Chapter 10 - Manifestation
Quatre brought Sally and Noin more tea while they satunsteadily on the port side of their ship. It had been a couple of days since their drinking binge but they were still green around the face and frequently leaned over the side to feed the fish with their latest undigested meal. Sally sipped her tea slowly while Noin moaned into her cup. They were not the most dignified Star Dreamers today.
"How many more days on this miserable ship?" Noin sounded more pathetic than Sally remembered – she was practically whining.
"One, two, Darkness, how should I know." They grumbled into silence. At least the boys had been behaving. In fact, they had taken care of the ship arrangements, packed their things, paid the innkeep for the lodgings, food and destroyed furniture, not to mention pay portage fees. They had kept it together, while the two supposed adults had gotten drunk to a point where Duo had referred to them as "luggage." Now they sat while the boys brought them tea and gruel. Sally winced at the things she was sure the Oracle was going to dish out when she heard about this episode. She could see 'kitchen pot-cleaning duty' looming before her eyes. She immediately crawled to the railing and promptly released everything in her stomach into the waiting sea.
The afternoon wore on with the ladies taking turns atthe rail and the boys sitting nearby watching them for signs of real illness. The five were getting along a bit better now with less bickering. It might have had something do with the fact that Heero and Duo were hardly talking to each other. Heero had built a emotionless barrier around himself to avoid Duo while Duo had become subdued and less talkative. Trowa was worried about his usually overly gregarious best friend while Quatre and Wufei were relieved at the more frequent patches of silence.
"I wonder if I should get in touch with father. He doesn't know that I'm out of hiding."
Quatre asked Wufei with worry evident in his voice. It hadn't been their fault that Quatre was out of hiding, but it was still a dangerous situation. "Look, you tell your father and he would bundle you up and out of here. Even if you are the Mind Bender. So, I suggest you let it lie. What he doesn't know won't hurt him."
Wufei did not like underhanded tactics like omitting truths or telling lies, but he realized that there were no options. His sense of duty and honor told him that he had to defend the world from the Light and he could not do it alone. He needed Quatre, as well as the other three. And he would not watch Quatre disappear out of existence because his father was overprotective of his only son and heir. Besides, they had been hiding from their enemies for a year or more now. It was about time that they faced them and decimated them all in a manner befitting a warrior.
Their ship moved smoothly across the water with the blue sky above and lapping waves below. The ship was a marvel, really, with beautiful decorations and unmatched engineering. Duo had picked out this ship as soon as he had seen the name – Mistress of Oceans. Trowa had belittled it, calling it corny, but Duo had insisted on this ship and he had won the tantrum fight. But no one regretted following Duo on this one. The ship itself was wonderful, but the captain was even better. She was fair minded, forthright, and a looker. She hadn't overcharged them even though the Dreamer's Dome was more than capable of paying triple of what she had charged. More than that, she had not asked any questions or bothered the Dreamers with political talk. They all liked her and hoped to sail with her again. If the world didn't end soon, that is.
The captain sauntered on deck and headed toward the boys. She had a special feeling about them, as if they were more than they seemed. Besides, she really liked them as a group, even if their personalities were very different from one another.
"You are looking thoughtful today, Quatre. Something wrong?"
Quatre smiled at the captain. She was very considerate, even when she was being tough on her crew.
"Nothing's wrong. Thank you for asking, captain." Rolling her eyes, she sat next to Quatre on a water barrel and lectured him. Again.
"For the nine hundredth time, Quatre, don't call me captain. I have a name. Call me Arenna. Say it with me. A-Ren-Na."
Duo burst out laughing when Quatre turned beet red and mumbled the captain's name. If Duo hadn't known any better, he would have to say that Quatre was in awe of Arenna. While Duo was busy laughing, Heero turned his head to glance at him. He did it only when he knew Duo could not see him watching. It was too bad that Arenna noticed him watching.
"Heero," Arenna said as she leaned in and spoke in a conspiratory whisper, "I see you watching. I suggest you do more than that."
Heero blushed furiously and became redder when Duo looked at him. Duo had no idea what Arenna had said to Heero, but if it made him blush like that.. Duo figured that Arenna must have propositioned him or said something equally suggestive.
"Hey, Arenna, I don't know if you know, but Gorgeous has absolutely no sex drive. I wouldn't bother, if I were you."
Arenna snickered behind her hand, hiding her knowing smile. She could sniff jealousy from miles away and Duo reeked of it. Arenna figured that it was okay that they were confused about each other – after all, they were only fifteen. It was a confusing age filled with hormones, weird feelings and odd growth spurts. Still sniggering, Arenna walked away and into her cabin. Duo pointedly ignored the loud and merry laughter coming through her cabin door as he turned his head toward the sea. When his eyes hit the horizon, he stood quickly and gripped the side rail to get a better look.
"Light on my mother," Duo swore crudely, "what in the name of Darkness are those things doing?"
'Those things,' as Duo had referred to them, were dark specks in the horizon growing larger and larger.
Those specks turned into three massive ships with catapults and harpoons on the deck. They were closing in fast, their larger sails billowing in the sea wind. Each of their sails had a peculiar symbol on it, sort of like a giant sea serpent twined around an anchor. Only Quatre recognized it.
"Oh, Darkness," Quatre exclaimed, "they are Imaza's ships!"
Wufei became pale but no one else knew what Quatre was talking about.
"'scuse me, Quatre, but what is an Imaza?"
Duo's question just made Wufei paler and Quatre more apprehensive. By this time, Noin and Sally had made their way to them, still green but more or less functioning.
"What are you boys staring at? Who do those ships belong to?"
Sally's authoritative tone was only a bit marred from the hoarseness caused by constantly throwing up. But the boys took notice.
"We're in so much trouble," Quatre said with trepidation. "They belong to Imaza. The most dangerous group of assassins. They were hired five years ago to kill me."
Understanding dawned on everyone like lightening. These Imaza assassins, they were going to kill Quatre and probably everyone else. Most likely, they were going to sink the ship.
"Why is it that our days always go from bad to worse?" Noin smacked Duo on his head for saying such unlucky things. They had enough problems without annoyingly smart-aleck comments from Duo.
Arenna stepped out of her cabin with her captain's face on. With a commanding voice, she ordered everyone to their places and the ship started gathering more speed as it sailed into a patch of strong wind. Just when they thought they were going to outrun the Imaza, the assassins started to launch boulders the size of ponies at them.
"Holy Darkness! They are going to kill us!"
Heero merely rolled his eyes at Trowa's oh-so obvious comment.
"Well, DUH. What did you think they were going to do, invite us over for tea?"
Trowa's one showing eye twitched at Heero's sarcasm.
"Shut up, you guys.. I'm the only one allowed to make stupid comments at times like this."
Strangely enough, it was Duo, the most talkative one of them all, who quieted a boy described as a wall of silence and a boy who hated talking. It was an odd day, especially with the raining boulders. On top of that, they were running out of ideas. They could not outrun them, they certainly could not fight three ships full of trained assassins, and negotiations were right out. In the middle of it all, a boulder found its target. The boulder crashed onto the deck of the Mistress of Oceans and splintered the top deck, leaving a hole the size of a small house. The bottom deck started leaking and the water rushed in. Sinking was an imminent possibility.
Arenna ordered her crew to patch up what they could, but she knew it was nearly hopeless. Even without being attacked, the hole would have been hard to patch up. Grimly, she considered her options. The words capture and surrender were not part of her vocabulary. She needed to get people out of this situation alive. She was the captain and it was her duty.
Another boulder came sailing at them, and despite everyone's scrambling to dodge it, it knocked the railing off the port side and sent some crewmembers flying into the ocean. A piece of flying banister ricocheted off the mast and hit Heero on the head. He fell without a sound.
Sally scrambled toward the fallen Warrior Mage and checked him. He was still breathing and alive, just knocked senseless. Breathing a sigh of relief, Sally tore the bottom of her robe to bandage his head. He was bleeding profusely and losing color. She did not notice Duo looking on with horror.
"Gorgeous.. How.. No.."
Duo could not fathom how Heero had gotten hurt. His mind refused to process it.
Then another boulder hit, not the ship this time, but the water next to it. The sea churned sickeningly and sent Trowa flying to the other side. He hit the railing and was still. Noin hurried over and dragged him back to the relatively stable part of the ship before he fell off and drowned. Duo saw it also. "Trowa? Trowa.."
Duo looked around. People were dying. The Imaza ships were close enough that he could see the people on it, smiling smugly. Heero and Trowa were knocked unconscious, Quatre and Wufei were bleeding from scratches that flying wood splinters had caused. Duo was the only one who was miraculously unhurt. And it made him angry.
"Those Light driven bastards.. I will not let you live."
Sally turned her head when Duo spoke. She was about to tell him to take cover when she felt fear. True, unadulterated fear. Just from looking at Duo's face. His usually cheerful, beautiful face was cold now, his violet eyes held death. In the back of her mind, Sally knew why Duo had received the name Shinigami. She finally understood. This boy Duo knew death and could BE death.
Duo didn't know what he was doing, but he felt something within him call. He reached for it and drank it in. An unknown force built inside him like a storm about to break. His hands shook and his body became taut. His eyes never left the three Imaza ships.
The sea next to the foremost Imaza ship started to churn. The water began to turn in a small whirlpool, going faster and faster until the ship felt its pull. Duo could see the confusion and panic in the Imaza's eyes as they tried to row back from this sudden deathtrap. But Duo would not be satisfied with a ship sinking in a whirlpool. He needed to see them die.
The whirlpool suddenly rose above the water, spinning faster and faster until a column of water that reached the sky was formed. The water spout danced like a snake, twisting and turning sinuously. Everyone, the Imaza and those aboard the Mistress watched in horrified fascination. Only Duo looked calm. Suddenly, the water spout bent and crashed its head into the front most ship. When the water hit, the ship broke apart like a sand castle in the wake of a tidal wave. The ship splintered into millions of pieces and the people manning it did no better. Quatre and Wufei watched in sick horror as various limbs detached by the force of the spout flew over their heads raining blood and bone. Sally and Noin covered their eyes in order to avoid seeing people being torn apart like paper mache dolls. Within seconds the ship was gone and all that was left were pieces of wood and floating torsos and other body parts which could not hold onto each other. The other two ships started to row away, the panic evident in the jerky motions of their oars and sails. Duo smiled ferally and launched the water spout against the other two, crashing the ships by smashing them from the side. The ships disintegrated and then there was a deep silence. The water spout died down, slowly sinking back into the sea like a snake back into its hole. Then it was gone. Everyone gaped at Duo who still stood by the railing, his hands gripping the rail and his eyes burning bright. No one dared approach him, not with the carnage he had somehow caused still floating around them. No. Not yet.
Groggy but lucid, Heero opened his eyes to see if they had been captured by the Imaza. His eyes widened when he realized that they were still on the Mistress and there were no Imaza ships around. Also, no one was moving. They were rooted to the ship, unmoving and obviously uncaring of the water gushing in from the hole in the ship. Heero saw that everyone was looking in one direction, so he turned his head. He saw Duo and felt his body shudder. He could not describe the emotions that he felt as he stared at Duo, but he knew one thing. Duo was in pain and he knew exactly why. "You had to do it."
Duo spun around at Heero, feeling glad that Heero was fine, but sick at heart that Heero knew what he had done. And feeling the surprise as he realized Heero was not angry or disgusted with him.
"When the enemy gives you no choice, what can you do but destroy them?"
Duo did not know what to say. Heero was defending his actions when he could plainly see that what he had done was more than what was needed. He had ripped men into pieces, had destroyed lives when they had been running away. He had shown no mercy, no justice. He had been Shinigami.
Heero saw Duo tremble as the tears gathered behind his pained, grateful eyes. Heero stood, still oozy from the bump on his head, but he needed to comfort Duo. He would not ask himself why, but just act on his emotions. Heero walked to the still trembling Duo and put his arms around his shoulders. He brought the distraught boy close to his body and held him. Duo slumped into his body and let out a wail that he had been keeping back. Heero just held him while Duo let out the anguish and the sorrow.
Sally and Noin turned their eyes away from the intensely private moment of grief. After Sally had seen the face Duo wore while unleashing his power, she had been afraid that Duo's humanity had been lost, stolen from him by the Water Glider's power. But this awful grief Duo showed was reaffirming her belief in these boys. Yes, they would be powerful, more powerful than anything the world had seen if Duo's unleashing was any indication for the others. But she knew that they would not be tempted to go down the path of the Light, heedlessly destroying in the name of purity. No. These boys knew the price of death and the value of life. The Darkness, in its infinite wisdom, had chosen the ones who could understand its true nature and still be its champion.
"Why didn't I stop, Gorgeous? Why couldn't I stop?" Duo mumbled and wailed against Heero's chest, unable to stop his tears and self hatred. Duo knew what he did when he loosed Shinigami. Duo knew the price others paid when he lost control, when he revealed the ugliness within. But he had still done it, only this time, it had not been with a knife, a sword, or his hands. He had loosed Shinigami while wielding the awesome powers bestowed upon him to save this world. By this time, everyone was conscious and heard Duo's words. They felt his pain and mourned with him. Still, there was the lingering fear.
Swallowing the bile that burned his throat, Trowa walked to Duo and Heero. When he had regained consciousness and saw Heero holding Duo, he had nearly ripped them apart. Then he had seen what was truly in front of him – Heero comforting Duo. And as much as he hated to admit it to himself, it seemed that Duo wanted Heero to comfort and soothe him, not his best friend.
Trowa watched Duo cry on Heero's shoulder, keeping his eyes on him until Duo stopped crying. Even when the tears ran out, Trowa did not see any signs that Duo would be moving away from Heero. Even in the silence that grief had left behind, Duo clung to Heero. And Heero did not let go.