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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15. Return

She couldn't return to Ryuu for a week, but when she finally decided Louki was well enough to be left alone, her friend would undoubtedly be overflowing with worry. It was in his nature to fear for her - the elf had always been somewhat overprotective. Not that she minded - Avalon was reckless enough for the both of them.

Landing softly in the moonlit village, she nudged open the door to the healer's hut. Hopefully, Ryuu hadn't gone out of his mind with uneasiness and decided to go searching for her. That, to say the least, would be irritating.

Avalon glimpsed a flash of movement in the hut, and a smirk played on her lips as she realised it was Ryuu, hiding beneath the quilt in the pretence of sleep.

"Am I really that terrifying, that you hide beneath your covers from me?" she laughed. Mere seconds later, she was being tackled by the elf, crushed in an embrace. He was warm, she noticed.

"You're back!" he grinned. "What took you so long?"

"Stating the obvious is my job!" she laughed, and Ryuu released her, sighing in relief. "Besides, why are you pretending to sleep?"

"The healer. She's a little... pushy." Avalon wrinkled her nose distastefully. The dislike for the overbearing medics was an opinion they both shared.

"We can leave her a note thanking her, but leave before she can try to stop you," Avalon suggested, and Ryuu nodded quickly, evidently all too happy to leave the confinement of the small room. "Do you have anything to write on? And she must have a few quills around here, right?"

"Yeah, she does," Ryuu replied. He'd recovered swiftly from the original outburst of joy, but there was still a hint of relief hidden in his eyes, Avalon thought fondly. Her friend fetched the quill and ink pot, tearing a scrap of parchment from a sheet the healer had been scribbling herbal notes on. "Here." He handed the angel the parchment.

Coming inside, Avalon leant on the well polished oak table beside Ryuu's temporary bed, dipping the quill into the pot of ink, and scrawling the words:

Thanks for looking after Ryuu. He's well enough to leave now, so we'll make our departure tonight. Sadly, it's an urgent matter so we won't be able to thank you in person.

Bye, 

                                                 Avalon

Leaving the note on the table, Avalon turned back to Ryuu, who was hastily shoving his few belongings into a bag. Before Ryuu could strain his still-recovering body by lifting it, Avalon snatched it away. Scowling at her, Ryuu took his knife from under his pillow, and nodded confirmation.

He was ready to leave.

Walking back outside, Avalon lead him confidently to the village stables. Inside were all manner of creatures: stags, horses, a tamed wolf, even. But they were here for Ryuu's horse, and Ryuu's horse only. Clicking his tongue, Ryuu alerted his steed of his presence, and Avalon untied the reins, saddling the stallion as swiftly as she could.

"I was considering following you," Ryuu said softly. "But I knew you could do it, even if I was worried." Avalon smiled faintly, her friend's compliments sinking into her and melting away into a strangely warm feeling in her heart. His trust was reassuring. Gratifying.

"I'm glad you didn't follow. You're much easier to find when you just stay in one place," Avalon replied, not mentioning the glowing in her chest.

"Yes. But you never answered my question What took you so long?"

Avalon paused, silenced for once. An image of his broken, shattered body flashed into her mind, and she bit down a growl of anger.

"Louki was injured. Badly injured, but alive and recovering. I couldn't leave him unprotected."

She caught the flash of irritation that passed between Ryuu's eyes. Irritation that she had spent so long protecting him. She ignored it. "I should've saved him sooner."

"You're blaming yourself?" he spoke gently. She bit her lip. And nodded.

"Don't. If you had stepped in at first, everybody would know you were the one to free him. If you had tried to save him back then, you and I would be fleeing the Alliance Guard right now." Ryuu paused. "Please tell me you used a mask to break him out."

"Yes, I used a mask. Besides, I knocked them out too quickly for them to remember much about me," she added. And then, "But if I had at least left to free him sooner, he wouldn't be so wounded right now."

"He's only a Guardian," Ryuu insisted. "He should be glad that you've poured so much effort into saving him. Who else is as stupid?"

Avalon knew Louki would never be capable of blaming her, but no matter how hard she looked at it, there was no alternative: she could have helped him. Why? Why had she just allowed them to take him?

Touching her arm gently, Ryuu shook his head.

"You should stop worrying. If you really want me to look at it from eyes as idiotic as your own, then it's the fault of Captain Shou for turning in the one who saved his village. Did you turn him in? No. Did you torture him? No. You decided to be even more stupid than usual and rescue him."

For once, Avalon was silent. How could she reply? He was wrong - Ryuu believed she was blameless but she knew otherwise. She thought of Louki. Bruised. Broken. Completely and utterly torn apart. All of these things, she could have stopped. By just stepping in, she could have prevented all that pain.

She helped Ryuu mount his stallion, leading them outside. "Follow me. I'll fly just in front of you, okay?"

Opening her wings, Avalon silently cursed the presence of the village sentinels. After the recent attacks, Shou had tripled the guard around the village. Before, she'd entered the village unnoticed, though with Ryuu on his stallion, leaving would be more difficult. She supposed she'd simply have to talk to the guards.

They halted by the outskirts of the village. Two of Shou's sentinels approached them, questioning expressions set heavily into their features.

"My friend and I have urgent business. Please, allow us to leave without arguments. The Alliance Guard require our assistance," Avalon lied easily, her hand moving subconsciously to a blade. Would they buy it?

"Is he even well?" the first of the guards asked, nodding to Ryuu.

"Well enough," Ryuu replied, and the elven man inclined his head.

"Then you may pass," he said. "Good luck. And thank you, both of you, for saving our village from both the dwarves and the Guardian."

Avalon inclined her head gratefully, a smile touching her lips. "Thank you for understanding," she told him, already opening her wings and taking off before the elf could change his mind. Below, Ryuu clicked his tongue to spur the stallion forwards, leaving the sentinel to stare after them.

 

 

It took longer than Avalon would have liked to get Ryuu to where Louki was hiding, but she had to admit, he had done well for somebody with such an injury.

She stepped into the small clearing in which Louki had been recovering, taking note of the serenity of the glade. Almost silvery in the moonlight, the river made an almost soothing sound, and the long grass tickled her fingers as she walked. Avalon liked it here, though Ryuu - she knew - would love it.

"It's beautiful here," he commented with a slight smile. Avalon grinned, nodding.

"I knew you'd think so."

She helped him down from his stallion, then called out,

"Louki! We're back, you can come out!"

There was a faint rustle as a small creature emerged from the safety of the forest. A fox, she realised. And judging by the limp in the animal's step, the fox was Louki.

As if to confirm her thoughts, the animal stopped, looking up at them with dark eyes, and began to transform.

His body began to grow in size, his limbs extending outwards. As his front legs became arms, Louki managed to stand, his rear legs seemingly growing and straightening. With a flick, his tail was gone, and the fur melted away into skin that was tinted very slightly with a sapphire hue. His ears were almost elvish, though he had the height of an angel or a human of about Avalon's age. Fur clothes, luckily, seemed to mould themselves from his previous form's fur. Avalon made a mental note to ask him how he did that - transform fully clothed. Of course, she was glad that he could, but it would be interesting to know how he could possibly achieve that.

But the most strange thing about Louki was not his slightly blue skin, or his pointed ears. No: his eyes were easily his most intriguing feature. His eyes were like molten gold; they seemed constantly swirling, like a liquid vortex of the majestically captivating colour was raging within each eye.

People had always commented on the beauty of her eyes, but clearly they had never seen Louki's.

Ryuu did not speak, for which Avalon supposed she was glad. Louki took one look at his mistrusting expression before his gaze darted quickly away.

"I'm sorry I put you both through so much," he said, still not meeting Ryuu's glare. And then, after a hesitant pause. "My name isn't Louki. It's Lukas. 'Louki' was just a cover; my true name is not elven."

Lukas... Avalon rolled it over her tongue, speaking it experimentally before grinning at the shapeshifter.

"It suits you!" she beamed. Ryuu snorted irritably.

"You're not annoyed that I didn't tell you before?"

"You were protecting your identity. What reason do we have to be annoyed?" Avalon asked, tilting her head. Lukas bowed his head.

"Thank you for understanding."

Avalon shrugged. "Thank you for telling us.I get the feeling we're the first you've ever told."

Lukas nodded, and Avalon placed a firm hand on his shoulder.

"You're not alone any more," she promised him. "You can trust us."

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