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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9. Guilt

Avalon imagined puncturing straight through Louki's heart with a dagger. She closed her fingers around her knife, shutting her eyes to the room around her and just picturing it: the Guardian before her. The dagger piercing into his flesh for his crimes. His screams as he died. She wondered if he would bleed red blood like her, or if it would be blue or green or violet. She wondered how satisfying it would be to slaughter a Guardian like Louki.

And the very thoughts sickened her.

How, Avalon wondered, could she do any of that? How could Shou have turned him in to the angel Royal Guard? If she hadn't been so busy looking after Ryuu, she would have gone to stop Shou herself. Louki had saved Shou's village - as well as Ryuu. And if Louki had saved Ryuu, the only person she had left, then Avalon couldn't ever hate him. He hadn't been the selfish monster he was supposed to be: he had been her friend.

Resettling herself, Avalon glanced once more around the room. The walls had been painted with a creamy yellow colour - that was probably meant to soothe the medic's patients - but Avalon found it dull and bland. Wooden cupboards and shelves lined the adjacent wall, filled and stacked with phials, bandages and herbs. Everything else seemed to be green: the comfortable rug, the bed Ryuu was residing in, the faded chair the angel seemed to have confined herself to.

Beside her, Ryuu spluttered weakly, and Avalon was instantly at his side, grasping his wrist, checking the temperature of his forehead. She knew she didn't have to stay beside him; he hardly needed her. Ryuu was a tough survivor, but Avalon refused to take chances, even with the village medic under strict orders to nurse him back to health. No longer could Avalon trust these people - the elves had sentenced their savoir to death simply because he was a Guardian, and she could never truly forgive them for it.

"Ryuu! Are you okay?"

His brown, green-flecked eyes flickered open and his fingers twitched weakly, brushing her wrist as she tightened her grip on his.

"Still breathing," her elven companion managed, and Avalon grinned, her eyes sparkling with relief.

"What of Louki?" Ryuu added, a hint of confusion touching his expression with an almost unrecognisable glint. "What happened to him?"

Avalon opened her lips to speak, and yet not a single word emerged. I did nothing as they took him away. I watched as they dragged him away, he who saved you and he who helped us. I offered no help as they chained him and spoke of torture. Louki is either dead or dying as we speak.

"He..." Avalon trailed off, unable to finish. The sharp flash of concern in Ryuu's eyes was equally unbearable. She didn't need Ryuu's concern. Louki did.

"I couldn't do anything... They'd have hunted us, and you'd die trying to escape like you are now," she said quietly. For a long few seconds, a silence, both miserable and frustrated, crossed over her, a looming cloud of despair. She screwed her eyes shut, the anger threatening to emerge. She'd failed them both. Louki - tortured, likely driven to insanity. Ryuu - anaemic, wounded and mourning.

"You're going to save him, aren't you?"

Ryuu's words were almost too strong to seem so dreading. His voice was steely with hostility, and yet it was so brimming with concern that it almost didn't seem possible.

"You're injured. I can't leave you here."

"That isn't the issue with you going," Ryuu growled. "Avalon, you're talking about risking your life for a Guardian."

For a moment, she couldn't speak. When she found her voice, it was prickled with anger. "He just saved your life! That was why he did it - to save your life, to save us all!" she hissed. "He's in danger right now because he just saved us all! He'll be dead if I don't help!"

Ryuu raised a debilitated hand to take her own, shakily interlocking their fingers and begging her to agree with supplicating eyes. "Please. He's just as dangerous as the people who are holding him prisoner. Avalon, I don't want to loose you."

"You won't, because Louki isn't dangerous to us. Don't you get it? We let ourselves think Guardians are simple weapons, because we're scared! Not because they actually pose a threat, but because we think they might! Does Louki look like somebody who'd turn against us all?" Avalon realised that she'd snatched her hand away from Ryuu's, but at that moment she didn't care - because he was being blind and stupid.

"You're an idiot, Avalon!" Ryuu hissed, every word making his lip curl in pain. "You're impulsive. You're quick to jump to conclusions, you're quick to abandon everything you know because you're fearless." He took a deep breath, and Avalon held her tongue. Was he insulting her, or complimenting her? "You're not afraid of leaving all you know behind. You're not afraid of anything." He practically hissed the last word, but still he wasn't finished. "Look, I'm saying this because I care. You matter to me, Avalon, and I don't want you getting yourself killed because of some stupid idea in your head." 

"You won't loose me, but we'll loose him if I don't go."

"Then why haven't you gone already?" Ryuu's words dripped with venom, and yet he looked so weak; he shouldn't look this desperate, this completely helpless and afraid!

"Because I..." she stumbled. Had it been fear? "I don't know. But now I know you're okay, I want to save him."

Ryuu drew a deep, shaky breath. "And nothing I say will be able to stop you?"

"No," she said firmly.

"I should've guessed as much," he muttered, letting out a deep sigh before meeting her eyes. "In which case, I wish you only the best of luck."

A grin leapt into life across her lips, and she drew him into a hug. "Thank you," she breathed, before pulling away. "You're sure you'll be okay?"

"I'll still be alive when you come back, Avalon," he coughed. "Promise."

Sighing, Avalon clenched her jaw. "You'd better be," she said finally.

"Good luck," Ryuu said softly. "I know you can do it."

Avalon gave his hand one last squeeze, then stood and took her weapons from the corner of the room.

"Just shut up and get better," Avalon murmured fondly as she opened the door. Ryuu's lips twitched in a weak smile as she walked out, closing the door softly behind her. Opening up her wings, the angel prepared to take off.

She had a favour to repay.

 

 

The trip to the nearest Alliance base would take her a while; Avalon didn't doubt that as she skimmed the treetops of the elven forest. Below her, an ocean of emerald leaves concealed the world underneath the canopy, but she hardly noticed. In her mind was the image of Louki as he dived at the dwarves, simply to protect Ryuu. Why had he done that? Avalon still couldn't fathom the Guardian's reasons for stepping in and saving her friend. Nor could she find a reason for his actions when he'd charged into a battle simply to support them.

But whatever the reason, he did not deserve torture. Avalon supposed that any suffering was, indirectly, her fault. She should have saved him sooner: stopped them taking him; hidden him before Shou could find him. And yet Ryuu had taken priority, her only friend left inside this world.

No doubt Louki would fear them both, now - she'd heard only tales of the tortures experienced by Guardians, and from what she'd heard, it was terrifying. Louki would be scarred for life. She wouldn't blame him if he despised the Alpha races for the rest of his life.

Glancing at the blazing sunset, Avalon wondered briefly if she should land for the night or continue flying through the darkness. Opting for the latter, the angel beat her wings again to sustain her speed The inferno that had been lit in the sky by the sinking sun reflected brightly in her eyes, giving them a burning hue. The blaze within her eyes could only highlight the determination as she flew through the night, almost oblivious to the cold as it tried, in vain, to subdue the willpower within her.

Long ago had she grown used to the cold. Then Ryuu had found her, and Avalon had never been happier. And maybe that was why she could pity the Guardian so easily. It took somebody who had experienced solitude to recognise somebody who was suffering that fate, and she had recognised Louki so very easily. Nobody else would see the mournful glint in his eyes as he glanced at friends conversing; siblings fighting pettily over unimportant matters; old acquaintances laughing together. Undoubtedly, Louki did this subconsciously. The jealousy became natural, after a while.

Avalon had hoped, when she'd first seen the loneliness, that she and Ryuu would befriend Louki and steer him away from the solitude. Now, she wasn't so sure that would be entirely possible. Ryuu was still afraid of Guardians, and besides, Louki would hate them. He would despise them for failing him, after he'd done so very much for them.

In all honesty, Avalon couldn't blame him. She should have somehow saved both Louki and Ryuu. Guilt tugged at her again, that painful knowledge that she could have formulated a plan to protect them both. All she could do now was fly as swiftly as her wings would allow her, to protect Louki and hurry back to Ryuu. It seemed as though they were always saving each other, forever covering the other's mistakes. And that was perhaps one of the best things about him. Ryuu could risk his own life for hers, and yet would demand no attention for it. Would make no comment that required her to thank him.

She always would, just as he would thank her. But in the end, it didn't matter, so long as they were both alive and they were both side by side. If that simple matter of friendship was unbroken, nothing had mattered. Until Louki.

Now, Avalon found herself saving somebody else with that burning determination she experienced only when Ryuu's life was in her palms.

Just wait, Louki. I'm coming.

 

 

It was almost morning when Avalon finally succumbed to the desperate pleading of her aching wings, and the signs of sunrise were starting to lick at the sky. Descending towards a particularly inviting branch on one of the trees, Avalon dropped height, her feet touching the bark as she reached out to lean against the tree trunk for support. Usually, landing would be no problem, but she was so tired she could barely see straight. Lately, endless nights had been spent sitting beside Ryuu, unable to sleep for his threateningly dangerous lack of consciousness. It seemed as though these sleepless nights were finally returning to haunt her.

Swaying slightly, Avalon slid down, her wings dropping uselessly against her back as she slumped against the trunk, her legs dangling over the side of the trunk as she nestled into her perch. Louki was strong. He had to stay alive. She would reach him tomorrow, of that Avalon was sure, but for now, she was evidently too tired to fly properly, let alone navigate. Perhaps she'd have to fight for Louki's life - a battle she'd engage in gladly. Avalon knew what was worth fighting for. Louki was certainly somebody she'd duel for.

Avalon closed her eyes and felt sleep's gentle kiss upon her exhausted wings.

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