Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. Obviously. They belong to their owners respectively, and have been mashed together only in this odd fanfiction you see before you.
Summary: A plot to murder Preventer Agents, a family guardian who is a dragon but was once something else, an Agent in critical condition, and a number of slash pairings. Enjoy!
"-Why won't you listen? Don't you understand what I'm telling you?"
It was a man's voice, desperate and loud.
"Their care and protection falls to me. Even if I must protect them from-"
Another man's voice, this one firm and unwavering.
Wufei screwed his eyes shut, and reached up to pinch the brow of his nose. Morning light shone into the main bedroom through one of the three small windows, illuminating the troubled figure sat on the edge of the large bed.
"What was that?" he wondered aloud.
No matter what he tried, his thoughts kept drifting back to yesterday evening, when he had- When something had-
I think I may have just experienced something similar to what Quatre usually deals with, the Chinese agent thought to himself. As if something separate from me just... invaded my mind...
The problem was, although he could not deny that Quatre had what people referred to as a 'space heart', Wufei did not really believe in such things normally. His ideas about spirituality were- Well, they had changed over the years.
He tried to rationalise what he had experienced by considering what else it could have been. A subconscious memory of his the passage-way had simply triggered? Part of the booby-trap he had been told about- some type of machine that affected the mind? Both were better ideas than the initial conclusions he had come to.
But the words and the emotions that he had experienced... They had felt-
Wufei shook his head. No, he thought.
Standing up, he said it again to reassure himself. "No."
"-I am not just another somebody! I won't be that to you!"
"This is not a competition-"
It was time to concentrate on why he had been called here. The sooner he solved the mysteries behind the Long compound, the sooner he could leave.
"My orders, sir?"
Bird song filtered down the phone line and into the large office.
"Where are you now?" the man asked.
"I am currently outside the Long compound. Awaiting orders."
"What seems to be the status of 05?"
There was a pause before the man on the other end of the phone replied. "He doesn't appear to be aware of 02's accident," he said. "The signal is poor up here; it is unlikely that any phone calls have made it through."
"Then your orders are simple. Dispatch 05 at once. Perhaps with a little more finesse than your partner used on 02. I want proof of death this time."
"Of course sir."
Though Wufei had risen early himself, bothered by strange dreams (which he emphatically did not link with events from the previous day) and the unfamiliar location, when he asked around for Hu it seemed as if the elderly man was already cloistered away in the Long shrine. To his dismay there was no internet access at the compound, and his phone was still not receiving any signal when he tried it. He had wanted to interview Hu with some background information on the man, but that now seemed impossible. It seemed he would have to 'wing it' and hope for the best.
When Wufei finally found Hu, half of him was hidden in the hole in the shrine wall. A woman was stood nearby, a clipboard in hand, with which she was making rapid notes from the inscriptions on various scrolls hung across the walls of the old ancestral temple. There was incense burning on the altar, a heady floral scent he immediately disliked.
Although the man had heard him enter, Hu did not immediately turn to great him, but rather waved him over to the area he was studying without even glancing back at him.
"Come look at this," Hu said.
Wufei bristled at the command, before reluctantly closing the distance between them. He shied away from touching the walls, but told himself it was simply to avoid getting dust on his clothes rather than for any other reason.
Hu jabbed a wrinkled finger at a triangular decoration on one of the walls. "This is half of the seal used to open the passage-way," the old teacher said. "Across there is the other half- you see, there it is, on the other end of this moving wall."
Despite himself, Wufei scrutinised the 'seal' that had been pointed out to him. Each half was the shape of an right-angle triangle, covered in symmetrical carvings to each other. He didn't recognise the letters used.
"This whole wall was a single relief, with a triangular gap for the seal to fit into. But the seal itself was split into two halves, and only one half was here before the intruders came," Hu explained.
Wufei considered this. "Then they brought the other half with them?" he asked.
"It seems so," Hu said, conversely sounding both pleased and angry all at once.
That implies that they knew the location of the seal, how it worked, and what they were expecting to find behind it. The Chinese agent frowned. No, not exactly. They didn't know about the trap which scared them away, which may or may not of been what I-
To distract himself, Wufei stepped back to look at the doorway as a whole. He reassessed it in ways he had not thought to the previous night, looking for evidence that the wall was mechanical, and designed to move when activated. Strangely enough however, there was none. The movement of the two wall halves had left deep scrapes across the floor where they had moved apart, as if they had been physically dragged rather than separated mechanically or on rollers. Nor was there any evidence of the locking mechanism that had kept the relief locked shut until the second half of the seal was added- no electronic circuits or even a physical lock.
"And we still do not know if they were successful in their mission or not?" Wufei asked, eyeing the dark tunnel with open suspicion.
"No," Hu said. "I did not think sending others in to check would be a good idea, given the circumstances."
Wufei was inclined to agree, on one level. It would indeed be too dangerous for civilians, but had they contacted the police, surely there would have been professionals they could have called in to disarm any traps left inside. He said as much to Hu, who finally turned to look at him.
"I… had good reason to think that was not a good idea," the man admitted. He glanced across to the woman stood nearby, before he turned back to Wufei. "I will have tea set up in one of the houses nearby, if you would care to join me."
Wufei considered the man with a narrowed gaze. I hate being right, he thought irritably, wondering what conspiracies his well-meaning friends had dropped him into so suddenly.
"Very well," he agreed, and allowed himself to be led out of the shrine.
The sun was still busy rising in the sky when they stepped outside, its progress blocked somewhat by the mountain peak stretching up directly in front of it. The whole compound was set directly into the mountain itself, but only the shrine had been set into it in a way that made the building look like a natural growth from the rock itself. It was very ornate, a little too much for Wufei's taste, both the inside and outside carved with intricate patterns and images, not just in normal stone, but in other rare stones which had most likely been imported especially. It was set some way back from the rest of the houses, a large courtyard positioned in front of it, with evidence that at one time it would have been a large, communal area.
As Hu and Wufei headed for the nearest house, they said very little, with Wufei merely taking in the details of the place, now with a more critical eye. What was there here that Hu was so interested in, apart from the history, and could have such importance that it might procure funding worth thousands every year from other clans with no ties to the place?
Inside the nearest house, Hu showed Wufei to a seat and set about serving them both tea. It had been set up with a number of modern conveniences, including a generator so the old electricity supplies in the house would work again.
"What are you looking for here? And what does it have to do with those intruders and that shrine?" Wufei demanded almost as soon as Hu had sat down, his patience all but spent.
The elderly man paused over his steaming tea, clearly choosing his response carefully. "When you were very young," he finally began, "you must of heard a great many clan stories from your parents and teachers."
Wufei's eyebrow rose of its own accord. That was a different start from what he had been expecting. "I suppose so. I don't really remember now."
Hu nodded acceptingly. "Yes, I suppose they might seem less meaningful to you these days." He didn't give Wufei time to wonder if he should be insulted, as he continued on. "But the Long Clan has a great many stories, and the Chang also, as their closest relatives, being intermarried so frequently. The clan stories have been passed on for many hundreds of years, not just inside your family, but outside of it as well."
"Where exactly is this going?" Wufei asked. "I have no interest in fairytales, if that is what you are planning to recite to me."
Hu sighed. "No, nobody does these days. Of course, that is assuming that they are, as you call them, fairytales, and not actually cleverly hidden facts, that have become somewhat distorted over time."
Hu paused to see if Wufei had anything to add, but the Preventer agent remained silent. Despite himself, he found he was quite curious about where this was going. He took a sip of tea and had to hide his frown in the cup at the bitter taste. Quatre had been spoiling him when he sent all that tea, it seemed.
"The Long and Chang clans were very powerful, as you know," Hu continued. "A great many people in China feared them. At the time when Chang Cho, your distant ancestor, returned here from abroad, China was in the middle of a revolution. In the past, it had lagged somewhat behind other countries in terms of technology, trade and power, but now it was catching up at a furious rate. The Long clan made a series of wise investments, and in that climate their influence soared. They became very rich and very powerful, on not just a local, but international scale.
"In other aspects however, China became very unstable. There were a great many dangers to this new expansion, and the Long clan became a very important target to a lot of people. Fortunately, when Chang Cho came home, she did not do so alone."
Hu stopped for a moment, evidently unsure how to proceed. Wufei marked his hesitance as important. She did not come home alone? What does that mean?
"The Long clan and Chang clans grew in importance, gradually at first, but then in leaps and bounds that was truly remarkable. They were considered the height of modern China- a perfect blending of old traditions and culture, but bound with new western promises. But their success inevitably provoked a number of less savoury opinions. Eventually, attacks against them became quite frequent. People died. A great many, if records are anything to go by. Not many of them had anything to do with the business side of the Long clan, but that made them even more likely targets."
"How despicable," Wufei spat. "Such unjust behaviour could not go unpunished."
"No," Hu said, "indeed it did not. Chang Cho's family was approached, and a formal request was made for intervention, as one record states. It was granted. The attacks slowed down, and eventually stopped altogether. Rivals suddenly found themselves in bad situations, business-wise or politically. Those that didn't stop even then quite suddenly disappear completely from record in China, and nothing remains of them, not even in the places where they lived. The Long Clan became, effectively, the most powerful family in China, possibly even more so than the government at that time. As you know, eventually that power made them hated and feared rather than respected, until they were driven from Earth completely."
There was a moment where both of them stopped to consider this last fact. Where they were wiped out completely.
"I don't understand," Wufei said. "A request for intervention was made of the Chang family? Then they were responsible for the… removal of other people that had attacked the Long Clan?"
"Not precisely," Hu answered. "This is where fairytales come in I am afraid. You might lose your interest somewhat. History tells us what happened to the people that opposed the Long family- namely their disappearances- but not how. Only the Long and Chang families knew that, and all their facts were passed on only as legends. Other people can read and hear these stories, but not understand the true content of them. One in particular is called, 'How Flying Woman Leashed Shen Long', a somewhat poor translation of the Old Chinese from five hundred years ago, I will admit. Despite its somewhat fanciful wording, it is, in fact, the story of Chang Cho, and the weapon she brought with her when she married into the Long Clan."
Wufei blinked, taking this fact in. Then he felt his stomach drop. And there it is, he thought. The answer to all this. A weapon that brought China- no, nearly the whole world towards the end- to its knees in fear. And now the Long Clan is dead, everyone wants to get their hands on it.
"I see you have worked out where this is going," Lam murmured. He lifted his tea in a mock toast. "And so you see my life's work."
"You're looking for the weapon. You and all the other clans," Wufei said in realisation. Then he started violently, and set down his tea cup with a clatter. "But wait, if you think the weapon was sealed behind the shrine, then isn't it possible that those intruders might have stolen it already?"
His mind whirled with possibilities. A weapon of unknown danger, possibly stolen and in the hands of individuals who may or may not have plans to use it. At the very least, they would either intend to sell it to someone who would, or would keep it as leverage with the threat of violence against others.
At Wufei's accusation however, Hu merely sighed. "I doubt that. Their less than silent exit would imply they ran into trouble during their exploration of the passage. Furthermore, from what I have read, it seems only someone from the Chang family will be able to work this weapon. At least, that is what I have divined from the texts available. Possibly some sort of genetic marker. Well, that is how I have explained it to the people who fund my research, at any rate."
Wufei longed to reach over the table and shake the old man in front of him. He wished he were a truly dishonourable person, who would have no qualms about beating an old man for the answers he wanted.
"But that isn't true?" he demanded.
"Oh, no!" Hu hurried to assure him. "This weapon will only work for the Chang family. Of that I am almost certain. But not so much because of science, but out of its own free will. Shen long is alive, after all."
In the sudden silence, a wisp of smoke curled into the air from the teacups abandoned on the table.
"I beg your pardon?" Wufei asked, slowly.
"Sometimes, people try to unravel a good story a little too much," Hu told him, looking remarkably straight faced for someone who had made such an odd suggestion. "The investors are imagining something garish in metal I imagine, built to attack only certain targets. Perhaps something like one of those mobile suits that were flying around the place not too many years ago now."
Wufei, who had been considering the same thing, frowned. Like Zechs Merquise's Gundam, originally built a few centuries ago, the idea of an early mobile suit was not unlikely.
"But I am not talking about that," Hu said. "My research has lead me to a somewhat different conclusion. I am referring to the namesake of the Long clan. The family guardian, a red and gold dragon."
Wufei paused. His mind whirled around the words, trying to make sense of them in a way he could understand. Except he couldn't. "I don't think I understand what you're trying to say," he said, measuring his words carefully.
Hu took a long sip of his tea. "No, I suppose you don't," he said. The old teacher regarded him for a long moment. "Back before their exile, my family used to have business dealings with the Long Clan. This was before my time, but some of the stories passed down about the Clan were truly- Well, extraordinary, I suppose. They were always told to me almost as fairy stories, but years of academic research have led me to form my own conclusions, not just about the Long Clan but about a whole group of people who…"
Hu paused. "I'm afraid I have digressed somewhat. The legend I told you about before, about Chang Cho, it only dates to five hundred years ago. Though they had only begun to dream up the ideas of colonies in space back then, they were still all men and women of science. Yet amongst all that, there is a new dragon legend being told!
"I've studied the legend for years, every detail of it. It is most fascinating. And not like the older legends of the clan- it's set quite firmly in the history of that period. I honestly believe that what people took for a fanciful imagining is actually the truth behind the Long clan." Hu stopped to take a fortifying breath, before continuing. "At first, I believed that the most I would find here was evidence that a dragon had once existed here, which would be a discovery in and of itself. What might science learn from the discovery that such things we took as legends really did exist at one time? The story ends, you see, when the dragon seals itself away in the mountain, to be called upon when the clan is in grave danger. That part may have been fanciful, but then those intruders revealed the way to me- the entrance in the shrine that you saw earlier. And then I knew I had to contact you at once. The only survivor from L5, and a Chang at that, perhaps you could achieve something I had not, now that I knew where to find the shen long. It was even more important that this happen now, as the funding for this project has been running out lately- people are losing patience with me to find what they imagine to be some dreadful weapon for them. Now, they just want to tear this place down and find it themselves. But the dragon, the evidence for it…" Lam trailed off, his eyes somewhat unfocused.
Wufei stared at him, assessing his words. "You think a dragon lives in that narrow hole behind the family shrine?" Wufei asked, inwardly pleased that he managed to keep his voice level.
"That is what I am saying," Hu replied, looking oddly resigned. "Ever since I first heard the stories about Cho Chang, a woman from five hundred years ago who brought one back to the clan, I have imagined that-"
Wufei held up a hand, quelling the man's words. "You honestly believe that a dragon is a more likely answer to the Long Clan's power than a man-made weapon?"
"I think, if you knew some of the things that I do, you would not find it so unlikely," Hu said quietly, but with such conviction that it was oddly unsettling.
"I see," Wufei replied. He let out a deep breath into the now silent room.
Then, in one swift motion, he slammed his hand down onto the table with a furious bang. His tea cup jerked onto its side, and rolled back and forth on its rim helplessly, whilst the young agent muttered several angry expletives, each one in a different language. To his credit, Hu managed to keep his composure in the face of Wufei's sudden temper, his gaze directed towards a painting on one of the walls.
What rubbish! Wufei fumed. This man is unbelievable! A dragon to protect the clan?
"You are-" he began, but cut himself off.
He stood up quickly, his mind whirling as it sought to process everything he had just learnt, both real and imaginary. He headed for the door, already reaching into his pocket for his phone.
"Where are you going?"the old man enquired after him.
"To make a phone call!"
This is not a holiday, Wufei thought irritably as he trekked out the compound, allowing his phone to lead him as he hunted for a signal. This is a mission! Now I have to locate a dangerous weapon wanted by dozens of power-hungry people in China, which may or may not still be on site. Even worse, my only informant is an old man who should clearly have been locked away somewhere years ago. Unbelievable. The next time I see Maxwell, I am going to kill him. Right after he makes himself useful by finding me some information I can actually use down here.
The minute Wufei reached the thinner trees on the mountain just to the left of the compound, his phone began to buzz furiously. Twelve missed calls? he wondered in alarm, recognising the numbers of Trowa, Quatre and Heero respectively. The last call was from Heero, and he quickly pressed redial, wondering what had happened.
It wasn't as if he hadn't noticed that Duo's number was oddly absent.
After a few long moments the phone was suddenly answered on the other end. "Chang," Heero greeted.
Wufei blinked. Heero's tone was… odd.
"Status?" came the immediate demand, and Wufei felt the first stirrings of genuine worry.
"I'm in the middle of nowhere Yuy, I'm perfectly fine. Now what's going on?"
There was a moment of silence before Yuy replied. "02 was shot last night."
At once it seemed as if the ground had dropped out from under him. Only a moment ago, he had been preparing himself to yell at that same teen, for sending him out to this awful place, where everyone was completely insane. But now-
"He is currently in critical condition. It was a chest wound and they're still working on him even now."
That explained the odd voice. Yuy didn't want to think it was Maxwell undergoing surgery at this very minute. Couldn't bare to think it. Neither could he, even. But Yuy was distancing himself from the situation; Maxwell was 02 again, just another pilot, not a friend, and certainly not a boyfriend.
"How did this happen?" Wufei asked, and it was a question, a plea and a demand, all rolled into one. "I wasn't aware he was working on any missions right now."
"He wasn't," Yuy answered. "It was an assassination attempt within the Preventer building."
"In the agency?" Wufei repeated incredulously. The audacity of that assassin.
And to target Duo, of everyone there.
On the other end of the phone, another voice could suddenly be heard. "Is that Wufei?"
Quatre, Wufei realised in surprise. He got there very quickly.
"Hnn," Heero confirmed, and there was a moment before suddenly the blond teen had taken control of the phone.
"Winner," Chang greeted. "What is going on up there?"
"Maxwell is in surgery at the moment," Quatre told him, sounding tired and drawn with worry. "Somebody managed to infiltrate the Preventer headquarters and shoot him while he was still in the office. He was on the phone to me at the time. I was worried when he didn't reply, and I phoned security to check on him."
"That probably saved his life," Wufei told him.
"I shouldn't have kept him on the phone so long in the first place," Quatre replied. He paused before saying, "You have to be careful. We're uncertain whether this was a one off attack or not. I've already contacted Trowa and he's on his way, but we were worried when we couldn't get in touch with you."
"I'll come straight away," Wufei told him, all thoughts about a supposed secret weapon forgotten in an instant. "Keep an eye on Yuy until I get there."
"Of course," Winner replied, sounding relieved.
"I'll arrange a flight the minute I get off this cursed mountain," Wufei told him. "Hopefully I'll be there by-"
Wufei felt a sudden flair of pain, and the phone display exploded outwards even as he held it to his ear.
Medical Floor, Preventer Agency, L1
Quatre squeezed his hand round Heero's phone tightly as the dial tone filled his ear suddenly.
"Wufei?" he asked with difficulty, as he tried to stop his words from shaking.
There was no reply, but then he really didn't expect one. He moved the mobile away from his ear and stared at it for a long minute.
"Is something wrong?" Heero asked, from where he was stood nearby, his gaze fixed on the operating theatre doors.
"It's Wufei," Quatre said.
Heero turned to glance at him sharply, and even though his face remained blank, Quatre felt the suddenly flair of panic that rocked through Heero's emotions.
"We… just lost Wufei."
The Long Compound.
"For many generations we have been in your hands, Long Shen," the man said, spitting each word like acid.
Between two figures, a solid stone wall was grinding into place.
"But now I have decided for all of us- that time is over, and your time is up."
One of the figures was standing; the other was propped awkwardly against one side of an uneven tunnel , an arm wrapped around his middle. As the wall slid shut between them, the light entering the tunnel shrank down to only a sliver, barely enough to illuminate the tired, green eyes of the man left inside.
The man stood outside met them squarely. "And take my love with you, Harry."
"Heisui…" Harry murmured, trying to convey a million and one unspoken things in that single name, only for all of them to go unheard.
Then the wall slid completely closed, and he was plunged into complete darkness.
Outside, he heard a click noise, and knew it was the spell coming into effect. It started immediately, a heaviness in his limbs, and a clouding to his thoughts.
"Heisui," he said, even though he knew the other could no longer hear a word he said. "What have you done to yourself?"
Then, all of a sudden, his body doubled itself into knots.
"Ugh!" Harry gasped out, throwing his other arm around his middle.
He was going to lose control of his human form!
All around him the tunnel sides began to press in on him, not yet literally, although that would soon be an issue. If he didn't get further back inside the tunnel, into his sanctuary, then he would be crushed between the walls as his body grew bigger.
Very clever, Heisui, he thought, even as his mind became further clouded. By using this spell, I won't have a chance to try and undo the locking charms you have on that door. I'll have to retreat, and by then, your spell will have-
Staggering upright, Harry moved with uneasy steps down the tunnel, away from the feet stumbled as he tried to put one in front of the other, and his shoulders took a beating from where they kept colliding with the stone walls. He felt several more lurches around his middle as he went, each one more powerful than the last, until the final tug left him on his knees.
Before his eyes though, the tunnel walls suddenly opened out, and he dragged himself the remaining few meters into the space beyond.
He was just in time too, as he felt his human form explode outwards, bone grinding and skin stretching until- He lay on the ground panting, although he was now considerably larger than he had been before.
If I can get to the back entrance, he thought, I can leave in this form. Even a spell like this won't be a match for my strength when I'm like this.
I can't move, Harry realised in surprise, after a few moments of calling on his limbs to work- please work! But his efforts proved futile, as they wouldn't so much as twitch. I'm so tired now, my body won't respond anymore.
His eyelids were drooping, and the scenery around him was blurring in and out of focus.
"-I am not just another somebody! I won't be that to you!" a familiar voice echoed through his increasingly addled mind.
Heisui… he thought.
Heisui, how long are you going to leave me like this?
"Hello there. Are you supposed to be all the way out here?"
The five year old craned his head back to stare up into the tall tree. He leaned so far over backwards, the next thing he was falling onto his bum with a thump.
Before he could stop himself, Harry had let out a snicker at the sight. Leaves rustled as he stood up on the thick branch he had been resting on, before he leapt lightly down to land in front of the child. "The Forbidden Forest isn't forbidden because it makes a nice playground, you know." He tipped his head to the side, scrutinizing the small boy. "Then again, you're a little young to be a Hogwarts' student…"
The small boy just stared at him for a long time, and Harry sighed, wondering if he must have scared the boy too badly with his… appearance. Unthinkingly, he reached out with his hand to pull the boy to his feet. "Come on then, I'll-" Then he paused, seeing the boy was staring at his red tinged hand. He withdrew it sharply. "Hey, don't be scared, alright? It's just- Oomph!"
The little boy laughed as he hugged Harry tightly around the waist.
What…? he wondered in surprise, startled by the sudden boldness.
The child buried his face into the soft material of his jumper, and sighed contentedly. After a long minute, Harry's hands finally came to settle around those small shoulders, hugging the boy back.
"You're a pretty weird kid," he said. Then he noticed something. "…Huh, looks like you've been tagged."
Freeing one of his hands he tugged at the collar of the child's tee-shirt, to where one of his parents had sewn in a name tag. "Rei Long," Harry read aloud. "Long? Does that mean you're Cho's kid? What are you doing here though?"
Rei giggled at the question, earning a sigh from the other. "Alright, I guess I'd best take you back. Cho's sure to be in a panic now…"
After coaxing Rei to relax his grip on his waist, the two walked side by side through the forest. Rei managed to grab Harry's hand with his own, and smiled as he was led towards a distant tree line. Harry couldn't help but glance down at him every now and then, one eyebrow raised above amused, green eyes. All to soon they reached the edge of the forest, where a familiar lake glimmered in the distance and, past that, the stood the soaring turrets of a large castle.
"Go on then, Rei," Harry said. "Just go straight ahead. And I'll watch from here to make sure you get there, so don't try anything."
To his consternation, Rei frowned. He tugged on Harry's hand, attempting to pull him out the tree line along with him.
"Stop it," Harry said, though his voice was still gentle. "Go to your mum, alright? She'll be looking for you."
The small boy shook his head, black hair whipping through the air at his vigorous denial.
"Well… what's wrong? What is it?"
Rei tugged at the hand again, and uttered the first words he would ever say to Harry.
"Mine!" he declared. "Mine, mine, mine!"
I don't think that kid ever left the 'mine' stage, Harry thought to himself in amusement. If it caught his interest, then it was his, no matter how old he got.
With a sigh, he shuffled across the ground, stretching out his limbs and-
I'm awake, he thought blearily.
-Only then he wasn't, as his dreams pulled him back under.
"This is my son, Shen Long," the pretty woman was saying proudly. "I wanted the two of you to meet."
Harry leaned over the moses-basket curiously, taking in the tiny bundle inside. Blue eyes stared up at him without fear, two tiny hands tucked under the curve of a chubby baby face. Harry had seen many, many babies, but they never ceased to amaze him when he saw one up close.
"He's got wonderful eyes," Harry said. "Do you think they'll stay that colour?"
The woman smiled at the compliment. "I'm hoping so, Shen Long. Another week, and we should know for sure. But I think they will- they look just like his fathers."
"His father?" Harry asked. "Is he here too?"
The woman looked away. "No. My husband, he-"
Harry considered her for a long moment. "He was killed by Long protestors then."
"Two months ago," she confirmed.
Harry sighed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I wish I could have acted faster on that, for everyone's sake."
"Nobody blames you, Shen Long," the woman said, inclining her head respectfully in his direction. "We're grateful for all that you do for us. The protests have stopped again for now."
For now, Harry repeated grimly, remembering the fires and the explosions and the shouted slurs. For now. Is that really the best I can do?
"Have you decided on a name yet?" he asked instead, turning his mind from those darker thoughts.
"Heisui," the woman answered. "Chang Heisui."
Two green eyes snapped open, and Harry was suddenly very wide awake and aware.
For a long moment, in that place just on the edge between sleep and waking, there had been nothing but that dream of the distant past. Of many years ago, when Rei had been the head of the Long Clan. And the dozen that had come and gone since then, ending with-
Heisui! his mind shrieked. His body sought to comply with his sudden need for movement, limbs bunching and contracting, muscles screaming and aching. A rumble started in his chest as he remembered-
I'm awake, he thought, and stopped.
He was awake.
He could move, and he could think, and he wasn't the least bit tired.
The spell has ended? he wondered. Does this mean…
But he wasn't sure what it could mean. Anything was possible.
I actually woke up before, Harry thought, remembering a brief moment of lucidity amongst his many dreams. But then I went back to sleep? Was the spell removed then, then?
With some difficulty, he managed to arrange his body into an upright position. It took more effort than it should of, and as he moved he noticed dust slid off his body and floated in the air. Just how long had he been asleep for that to have gathered?
The most important thing was to leave the cavern and its twisting tunnels as quickly as possible. Once he was outside, he wouldn't have to worry about being sealed away again, and he would have the time he needed to think about what was going on.
The back, his mind supplied. That spell could only be removed from the front entrance, so that is where the people will be gathered. So if I leave through the back, I can avoid them until I want to see them. And if there are some people at the back entrance as well, I will at least be greeting them in this form, which should give me the upper hand.
He turned to the larger tunnel to the back of the cavern he had slept in, and somewhat ungracefully shuffled across the floor towards it.
His scales brushed over the rock sides of the cave, filling the tunnel with a sound similar to scraping sandpaper. It was irritating, but not painful, and the glimmer of brilliant light from directly ahead indicated that both the tunnel and that annoyance would soon come to an end. He didn't think it was just his imagination that the cave now seemed tighter than ever.
It was a sunny day.
The light was momentarily dazzling to Harry, whose eyes felt unusually sensitive. Scaled lids shut briefly, before golden neck ruffles extended, casting a shadow over his face that would work as a sort of shade.
Twisting his neck from side to side, Harry took in his surroundings with some curiosity. The cave entrance was deserted, without even any fading scents for him to pick up.
Where did all these trees come from? he wondered, stepping forward a few paces into the veritable woodland that seemed to have surrounded his home. His body slid round the trunks with some difficulty; it would have been easier to simply knock them down, but that would have made too much noise.
He considered shifting forms again, which would help him move quicker. But my senses will be duller, and Heisui might catch me unawares again-
All at once his stomach gurgled uncomfortably. Harry sighed, but quickly stopped when a wisp of flame shot out at the same time.
Wonderful, he thought. And now I'll have to find something to eat before I go feral. The problems keep on piling up, as usual.
But what to do first?
I'll scout the area. Harry looked at his surroundings uneasily. These trees, they didn't just spring up over-night…
Don't think about it!
There was a bad feeling fluttering somewhere in the vicinity of his rib cage. It was making his heart flutter, and his pulse bounce in his ears. He was trying to ignore it, trying to push it down, except… Except…
With a startled snort, Harry whipped his head around to stare in the direction from which the sound came. It was an odd noise, from some distance away, but a very familiar one. It had become increasingly common as unrest increased in China over his family.
A scream of pain made his ears quiver slightly, and they swivelled to and fro on his skull to indicate his unease.
What is happening here!