Date: April 17, 2011

Disclaimer: As far as Mobile Suit Gundam Wing goes: Bandai has rights. Sunrise has rights. Sotsu Agency has rights. Rally does not have rights; she just likes to play with the characters. It's so much fun. As far as the world of Valdemar and Velgarth go: Mercedes Lackey has rights. DAW books have rights. Rally (again) does not have rights; she just loves dropping confused bishies in and waiting to see how long it'll take them to swim. (Again) it's just so much fun!

A/N: "Italics" is Duo speaking in Standard. "No italics" mean he's speaking Valdemaren. :Colons and Italics:indicate Mindspeech.

On A Pale Horse

A resolve, once made, is not always as easy to execute as one would hope or expect. The truth of this statement was becoming more and more apparent as every hideout searched had turned out devoid of one very specific Herald trainee. The afternoon, that gorgeous, wonderful afternoon that was supposed to have been spent riding and relaxing in the sunshine, was in the midst of turning into a cool evening. To put it lightly, Simaree was less than pleased about abandoning her plan for leisure time. Since the end of History, she had made an entire circuit of the collegium grounds. Coming up empty handed, she gave it another go. Looping the grounds, twice, was not her idea of a good time. In fact, it gave her a pinchy feeling in the back of her neck that she was sure would bloom into an impressive headache if she didn't locate her elusive prey soon.

Curse that boy! Alaen, even with his big, blue-eyed, puppy-dog looks, was a slippery little bastard when he chose to be.

As she was unable to locate the boy at any of his usual haunts she decided to try the site of Alaen's last class. When she first entered the salle, Simaree was stopped in her tracks by bodies crowding the doorway. Though entrance was packed with enough lingering students that she was forced to stand on tip toe to try to make out what all the fuss was about, the air was oddly still, tension soaked and almost silent. Actually, the only thing that she could make out was what appeared to be a series of dull smacks. That made sense, as it was a room in which to practice fighting. What she couldn't figure out was, what was so interesting about whoever the hell was fighting that it enthralled more than a dozen people. Her curiosity peaked enough that she momentarily forgot all about her aggravation with her charge and her mission to locate him.

Trying once more, unsuccessfully, to see past the group ahead of her, she mentally cursed males in general and their annoying gift of height. Giving up, she tapped the shoulder of the tallest onlooker within reach, assuming that he'd have the best view.

"What?" the Bardic student dropped back in a whisper, without otherwise acknowledging her presence.

"What's going on?" A few seconds passed by but there was no response. Simaree bit back her irritation and gave him two more solid taps.

"Oh, sorry." This time he deigned to face his inquisitor. It was a boy she'd seen around but had never actually met. The only thing she did know was that his name was Thaddeus. "A new kid's sparring with Master Tehlin," he began and then broke out into a beaming smile, "And he's good."

A new kid? "Duo?"

He shrugged. "Don't know his name," he replied before abruptly slapping his forehead. "Where are my manners? Here." The "here" was emphasized by a hand clamping onto Simaree's wrist and the she found herself being guided ahead of the wall of bodies. "That him?"

Simaree focused on the match before her. It was Duo, alright. "Yeah," she breathed back taking in the details. The combatants faced off without weapons of any sort, the master's snowy uniform in stark contrast to Duo's pitch outfit. As the two broke apart for a second of reprieve, studying one another intently, the moment slowed, the scene seeming like it should have been some sort of overly dramatic symbolism. Light versus Dark. Good versus Evil and all that. Words from the previous day came back in a rush. "Where I come from, Shinigami is the king of Death. My name is Duo Maxwell but my name is Shinigamialso." Life versus Death?

She blinked hard. Time resumed and it only took a few seconds to notice that Thaddeus was right. Duo was good. He was fast and agile enough to dodge most of the Armsmaster's attacks. As for the hits that were connecting, Duo almost always managed to redirect them, guiding the blow to either send the hit wide or as a means of trying to throw off Tehlin's balance. It was really quite brilliant especially considering that he'd only been out of bed for two full days and he was still on the mend. But even now, she could see the exertion beginning to wear him down. His breathing increased and he started to react just a bit slower. It was enough for Tehlin to get the upper hand. The master redoubled his efforts, pressing his exhausted opponent back step after step until he, quite suddenly, called a halt. The figures parted, Tehlin nodding and Duo bending in an odd sort of half bow in which his eyes never strayed from the master.

"Good," Tehlin declared with another nod. "Tomorrow we see how proficient you are with a blade. Now, go, cool down and get some supper." Duo gave that funny bow again, swiped at his sweaty brow with a sleeve and proceeded to make his obligatory laps of the salle as instructed.

Simaree gawked at the Armsmaster. She was positive that Tehlin had never so much as thought about uttering the word, "Good," to any student he'd had for less than a year. And while she'd admit that at her current skill set she would be capable of keeping herself alive in most situations, she'd never earned a single "good" from the master. Awed tones rose up as similar observations were quietly voiced by her previously silent comrades.

Master Tehlin turned to his engrossed audience. "Since you are all still here, I assume that you wish to practice some more. Pair up and let me see if any of you learned anything while your mouths were gaping like fish."

Thanks to Thaddeus' earlier assistance, Simaree was front and center and could in no way have slipped out unnoticed or talked herself out of the extra lesson. It wasn't his fault as he was just trying to be helpful, but her irritation demanded someone to blame for putting off her search for Alaen, yet again. She would have fumed at the Bardic trainee through the entire hour long session if she hadn't been paired up with him and discovered that the guy had skills of his own. His height made him appear gangly, but he struck like a viper, quick and vicious. She had to focus everything she had to simply avoid his strikes. Her brain was so full of a mantra of, "dodge, dodge, dodge," that she dodged an anticipated blow that never occurred before her thoughts cleared enough to notice that Thaddeus had both hands up and a smirk on his lips. Clearly he was enjoying having the upper hand. Her eyes narrowed.

"Look," he began quickly, allowing the smirk to fade, "We're supposed to be practicing what we observed." Simaree allowed her glare to morph into a state of annoyed inquiry but held her stance in a guard. "I'm not trying to make you mad. I keep setting you up to do one of those moves he made where he deflected the punch, but you just keep ducking out of the way."

His tone was completely sincere. He was taking the lesson seriously. She should have been, as well. Simaree blew out a tension filled breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding and finally lowered her guard. "I'm sorry," she apologized earnestly. "I've just had a very stressful day and getting stuck here isn't helping it to get any better. I shouldn't have taken it out on you."

He smiled and waved her off. "That's alright. Master Tehlin's just proving a point. He won't keep us here too much longer. So, how about we try this: You be the attacker and I'll defend. I'm only going to defend, so give it all you've got and don't worry about a counter-attack. I've got to figure out how he did some of those moves." Simaree's lips curled into a slight smile, she nodded and then let her fists fly.

Simaree made it back to Heraldic with just enough time to grab a quick wash before heading down to dinner. She popped into the kitchen for a moment to catch Alaen at his evening chore but was immediately shooed out after being informed by Cook that the boy hadn't shown up. Simaree gave in to a sigh. "Slippery little bastard," she mumbled, heading off to her evening meal.

To be continued...