Lightning coursed from Lux's fingertips; darkness pulsed from Axel's palms. As it shot towards their enemies, the power combined - an electrical surge of black magic. It tore through the advancing mages with ease, and even Axel was amazed. Could a combination of magic really be so powerful? It seemed almost like Skala's silver fire - only more destructive, more fatal.
The onslaught of fire made him snap out of it, and already Axel was rolling to the side, magic lancing from his hands as he threw himself back to his feet. The fire mage ducked aside, but rammed into her comrade in doing so. An easy picking - Axel took them both out, before moving to cover Lux as he attacked another mage.
Both sides had power, but they were outnumbered. Only one thing kept them above their opponents, and that was the synchronisation with which they battled onwards. The other mages were powerful, but their teamwork was weak. Their numbers seemed to hinder them more than help them - a fact Axel used to his advantage.
Kicking one of the enemy soldiers backwards into an ally, he ducked, and electricity struck the two as they were locked in their momentary squabble.
Two pillars of stone rose either side of them, and Axel shoved Lux free, escaping into the darkness. His heart refused to stop beating at his chest, even when he paused for a second, trying to catch his breath in the dark.
Emerging, he could hear only the crunching of the two stone pillars as they rammed into one another. Lux was only just scrambling up from the floor, but he was, at least, safe from the rocks. Where was the stone mage? Something like that could prove especially fatal to the prince.
A storm of rocks seemed to melt from the fortress walls, knocking down even Vipera's mages as they attacked at the two of them. Lux threw himself aside; Axel faded into the shadow realm. A moment later, he reappeared, grabbing Lux's arm and pulling him into the dark once more. Instantly, there was weight in his arms, but the stairs weren't far away. Only a single step clutching the prince close to him, and by the time he'd emerged, Lux was barely even shuddering.
"You-" His golden eyes were dazed.
"This isn't a fight you can win," Axel explained quickly. After they'd been through so much, he couldn't allow Lux to get hurt. "I need the shadow-voyage. Wait here."
And with that, he was gone.
The moment his feet touched solid ground again, there was already an attack - the mages had organised themselves around the edges of the room, sending their magic flying towards him. Without the time to use the shadows as escape, he tried to escape - and was caught instantly with a torrent of air. It smashed him against the ground, winding him and sending a jolt of agony through his body. Disorientated. Agonised. Nauseated. The mage managed to catch him again, the torrent of air pushing him across the floor. The stone caught his face, and he was faintly aware of the blood as the air's power subsided.
Axel struggled to stand. Fell back again. Could do little as the mages advanced.
Everything was spinning. He couldn't die yet, not here, not now! Again, he fought to sneer, but a heavy boot cut into his side, a powerful force cracking against a rib. Not here.
"Drinks're on me, when we bring 'is head to Vipera." the gravelly voice echoed through his head. Taunting him. Sneering at him. Not here.
Axel summoned the dark.
It radiated in a sudden wave from his body, engulfing those around him within an ocean of pain, swallowing them in its grip of inescapable doom. For a moment, he could do nothing but lie there, his chest heaving with exhaustion and pain. Their screams slowly faded, and he forced himself to turn his head. Three mages left.
All of them looked terrified, but it wouldn't be long before they realised that killing him now would be their best option.
"Lux!" His voice was hoarse, but he was only at the stairs. He had to hear, he had to.
One of the mages edged closer, and Axel clenched his fists, trying to draw another palm of darkness. It sparked to life. Faded slowly. Blinked from existence.
Fire extended from the braver mage's fingers.
He closed his eyes.
Axel looked up again, and when he did, Lux was there; the fire mage was already hitting the floor.
The plea came from one of the surviving mages. Axel wanted to call out to Lux that no, he should kill them, but he was too weak. Besides, Lux still possessed honour. He wouldn't simply destroy two mages with their hands held in surrender.
"Then leave!" Lux ordered, his voice unusually harsh. They fled the room, heading to the stairs. The moment they were gone, Lux whirled around, instantly returning to Axel's side.
"What happened?" His voice was trembling, Axel realised.
"Air magic," he managed to croak in reply.
Weakly, he shook his head. His rib ached, but it didn't feel like it was hurting enough to be broken.
"Your head's bleeding," Lux said softly. "Anything else hurt?"
Again, he shook his head, watching Lux draw a knife and cut a strip of fabric from his cloak. His hands were gentle as he wrapped the makeshift bandage around Axel's head, trying his best to cease the bleeding.
"You've been worse before. Much worse. I think you're probably just shaken and bruised."
"Good," he acknowledged, letting his eyes slip shut again. The room reeked of death and blood - a disgusting odour, but one he'd become accustomed to. His head was throbbing.
"There are more than I'd thought there would be," Lux admitted quietly. By now, he'd stopped coiling the fabric around Axel's head, and, judging from the pressure, was tying it. "How's she made so many of them so strong?"
Trying to shrug, Axel flicked his left eye open as Lux propped him up against the wall. The movement still sent jolts of pain running through his body, but it was better than before, at least.
For a moment, there was silence, but not like before. This silence was awkward, empty.
"Axel," Lux said carefully. "I think I need to keep on going. You stay-"
"I can fight!" he protested, but even the sudden movement of speaking hurt. "I'll be fine in a minute!"
"You need to rest," Lux told him softly. "Besides, I think this was the last big group of guards. You need to be ready to carry me through the shadow-voyage, don't you?" he added.
Axel ground his teeth together. He was right. Stupidly, loathsomely right. If he went, he'd be nothing but a burden.
"What if there are more of them?"
"This is a war," Lux reminded him softly. "We all need to make gambles. And I can handle myself, once in a while."
Axel took a shaky breath. He was right, of course, but that didn't make it any easier.
"Please?" Lux begged.
He succumbed, hanging his head and exhaling deeply in submission.
"Thanks. You'll recover quickly, but not if we need to fight again. So wait here, okay? And don't move. If you need anything, yell. You're strong enough to yell, right?" he checked.
"Yeah," Axel lied, shooting Lux a pained smile. He couldn't keep hindering him - it wasn't fair. "I'll be fine. Don't get yourself hurt."
Lux nodded, and clasped his wrist one last time. "I won't. I'll be back soon."
"I know," Axel smiled faintly, but Lux still faltered. "Go," he told him. "Or Skala will have to wait for us for ages."
Lux swallowed, and Axel was reminded again of every single reason he couldn't just let Lux go. He was scared; why else would he be swallowing? "Go," he repeated, and Lux gulped again, nodding quickly and starting to turn. "And good luck. You can do it, Lux."