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A Piece of Twisted Silver

By Jadestar

 

Ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one... Now.

Duke smirked as he saw the little brown duck get out of her chair with extreme quietness. He sighed as the thief next to her didn't even notice her disappearance. Slacker... I oughtta give him a lesson in paying attention one a' these days. Duke silently slipped from his seat, hiding what he had in his hand as he quickly followed her. He caught up with her half way down the first corridor.

"Hey now, what's the rush? Where're you off to? You haven't even finished your food?" Duke slapped a hand gingerly on her back, pressing in a little, and smiling slightly as she shied back.

"None of yer beeswax, grey one," Dude retorted.

Duke gave her his most charming smile. "Just asking, kid."

"Den don't ask no more." She headed away from him, purpose in her stride.

Duke snickered as he watched the reel of cotton unravel from where he'd stuck the loose end to her back. "Hook, line an' sinker."

He followed the trail from a safe distance, confident of not losing her. Everyday at the same time she left. He couldn't figure it out, and curiosity had finally gotten the better of him.

Down, down, down. The twisting trail went for what seemed like forever. The dusty halls and stairways tried to echo Duke's steps, but he softened his tread and went on.

Until he came to the wall, that is.

Duke blinked. The string disappeared underneath the wall. What the...?

Duke felt around the wall, for something, anything. His hand slid across a hidden square.

Contact. The wall slid away, revealing a dark and dank room.

It was a huge room. It must have covered the whole bottom of the Lair, with no corridors or walls, just occasional supporting pillars. On the four walls hung swords. So many, many swords. The silver of them sparked off the one and only light, the light from a small candle on a table.

Dude turned slowly, shadowy from the small flame. "You have found us," she said, with no trace of her former accent. A pair of glowing green eyes in her face took Duke's breath away.

"Dude?" he asked, frowning.

She laughed without joy or happiness. "Fool," she hissed. "There is no Dude here."

"Are you OK?" he asked, walking over, concerned.

She snatched a sword from the table. "You have defiled the Shadow Lair. Prepare to face Hell." She advanced fearlessly.

Duke drew his saber. "Now, sweetheart, don't do anything silly. Put the sword down, and I'll help you fix those eyes. I'm sure Tarrin has something..."

"Silence!" she shrieked suddenly. Duke shut his beak with a snap. "Understand this, hated one. Your kind's days are numbered. You will be the first of many deaths."

Duke's good eye hardened. "Saurian." he hissed.

Dude drew herself up. "You insult us further! We are the Kabari."

"The who?"

"It was we who made the Brotherhood great. But you made claims of decency and common kindness. A thief is a thief! No honor is required!" Dude's eyes glowed all the brighter. "We live and die for blood." The words that were spoken bounced off Duke's ignorance.

"Well, whoop de do," he said sarcastically. "Dude, quit this and let's go upstairs."

"You think the Kabari are lying? You think we do not exist? Feel our power." Dude suddenly grabbed the charm of a small silver necklace than hung around her neck. Duke had never noticed it before, and gave a small grunt as a bolt of energy burst from the diamond. It caught him in the chest, and sent him to the ground with a thud. He groaned, and got to his feet.

"Duke!" A sudden and short cry from Dude made him pay attention. She was curled in a ball on her knees, head in hands, a look of intense pain on her face. "Dey took over me. Da demons. Dey're weak now, but soon..." Her face was suddenly wiped clean of emotion, and she stood.

"Believe us now, honorable one?" the Kabari taunted through Dude.

Duke's face hardened. "Possession of a little girl, eh? You ought to be ashamed."

"She is one of us. She comes from our line, and will kill you as we have for generations."

Duke brought his saber in front of him. "I couldn't care if she's descended from monkeys, you get out of here."

An insane laugh came from Dude's beak and reverberated in the enclosed space. "You order us around? We have a power older than the sun. We did a deal with the Devil," Dude gave a sick smile. "And we will stay here until the Brotherhood is nothing more than ashes!"

"You want the Brotherhood?" Duke stood tall and proud, not afraid. "Come and get us."

"It would be our pleasure. Be ready to fight against the sword play of the Kabari." The silver blade whistled through the air, seeking a target. Duke jumped back, hurriedly, and parried back. The Kabari had the knowledge, but all the years of experience were lost with the fact that they occupied the body of a prepubescent child. They fought deftly, vying for advantages.

"Dude! Dude, can you hear me?" Duke yelled as he protected himself. "Tell me what to do! Come on girl, fight!"

Her eyes changed to a torture-filled grey. "Da necklace, git da necklace," she ordered through gritted teeth. Her eyes changed from grey to green to grey and back again as some kind of inner battle went on inside her. One of her hands tried to pull the necklace off, while the other held it back. The first, right hand, finally touched the necklace. It glowed white-hot, and she dropped her hand with a scream.

Her eyes turned green, cold and shining. "You can not defeat us," the Kabari growled as they circled Duke. "How can you kill us? You're of the soft, honorable half-thieves. You could never hurt a child."

"Let's leave what I do and don't do to me, eh?" I can't do anything without her help... "Dude, I want you to distract them! Do anything!"

"She can not do anything," the Kabari sneered. "We have total control of her once more. She can not even hear you."

"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure of that," Duke smiled. You can bluff all you want, demon, but you don't fool me.

He waited desperately, fending and attacking, but the Kabari kept on. "Anytime now Dude..." he grunted.

"We told you, she's beyond your reach." The Kabari took advantage of his loss of concentration, and managed to score a small cut on his arm.

"Okay, now I'm peeved!" Duke said, fighting back with more strength. The extra effort and energy needed to fight took more power from the possessors, and Dude fought through once more. She opened her hand, and let the sword drop. The other hand strained to grab it, but Duke swiftly kicked it out of the way. "Good girl," he hissed between his teeth, forcing her up against the wall. He held her there with the tip of his sabre at her throat, panting.

She panted also, green eyes glowering. "You are a good fighter. We could use you."

Duke laughed shortly. "No thanks. Mass destruction ain't my scene."

Dude looked shifty. "We could make a deal."

"I could make a deal. Let's not forget who's up a wall here."

"What good will it do you? While we are your enemies, the girl we hold is not. And even if you kill her, you can not kill us. What are you going to do now, grey one?"

Duke stared at her. It's the necklace. Get the necklace. He remembered Dude's earlier attempt. It heats up. So... what?

He stiffened as he felt something held against his side. The look on Dude's face told him all he needed to know.

"Does this help narrow your choices?"

He risked a quick glance down. A ring of metal was pressed against his side. The green eyes smirked. "You are in no better a position then we."

"Talk," he said sharply. He may as well hear what they wanted.

"You instead of the girl."

Duke laughed a real laugh. "Nothing doing."

"Then die."

It all happened at once. The disc moved forward, he jumped backwards, the saber flicked up, the necklace went flying, the girl collapsed to the ground.

Duke ground the necklace into the floor with his heel with relish. The stone splintered with a shriek. He kicked the snapped chain across the floor. "Good riddance to bad rubbish," Duke said with a satisfied tone. He turned back to find a small, sorry bundle sobbing on the ground, curled into a ball. He walked over and knelt in front of her, not knowing what to do. He waited for a few minutes, then spoke. "What was that?"

She shook her head, unable to speak. After a few more minutes she croaked a reply. "That was mah ancestors."

Duke sat next to her. "Should I even try to understand?"

"It won't help."

"I thought so."

She lifted her head tiredly. Her eyes, hair, everything seemed to droop weakly. "Dey never got Zuzanny. Ah never let dem. It hurt so much, an' dey got Dude, but never Zuzanny."

"Who's Zuzanny?" Duke asked softly. He knew the answer before she said it.

"Dat's me." She laughed softly, and held out her hand. "Zuzanny Kabari."

He took it, and shook it, squeezing slightly. "Duke L'Orange."

She smiled, and withdrew her hand. She looked down at her lap. Moving suddenly, she pulled off the t-shirt she'd stolen from Duke, revealing a black body suit beneath. She held it out to him. "Thanks for da lend."

He chuckled. "Keep it, kid."

She placed it on the table, and stood up shakily, refusing help. She turned in a circle slowly, gazing around her. Then she shook her head, strapped a few of the metal circles to her waist, and grabbed the sword, sheathing it behind her back. "Ah'm ready ta go."

"Zuzanny..."

"Call me Dude."

"Dude, are you going to tell the others?"

She suddenly grabbed his arm, making him look down at her. "You can't!" she said, a touch of panic in her voice. "Dey'd kill me!"

He raised an eyebrow. "Never bothered ya before."

She shook her head firmly. "Please, just don't."

Duke shrugged. "Well, it's your story. Just tell me if that's ever goin' ta happen again."

"It wont. They're gone."

Duke left. Dude followed, then paused at the exit, taking a last glimpse of the world where she'd spent her childhood. She didn't have to leave. She could still stay... Before the Invasion, those memories weren't so bad. No. It's time to start over. Taking a deep breath, she closed the sliding wall behind her.

Duke was waiting. "Are you going to join the Brotherhood now?"

"Ah couldn't," she muttered.

"Sure you could! I'm not holding what your family did against ya..."

"Ah do. Ya don't understand. All my life ah've been told dat the Brotherhood had to be killed. All mah family lived for was revenge."

"That doesn't mean you have to."

"Not now."

"Later?"

"Per'aps." She suddenly flung her arms around Duke's waist. "Thank ya for saving me."

He paused before giving her a quick hug in return. "Let's just say that I'm glad it's over."

The Brotherhood quietened as Dude stood on the table the next night. They were surprised she was there at that time of night at all. The tiniest person in the Lair cleared her throat.

"Ah know ya all don't think much a me. Ah don't blame ya." Most of the members exchanged glances with the person next to them. The eleven year old looked at her feet. "Ah know it's not much, but ah'm sorry. Really ah am. Ah hope dat in da days ahead ah kin try and make it up to ya." She looked at Duke for support, and he nodded with approval.

Shockwave and Milantha started clapping first, both ready to forgive. Then Lyric and Marshall. Duke, Tarrin and Jedar were next. It wasn't long before most of the hall were clapping. Some looked rather grudging, like Nylessa and Estelle, but they joined in.

Dude blushed under her feathers, and quickly hopped back into her seat. The ducks around her smiled at her, and she slowly smiled back until she was grinning.

Maybe there was something for her here after all.

 

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