Hoax was a small fort southwest of Bale.  They reached the place late in the afternoon and followed Abdul to where the headquarters were.  Previously a town,
Hoax had been changed by the war into a fortress of sorts, with guards stationed along the walls.  One lookout watched from a tower, and the only people
moving about were knights.  Kaiser, leader of the Eighth Knighthood, was waiting for them in a small room near the front gates.

Because none of them had experience with a dragon, they were focused on defending the fort.  A night attack was expected and Trowa and Abdul agreed to
join the watch on the walls.  Catherine put up a token protest when Kaiser asked her to remain inside, but she finally agreed to help serve meals for the
knights.  Though he had expected her to stubbornly demand to go with them, Trowa knew she'd grown up with a mother who put emphasis on good food.  
Even at thirteen, she'd had the habit of making sure he ate properly.  Listening to her argue with the present cook about the nutritional value of what was
currently being served was a breath from the past.  He could almost forget the confident way she'd held her bow earlier.  

* * *

The front gate faced a deep forest to the west.  Together with Albert, Trowa had sat in silence for a number of hours until the sun fell.  Now the only sound was
the burning of the two torches near them and an owl's mournful call.  There weren't very many knights actually on watch, the others were resting and waiting
for the enemy's attack.  It was nearly two hours after nightfall when Abdul finally broke the silence.

"You know, I really appreciate your coming here.  Even if you did do it for your own reasons."  His eyes felt dull from staring at the dark treetops and he took a
quick glance to where Trowa stood.  The light from the torch was too bright after nonstop blackness and he didn't look long.  "If you want to check on
Catherine, I think it'll be alright for a few minutes..."

"It's quiet," Trowa said softly, not bothering to watch the woods. He was leaning against the low wall, his eyes directed on the dim rock beneath his feet.  "If the
Dragon does come near, we'll know immediately."  

"Why is that?" Abdul asked, frowning at the boy's shadowed face.

"The owls," Trowa said simply.  "If they're so bold, then it isn't likely anyone is in the forest."

"Well," Abdul smiled, relaxing his watch a bit.  "If that's the case, then you can definitely go check on Catherine."

"Why do you think I want to check on her?" Trowa asked, frowning as he leaned against the wall opposite Abdul.  "She is safest where she is and it isn't like
she needs help.  She's been cooking since she was a kid, it's one of her hobbies...or it was when I left, anyway."

"Oh, well, you seem restless, that's all.  I thought maybe you were worried about her, after all, you haven't had much private time since you rescued her."  The
boy had tilted his head and one dark green eye stared at him beneath a raised eyebrow.

"Do you think she is my lover?" Trowa asked, his expression completely neutral.

It was the absolutely dead tone that made him flush and Abdul shook his head quickly.  "No!  Well, not lover, but I just assumed you two were seeing each
other.  I mean, you *did* risk your life to rescue her.  And I can tell she cares about you, though she does order you around a lot, too..."

The corner of Trowa's lips rose a bit in a smirk and he shook his head.  "She's very opinionated and stubborn.  That hasn't changed the entire time I've known
her.  And I know she cares about me, she always worried about me, about the most insignificant things.  She's like a sister to me, Cathy is.  I know what you
meant, though, I've noticed that her feelings seem to have changed.  But when I left she was my sister.  Any relationship she sees is something that developed
in her mind while I was gone, it won't last."

"Distance makes the difference, right?"  The boy nodded and Abdul sighed.  "I know how that is.  But you are worried, aren't you?  You're restless."

"That's not her," Trowa said, shaking his head.  "I lived most of my life in this country, but I know next to nothing about it.  This war, I didn't even know there
was a possibility of war until I came back from my journey.  All I'd ever heard was that Serdio was broken into two parts and that there was a truce between the
leaders."

"Right," Abdul nodded, "Sandora and Basil.  How old are you, Trowa?"  The boy's eyes narrowed and Abdul flashed him a quirky smile.  He'd done the math
from the boy's story earlier, so he already knew he wasn't nearly as young as he looked.  "Well, you're younger than I am, so I figured you probably weren't old
enough to remember when King Carlos was alive."

"I've heard the name," Trowa admitted, "he used to rule from the castle in Bale."

"Yes.  Before Sandora separated, he ruled all of Serdio.  Then, after his death, his brother Doel broke away and established himself as the Emperor of
Sandora."  Abdul's eyes narrowed and he threw a glare at the woods to the west.  "He said he wouldn't be ruled by a child.  And Noish refused to let him take
over."

"Then your king *is* as young as he looks," Trowa commented.

"My king?"  The boy's eyes widened for a second and Abdul waved a hand at him.  "I forget that you were born outside of this area.  But you're right,
Quatre-sama was six when he became the king after his father.  It's dangerous to leave a country in the hands of a child, but he is an excellent leader.  When
he discusses strategy, even I forget how young he is."

"You're dedicated to this country because you are a knight," Trowa said, "but would you have served Doel if he had gained the throne instead?"

"My father was a knight to King Carlos," Abdul explained, "so I always wanted to protect my country by being a knight, just like him.  But to answer your
question, I would have to say that I probably *would* have served Doel if he'd become king.  You see, the reason he left was because he wanted to have the
crown until Quatre-sama was eighteen, then he would abstain.  So, I would have become a knight regardless.  I may be leader of the Knighthood now, but I
started as one of the Quatre-sama's personal guards.  Protecting the country is second to protecting him."

Trowa didn't see the difference, but he knew Seles was a small village, explaining why he'd never heard much about the ruler of the country.  Few people
there had ever been in Dale.  Still, he'd been shocked to find out how young the king was and he couldn't imagine a child ruling the country.  Abdul had
averted his eyes and Trowa stared at him suddenly, his own eyes widening a bit.  There was a light flush on the man's cheeks.  "You..."

"I'm babbling on," Abdul said sharply, turning to face the woods where that owl's continuous hoots originated.  "Why don't you grab us something hot to drink?"

"Alright."  Trowa's boots made soft sounds on the cement walkway and he glanced back for a moment when he reached the stairs.  Abdul was leaning against
the wall with his chin propped on one fist, his eyes closed.  He didn't usually form bonds, but he like the man.  The thought was brushed aside as quickly as it
had formed and he turned to the cement stairs, his long legs taking him down at a brisk pace.  As he reached the door to the main building, however, he
halted suddenly, his eyes widening.  For a second he held his breath, then he let out a soft curse.  The air was completely silent; the owls had stopped their
calls. Then a choked scream rang out from the watchtower on the other side of the fort, arrows flying over the walls.

"Fortify the gate!" Kaiser cried, running out and gesturing to the knights who rose to the call.  The two knights on watch had fallen from the tower, impaled by
the arrows and he ran to them, directing a few men to deal with the casualties.

Men were climbing the walls and Trowa sent a quick glance to where Albert had been.  The man was beside him now and they met the incoming wave of
soldiers.  Finishing two enemies, Trowa caught sight of a black clad figure on the wall where they'd kept watch.  Abdul was busy fighting another soldier and he
left him, running back up the stairs.  "I'll guard the top!"

"Right," Abdul said quickly, killing the man and turning to attack another.

The elite soldier was dressed differently from the others, and he grinned when Trowa approached.  The fort was about to fall, and it would be an easy battle.  
"Think you can fight me alone?!" he taunted.  The boy's sword lowered, but his eyes flicked over to Abdul as the man reached them.

"The wave is almost over," Abdul told Trowa, "this guy's the last.  The knights can handle the few left down there."  The tall boy nodded to him and they faced
the dark-clothed man.

"One or two makes no difference!" the Sandora Elite called, not losing his grin.  Crouching slightly, his right arm rose behind him, daggers held at ready.  
Abdul attacked him and he retaliated, straightening as a green light surrounded his hand.  Lowering his arm, he shot the magic through the ground, pillars of
green fire bursting upon the two men.

It was a powerful magic, but Trowa threw it off, not bothering to block when the Elite soldier used it again.  Abdul was forced to use a healing potion, but there
was no time to worry about him as the soldier seemed to have armor strong enough that his sword did not cut it.  Then the man threw out a chain, circling
Abdul's waist and pinning his arms before lifting him and slamming him into the ground.  It didn't hurt as much as the magic had, though, and the knight
countered quickly.  Trowa sped up his own attacks, leaving the man no time to repeat the move.

"Enough," the Sandora Elite called suddenly.  Straightening, he suddenly spun in a circle, splitting into three entities.  All of them grinned at the fighters.

While he'd never seen such a thing, Trowa assumed that only one would be real meaning they could waste their time attacking the wrong one.  Unfortunately,
he only had one magic attack that would hit multiple enemies.  There was no choice and he threw the Meteor Fall at them.  The rocks crashed down,
damaging only the man on the left.  The two copies on the right sent out chains, countering, and Trowa faltered for a second, relieved when Abdul threw a
healing potion to him.  Recovered, he attacked the leftmost enemy.  He could have smirked when the other two disappeared.  Abdul followed joined him and it
didn't take much more to finish the soldier off.

Screams alerted them and they turned to face the gate, both staring in shock at the huge figure.  Dressed in brown armor, the black-haired man could have
been a human if he hadn't been so very tall and muscular, the huge axe he held being as large as a man.

"It's a Giganto!" Abdul said suddenly, jumping down to the courtyard.  He glanced to the side when Trowa joined him.  "I've heard about this," he said harshly,
watching the giant that had ceased its attack on one of the knights and turned to face them.  "But at least it's not a Dragon."

Nodding, Trowa raised his sword as the Giganto attacked.  They hadn't had a chance to heal after the last battle so that was the first thing they did.  Despite
its size, the giant was quick enough and its axe did enormous damage as it sliced through Abdul before moving back again.  The Giganto looked to be
physically strong, so Trowa decided to try magic on it.  Even the basic Burn-out fire spell did efficient damage.  Unfortunately, the giant seemed to take insult
at the magic and suddenly put the axe away behind his back.  Those large hands curled into fists and it ran forward, one arm outstretched.  Trowa blocked
when it struck him, but he was thrown back at least two yards.  Forcing himself back to his feet, he hurried to join Abdul again.  Together, they attacked the
thing, but it countered, grabbing them and flinging them into the sky before backhanding them so hard they struck the wall yards away.

Exchanging a quick glance with Abdul, Trowa shook his head, his hold on the sword tightening.  The attack had been painful, but it wasn't *that* strong.  If they
kept working on the huge man, they could to wear him down.  Lunging forward, Trowa swung his sword, gasping when the Giganto knocked it from his grasp,
striking him across the chest.  He struck the ground hard and for a second his eyes were blurred.  Then he saw the axe lifting over him, and he raised an arm
as if his thin armor would make a difference.  Abdul called out, running toward him, but the Giganto froze suddenly, dark brown eyes lifting.  Frozen, Trowa
followed its gaze.

A bright spot shone in the sky, as if a star were flying toward them.  Pale wings were barely visible framing a dark form that approached too quickly to see
clearly.  A small, bright rapier struck the axe, knocking the Giganto back a step and the giant turned, still watching the figure as it flew to the side.  It hovered,
the light that had surrounded it seeming to dissipate with its stillness.  The wings were a pale, translucent green, dark bluish-black armor rising over the man's
shoulders, long dark brown hair seeming to float in the air around him.  The sword was pointed, not at the Giganto, but at the red-armored boy immobile on
the ground.

"Wake up!" the figure called, voice low and powerful.  "Dragoon of the Red-Eye Dragon!"

Abdul was in shock, but Trowa's wide eyes proved the boy was as surprised as he.  A burst of flame suddenly erupted around his friend and Abdul took a
rapid step back, gaping at the red fire.  The Giganto moved even further away, but he couldn't see Trowa, the spot vacant somehow.  His eyes snapped up to
where a bright form lifted into the black sky, looking like some sort of fiery bird as wings of flame burst out.  It dove, circling the courtyard before striking the
giant who barely had time to lower his axe.  For a second it looked as if the Giganto was strong enough to hold the flaming thing that struck him, then he was
flung back, digging a groove into the rocky ground before lying still.  Abdul's eyes locked on the burning figure as it slowly settled to the ground, the flame
dying down until he could see that it *was* Trowa.  The boy was wearing a different type of armor, large and thick, a deep red color.  He had pale green wings
trimmed in red that stood out from his shoulders.  

Settling on the ground, Trowa seemed to be stunned and his eyes on his gloved hand.  Then the dark-armored figure landed next to him, crouching for a
second before rising.  The strange man's armor was more slender now, the wings gone, and he turned dark violet eyes on Trowa before flicking long chestnut
hair over his shoulder and looking away.

"Trowa..."  The boy's green eyes met his and Abdul stared at the red band that circled the boy's forehead beneath the fall of long bangs.  A green stone was
set in the center and it seemed to be the same color as those eyes.  His voice seemed to return suddenly and Abdul took a sharp step to him.  "What
happened to you?!"

Trowa moved his arms, freezing as those wings spread briefly, and his voice faltered.  "I don't know..."  The longhaired male turned to him and he recognized
the violet eyes, his mouth opening but not making a sound.

"The Knight of the Dragon, the Dragoon was born."  Violet eyes flashed suddenly and he turned to the fallen Giganto as it sat up with a low groan.  "I'm
surprised you didn't die," he murmured, meeting hateful dark eyes.

"I won't die!" the Giganto rumbled, his voice deep and rough.  "This is *not* over."  The pale figure's lips curved into a sly smile and he turned away, rushing
out of the gate, axe in hand.

Trowa took a sharp step to stop it from getting away, but the door behind him was flung open and he glanced back.  Catherine was staring at him with a
horrified expression.

"Trowa!"

"It's alright, Cathy, it's over."  The girl didn't blink, but Trowa wavered suddenly.  He felt as if he'd used up all of the energy in his body and his eyes closed
when a bright flash of light blinded them.  Then his normal armor was back, the wings gone as if they'd never existed.  He fell to his knees, his breath heavy
and quick.

"Trowa!  What happened?"  Crouching in front of him, Catherine was hesitant to touch the boy, afraid that she might make things worse.  He sighed, then fell
to the ground.  "Trowa...?"

Moving closer, Abdul also knelt beside his friend, turning him onto his back.  "He's breathing," he said quickly, "let's get him inside."

* * *

"What are you to Trowa?  What did you do to him?"

The girl seemed ready to attack and Abdul wasn't sure if he'd be able to stop her.  Of course, he wasn't sure if she wasn't right to be so distrustful of the dark
person.  The man had been mostly silent, watching Trowa and completely ignoring them.  But he hadn't made any threatening gestures, in fact, he looked
younger in the light.  It was the blank expression that made him wary.  Those odd violet eyes finally shifted, settling on Catherine's angry face.

"I was only..."

The voice was soft, tentative, and Abdul caught Catherine's gaze.  "Calm down, Cathy.  He helped us."

"I should be thanked," the longhaired man continued, staring at Catherine's hostile expression, "so why are you yelling at me?"  The girl looked as if she would
say something, but a sigh sounded from the bed and Catherine leaned over it quickly.

Green eyes blinked and Abdul sighed with relief, meeting Trowa's gaze.  "So you've finally come around."  The boy stared at him for a second, then pushed
himself into a sitting position.

"I was..."  Whatever Trowa had been about to say was lost as he caught sight of the person standing at the foot of the bed.  Catherine said something, but
he'd already stood, moving to the young man.  "You."

"Duo," the man answered, expression still blank.  "It's nice to see you again."

"You know Trowa?" Catherine asked, frowning at the man who seemed to be looking younger each time she looked at him.  In fact, she'd thought it was a girl
until Abdul told her otherwise.

"I told you," Duo reminded her, not taking his eyes away from Trowa.  "I just saved his life...twice now."

"Trowa, is it true?"  The boy didn't even glance back at her and Catherine felt a rush of anger.  "Is it?"

"Come on, Trowa," Abdul prodded, smirking when the boy blinked and glanced at him.  "Explain.  I don't understand."

"He saved my life," Trowa said, glancing back at the dark armored man.  "Thanks to him, I was able to make it to Seles."  Catherine let out a soft sound and he
turned to look at her, blinking as anger seemed to leave her face.

"Oh.  That person who saved you from the Dragon."  Smiling suddenly, she looked back at Duo, nodding.  "I'm sorry I was rude."

"Speaking of which," Trowa said, turning back to Duo.  "I never thanked you for saving me."

"I didn't expect to be thanked," Duo murmured, his eyes averted, "It was my choice to intervene."

"I see," Trowa said slowly.  "And why are you here?  I don't believe in coincidences."  Those violet eyes flicked back to him and he was surprised to see a hint
of a smile that disappeared quickly.

"Coincidences are real enough," Duo told him, "but I actually followed you here.  I was interested in this artifact that you own."  Holding the boy's eyes, he
pulled the dark blue stone from his armor, holding it in his palm so it shone with a white light.  "You have the Dragoon Spirit of the Red-Eyed Dragon."

Frowning, Trowa pulled out the stone his father had left and he jerked back in surprise when it too erupted with light unlike its previous glow.  His had a red tint
beneath the white and Duo's a blue one that hadn't been noticeable before.  "What is this?"

"You 'deserve' to rule Dragons," Duo murmured, his face pale in the blue violet light.  "This reaction shows the true evidence.  From the time the Dragoon
Spirit starts to shine, you have to accept your fate as a Dragoon...just like me."

The young man was staring at the stone and Trowa looked to his own.  "I didn't know there was such power concealed in my father's momento."  Duo suddenly
hid the blue stone again and his own lost that red tint, only a white light visible in his hand.

"Then you only saved him because you knew about this," Catherine accused, not quite looking as angry as she had before.  She still didn't trust the stranger,
but she had to give him credit for saving Trowa's life.  "You knew from the beginning."

Shaking his head at her, Duo let his arms drop.  "I didn't *know* it.  It was a test to see if he could be a Dragoon."  Trowa put the stone away and he looked at
the boy.  "If you couldn't, then you would be dead by now."

"How do you know about things like that?" Abdul asked.  "You know too much about things nobody could know."

His lips twitched and Duo faced the brown-haired man.  "That's better than ignorance, isn't it?"

"Maybe," Abdul said, his eyes narrowing at the man's easy gaze.  "But you seem to know more than just facts.  The story of Dragoons is known only in legend
and most of that has been lost.  I know it because Minister Noish told it to me, but he's one of the few people who still know.  The ones who led humans to
victory in the Dragon Campaign, they were the Dragoons."

Silence reigned for a minute, then Trowa stepped toward Duo, his expression neutral.  "So, the only reason you saved me is because you thought I might be
one of these Dragoons."

"I was surprised at myself," Duo admitted, "intervening when there was only a small chance of your being a dragoon.  But I know why, now.  The three of you
look like some people I used to know.  They lived in the middle of a turbulent generation, yet they were strong enough to grab their own fate.  They knew the
way to go, the things to do, the enemy to defeat and the people to protect.  I guess I felt the same from you and was drawn to it."  He'd turned his back on
them, but he glanced over his shoulder and finally turned, his eyes void of any emotion.  "So, do you know enough to understand me?"

Trowa nodded, but Catherine was watching the boy with narrowed eyes.  His story sounded so odd, and she hadn't been able to see his face to tell if he were
making it up or not.  "Can I ask you one thing?" she asked.  Duo nodded.  "What are they doing now, these friends of yours?"  Those violet eyes were
completely blank, yet they seemed to swallow her up.  

"Every one of them is dead.  It's all in the past."

The man's voice was so soft and cold that she believed it, she had absolutely no doubt that what he'd said was true.  Her cheeks burned with shame and she
shook her head.  "I'm sorry.  I was wrong about you."

"It's okay," Duo said lightly, shrugging his shoulders.  "I'm used to being hated."

If anyone else had said that, Trowa would have thought it a call for pity, but the boy's expression was too calm.  Silence filled the room, broken by a sudden
call from outside.

"Is the head of the Knighthood, Sir Kaiser, in here?!  The Seventh Fort is under strong attack by Sandoras!!"

"What?!"  Nodding to Trowa, Abdul ran from the room, not pausing until he reached the gate.  A knight of Basil stood, leaning on some of the rubble from the
night's fight.  Halting before him, Abdul helped the man stand, his eyes wide.  "Tell me!"

"The Seventh Fort in the Marshland is under the fierce attack of the Dragon!  Due to that, the Tenth and Thirteenth Knighthoods are almost overwhelmed!  
Survivors are still responding."  

"Where did it come from?" Abdul cursed, supporting the man as he could see he was exhausted, if not injured.

"From the forest over the Volcano Villude," the knight said.  "There must be a nest there for the Dragon."

Abdul turned, spotting Kaiser, and waved to another knight to help the man so he could go to the commander.  "Sir."

"Gigantos and Dragons," Kaiser whispered, "it's not a fight between humans.  If we don't defeat the dragon, our war is over."

"Summon the rest of the knights, then," Abdul urged.  "We'll assault the Dragon's nest!"

"Your Knighthood has the advantage of numbers," Duo interrupted softly.  He was leaning against the wall and he met Abdul's hasty gaze with a calm
detachment.  "But they are only human.  Humans cannot defeat a dragon.  Even if you try, Basil will still be annihilated."

"We *have* to try," Abdul said angrily, unnerved by the boy's careless tone.

Duo's eyes narrowed and he pushed away from the wall, moving to stand in front of the taller man.  "Do you think a wasted death is honorable?"  The man met
his gaze for a moment before dropping his head in defeat.  Years before he might have felt sorry for him, but he merely shrugged his shoulders, violet eyes
impassive.  "But Dragoons can defeat him..."  Hopeful brown eyes flicked back to him and he turned to look at Trowa.  "You should understand this.  We have
a different existence.  We are beyond humans."

"That's right," Abdul said, also looking at Trowa.  "Dragoon.  Dragoons were said to have governed the Dragons!  Surely *they* can fight against the dragon."

"Maybe," Trowa said, moving closer to them. "I know I felt power last night.  I'm stronger than I was before I used the stone.  Though I don't know what that
strength would be compared to a dragon."

"But it's a chance," Kaiser whispered.  "There is nobody left who can fight in the Eighth Knighthood."  Abdul looked surprised, but he hadn't told the man the
actual extent of the injuries from the attack.

"Kaiser," Abdul said suddenly, moving to the man.  "You're injury is bleeding.  Trowa and I will fight this."

"I'll go also," Duo said, smirking when the man raised an eyebrow at him.  "It won't be enough if only Trowa and you go."

Nodding, Kaiser looked to where Catherine was standing.  "Catherine, you should stay here."

"No," Catherine said sharply, frowning at the man.  "I'm going."  Trowa frowned at her and she folded her arms, giving him a glare.  "I am."

A far-off roar was heard and Duo turned to it, tilting his head back.  "The Green Tusked Dragon, Feyrbrand..."  Glancing over his shoulder, he blinked at
Trowa slowly.  "Are you still afraid of him?"

"I'm much stronger than I was then," Trowa said drolly.  "And it wasn't fear then, either.  I simply was not strong enough to fight it."

"I see," Duo said softly, his eyes dark.  "You're confident now."  Shaking his head, he moved to lean against the wall again.  "But you're young, still.  You'll
learn what real fear is...eventually."

* * *
TBC



FEEDBACK

FANFICTION INDEX