This chapter is a rewrite of the original chapter one. Right now, it does not properly lead on to chapters two, three, etc… But it will! Please feel free to read what I've done so far. I hope you enjoy the improvements if you're familiar with the story, or just plain enjoy it if you haven't.
Current Pairings: 01x02; one-sided 05x02.
Future pairings: 05xHP
In the dark, there was movement. The sounds of something scrambling around, and then a sudden CLICK! before a beam of light cut through the gloom, illuminating dry, stone walls that pressed in from all sides.
"Where is this place?" a voice asked hoarsely. "I don't remember it from the map we were given."
"That thing is too old to be reliable," a second voice said, and the torch swung round the stone walls again. "This place is probably new, where they've moved all the old things from the houses to."
"In here?" the first voice asked incredulously. "I think heirlooms and the like would be safer in the houses that in this thing. Besides, it doesn't look very new."
Footsteps sounded as the two people pushed on into the darkness.
"Why else would this be here? A secret entrance at the back of the family shrine- they must have hidden the expensive things away. Why else would they have protected it with that mechanical seal- erm, thingy?"
"I'd have taken the family riches with with me," the other protested. "I think they're wrong; we won't find anything here. Except maybe two hundred years worth of filthy spiders."
"Look, just shut up and-"
There was a heavy thump underfoot and both of the men jumped, the torch beam going wild in their hands.
"What was that?"
"It was me, fool," the second voice responded. "I tripped on something on the floor."
The torch beam swung down, illuminating a pair of sandaled feet and a flash of something large and green.
"Is that what I think it is?"
A hand reached down, pulling with effort. "It is! Damn, if it isn't heavy!"
"A statue of a jade dragon! How much would something like that be worth these days? And who would leave it down here of all places!"
"Didn't I tell you so? I bet you're glad I bought that seal thing from that man now, aren't you? Waste of money, was it?"
"Hey! That guy was weird. What were the chances he was really telling the truth about this place?" There was a short pause before, "Is… Is there anything else?"
"Take the torch and have a look. Let me get a better grip on this thing…"
The torch was passed along awkwardly until it reached new hands, where it was swung around with renewed vigour.
Up ahead the walls seemed to suddenly expand in width and height enormously, forming a much larger system of tunnels. Along the walls, the yellow light caught glimpses of intricate Chinese carvings, though they shone like marble where it should only have been bare rock.
"What if this is their ancestral tomb? It looks like a shrine within a shrine to me."
"Don't be ridiculous. And besides, after coming this far, are you really going to run at the thought of a few bones?"
The other man laughed, though it was a little nervously.
They continued onwards, though at a slower pace this time, burdened by the heavy statue.
"Can you hear that?"
"Can I hear what?"
"That noise. It's like a rumbling sound."
The torch swung straight ahead, only to hit what looked like a dead end, save that it was a brilliant scarlet colour and looked incredibly smooth to the touch. The torch moved a little more, and a glimmer of gold sparkled back.
Almost at once, the steady rumble was forgotten.
"Well, I'll be damned. It looks like gold to me."
"What an odd shape…"
"I'm not going to complain about the shape! Shine the torch on it again!"
The man did as he was told, until all of a sudden the gold began to move. The clump sudden puffed out into an angry array of spines, even as the scarlet wall shifted, running under the torch beam like water.
"What? What is-"
A Much Needed Vacation?
Long Clan Compound, China, 198AC
With a sigh, the elderly man pushed his glasses up his nose for what could easily have been the hundredth time. As the stonework in front of him came back into focus, he examined the half of the broken seal in front of him with frank curiosity.
"Hmm," he said, dragging out the mmm-sound for several seconds. "Fascinating. Fascinating. A magical mechanism of some sort. Requiring both halves of a triangular seal. Once joined, they split apart, opening up the way…"
He paused briefly to run a finger over the runic markings on the edge of the seal. Then he glanced across the four meter gap to the other half of the seal, embedded in the rock face there.
The four meter 'gap' was actually the start of a narrow tunnel; although perhaps crevasse was a better description, as there was no apparent top, the two parallel edges towering sharply upwards until they disappeared into darkness.
"The shrine was obviously built in front of this feature. The 'door' to enter it, behind the altar for offerings, would only reveal it on the completion of the seal. Then the two halves would move-"
Here the elderly man backed up several paces, to examine the 'door'. On all his previous visits, it had resembled nothing more the the back wall of the shrine, decorated with the carved relief of a dragon. Had he not had half the seal in his possession, he would have assumed the gap in the raised claw of the dragon design had simply been where a prized treasure had once been removed. But he had known otherwise, which was why he had foolishly placed his half of the seal into position…
Now, with the other half also in place, the door had opened, so to speak. The carved relief had split, leaving write marks on the ground where it looked to have been dragged apart. Decades' worth of dust covered the floor, along with several decorative pieces from the ancestral altar, all of which had been dislodged by the door's opening. Though the worst of the mess had been cleaned in the week and a half since the incident, he had asked that as little as possible be disturbed, so he could examine the scene properly on his arrival.
And truly, there could not have been a worse time to have been away!
No one had ventured into the entry-way behind the altar, on his specific orders. But having only been able to arrive back last night, it was now too late to examine the area as he had wished when he had first heard the news. He had wanted to have a better idea what to expect for when the guest arrived, to convince him of the importance of this discovery.
"The two halves would move," he repeated, "to allow entrance into the heart of the mountain, where the Long Clan text, to quote Long Meng, states the greatest and most precious of their possessions lays waiting."
He glanced behind him briefly, to where his second niece (or was it third?) was stood making notes on her clipboard. "Did you get all that?"
"Of course, Hu – shi," she said, adding the 'teacher' suffix to his name despite their familial relationship.
Indeed, he thought. Always the scholar in me first. Do they know me for much else?
The work here had consumed his life. And to think, someone else might have gone ahead without him!
Whoever had activated the seal had left shortly afterwards, in a great hurry according to the night watchman, leaving him with more questions than answers. Had they come here looking for treasure? Or perhaps they too had been searching for-
"Hu – shi," someone from the shrine entrance called. "Hu – shi, the guest has arrived."
Let this last ruse of mine work! he thought. This guest, let him help me find the answers I need!
Long Clan Compound, China, 198AC
Staring at the tall gates in front of him, Chang Wufei felt a shiver run down his spine. Even outside the compound the air smelt old, the ancient buildings almost poisoning the atmosphere. Around the high walls, trees surrounded every side, save for where the mountain's peak rose up at the back. The compound had been built into the side of mountain close to the top, and the air was thinner, colder up here than it should have been. Two or three miles back down, it was a warm, summer day.
"This is the main entrance," the man by his side told him needlessly. "It enters out into the main district where most of the family houses are."
Wufei nodded at the information, though he could see it all clearly enough from where he was with the main gates stood open. Clearly, it was supposed to look welcoming, but the Chinese teen rather thought it might suck him in instead.
"The houses are unfortunately somewhat dilapidated, but we've done our best to preserve what we can…"
What went unsaid was that it would be a lot of money to waste on a place that wasn't really their own.
"It might have been better had we taken up the government's offer to make it into a historic site, but Hu - shi refused. He felt it would be best if we stuck to the ancestor's wishes. He is a renowned academic around these parts, so we decided to trust his judgement in this."
"Why not just sell it after the end of the Long clan?" Wufei asked, more sharply than he had intended.
His guide, a man in his late twenties who had introduced himself as Liu Han, blinked at him in surprise at the question, and seemed to be struggling for an answer.
"The Long clan is not quite finished just yet," a new voice spoke up from behind them.
"Hu - shi!" Liu Han said in recognition, as they both turned to face the speaker.
Wufei regarded the newcomer with some curiosity. It was an elderly man, obviously well into his seventies, dressed in an all-white gi. He stood tall and his movements were fluid, betraying him as a martial artist of some type. The glasses he wore on the end of his nose were the only sign that he might perhaps be a teacher (as Liu's respectful shi indicated) or scholar.
"Welcome to your ancestral home, Chang Wufei." The greeting was polite and the smile honest, but Wufei still felt it was presumptuous to act as if he had come here willingly by any means.
This… he thought to himself privately. This is all Maxwell's fault…
It started when Duo had walked into Wufei's office at the Preventer headquarters one morning, for something as innocent as to borrow a pen. It had just so happened that Wufei had been checking his mail from that morning at the same time, having found an envelope with a postmark from China in amongst his rent bills for the month. Confused, he had brought it to the Agency with him to open in his free time.
He must have been staring at it for a good few minutes even after Maxwell had burst into his office, for the braided teen had leaned over Wufei's desk and lowered the letter from in front of the Chinese boy's face with a finger.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, meeting his eyes and smiling, although the fact that he held off on one of his creative (annoying) nicknames told Wufei the teen was worried by his distraction. "Is it bad news?"
Wufei blinked at him for a few seconds, surprised by the other's sudden appearance, before shaking himself out of his stupor. "It's nothing you need to concern yourself with Maxwell," he said testily. That was unfair to his fellow agent he knew, but the surprise he felt from the letter made him numb to any feeling of guilt he might have otherwise had.
Having worked with people of Wufei's ilk for a good many years now, Duo wasn't the least bit perturbed by his attitude. "You might as well just tell me," the braided teen told him. "I'm not leaving until you say, or, if you keep refusing, I'll break into your apartment tonight and read that letter while you're asleep."
"You wouldn't dare!" Wufei spluttered indignantly. The Chinese agent wasn't sure about that however; Duo was always complaining that he didn't get enough stealth missions to keep his skills honed, so he might feel up to the challenge. Actually, the idea of breaking into Wufei's apartment was probably something Duo would do without any reason at all, just because he would find it amusing to annoy Wufei in such a way. The next thing Wufei would know, Maxwell would have read the letter, and then stolen all his clothes for good measure. But thinking about Duo in his flat, going through his clothes made him flush, and he pushed the thought away quickly.
When Duo only grinned at Wufei's response, the Chinese teen decided it was best to cut his losses and just tell the other boy what the letter said. "These are reports of vandalism to the Long clan's compound," Wufei said.
Duo frowned, understandably confused by this announcement, but uncertain exactly how to broach what could potentially be a sensitive subject. Wufei could imagine what he was thinking- surely nothing on the L5 colony could get any more vandalized when it had been completely destroyed during the war.
"But Wu-man, wasn't your clan compound back on L5?" Duo dared to ask.
Wufei turned to look at the letter again. "It seems that the original homes of the Long clan were placed into the hands of friends when they moved to the colonies from earth. This clan compound still seems to be standing, although apparently after the destruction of L5, a number of other parties took interest in claiming it. The current care-taker has asked me to claim the compound to prevent further trouble from them."
"So what? You've got some fancy estate somewhere in China?" Duo summed up succinctly.
"It seems so," Wufei reluctantly agreed.
"Hey, that's great!" Duo said. "When are you going to go see it?"
Wufei frowned at the other teen. How could he explain to Maxwell that the idea of going to that place made his skin crawl? That his actions during the wars made him feel that stepping into such a place would be disrespectful? Even though Wufei wasn't a true believer in tradition, he knew it as well as anyone else. The clan compound was the place of some of his first ancestors, people he had resolutely stopped himself from thinking about after the war had finished. Had he even paid the proper respect to his more recently deceased relatives? Would his actions have made them proud? Surely not…
"I'm not going to go see it Maxwell. I have no interest in it whatsoever."
"What?" Duo demanded in surprise.
"I'll have nothing to do with that mess," Wufei declared firmly. "Whatever is happening in China is their problem and not mine."
But of course, things with Duo Maxwell were never that simple. He had decided to get Quatre Winner involved. Even though the blond director of the Winner Foundation was many, many miles away on L3, he had a long reaching arm, especially when he was convinced he was doing something for the benefit of his friends.
And it might have been easy for Wufei to put a stop to Quatre and Duo's plotting, but for the fact that he was stopped by one person. And that person was Heero Yuy.
Even as he was lead through the streets of the main compound, Wufei fumed at the thought of how he had been tricked. Since when had Yuy got involved in the hair-brained schemes of the ex-pilot of Deathscythe? Oh, that was right, since they had started dating. And now Maxwell had the other teen securely wrapped around his finger, even going so far as to convincing Heero to distract him with a mission, while he and Quatre went straight to Une…
"I shall take you to the main house," Hu said. "It is the best preserved and, as such, the main target of our would-be robbers."
"If you successfully drove them away, then what do you need my help for?" Wufei asked, trying to make his tone sound questioning rather than rude.
"Actually, we only managed to avoid the buyers who came with cheque books in hand; the robbers are a different matter entirely."
A muffled moan to his left made Wufei turn to glance at Liu, who was frowning at Hu, looking fully disapproving. "Hu - shi-" he began, but was cut off by a wave of the elderly man's hand.
"Of course, of course," Hu said. "I'm not to bother the young, rational thinkers of this day and age with my old superstitions."
Wufei wondered what that was supposed to mean. Though he couldn't fathom it himself, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach told him he wasn't going to like it much either way.
"Ah, at last, the main house."
The building was obviously well cared for, as its arching roofs and parts of the walls looked newer than the rest of the buildings, and it smelt like a place fit for living, rather than the musty, damp air of the smaller buildings. The main doors caught his attention however, as they were decorated with fabulous carved panels that made one large image when they were closed. A roaring dragon snarled outwards at anyone who approached, and the detail was so fine even the scales along the snout were present.
"It is magnificent, isn't it?" Hu said, noting the boy's wide-eyed stare. "The shen long has long been the guardian of the Long clan; there are a great number of stories about it in the family archives that were left behind here. Indeed, it has long been the main focus of my studies."
"It has wings," Wufei remarked dryly.
The old man blinked, looking confused. They both turned to look at the carving once more, eyes taking in the par of huge wings emerging from the creatures spine.
"Shen long do not have wings," Wufei told him matter-of-factly. "This carving is incorrect. None of the statues we had on L5 showed dragons with wings either."
Hu smiled at that. "This carving was commissioned by Chang Cho, a distant relative of yours, some five hundred years ago."
Wufei felt a prickle of annoyance. It was just his luck that a Chang had ordered this huge mistake to be placed on the main doors. "That onna clearly didn't know what she was doing then," Wufei remarked, and brushed past the old man to start up the stairs and into the main house.
"I believe she was thinking about it logically," Hu replied mildly. "Biologically speaking, that carving is much more accurate to life. Or at least, that is what journals by later family members suggest."
"Dragons do not exist," Wufei said. "What does it matter whether it is more correct or not?"
The old man didn't answer, though the smile never left his face.
"We have prepared the main bedroom for you," Liu cut in quickly. "It is to the rear of the house. It should warn you that it's not exactly high-class- over the years the original furniture has been moved into storage to better preserve it, you see, and we only bring up what we need. The bare basics, really."
"That's fine," Wufei replied. "I don't care to have anymore than the rest of you do."
That was apparently the right response, for Liu smiled at him gladly.
What were they expecting? Wufei wondered irritably. That I should come in as a clan head and proceed to expect grandeur and respect?
"For now, I thought you would like to meet with Liu Mei- my aunt," Liu continued. "She used to help here when she was younger, but moved into the city to become a lawyer later on. When she heard of the trouble we were having with the buyers and the- the thieves, she came to give us some advice on what to do."
Wonderful, Wufei thought. Several generations of family to whom I shall be indebted for the sake of my clan.
The thought was uncharitable, and he regretted it almost as soon as he had thought it.
"Aunt Mei was the one who found your information out for us," Liu admitted. "None of us would have known where to start otherwise."
"I see," Wufei replied politely.
Liu Mei was a remarkably tall Chinese woman, who stood several inches over the three men who entered the room where she was working. When she stood up to shake Wufei's hand, he felt slightly off-balanced by her timid grip, and the traditional bow she attempted immediately after, which still barely brought her down to his eye-level. Her nephew and Hu – shi made their exit quickly, leaving them alone in the room.
"You must be tired after your long journey," she began, "so I shall get straight to business about what has happened here."
Wufei was undeniably glad about going directly to the matter, which meant he might be able to get in and out of the compound as quickly as possible. At the same time he resented the implication that he might tire merely from travelling, but decided not to comment on it and offend his only hope at a fast escape. He vaguely wondered if this meant he had finally learnt something from that blasted doctor who was always hassling him.
"A week and a half ago, an unidentified number of individuals broke into the Long compound," Mei stated, gesturing to some official looking paper on the desk where she had been working. "They ignored the houses, even this one, and went straight to the family shrine. There, they activated some form of hidden defence mechanism, and accessed an area that not even the workers here were familiar with." She paused to consider her own words. "Well, I am given to understand Hu – shi suspected such a place existed, from his study of the family records, but had not actually managed to open the urm-" she hesitated. "The hidden passage." She said this with a certain emphasis that led Wufei to believe it was a direct quote rather than the phrase she would have personally chosen.
"What is the purpose of this hidden passage?" Wufei asked, curious despite himself.
"Hu – shi believes it leads to a storage area where the Long Clan hid certain treasures they could not take into space with them," Mei said. "For this reason, we believe the perpetrators may have been thieves sent particularly for the items in the shrine."
Wufei considered this. 'Treasures' could mean a great many things. If something were very valuable, it would have been removed from the Clan if the Chinese government had found it aboard the ships they left on. Alternatively, the clan had a long history- if the treasure was of historic value to the country and not just the clan, it would also have been taken from them before they left. Both instances would have necessitated leaving and hiding the treasure where it would not easily be found. A third idea also presented itself- that the 'treasure' was illegal and they could not risk it being shipped with them for fear of discovery.
The last in particular grated on him, but Wufei had been a Preventer Agent for some time now, and the police-like mindset was becoming ingrained.
Then– "You said that Hu – shi believes it leads to a storage area?" Wufei said. "Have you or the police not confirmed this?"
Mei glanced down at the sheets on her desk again. "No," she said. "You see, when the volunteers here discovered that the shrine had been tampered with, they called Hu – shi first, even before the police. He was away at the time, but he did not think it would be appropriate for people to enter a place so important to the Long Clan without express permission…" She trailed off.
From me, Wufei inferred from her pause. "The letter I was sent did not ask for permission to investigate the shrine," he said. "It stated that you wanted me to claim this property lawfully, to deter the buyers from hassling the people working here and deter future criminals. Had I known there was an ongoing investigation, I would have given my permission for police to investigate the crime scene by phone or email. There was no need for me to appear in person."
Although I have not known the police to be deterred by such a case before. The police had every right to investigate as they saw fit if the people working here reported a crime. Technically, the property does not belong to me, and is in the trust of these people. Their permission should have been enough. Unless-
Mei looked distinctly flustered. "You see," she said quickly, "that is the thing, they did not call the police."
Wufei stared at her for a long moment. "I don't- That is- Why?" he demanded at last.
"Yes, well, only one or two people stay during the night in the compound," Mei explained. "This itself is only a recent development, after a number of buyers seemed to be overly enthusiastic in their interest. But the volunteers did not know about the intruders until they left. Or rather, as they left. Screaming."
"Screaming," Wufei repeated flatly.
"Yes," Mei confirmed. "It seems they triggered some hidden defence the Clan had left behind and it- Well, given that we do not know what condition they left in, we do not know exactly what it did. But the screaming was very loud."
Wonderful, Wufei thought. So on the off chance that these criminals are brought to justice, they can safely level their own lawsuits about inappropriate force.
"After that, the volunteers called Hu – shi, who advised them that this was a Clan matter," Mei said, "and told them not to call the police." She looked fairly disapproving of this, which raised her somewhat in Wufei's estimation. "He said to leave it in his care."
Did he really? Wufei wondered.
"That was when he asked me to find a way to contact you," Mei said.
"Am I to risk the dangers of this hidden passage then?" Wufei asked sarcastically.
The older woman blushed. "I don't know anything about that," she said. "They would not contact the police, so likely any stolen objects are long gone by now, especially seeing as how we don't know what was sealed behind the shrine anyway. All I know is that I have been asked to advise you on your rights if you chose to claim the compound as your own. The idea that your ownership of the site will take pressure off the volunteers has some merit, so I agreed to help."
Of course, he thought. If I have claim of the site, all prospective buyers must go through me. Also, maintenance and the provision of security would become my financial responsibility. As volunteers, they could stay on working if they wished, but would no longer be under any obligation, especially if items were stolen. For them, the situation would be a winning one.
"If you could explain this ownership proposition to me," Wufei said, with a perfectly blank expression.
Wufei shut his phone with a snap.
No signal, he thought moodily. Is that even possible on top of a mountain?
He had spent the afternoon in the small office Lui Mei had constructed in the main house, going through papers and old law books. It would almost have been an enjoyable past-time, had the subject so directly involved him. He felt as if there was a crushing weight being deposited squarely on his shoulders, not all of it in monetary value.
I could sell, he thought privately. I will sell, once this ridiculous thing is over with. Let someone else deal with the Long ghosts.
Saying it, even in his head, made him feel marginally better.
All around him, people were moving in and out of buildings. He counted around fourteen in total, not including the three in particular he had met so far. Apparently, there were normally less people around, but the recent break in had roused the wasp's nest, so to speak. There were inventories to be taken to see if anything was missing, windows and doors to be boarded shut, and new security measures to be implemented. To his right, a security camera was being affixed under the eaves of one roof.
With one last look at his phone, Wufei sighed and put in back in his pocket.
"No signal?" Liu confirmed as he re-entered the main house. "Nobody can get one up here in the compound. It works better outside, if you go up the peak a little more, or into the woods."
"I'll bear that in mind," he replied. He assessed the older man frankly for a long minute, his mind whirling with questions. "Can I ask you some questions about this compound, and the attempted burglary last week?"
Liu looked surprised, but nodded.
"What sort of work do you do here?"
Liu looked relieved at the simple question. "I work as a guide here in the summer," he said. "We open the compound to historical tours then, to bring in some extra revenue you see. The rest of the time I work in a library in a town not far from here. I don't get paid for being a tour guide, but my family has helped maintain this compound for so long, I practically grew up here. It's really no hardship to tell people all the things I've discovered about it." He smiled brilliantly a Wufei as he said this.
The younger man pushed back a sudden feeling of guilt and nodded. "Were you here for the incident with the intruders then?" he asked.
"Oh no," Liu said. "The first I heard of it was the next day, when I came to make plans for the tour season his year. I can't believe anyone would dare do that to a family shrine." He hesitated. "Or that they would find anything before Hu – shi."
That name again, Wufei noted. "What do you mean by that?"
"Hu – shi has spent most of his life working here, whenever he has a chance. He works at a university in New Beijing, but he often takes sabbaticals to continue his research here. He's an AD-Archaeologist – you know, someone who studies the time before the colonies existed."
"Why is he so interested in the Long Clan?" asked Wufei.
Liu looked uncomfortable. "I think his family had business dealings with the Long Clan once over. The way he tells it, he grew up hearing stories about the glorious hey-day of the Longs, and the interest took off from there. He was able to come across a number of their historical journals and records, and found some things which interested him in them."
It was a very carefully worded answer that made the other struggle to suppress a frown. Business dealings with the Long Clan? And some form of hidden 'treasure'?
"Where is Hu? Just what does he want me to do about these burglars?"
"I'm not sure," Liu confessed. "I doubt we'll get any more."
Wufei looked at him curiously. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, after what happened to the last two…" Liu trailed off a little uncertainly.
"And just what did happen?" Wufei demanded.
"We're not sure. Rather, none of us except for Hu - shi." The older man shrugged. "He has his theories."
"Why would the compound be robbed now anyway? This place has stood around for years, correct?"
"That's right," Liu confirmed. "We can't say for sure, but the rumour going round is that the intruders might be linked to the people who have been pressing us to sell the property. They would probably know some of the secrets around this place from their own family histories. And with the Long clan dead, they claimed that it would be better for us to sell out, especially seeing as how we would no longer receive any funding from the clan on L5. Our refusal might have made them take more drastic measures."
Wufei took a moment to digest this information. But supposition and rumour never get you very far. "I have to ask- why didn't you sell out? Especially if you were being pressured by all these people?"
"Personally, this place is very important to my family and I. We're taken care of it for almost five generations now. The same can be said of other families who work here," Liu told him. "But once again, it seems I must refer you to Hu – shi. He made an argument to many of the clan heads supporting the compound that they shouldn't sell, and funded quite a bit of the up-keeping of this place by himself. If you want to know why, I suggest you ask him."
There's something going on here that I'm not being told, Wufei thought, wanting to scream in frustration. So much for that cursed Maxwell's idea of a holiday!
"At this time of day he'll probably be around the shrine," Liu said. "He's been there ever since he arrived back from the university, studying the entrance behind the altar in the shrine. Those intruders… they sure were persistent, I'll give them that. You have to head through an extremely narrow gap, which looks like it goes into the bowels of the mountain, it's that dark. Rather them than me, that's all I can say."
His intent to move on to question Hu was put to an end by the man having left the compound earlier in the afternoon, but would be returning early tomorrow morning. On hearing the news from a volunteer stood guard outside the family shrine, Wufei had scowled, and wondered if it was worth going to find the man where ever he had taken off to.
He is clearly a suspicious individual who seems to have a great deal invested in this place, Wufei thought to himself, watching as the late evening light settled over the houses in the compound. I cannot link him to the break-in, but he surely has something planned, given how every question I ask seems to circle back round to his name. As Duo would say, he has his fingers in every pie around.
But thinking of Duo made him even more annoyed, in that odd way that it sometimes did, so he looked around in an attempt to take his mind off the other Preventer agent.
His eyes fell once again on the shrine, which seemed to be the centre of many of the current mysteries. He excused himself past the guard, after assuring her he would not try to enter the booby-trapped passage.
The inside of the shrine was all decorated in shades of red and gold, from the carved wood to the aging hangings, and to the floor itself. He stood just looking for a short while, his nose filled with the scent of the offerings placed on the shrine, all of which looked fresh.
It was behind the shrine though, that he finally caught sight of the source of the recent troubles. He was rather impressed that his eyes hadn't fallen onto it the moment he entered, so striking was the image it made. The back wall was made of white stone, polished and engraved with a dragon. But recently, it seemed to have moved, in two separate directions, revealing an impossibly tall, black void, that stretched from the floor to above where the ceiling of the inside of the shrine began. The crack in the mountain had obviously predated the shrine, which had been built in front of it. Wufei remembered Liu's description about entering into the bowels of the mountain, and felt it was quite apt.
He skirted around the altar, to the very start of the opening, and felt a hot wind on his face.
How unusual; I almost expected it to be damp and cold.
He reached out with one hand, and laid it on the inside of the passage.
"-Why won't you listen? Don't you understand what I'm telling you? My feelings-"
"Their care and protection falls to me. Even if I must protect them from-"
"For many hundreds of years we have been in your hands-"
"-I am not just another somebody! I won't be that to you!"
"-this is not a competition-"
"-your interference no more!"
"Are you alright?"
Wufei jerked backwards in surprise, and a warm hand grasped his arm to steady him.
He blinked, and his gaze took in the worried face of the guard who had been stood outside the shrine.
"Is something wrong? Did something happen, with the passageway?" she asked.
The young man took in her concerned blue eyes, and shook his head. "I- It's nothing. Thank-you for your concern, but it is unnecessary."
The woman looked unconvinced, but nodded. "I just came to tell you that they are serving an evening meal, if you're hungry."
Wufei nodded, and stepped back away from her and the black void. "Alright, that…" he swallowed, trying to ignore the ringing in his head. "That sounds like a good idea."
The Preventer Agency, L1 Colony
"Are you sure we did the right thing, setting him up like that?" the blond-haired teen on the phone screen asked, his blue eyes narrowed in worry.
"Don't sweat in Quat," Duo told him, leaning back in his chair and swinging his boots up onto the desk in front of him. "Wu-man was in serious need of a holiday and what better place to do it than in China? I'm actually quite envious. I wish my holiday leave was coming up soon. Then I'd drag Heero with me, and we could come get you and then visit Trowa at the circus." The brunette paused to think for a second, before asking: "Actually, where is the troupe now? Somewhere in Germany?"
"That's right," Quatre said with a distant smile. "It might be nice to go see Trowa…"
"When was the last time you saw him?" Duo queried, noting how down his friend seemed.
Quatre and Trowa had always been close friends, during and after the war. He didn't always realise how lucky he was, having Heero and Wufei in the Preventers with him. Sure, they usually all worked completely different shifts, but he could wander over to their offices just down the hall any time he liked, and the weekends they could spend together if they didn't have a mission scheduled. But for Quatre, stuck on L3, and Trowa, travelling on Earth with the circus, time with their closest friends or each other was a rare luxury.
"Ah, well, not in person for two months I suppose," Quatre replied. "But we talk on the phone almost every day when we have time."
"Have you ever thought about just jacking in work one weekend and going AWOL for a while? You could overpower Une with your powerful businessman persona to rescue us, then we could all shuttle on down to Earth for some R'n'R," Duo said. "Surely you've got a bunch of lackeys you can make work in your place?"
"Duo!" Quatre scolded. "I can't give the give that sort of impression to the people I work with! What we're doing on L3 is very important, and besides, even if I did go 'AWOL', I hardly think the rest of you-"
Duo turned away from the monitor curiously as his ears caught the sound of movement outside his office. His eyes flickered down to the bottom of the door, but it was impossible to see if there was someone stood on the other side of it. At this late hour, his office was one of the few with its lights still on, whilst all the corridors were pitch black. To be honest, the Agency gave Duo the creeps at night, but a free phone call was a free phone call, especially on long distant calls. That aside, he also had a dozen files to sort through if he didn't want Heero on his back about being unorganised.
"Is something wrong?" Quatre asked suddenly, startling him from his thoughts about the odd noise he had heard.
Duo swung his feet off the desk, still staring at the door jam. "Don't sweat it Q-ball. I just thought I heard something outside is all. Who knows, it's probably Une out to get me for abusing my phone privileges. I'll be back in a sec."
"Alright," Quatre said with a smile at the joke.
Duo crossed towards the door, his feet making no noise as he moved across the soft carpet. As he turned the door knob though it squeaked a little in his hands and he frowned, mourning the loss of his stealth skills. Surely Une could find more missions like that for him? Something challenging! Like… One gundam pilot against a base of over a hundred armed men, with only a toothpick and the elastic from his underwear to help him get through security…
There was nobody stood behind the door when Duo pulled it open, and the corridor was dark. Directly opposite from his, there was another office, its door stood wide open.
His eyes flickered around, but he couldn't see anyone. Maybe it was his imagination? After all, there wasn't a criminal in the world stupid enough to sneak into the Preventer building.
"Duo? What did you find?" Quatre's voice asked, echoing across the room.
Duo turned back towards his phone, calling loudly enough for the speakers to pick up his voice. "Nothing Q-ball, it's just me. Nerves of a gundam pilot and all. I could do with a good mission to get it out my system. Hey, what do you think to me asking Une for something like this: me verses a hundred armed men wi-"
Duo never got to finish the sentence. It was a shame, because he was betting his joke would have either made the other boy laugh or blush, and either way it would have taken his mind off his problems for a little while.
On his desk, a photo frame shattered around about the same time a sharp pain erupted in his chest. He looked down slowly, a hand coming up to touch at the stain of red that was rapidly forming there.
"Duo?" Quatre's voice asked. The video screen was pointing the other way, and Duo was quite glad, because seeing one of his friends with a hole going right through his chest would do the complete opposite of cheering the blond up.
"What was that noise? Duo!"