenly all Duo could see was the grey spots dancing in front of his eyes as he fainted.