I was writing out the English homework for our one-week break when the folded slip of paper dropped onto my textbook. Just like that.
It wasn’t like a grade school type thing, where kids would whisper and giggle and slip notes to each other in order to get around their teacher’s no-talking rules. All I know is, one minute I was dutifully copying out my homework like a good third-year college student, and the next… A note dropped onto my book.
And no one in the room had even come anywhere near me.
I put down my pen and looked at the folded paper. On the front, printed in plain blue ink, was my name: Quatre Rebarba Winner.
Class was starting to break up. People were restless around that time, since for most of us, English was the last class of the day and our break started right after it ended. Evening classes tended to be like that.
Almost on instinct, I snatched up the note and tucked it into my pocket, hastily scratching out the rest of the homework instructions and packing away my books.
Now, let’s take a look at this…Pushing through the crowd, I made my way to the outdoors, where there was more room for me to read what might be some sort of private note.
I wound up being disappointed.
"What the…?" I didn’t manage to attract any funny stares – too many people doing too many different things for anyone to notice – but I must’ve looked fairly stupid, staring at a piece of note paper in complete confusion. The thing was only one line in length, and it read ‘Gold at the stone on the mountain high’. That was it.
Now what the heck did that mean?
"Quatre!" I nearly jumped fifty feet into the air as a hand clamped down around my shoulders. My assailant laughed. "Sorry for scaring you, kid. I was just waiting for you to get out of class."
I turned and managed to smile back at the pair of amused violet eyes staring back at me. "It’s no big deal. I was just reading this note that someone – "
My best friend snatched the paper from my fingers, raising an eyebrow. "Passing notes in class? That’s so… grade school." He shrugged, then handed the note back to me. "Sounds like some kind of riddle, doesn’t it?"
"Yeah…" I frowned. "I wish I knew who it was from."
"You think it’s somebody’s idea of a joke?" He tossed his long braid back over his shoulder carelessly. "Like a treasure hunt? They did mention gold…"
"I’m the last person who’d need gold," I said flatly, tucking the note back into my pocket. "If someone’s trying to send me on a wild goose chase, they chose the wrong thing to tempt me with."
"Oh right, I forgot." He grinned at me. "Mama and Papa left you a fortune, right? You’ve got more ready cash than you know what to do with." Despite the casual words, there was still the slightest hint of bitterness in my friend’s voice. The difference in our situations made it amazing that I could even be allowed to call him ‘friend’.
To put it bluntly, I was rich. Filthy rich. My parents weren’t around any more, and though I had sisters, the money was basically mine. It was almost disgusting, even to me, that one person should have so much. I didn’t want it – but I used it. Once I was through college, I fully intended to get myself a decent job and then donate everything I didn’t need to charity. Until then, it paid my tuition fees but otherwise just sat there.
My good friend Duo Maxwell, however, wasn’t given the same privileged situation I’d had. Orphaned as a child and stuffed into the care of one relative after another, Duo had literally earned everything he owned with persistance and hard work. He took up several forms of martial arts and worked his way up to instructing in order to earn money for college. He spent hours on schoolwork and studying to get scholarships and awards that would give him a place in a more privileged society. And even through all that suffering and hard work, he kept up a smile and a friendly attitude.
I always felt very lucky to have him consider me a friend.
"Maybe I should try and find that gold," Duo remarked cheerfully, leading me off to whatever kind of activity he’d had planned for the evening. "Then maybe I could pay my rent on time for once."
There wasn’t much of a moon that night. I frowned, staring blankly out the window of one of Duo’s friend’s cars. Just another night of loud music, dancing, and socializing. That was usually what went on whenever I let Duo talk me into an evening out. No one in the car was drunk, blessedly – my friend had strong opinions about people who drank more than they had to. I had two slips of paper with the phone numbers of girls I’d never seen before and would never see again stuffed into my pocket. Not that it had been my idea to take them. I was too preoccupied with my mystery note to even care about the evening, though.
"Is there something on your mind, Quatre?" the girl next to me asked sweetly – almost as if she knew a secret I didn’t. She smiled at me and tossed pale blond hair over her shoulders. "You didn’t seem to be having fun."
I shrugged, politely returning the smile. Something about her… She gave me the creeps. "I’m just thinking, that’s all," – What was her name? Something like Darlene… Doris… "Dorothy."
"Of course." So I had gotten her name right. That was a relief. "Aren’t we all, though?"
I gave her a curious glance, but didn’t get the chance to ask what she meant, because the car came to a stop – right in front of my dorm building. "First stop!" the girl at the wheel announced cheerfully. "This is where you get out, Duo – no more harassing the driver!"
"Sorry kid. You make it too easy." He hopped out of the front seat, then turned back with a good-natured wave. "Thanks for the ride, Hilde. Drive safe!"
"No problem, now that I’ve gotten rid of you." She returned the wave and pulled away from the parking lot, off to drop more mutual friends at wherever they were staying.
"Well, that just crushed me," Duo said with a grin and a shrug. "Come on, Quatre, let’s get inside."
"Yeah." I tried to force my mind back to the present. "So, is Hilde still seeing that basketball player?"
"Unless something changed drastically in just five minutes." Duo shrugged. "Remember when they were trying to sneak away from that club to go off alone to that cave up on – " He stopped.
"On…?" I prompted, but he wasn’t listening to me. A slow grin spread over his face. "What?"
"Nothin’." He managed an innocent look. "Just figured out that note you got, that’s all."
"What!?" I stopped in my tracks.
"Yup." He kept walking along nonchalantly, like it meant nothing even though I knew he was proud of himself for figuring it out. "Remember that cave on Torian Peak? Well, right above it, creating the cave, is a huge boulder. A giant stone, on a mountain high. And wouldn’t that be a great place to hide some gold?"
"But the cave doesn’t even go back into the mountain very far," I reminded him, though I could feel my heart start to pound at his words. It could be the right answer… It really did make sense…
"Yeah, so? There’s plenty of dark places to hide things in. And who would suspect?" He grinned. "Maybe you and I should take a hike up there tomorrow, you think?"
I turned my gaze to the hill in question as Duo strolled ahead of me into the building. "Right," I answered softly, mind racing. "Tomorrow. Sure."