AN - Hello, all! I'm DuchessOfGere. Gere's fine : ). This is my first Vampire Game fic! Vampire Game is a great, gravely under-appreciated (in my opinion!) series. If you haven't read all 15 volumes, you might want to. Particularly since this story is a continuation of the series ; ).
THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!! Just so all you fine folk know.
Also, I'm a pretty mercurial writer, sadly enough. I know some FF authors are really dedicated and post regularly and I really admire that! I'm just not one of them. This story was my response to 'Well, what happens to Duzie NOW?'. I just figured that is I'm going to write it there can't be much harm in posting it . Reviews are very welcome! Critiques are even better and flames are often pitiable, but amusing all the same!
In case you hadn't guessed, I'm not Judal, nor do I work for (or even hold shares in!) Tokyopop or Wings Manga Magazine. It therefore goes without saying that this is a fanbased work and I am not receiving any sort of remuneration for writing this story (much as I might wish I was).
General Selen cradled the two brothers to her chest; a round tiny head nestled in the crook of each elbow. One of the boys begins to wail, his tiny baby fists flailing in the air
"I can't believe how lucky you are! To have such beautiful twin boys!" Selen exclaimed, gently bouncing the crying infant in an attempt to quiet his cries. "The one with the black hair looks just like you, Your Highness." Ishtar's face lit up, as if she had just been paid the most lavish of compliments.
"I thought so, too!" She leaned over Selen's shoulder to beam down at her sons' faces. "The blond one is Phelios and the black-haired one is Duzell." Ishtar was grinning along at her own brand of humor. "I'm guessing they probably won't get along with each other, and that it's going to be trouble from here on in!"
Duzell sloshed through the creek, getting water and mud all along the cuffs and sides of his trousers. He stopped in the middle of the creek, pivoting as he scrutinized the landscape, long black hair whipping around behind him. His body stilled and his eyes narrowed. There, just behind the thicket, he thought he could make out soft brown fur. With the quiet grace of a cat, he reached over his shoulder, drawing an arrow and nocking it into place against the bowstring. Brow furrowed in concentration, he lifted the bow, slowly pulling back his arm…
"Duzie!" The deer jumped, instantly alert, and took off into the woods. In a flurried attempt, the young prince released the arrow, knowing it wouldn't hit the target the moment his fingers uncurled. Still, he held his breath until the arrow whistled into a tree just a few feet from where his quarry had been standing. The deer was long gone.
"Duzie!" the insistent call came again. This time, the black-haired prince turned to the source of the intrusion, face so red it was a wonder he wasn't dizzy from the head rush. A slight boy with cropped golden blond hair and light blue eyes ran splashing into the creek, a broad smile decorating his face. "There you are! We thought we'd lost you," the boy said, clasping his irate brother on the arm.
"Moron! You scared away the doe," Duzell hissed, trying to get his anger in check. There was just something about his twin that caused his usually well-controlled emotions to boil. At first the slighter boy looked vaguely chastised, but a moment later was shaking off the remorse and replacing it with a ridiculously sunny grin. He placed a pale hand on his brother's arm, ignoring the taller youth's attempts to shake off the touch. "I'm going to kill you one of these days," Duzell muttered, glaring blackly at his sibling.
"Okay." Phelios responded with his customary unconcerned affability to the now familiar threat. Duzell's ire seemed to melt, mollified (or perhaps perplexed) by his twin's easy acceptance of inevitable doom. Shaking his head, Duzell brushed past his grinning-idiot of a brother and began heading back in the direction of the hunting party, Phelios trotting along behind him.
"We flowed the boar almost up to the forest edge before anyone realized you were even gone! I wish you'd told me you were going. I would have come with you," Phelios protested, falling into stride with his twin. "Dad might be angry. He didn't want me wandering off, but I'd figured you'd come this way, so…"
Phelios let the topic drop with an easy shrug of his slim shoulders. The boys were climbing up a hillside, fallen leaves and dirt sticking to their sodden pant legs and boots. Neither seemed to care. There were voices coming from the top of the hill. Duzell squared his shoulders, steeling himself for the inevitable scolding. General Darres wasn't the world's best, or most effective disciplinarian, but he certainly could lecture one's ear off. Duzell had a particular loathing for reprimands, especially ones coming from his father.
"Hey!" Phelios called, waving his arms in the air to draw the party's attention as the duo crested the hill. Once the hunting group was in view, Duzell could make out Darres' dark head of hair huddled together in conference with two of the local hunters that had been accompanying them. Duzell guessed Jill and Krai had broken off to look for him within the forest. Their father's head snapped up at Phelios' salutation, shaggy black bangs falling over anxious blue eyes. The Pheliostian General let out an audible sigh of relief at the sight of the two boys alive and with all their limbs intact. He placed his hands on his hips and frowned at his sons.
"You're not to old for a spanking, you know," he admonished, including both of his wayward sons in the warning. Phelios offered an apologetic smile, complete with wide-as-saucers puppy eyes and practiced air of innocence. It was an expression Darres had been all too accustomed to seeing on his wife's face during her younger, rowdier days.
"Sorry, Dad. All you old guys were slowing us down." Phelios took a step closer to his twin and Duzell immediately moved away, stomping around his father as if Darres were no more than a tree in armor. Phelios only sighed at the rejection, but Darres turned to follow after his son, arresting him with a stern "Duzell!" The fifteen-year-old stopped, facing his father with crossed arms and an affectedly blasé expression. Darres took a deep breath and prepared for round one.
"I just ask that you don't go off into the forest by yourself. At least take a guard with you. Both of you. I know you're both capable, but there are worse things out there than wild boars…" Duzell huffed indignantly at the well-worn lecture. The nerve of insinuating that he was incapable of handling himself!
"I know, Father," the teen ground out in an attempt to circumvent the rest of the talking-to. Darres squinted in disapproval of the flippant response. He'd swear keeping after Ishtar must have been easier than looking after her willful sons. Between Duzell's outright defiance and Phelios' penchant for crafty disappearances Darres was beginning to feel that his energies were spread a bit thin. Maybe he was just getting too old for chasing after headstrong kids.
"I wouldn't have to keep telling you this if you'd listen." Duzell was doing his best to look distinctly unimpressed, letting his gaze wander across the treetops. He could just make out the stone turrets of home over the foliage. Darres gave another sigh, this time in surrender. It seemed some things would never change. Just then, Krai and Jill came clambering up the other side of the hill, Jill with a dead rabbit tied over his shoulder, effectively forestalling any continuance of the argument.
The hunting party, regrouped and ready, loudly made its way back toward the castle path. Krai's good-natured if bawdy joking and Phelios' laughter were enough to occupy nearly the entire trek. At first, Duzell hung back, flatly refusing to join the conversation in favor of sulking, but was inevitably and quite against his will dragged into the light-hearted exchange of quips and puns.
People called out to the party as they made their way up the forest road to the east gate, stopping in their various pursuits to acknowledge the princes and General. As the little group approached the tall stonewalls, the gates were flung open and the busy going-ons of the inner keep were revealed. Servants dragged bundles of linens or carts of bread from one doorway to another while courtiers leisurely strolled in clusters of two or three across the courtyards.
Despite the clutter and bustle the crowd parted like the Red Sea before the returning party, the courtiers stopping to pay respect while the servants hurried to go around. One of the kitchen boys rushed up, ready to relieve the hunters of their catch which Jill gladly handed off to the small boy. The two huntsmen bowed, begging their leave of the General and complementing him on the success of the mornings hunt. Formalities finally taken care of, the remains of the group moved swiftly across the threshold and into the inner confines of the castle. The heavy wooden doors closed behind them, muffling the din of the outside world. It wasn't long before the conversation returned to its casual impropriety.
"You might think its great, Jill, but dating's just spending a bunch of money, time and energy to get to know a person whom you don't especially like right now and will learn to like a whole lot less in the future. It's just easier when you know there aren't any strings attached in the relationship," Krai explained, slinging an arm around his fellow guard's shoulder. Jill shot him an exasperated look.
"This is probably the reason the Captain and I are married while you're 39 and single," Jill muttered. Krai had the decency to blush.
"I'm just taking my time," he blustered, slapping Jill's shoulder for emphasis. "I'm not a one-woman kind of guy!" Krai rounded on the Princes, a certain determined intensity about his brow. "You guys are young, Your Majesties. Don't you settle on one girl right away. You need to get out and experience things!" Darres blanched at the announcement.
"What are you saying?" he cried lurching towards his suns and raising his hands as if to cover their ears, but unable to decide on which one needed to be shielded from the information the most from the royal guard's advice
"Absolutely!" a feminine voice chorused. "My boys need adventure and new experiences! Falling in love and getting their first taste of heartbreak is perfect at this age! Right?" Queen Ishtar asserted, sweeping into view from around a tapestried corner. Her long purple dress was fisted in both hands and lifted to show her ankles. She'd obviously been running to meet the returning hunters. She sidled up to Krai, leaning in to whisper in his ear.
"But if I ever get wind of either of them being anywhere near a brothel, you aren't ever going to have children," she cooed. Krai laughed nervously, eyeing his sovereign with more than a touch of fear. Ishtar straightened up and promptly wrapped her arms around her next victim. She latched onto Duzell's neck, squeezing him in a manner half-motherly and half-childish. Standing side by side, Ishtar looked more like the boy's twin with her long black hair, crafty green eyes, and heart shaped face than the slender, pale creature waiting complacently next to Darres. The two main differences between mother and child were the tell-tail signs of maturity about Ishtar's face and the six inches of added height on her son.
"Hey, Mom," Duzell said, leaning into his mother's hug. She smiled and propped her chin on his shoulder, her hands clasping at his shoulders. Krai and Jill both excused themselves, ducking into the guardroom to give the family some time alone.
"How was the hunt? Catch anything good?" she asked, looking to her husband.
"A rabbit, pheasants, a lambunger, and we almost took down a boar," he rattled off. "Phelios got a shot in that was near perfect. I thought for sure we had him." Darres straightened with paternal pride, not seeming to be at all disheartened by the loss. Hunting expeditions were more for the boys' education than his enjoyment, anyway.
"And Duzie tried to get a doe on his own," Phelios added. Duzell shifted uncomfortably when his father glanced at him. Ishtar grinned, giving her son one last tight squeeze of the neck before releasing him to grab her husband's arm.
"I'm coming with you next time," she declared. Darres didn't even attempt to dissuade her. Experience had taught him better than that. "It'll be fun! It's been ages since I used a bow. I must be pretty rusty. Duzie, Phel, you have to practice with your mom some before we go," she ordered, practically bouncing in anticipatory excitement. Duzell smiled a rare genuine smile, thrilled at the prospect of monopolizing a good few hours, at least, of his mother's preciously scant free time. Ishtar opened her mouth, gearing up for another suggestion when a squat stump of a man trundled hurriedly into the corridor, his court robes flapping awkwardly behind him as he walked.
"Your Majesty! General! The Razenia delegation is here and awaiting you in the main hall," he huffed out, his barrel chest expanding with each inhale to the point where it looked as though his robes would burst.
"Ooh! Vord's here!" Ishtar squealed in delight. She reached for each of her sons in turn, planting a quick kiss to the forehead.
"Thank you, Balan," Darres added to the court advisor. The man ducked into a quick, ugly bow before Ishtar grabbed his arm, practically manhandling the dwarf of an advisor down the hallway. "Magic lessons at two. No skipping," Darres reminded his sons, voice firm even as he knew his words were most likely falling on deaf ears. Phelios offered a wide innocent smile, the type he specialized in, and Darres was forced to accept this as all the assurance he would be able to get. Giving his sons hair a quick tousle, a practice Duzell endured with great disdain, the General strode down the hall after his wife.
Alone, the twins set off together in a comfortable silence, letting their feet guide the way through the familiar halls. Phelios folded his arms behind his head, seemingly at perfect ease with the world. Duzell gilded down the corridor quiet and pensive as always. The only company he ever seemed to really enjoy was the Queen's. At least, the younger prince only ever laughed when Ishtar was around, as far as Phelios could remember. Phelios wondered if 'Mama's Boy' might be considered too radical a moniker.
"So you don't want to sneak off to eavesdrop on Mom and Uncle Vord, do you? It doesn't sound like they'll be discussing anything interesting, really," Phelios began, breaking the silence. Duzell smirked, shooting his twin a sideways glance.
"Aren't you going to 'Magic lessons at two'?" Duzell drawled. Phelios gave an exaggerated, long-suffering sigh.
"I'm a natural born genius at Holy Magic, Bro. What do I need lessons for?" Phelios protested with a conspirators wink. They both knew that if one of the two of them needed work with Holy Magic, it was Duzell. "I don't want to stay here anyways."
"No one's stopping you from leaving," Duzell muttered beneath his breath.
"We should get out. New experiences, and all. Were already set for traveling," Phelios added, with a nod to his brother's bow while his own hand came to rest on the pommel of the sword at his hip. When Duzell didn't say anything Phelios knew his twin was considering it. "I kind of want to see what's on the other side of the North Road. Being a prince and all its important to know one's country." There was a pause where Phelios regarded his brother with a detached interest, waiting patiently for his sibling to agree.
"Yara's most likely set guards on the doors. She practically expects us to try and ditch," Duzell said at length. Phelios immediately broke into a full-watt grin. He knew he had him.
"I didn't know you were so bothered by a few guards, Bro," Phelios teased. Duzell shot him a bored stare.
"As if. I can just teleport us out to the road." Phelios raised a delicate blond eyebrow at the claim. Duzell excelled at Elemental Magic, or really any Magic that wasn't Holy Magic, but teleportation spells were definitely on the list of Newly Acquired and Not Much Practiced tricks.
"Both of us? Really?" Duzell just shrugged.
"You can stay here if you're scared." It didn't come off as a malicious statement, merely matter-of-fact in its tone. Phelios shook his head of short, pale-gold hair vehemently.
"Nah. I trust you," he asserted with the same ease and confidence with which he addressed everything. Duzell warily eyed his brother. No matter how many times Phelios' easy acceptance surfaced it always managed to throw Duzell of balance. Phelios was simply a mystery.
Duzell held out his hands for his twin. Phelios grinned and stepped right up next to the dark-haired prince, locking his hands with his sibling's long tapered fingers. Duzell closed his eyes, focusing the well of Magical energy within him and muttering the incantation. There was a hiss of wind through the corridor before the forms of the twin princes faded out of sight.