Chapter 4 - Unexpected Surprises
Noin watched the vein on Sally's forehead tick rhythmically. It had not stopped twitching ever since a certain Warrior Mage had joined their company. Sallywas the most composed person Noin knew, yet in the past month she had seen Sally lose her temper and mind more often than in the nineteen years she had known Sally. It was amusing in one aspect and quite disturbing in others. After the initial outburst back at the inn a few days ago, Sally had lost her temper at least three times since then. She had yelled at Heero for suggesting that they buy some horses. Then she had nearly decked the poor boy for asking about the powers of an Air Slicer. Finally, just a few minutes ago, Sally had screamed at Heero for not walking in pace with them. Just what was going on with Sally?
"Is she always this high strung?"
Heero's question almost earned him another tongue lashing from Sally, but she somehow restrained herself. Noin definitely felt like she was in the middle and didn't know whether to answer the question or ignore it. To her surprise, Sally answered in an even voice.
"I'm not so bad, usually. It's just that we're under a lot of pressure. We only found you, the Air Slicer. We still have to find four others and the stars are telling us jack shit."
That much was true. For the past few days after they had found the first Warrior, both Noin and Sally had looked to the skies for more signs. The stars had told them that they had found the Air Slicer, thereby quieting their lingering doubts about Heero, but the stars had yet to produce a hint about the others. It was very frustrating.
When night fell once again, Sally and Noin made camp while Heero started a fire in the middle of their small clearing in the woods. After they had eaten some food, Noin went into the darkest part of thewoods and climbed the tallest tree she could find. Her robe hindered her movements somewhat but she still managed to get to the top branch of an oak that stood twenty feet high. Breathing the sharp night air, Noin looked into the sky to see if the stars had anything different to say this night. When her eyes reached the southern border of the Water Dragon, she nearly fell off the tree jumping for joy. She had found the readings for the second Warrior.
While Noin was up on her tree, Heero and Sally sat around the small fire. There was no conversation since Heero was not a speaker and Sally was in no mood to speak. It was so silent around the camp fire that it was a mystery how they missed a young boy creeping towards them from the eastern edge of the small camp. If Heero had not looked up at the exact moment he did, this boy would have gotten away with their entire ration of food.
"Stop right there!"
Heero's voice rang out in the night, startling Sally out of her revelry. She saw Heero stand and take off after a figure lugging their knapsack on its back. Then both were gone into the woods.
Heero ran after the nimble figure ahead of him. Heero was extremely angry with himself and at that boy running ahead. How had that boy gotten past his guard? No one had ever been able to sneak up on him. No one. Except for that boy running for his life. Heero's anger grew as the figure ahead of him actually put more distance between them. That boy was fast and agile, almost like he was part of the woods. Then without warning, the boy disappeared from his view. "Darkness be damned! What the hell?"
Heero heard the expletives and ran faster. Apparently, that boy had fallen or something and it was his chance to catch up to him. When he got closer, he saw that this boy had not fallen. In fact, the boy was standing completely still behind the tree he had obviously planned on climbing. It seemed that the only thing moving on the boy was his mouth as he let out swear words in a steady stream.
"What are you doing?"
Heero had to ask, because this boy was just standing there. Was this some sort of a trick? Why would he just freeze when he had the advantage of speed and distance to get away clean? Apparently, the boy had no idea what he was doing either.
"I don't know what I'm doing. I can't move. What did you do to me?"
There was no panic or desperation in the voice, just puzzlement and curiosity. This boy was not afraid of anything, it appeared.
"You can't move? Why not?"
The boy laughed at Heero's question.
"If I knew why I couldn't move, I would have already gotten out of the situation. Thanks for the concern." The sarcasm in the voice did nothing to assuage Heero's anger at this boy. He had stolen from them but he still had the nerve to mock him. It was unforgivable.
"Give me back our food. If you do, I won't harm you." Heero thought that his conditions were reasonable. However, the boy disagreed.
"No chance, little man. I need it more than you do."
Little man? That was just plain insulting. Heero took a step toward the boy, intent on giving him a good hit to the gut. Just then, the moon peeked out from its cloud cover and the two boys got to look at each other fully.
Heero froze in his steps, completely mesmerized. This boy was no older than he was. However, that was not what had him completely awe struck. This boy had the most beautiful face he'd ever seen. He had a heart shaped face that belonged on a girl with luminous eyes the color of deep violet. His bangs fell haphazardly across his face while the rest of his hair was bound in a tight braid that fell to his thighs. If Heero had seen him during daylight, he would have made an idiot of himself drooling. Heero was glad that it was night. He was fairly sure that this boy could not see his blushing face.
"Man, you are one gorgeous guy. What's your name?"
Heero started at the boy's query. What had he said? He was gorgeous?
"Hello? Gorgeous? I asked your name?"
"Heero. Heero Yuy."
Darkness, had he just blurted out his name to this boy who was stealing their food? As Heero mentally chided himself on his stupidity, the boy spoke.
"Not so nice to meet you, Heero, Heero Yuy. I'm Duo Maxwell. How are you doing?"
Heero was struck speechless. This thief, Duo, was starting a conversation in the middle of a hot pursuit for stolen goods.
"Sheesh, you don't really speak much, do you, Heero. Anyway, now that we know each other, do you want to let me go?"
Heero shook his head to clear it. This situation was becoming more unreal by the moment. First, Heero found out there was someone who could sneak past him. Then he had found out that this boy was faster than him. To make matters even worse, this boy called Duo was absolutely stunning. What else could happen that could possibly make this night stranger?
"No, I'm not letting you go. I don't even know why you're just standing there."
Heero saw Duo trying to turn his head to look around him, as if searching for hidden strings. Even though the muscles in his neck were bunched and strained, Duo's head did not move an inch. His mouth, unfortunately, had free movement.
"I don't see how I'm being held here. One minute, I'm ready to shimmy up the tree. Next thing I know, it's like the air around me became solid. Weird, huh?"
Heero frowned at Duo's statement. The air around him had solidified? Something in the back of his mind tickled at a dream of a memory, but he could not remember it. As he tried to grasp the elusive thoughts, there were loud crashing noises. Soon, Sally and Noin burst into this already confusing scene.
"Heero, next time you go off running, you should tell me where!"
Sally was most unhappy and Noin was not doing much better. After all they had gone through to find the Air Slicer, he had run off without even a by-your-leave. What were parents teaching their children these days? They then noticed that there was another person present, giving them a rather cocky grin.
"Hey, what's up? I'm Duo, just a nice guy.. Can you nice ladies convince the expressionless boy Heero to let me go?"
Sally walked over to Duo and examined him. As far as she could tell, he was not being restrained by anything. Unless..
"Heero," Sally said in her no-nonsense voice, "let him go. You're holding him with bonds of air."
Noin let out a strangulated sound as she made her way over to the captive Duo. She patted the space around Duo and nodded in confirmation.
"Sally's right, Heero. The air around him is completely solid. It's like touching an invisible rock. I'm impressed! When did you learn to manipulate air like this?"
At this time, both Heero and Duo were too taken aback to answer. Eventually, Duo sputtered out something that could have been a sentence.
"Excuse me? Speak clearly, Duo."
Duo glared at the one with the funny braids, the lady named Sally. She had spoken to him like he was a child. He had not been a child in a long time and he resented being treated like one.
"I said, Lady Sally," Duo responded, mockingly enunciating every word, "how can anyone control air? That is not humanly possible."
"Silly boy, it's possible for the Air Slicer. You have the pleasure of being captured by the Warrior Mage of Air, Heero Yuy."
Duo decided that he did not like this situation at all. Not only was he being held by the most gorgeous boy he had ever seen, he was apparently tied up by invisible strands of air. Sometimes, life just became a hectic ride and one needed to get off. "Okay, then. A Warrior Mage. Ah ha. Okay."
Much to Noin and Sally's surprise, it was Heero who took offense at Duo's careless comment.
"I am the Air Slicer. If you don't shut up, I might decide to tighten the bonds on you."
"Yeah, whatever. You don't even know what you did, or if you did it. So get off your high horse, Gorgeous."
"My name is Heero! And if you want to get free, stop irritating me."
That should have shut Duo up quickly. Despite his bravado and confident exterior, Duo was a bit frightened of the fact that he could not move. If these people said it was because of Heero, then he couldn't afford to piss him off. But his mouth had different ideas; his mouth was a liability sometimes.
"I guess then I'm never gonna get free, right Gorgeous?"
Duo's mouth curled into a sneer at the end of his sentence. In his head, Duo was madly berating himself for yet another stupid remark. He had to think before he spoke!
To say that Heero was annoyed would have been marginally correct. In actuality, Heero was seething. No one had ever provoked him to anger so quickly with so little effort before and that fact alone got him even angrier. Suddenly, Duo started choking.
"What.. The air is getting.. Tighter.. Can't.. Breathe.."
Noin jumped in front of Heero and shook him."Stop feeling angry! Let go! Stop it Heero! You're killing him!"
Noin's panicked words penetrated the haze of anger in his mind. Beyond Noin, he saw Duo choking, hisclothes pressed tightly to his lithe body by some invisible force. Horrified, Heero took a step forward, his anger completely forgotten. With a whoosh, Duo slumped to the ground unconscious. Heero rushed to his side and felt for a pulse, praying to Darkness desperately. He did not want to have Duo's death on his conscience. Heero sighed in relief when his fingers encountered a steady beating at his neck. Without a word, he picked up Duo's limp body and motioned for Sally to grab the knapsack on the ground.
In silence, the three walked back to their camp.