It was close to mid-afternoon. The dark-haired warrior glanced briefly up at the position of the sun. "He’s late," the young man announced shortly.
"The time frame he gave us," his companion answered, almost coldly, "was an approximation. For all we know, he could be another week in getting here. Consider what he’s doing. Time is unimportant as long as he succeeds."
There was a moment of silence, then the dark eyes of the warrior closed as he nodded assent. "My apologies, Heero. You are right, of course."
"Time is something we have enough of," Heero remarked. "I can understand your impatience, though. Delays often mean failure. Keep in mind that this is quite a bit different from your average battle, Wufei."
Silence fell again over their small clearing. The young warrior with the name Wufei remained standing, leaning against the tree behind him in a casual-seeming pose. His tanned companion was seated on the ground near him, blue eyes open and alert. His posture, too, was relaxed. To any passing by, the two seemed to be resting, taking a brief rest during a long journey on foot. Wufei’s eyes were barely slitted, but it was enough to spot danger should it happen to find them. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that conversation was unneccessary given the situation.
A shrill sound, like a scream or a train whistle, cut through the comfortable silence. Something thrashed in the bushes nearby, and the shrieking intensified, almost sounding as if it were coming from a creature being tortured.
Wufei straightened slightly. "He’s reasonably close to when he said he’d be here," the young warrior commented mildly. "That’s not too bad, I suppose."
Heero just grunted.
The shrill noise seemed to hit a sort of climax then: just as it was about to reach its peak, the sound abruptly died. Whatever had been thrashing about in the bushes also seemed to have disappeared. Once again, silence fell over the clearing.
From the direction of the screaming, another young man stepped into the contained area. "I’m a bit late," he said tonelessly. "Sorry."
Heero shrugged, eyes shifting to study this new arrival. "Did you get it?"
"Of course." The newcomer held his hand out, palm up. Resting across it was a small, ornately carved golden key. "Simple enough to obtain." He shrugged. "They were guarding it. Carelessness."
"What now?" Wufei asked, watching the newcomer’s face. "You’re not the Seeker."
Dark green eyes focussed on him. "I know where to find the person who is." Again he shrugged. "That’s what I’ll do."
"There’s a passage just a short ways from here, which I’m sure you know about already," Heero stated impassively. "No time should pass here between the moment you enter and the moment you come back out."
"Good. The two of you shouldn’t be in any danger." A brief, humourless smile flickered on the young man’s lips. "They won’t come back soon after I take care of the first few. And you can handle any mortal enemies on your own."
"Caution, Trowa," Heero warned. "The Seeker is as much a target as any of us. They’ll know that location. And they’ll be watching for you."
Trowa glanced toward the trees, where a faint howling seemed to be picking up. "Not yet..." he murmured, almost to himself, then, "There won’t be a problem, providing this Seeker is as strong as your prophecy says. We have the first key. The rest won’t be difficult to obtain."
Heero stared at him, unblinking, for a moment. "Over-confidence is a weakness."
"So is doubt."
Wufei interrupted them by standing away from the tree. "I think they’re coming," he remarked, glancing at the surrounding forest. The howling was starting to get louder.
Trowa turned his face to the trees again, expressionless. A flash of silver passed over his eyes, like a reflection or just a shimmer of light – as if he were looking directly into something that shone.
And the shrill sound began again…