It was amusing to see Lux spin around and jump in alarm, then to see his face transform completely into one of relief.
"He's injured, though," Axel added, shrugging.
"We'll get him out and get him to a medic, then," Lux said decisively.
"Who said I'm helping?" Axel asked. His silver eyes danced mockingly. How easily would the prince rise to agitation?
"You have to help us," Lux begged. "Please."
Axel started to walk back, and Lux ran after him, grabbing his arm in an iron grip. "Silver, please!"
"I don't have to do anything," Axel replied, ripping his arm from the prince's grip. "But I'm helping you anyway."
"And Rubin? You're helping him, too?" Lux demanded. What did the prince care for the life of one foolish assassin? Why did the idiot mean so much to him?
"Do you really think I'd miss out on such a wonderful chance to gloat?"
With a smile finding its way onto his face, Lux thanked him. Apparently, his mood was swift to brighten.
Axel ignored him for the rest of the walk back. How could he go so quickly from screaming to smiling and thanking him? Had he forgiven him, somehow? Axel rapidly subdued the hope that was rising within his chest, swallowing and speeding up to evade further conversation.
"How are you going to get us out?" Lux asked, almost cautiously, from behind him. "Are you going to find Vipera and ask her for help?"
Axel snorted disdainfully. "Why would I go to her? She's a loathsome woman. I refuse to turn to her for help. I'm doing this with only Shadow. Humans like her would slow me down."
"Or, if you would rather, I could leave you down here. You and the assassin both."
Lux swallowed, quieting, as they arrived back in the original room. Skala seemed a little better. Her eyes were brighter, if only slightly.
"He's safe," Lux announced, smiling at her. Skala nodded, and Lux furrowed his brows. "You know, you can talk, Shadow. I promise I won't tell anybody that you can speak."
She looked to Axel quickly. He nodded.
"Very well," she acknowledged. Lux smiled brightly.
He was strange: he acted so very much like a child, and yet had such understanding of the necessity to fight. And then there was the manner in which his mood shifted so quickly, one minute allowing him to ignore Axel's jests; the next fuelling him with rage. But it wasn't just that - it was his grasp of the world, of death, and ruling, and yet his refusal to desire a rule that encompassed the laws created by the boundaries of humanity.
"Why don't you tell others that you can speak, may I ask?"
"You may not," Axel cut in. "Consider yourself lucky to have let alone heard her."
"Sorry," Lux apologised. "It's just that you have such a soft voice."
Skala smiled a little, and Axel scowled, sitting beside her. "We're going to get them out. Destroying the rocks might be dangerous, since it could cause another rockfall. Can you think of anything else?"
"Not currently," Skala replied. "But Lux needs bandages and water to clean his wounds, probably. We can let a medic see them when we get them out. I don't know about Rubin, but is he injured?"
Axel nodded. "His leg and arm were both injured," he informed her. "I'm going to get the water and bandages now. You still look tired. Stay here."
His friend nodded, and a strand of jet black hair fell over her face as she let her head slump forwards. Axel stood again, and passed into the realm of darkness.
Instantly, he felt as though he could breathe again. The tunnel was stuffy, and, although there was enough air provided by the small gaps between the rocks, it felt good to be in the refreshingly cold ocean of darkness once more.
Easily, he cut through the shadows, heading towards the cabin. It would have been better if Skala had been there, but there was nothing he could do about that. She was tired; so many rocks must have been difficult to support, especially considering her fire magic was stronger than that of darkness. Skala had always been powerful in both, but Axel knew she still loved the fire. It didn't matter that now, her flames were black - they were still flames, still something she could love from her old world. The dark and the flames combined, of course, had become her most powerful asset, but she would never usually use them both in harmony.
Mostly, it was fire.
Axel emerged from the shadows to stand in the glade. The moon, tonight, was hidden behind a wall of clouds so dark they were almost charcoal, and the river was now not a ribbon of silver, but a ribbon of darkness.
He walked across the grass, swinging open the door to the cabin. The familiar wood beneath his fingers was homely; the small but cosy interior was welcoming.
When they'd first decided to hunt down the cabin's old owner, the place had been almost bare, used merely for a storage of stolen gems. Nobody had known of its existence: the owner had killed the men he'd ordered to build it. That had been the sole reason Axel and Skala had hunted him down. The cabin had been the place in which he was hiding, and, despite the bloodstains that had been hidden beneath the rug, it had seemed like the perfect place to use as their home. And there was something that reminded him of Disan. The wood. The cosiness. The warmth.
A sorrowful smile crossed his lips. He shouldn't ponder over the past - especially Disan. Every time he fell to the memories, it got harder to drag himself back out of the pit of sorrow they dug into his heart. But still, just once, it wouldn't hurt to let the image in. Just once. He let his eyelids slide shut, inhaled deeply, and when he opened his eyes he could almost see his mother sitting by the fire, her greying hair falling across her face as she smiled at him.
For just a moment, he allowed himself to believe it. That she was right in front of him, smiling like she was proud of him, and the emotions swarmed in.
Then the tears filled his eyes and he blinked and then she was gone.
He sunk to the floor. She wasn't there - he'd been stupid, stupid for letting his guard down, stupid for succumbing, stupid for lowering the barrier, especially when Skala wasn't there to help him raise it again. He should know, by now, that this was stupid.
Somehow, he pulled himself to his feet, clenching his fists to cease the trembling in his hands. Furiously, he rubbed at his eyes, trying to fight away the tears. He managed to stop them, finally, but he could not stop the throbbing of his heart.
Forcing himself to move, Axel headed over to medical chest in the corner, opening it up and starting his search for the bandages and the salve that they had, somewhen, taken from an unloyal soldier.
"You two are more than comrades, aren't you?"
Lux had finally managed to find the courage to ask her, and when he did, her intense silver gaze cut through him. He swallowed.
"Of course we are," she said, tilting her head slightly as though that should be obvious. Lux smiled.
"I thought, earlier, that he might have been completely heartless. Compassionless. Then I remembered that he had you."
"Yes," Shadow replied slowly. "But why did you need to ask me?"
"I had to make sure," Lux said. "People who don't have the capacity to care... They sort of scare me a little. And anger me, I suppose."
The dark mage was surprisingly easy to talk to, he realised.
"They anger him, too," she said softly. "That's one of the worst things about humans. Their priority is themselves." She sounded almost wistful. They were different and yet so similar. Silver was easily irritated on the matter of humanity. Shadow seemed almost melancholy, but for the same reason Silver was angered.
"Do you really believe you aren't human?" he asked, after a pause. Shadow looked at him with a sort of interest, before resting her head back on the wall again.
"Yes. I believe that."
"Is it because you look down on us, or because you think your powers make you different?" Lux asked slowly, managing to say it, somehow. Being different, separate to everybody else around him - it was a concept he was well acquainted with. Maybe that was why he'd been so drawn to the two of them, why he'd been so angered at Silver's heartless response to his gratitude.
Why it made him feel so happy that Silver, at least, was loyal to one friend.
"Both," a cold, amused voice replied. Lux jolted, scrambling to his feet as he realised that Silver was standing above him. Even as he stood, Silver was much taller, not even bothering to lower his head but simply looking down.
"Long enough to hear your last question," Silver informed him. "The answer to which, of course, is both. You all are such fools. Then there's the concept of our abilities forcing us apart. Only a monster is this strong. Only a monster possesses such power."
As Silver said the words, it felt like a dagger of ice being wrenched into his heart. Cruel, desperately freezing. Only a monster.
Lux knew exactly what he was talking about, didn't want to believe it but was being forced to hear the words as they pierced into him, perforating his mind in spiteful spears.
"Oh," he replied simply. "But can't you be human, even with that power?" It sounded desperate, but he needed to hear it from somebody else like him.
"I suppose," Silver shrugged. "But that would be to claim control over the rest of your kind, and to rule them and take whatever you want. It would be to succumb to greed."
"Isn't that what you do, though? You kill for your own entertainment!"
"I kill only the ones who betray their own, the greedy, the corrupt. I will not slaughter an innocent, but the vulture that feeds upon them. But that's beside the point," Silver said. "Do you want the bandages? I've already given some to Rubin, since he seems worse off, and I'd like to keep him alive for as long as possible. A corpse is no fun to gloat over," the dark mage said, slipping a deerskin flask of water, a vial of green paste, and a roll of linen bandages from his bag.
"Thank you." Lux took them from the taller boy, sitting down before holding the water awkwardly. "Do I just pour it over the cuts?" he asked. Axel looked at him contemptuously, before sighing deeply, kneeling beside him, and unsheathing a knife. Cutting a small length of the bandage off, he poured a few drops of the water onto it, handing it back to Lux.
"Clean them with this, then rub the salve in. You probably just need to bandage the cut on your forehead and the one on your arm," he said.
"Thanks," Lux mumbled, cleaning the wounds carefully. He felt Silver's watchful eyes following him as he set the cloth down, opening the vial of salve and dipping his finger in. As he applied it to his forehead, the cut started to throb. Serpents of stinging pain snaked through his body, and Lux winced.
"You're clumsy," Silver pointed out.
"Sorry," Lux said weakly, biting his tongue as he finished applying the salve to the cut on his forehead. "It just... hurts a little. And I'm not really used to doing this."
His arm jerked away instinctively as he tried putting some of the salve onto his next injury, and he swallowed a gasp of pain.
"Here," Silver said roughly, snatching the pot from the floor, grasping Lux's arm to stop him from jerking. His hand was cold; his grip strong and allowing no movement. Quickly, Silver wiped the salve over his cut. The prince clenched his jaw to stop himself from whimpering, but Silver finished quickly, and the pain was starting to subside, if only a little.
"Put the bandages on when the salve's dried," Silver instructed. Lux nodded, but he hardly heard him.
All he could hear was the words, ringing through his head again and again:
Only a monster.