When the World Falls to Darkness

A kingdom at war, a web of truth and lies, a vicious game of friendship and betrayal, and a world that will kill you, whatever path you take.
When the World Falls to Darkness, nobody is safe.
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Beautiful cover by River_Summers.

(I also promise much more frequent updates starting July, when exams are over. :D)

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It was late evening by the time Jin started barking softly within the warmth of Vixen's arms, and when he did, she set a calming hand over his snout to calm him.

"Skye, go slowly. Carefully," Vixen warned. Her green eyes flashed with concentration as her Guardian swept smoothly over the treetops, her pale wings brushing the leaves with wary quiet. They were dealing with her brother's killer - even if the assassin was little more than a cowardly rat, such a sickening feat required skill.

Vixen realised that her hand, once more, had drifted to her pocket and was gripping the bloodstained feather. Her only means of revenge. All she needed now was a glimpse of white among the dark of the forest. Just the tiniest sign of the angel who had murdered Amaguk, and she could have all the information she needed. In her mind, it was that simple.

In reality, it was not.

Her eyes finally caught the colour of snow - the cold, hateful white of the feather, and instantly she was flicking the reins and stopping Skye. They hovered silently above the trees, and Vixen peered through the canopy.

At first, she could see only the white wings. But then she saw the gleaming black of scales, and the very sight of them filled her stomach with dread.

Dragon.

In the seconds that ensued, everything seemed to happen at once. The cry came from below and then the dragon was suddenly moving, and she realised with horror that the cry had been alerting the creature of their presence and the dragon was coming towards them.

"Skye!" she screamed. The skycat beat her wings, launching herself forwards just in time to evade the obsidian flames that licked at the already black sky. Gasping for breath, she whipped her head back to look at the dragon as it tore through the canopy of leaves. In the moonlight, its scales gleamed, highlighting the scars that ran along its muscular form.

"Fly!" she urged the skycat. "Don't let it catch you!"

Throwing herself to the left, Skye veered away from another column of flames. Trying to ignore the churning of her stomach, Vixen pressed herself against Skye's back, one hand gripping the saddle with a white knuckle, the other still clasping Jin close to her. Her heart hammered relentlessly against her chest, but still she could not stop herself glancing back.

The white-winged angel was astride the dragon.

A dagger of fear punctured her mind, twisting its way into every last shred of her confidence. Her brother's killer owned a beast this strong - what hope did she have? What hope had she ever had?

"Down, Skye!" Vixen managed to choke out, and the Guardian plummeted downwards, swerving violently to evade the trees in the forest below. An enveloping wave of black flame swallowed the trees behind them and Vixen dug her heels into Skye's flanks.

Another tide of heat slammed into them, and Skye beat her wings frantically, jerking sideways to throw the dragon off track. Vixen's eyes flickered upwards, trying to find the thickest shield of leaves. The dragon could never fly beneath the trees. They had to escape its vision before it tore them apart.

"There! Left!" Her voice struggled to rise over her terror, and when it did, it came as a tiny squeak. Swiftly, Skye obeyed her commands, finding the darker part of the forest and diving into it. Above came the agitated snarls of the dragon, and then the flames and the heat and the terror, and then Skye was turning away again, deeper into the forest, and the heat was becoming more bearable, and Vixen realised with a dizzying sense of relief that they'd escaped.

Skye's sides were heaving, but Vixen could still hear the dragon's snarling in the distance.

"Keep going," she muttered. The skycat shuddered in exhaustion, but obeyed dutifully, her wings trembling as she put more distance between them and the dragon.

It was only when the dragon had stopped snarling that Vixen deemed it safe to stop. She instructed Skye to land, and the Guardian sank to the forest floor, her sides still heaving. Somehow, Vixen managed to slide from her back, swaying unsteadily as her feet touched the ground. She pushed herself to the nearest tree and slumped against it, drawing long, deep breaths of air.

"I thought I could just defeat him," she laughed bitterly, still sucking in air. "I thought I could capture him so easily. I was a fool."

For a moment, they sat without speaking, breathing and shaking and gasping. And then Vixen pushed herself to her feet, unbuckling the saddle from Skye's back. "Humanoid form," she commanded, and the skycat nodded. Vixen turned away. It seemed almost strange to watch the Guardian shift - an odd, unsettling transformation she felt she should not witness. It was something Amaguk had mocked her for, though they had laughed together at her refusal to watch a Guardian change.

Vixen reminded herself of the harsh reality: she would never laugh with him again.

"Do you wish to speak to me?" Skye asked hesitantly. 

"Yes. I need your advice." She paused for a moment before continuing. "That was terrifying - for both of us. But..." Again, she faltered, biting her lip as she selected her words. "But I can't let Amaguk's death go without punishment. I need to kill the assassin, but more than that I need to kill the person he works for. Last time we approached, we were careless. We were overconfident, because we thought the assassin would be alone. But what if we approached from the ground? Not to attack, of course, but just to spy. To fight them without being killed, we need information about them. Do you think reconnaissance would be possible?"

Skye pondered over her answer for a few long seconds before finally sighing deeply and inclining her head. "Yes, I suppose it would be possible," she replied. "It would certainly be difficult, however. At any sound, I imagine they would be alerted. Another escape might not go so smoothly if they are prepared."

Vixen nodded. "We have to go. For Amaguk," she murmured, finding the feather once again and twisting it in her hands. As Skye nodded, Vixen opted to ignore the discomfort and dread within the Guardian's eyes. It was her job to handle these things, whether she was young or not.

"Very well," the Guardian replied in a small voice.

"Skye, I can tell you don't want to do this. Neither do I, but we have to. Amaguk was a kind master to you, and a kind brother to me. We must ensure he is avenged. Is that understood?"

Gulping, the Guardian nodded furiously. "Are we to leave now?"

Vixen nodded, turning her head once more to allow Skye to transform. Her eyes wandered to Jin, who sat with wide and frightened eyes.

"Stay here, boy. We'll come back," Vixen said softly. Quickly, she found some rope from the saddle, securing it to the dog's collar and tying the other end to a tree. When she was finished, Skye was ready and waiting.

Lifting the saddle over the skycat's back, Vixen clenched her jaw. Facing the dragon again would be difficult - but what choice did she have? She swung herself into the saddle, and dug her heels into Skye's sides. "Go," she commanded, and the Guardian launched herself into the air, flying more slowly and carefully, this time.

Vixen quickly spotted the smoke, and directed Skye towards it. The dragon had burnt the wood near the place in which it had been resting, and in doing so had provided them with a perfect way to find the camp. As they drew closer, Skye descended, her paws soft on the forest floor, and padded silently towards the enemy.

Vixen could hear their voices echoing through the trees, rough and cold and gravelly. Clearly, there were at least three members of the alpha races - she could detect as many voices as they neared the camp.

"D'you think it was a spy?"

"No way. Frostblade said it was a purple skycat. Spies don't have colourful mounts, idiot," a second voice hissed tauntingly.

Skye stopped, and Vixen peered through the barrier of leaves into the camp of the assassin. There was the dragon - currently resting, its body huge and terrifying and hideous with scars of enslavement. She battled against a gasp of fear, eventually fighting it down and forcing herself to shift her eyes away, to another four large shapes, also apparently resting. Big enough to be griffins, she realised, or smaller dragons. Was the assassin being paid to guard somebody? was he being guarded himself?

The other two voices continued to shoot insults, until a deeper, more commanding voice sliced into their conversation.

"Stop bickering, or I'll have both your heads. Whoever they were, they looked like a dwarf, and they're probably little more than ashes right now."

The white-winged angel stepped into view, and instantly the two others ceased their fighting. Vixen balled her fists, gritting her teeth in hatred as he snorted incredulously, returning to his dragon's side and sitting by the fire.

"You must learn to work together more effectively," the assassin instructed. "If you fail when we're fighting the shapeshifter, you could doom us all. If I don't get paid..." The angel left the threat hanging in the air, and it was all Vixen could do to not charge into the camp and kill him. Right now, right here. The dragon might be terrifying, but love, anger, hate - that was stronger than fear.

Vixen bit her tongue, but said nothing.

For a long few minutes, there was silence between the angels. With a slight tap at Skye's shoulder, she signalled for the skycat to back away. They couldn't risk staying there for too long, that much was certain.

Silently, the skycat and the dwarf slipped away into the night.

 

Vixen did not know that Jin had not been tracking the scent of the white-winged assassin, but the scent of the angel whose wings faded from black to grey to white. The angel who had also been following the assassins.

The angel whose name was Quartz.

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