Bane of Darkness

 

North Gate: 3

 

"There." Wufei used his gaze to point out the direction of the fortress where the North Gate was located. "That’s the place."

"It’s not far from the South Gate," Heero commented.

"How do you know that?" Duo glanced at him.

"I used to live near it."

"Yeah? And here I thought you just wandered around." The braided boy actually looked interested. "You telling me you’ve got a home?"

"More or less." Heero looked back at the fortress. "The important thing is getting past the inner gates. The outer walls aren’t well guarded. But there’s only one tower inside them. If we can get Quatre inside the tower, then he can seal up the Gate with no problems."

I shook my head. "No. The Gate will be where they are standing guard. We will only need you to hold off the guards. I’ll go with Quatre."

"Sound strategy," Wufei approved. "All right." He turned to face Duo. "Now is your chance to prove how well you fight, Maxwell. Don’t hold back, because we won’t stop to protect you."

Duo grinned and cracked his knuckles. "No problem."

"They’ll be armed," Heero warned him.

He shrugged. "I can deal with it. I’ve met people who wanted to kill me before, and I’m still here. The only weapon I need is…" He thumped his chest, and grinned again.

"He’s good," Quatre assured them. "I used to take classes with him. There’s no one better, trust me."

"Innocent until proven guilty." Wufei snorted. "If we’re going to start, shouldn’t we get to it? The faster we get this over with, the faster we can leave and be free to lock the other Gates."

"Agreed." I nodded at him. "Quatre, come with me."

He followed without question as I led him to the bushes on the other side of the small fortress. "Why are we over here?" he asked, when I stopped.

"Diversion." I watched the guards intently. "The others will attack openly. The guards will then rush to help their fellows, and everyone is dealt with at once. Then we move inside and take the tower."

"Won’t that be guarded too?" He gave me a sideways glance.

"Of course. That’s why we enter so openly." I smiled briefly. "They won’t think twice about us until we move to enter the tower."

"How come?"

"Arrogance." I let my smile widen slightly. "They can’t believe anyone would challenge them. We’ll be acting like we’re supposed to be there, so they won’t question us. But their mortal servants are forbidden to enter the tower. That’s when they’ll know we’re enemies."

A yell from one of the guards made Quatre’s head whip up.

"The fighting’s started," I told him.

"Oh." He looked worried. "Trowa, when they know we’re enemies, won’t they attack us?"

"That’s where the others come in. Don’t worry," I assured him. "Wufei’s timing is never off. They’ll be there in time to help us." The last of the guards moved from the door to the fortress. "Time to go," I said, and started forward again.

"All right." Quatre followed me. "I’ll trust you. If anyone can keep me safe, it’s you, Trowa." There was a smile on his face that I could feel without even looking at him. "I know it."

I focussed on the door in front of me. "Thank you." What could I say? I could sense his faith in me, like something tangible. Beautiful, kind Quatre, giving me the whole of his life, his soul, his heart… Was I worthy of this? Quatre believed that I was, and that alone could make it so.

I opened the door and we walked into the fortress.

There were people around, men and women, some with weapons and some without, all looking untroubled by the chaos happening outside. They barely gave us a glance as we walked toward the tower. After all, if we had been enemies, we would be attacking, correct? I led Quatre toward the center of the grounds, a tower with a ring of guards surrounding it. There was one entrance, an open arch with a winding staircase visible through it.

We were only just approaching the tower when the doors on the opposite end from where we’d come in crashed open.

I seized on the moment of distraction, grabbing Quatre’s wrist and roughly shoving a pair of guards out of the way to drag him past them and into the archway. Startled cries and the beginning sounds of fighting slowly faded behind us as we climbed the rough stone stairs at a dead run.

Surprise was usually the best weapon.

"Why aren’t they following us?" Quatre gasped, struggling to keep up with the pace I set. His wrist was still caught tight in my hand, and I was nearly dragging him along after me.

"Confusion." I managed to slow down a little. "They’re forbidden to enter. The fear of what might happen if they do keeps them from disobeying."

"Will the others be able to handle all of them?" Quatre asked, worried.

I hesitated. "Have a look." There was a slit of a window by the stairs, and I paused so he could see out of it. "Don’t take too long. The sooner we finish, the sooner they’ll be safe."

It was utter chaos out in the grounds. Not that that was anything new. I spotted Wufei, sword flickering rather than swiping. He was so quick with it that most of his enemies didn’t even see the weapon coming before it neatly skewered them. A quick twist of his wrist ran through first one guard, and then another. No one even got close enough to mark him.

Heero and Duo were separated from the eastern warrior, but they inflicted no fewer casualties. I’d seen Heero fight before; he used every weapon at his disposal – hands, arms, legs, dagger, or staff. In his hands, even a roll of parchment would be deadly. As I watched, he stabbed a man between the eyes with his own dagger while at the same time using his elbow to crush the skull of the opponent behind him. Overpowering him was out of the question.

The braided boy, on the other hand, was more quick than powerful. With a grimace, he brained an enemy with his fist, using the momentum to bend forward and kick in a backwards arch, taking out two more. Without stopping, he rolled and dug his heel into another man’s gut, then used that foot to kick him sideways so that his sword neatly sank into one of his comrades’ back. He was fast enough in the movements so that no one had time to even once lay a hand on him.

"I think they’re fine." I took Quatre’s arm and steered him from the window, even as Duo knocked a man who had been attacking Heero into the wall of the tower. "Let’s do our part."

"Right." He turned from the scene, blinking rapidly. "I just hope we can end this in time to save some of them." Then he hurried ahead of me, up the winding staircase.

~~~~~~

 

I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d really been expecting to find. The top of the tower was circular, and large. The stairway came up through the middle of the floor, so it didn’t even create a break in the rounded wall. There were seven shuttered windows lining it instead, each one perfectly space from those near it. This, then, was the Gate, though it hardly looked like one.

Quatre looked around. "So this is it? What do I do?"

Sound must have been a trigger. Wind rushed around the small room, and I recognized a hissing that was as familiar as my own voice. This is their last line of defense? I thought derisively. How careless. "Close your eyes," I told my companion calmly.

The blond boy obeyed me instantly.

I concentrated, and felt something like a soft breeze passing between my eyelids and the actual eye. That was it – practically no effort, and the effects were immediate and rather dramatic.

Quatre cried out and covered his ears as the shrieking began, but I didn’t bother. After a few hundred years of living in a world full of creatures like them, not much bothered me.

The shrieking cut off as I felt those miserable lives finish, and the room was silent.

"Get the keys ready," I told Quatre, as he cautiously uncovered his ears. "I think we need to open these windows, one at a time."

"Then what?" he asked, reaching into his bag.

"Then we see what happens," I answered calmly.

"All right." Quatre took a deep breath and moved purposefully toward one of the shuttered windows. His fingers were steady as he undid the latch and pulled the small wooden doors open.

Revealing a set of silver doors that met each other at the center of the "window", with a lock and a visible keyhole, also of silver.

There also seemed to be a faint glow coming from the gateway.

"Is this what we’re looking for?" Quatre asked, glancing at me.

"I’m fairly sure of it."

"Good. I think I can take it from here." He pulled the Silver key out from the rest and fit it into the lock. Then he turned it.

A bright flaring of light seemed to explode from the front of the doorway, illuminating the blond boy for a brief second. Quatre let out a sudden cry, and his body crumpled. I jumped forward in time to catch him before he hit the ground, and the light faded away. "Are you all right?"

"F-fine." He shakily tried to steady himself. "I just… I feel like I ran ten miles without even moving. It felt like that thing was sucking the energy out of me – if that makes sense."

That worried me. "Do you need to take a break before moving on?"

"No." He pushed himself out of my arms and moved on to the next window, looking determined. "I can handle it. Besides, Duo and the others could get hurt if I take too long."

I decided that mentioning just how much danger Heero might really be in wasn’t a good idea at the moment.

The next lock was Amber, and it affected Quatre in much the same way as the Silver one had. This time, I was ready for it, and managed to catch him before he even had a chance to do more than sway a little on his feet.

"Are you sure you can take this?" I let my arms hook around his waist from behind, protectively. "It’ll hurt you if you don’t know your limits well enough."

"I-I’m OK." He tried to free himself from my grasp. "Really, I’m OK, Trowa. Let me finish this." I let him go, and he moved on, still with that same determination.

Gold was next, then Ice. Quatre wilted visibly with every new lock he sealed. Rowan… Emerald… I had to hold him up for the last one, the Diamond; he was too weak to even stand on his own. But he insisted on continuing.

"Just… one more…" He smiled a little. "I’ll survive."

"In what sort of condition?" Still, I held him so that he could seal the final lock.

The second the key was removed from it, the Diamond lock – as well as all the others – vanished into the wall, as if they had been swallowed by it. In the end, the room had no windows, and nothing marred that smooth stone surface.

Quatre collapsed back against me, almost unconscious.

"It’s over," I told him softly, not wasting time in gathering him up in my arms to carry him. He started to protest, but I cut him off. "Just relax. You’ve done more than enough already, and you deserve a rest."

He smiled and leaned against my shoulder.

We met the others outside the tower, lounging idley as though the obvious signs of a previous battle weren’t scattered all around them. "It’s about time you guys got here," Duo said – then his grin faded as he noticed that I was carrying Quatre instead of leading him. "What happened? Is he OK?"

"He’s fine," I assured him. "Just exhausted. What happened here?"

"The enemies who were still standing broke away and ran just a few minutes ago," Heero reported. "I take it you succeeded in sealing the Gate."

I nodded.

"So," Duo cut in, completely changing the subject, "how’d I do on the fighting test?" There was a wicked grin on his face. "Have I proved myself worthy yet? Or did you plan on testing me further?"

Wufei shut his eyes and sighed, but there was a grudging respect in his voice as he forced out the words, "He’ll do."

Heero said nothing, but his gaze remained fixed on the beaming Duo, and I thought for a minute that I detected a faint smile on his face.

 

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