Axel stood amongst the bodies of the King's guards. Only a few scratches - he'd expected them to be stronger, at least.
Lux's chest was heaving with exhaustion. Something in Vipera's base had scared him, but to press him for details right now would be useless.
"I will be in a minute."
He watched the doors to the throne room with apprehension as Lux paused to catch his breath. This was to be the last and most pivotal fight of the battle. They needed to be at their full strength, and Axel had no doubt they'd pull through, but there was a sense of foreboding that came from behind the doors. There was no telling what Vipera had done to the Tarn family, what sort of monsters she had created from them. If the princess was that heartless, then what were her parents like? They must be worse, if their own daughter felt amusement at her brother's death.
"I'm ready," Lux announced, and Axel nodded, taking his hand for one last display of support. Lux tightened his grip on Axel's, managing the touches of a smile.
"Let's go," he said, and together, they broke away, each taking one of the jewel-studded doors and pushing them open.
His first impression: silver.
The hall was filled with it: tapestries woven from silver thread, silver weapons and suits of armour standing around the hall, the thrones and attire of the rulers.
Instantly, he hated it, and he hated the rulers even more. The king's eyes were plain, bland, empty. Not emotionless like Krig's, because Krig's had contained at least a faint sense of life, but this man's eyes were like a corpse's. Like everything disgusted him, and he'd rather be somewhere else. He was adorned with silver, much like the throne behind him and the crown upon his head. His queen was dressed similarly, only her eyes were different, as though everything interested her, and bored her just as swiftly. As though everything, once used, was simply there to be discarded.
He hated people like that. People who would merely discard their own - they disgusted him. Almost as much as people who never cared for those who died for them.
"You are here for the crown." The king's words were a statement, not a question.
"That, and your deaths," Axel replied smoothly.
"You look more interesting," the queen beamed. "Let's see if you make it five minutes in, shall we?"
"If you're still alive by then, of course," Axel replied. His eyes flitted to Lux. It was all they needed.
The two of them sprung forwards, charging at the throne. Darkness swelled from his palms, and Axel concentrated it into a sphere of energy, sending it towards the king. For a moment, it seemed as though the magic would collide, but there was a sudden blue light, and then his own magic was being reflected back at he and Lux.
Pushing himself forwards to take it back in, Axel tried to figure it out. What was going on? How could the king have reflected that? Unless...
"Lux-" he started, but the prince was already attacking the barrier with lightning. Only just in time, Axel ducked beneath it, gasping for breath. The heat of the lightning hit him only a moment later, and he found Lux's eyes.
"They've got some sort of barrier," he said. "Don't attack until you're right in front of them!"
Together, he and Lux ran towards the thrones, but still, Haven's rulers did not move. The blue light reappeared; Lux's cry of pain echoed through the hall.
The prince staggered back, his eyes wide with shock. Worry coursed through Axel's mind.
"Axel, don't come closer!" he commanded. "It repels people, as well."
"They're smart!" the queen commented to her husband, as Lux paced backwards. Axel's eyes scanned furiously for anything that could have created the barrier. If they wanted to win, they had to destroy the barrier first. The pedestals surrounding the thrones?
"Lux, shoot it again, but don't use much energy!" Axel told him. Lux obediently created a spark of electricity, shooting it towards the barrier. As it collided, Axel's eyes flicked to the two nearest silver pedestals. They glowed as the magic collided.
"The pedestals create the barrier," Axel observed. The queen laughed in amusement.
"They really are clever!" she giggled to the king. Cautiously, he eyed them both. It was unlikely the queen would attack yet. She seemed too keen upon treating them both like animals, trapped away from them in their walls of safety.
He was not merely some foolish animal, a domestic pet to be used as simple entertainment.
Running forwards, he tried to push past the barrier to the pedestal, the black magic focusing directly upon it with every ounce of force he could summon. The power wrenched his stomach as it collided with the barrier.
"Lux, behind me!" he screamed, trying to move closer to Lux and shield him from his own monstrous power. He could hear Lux gasping in pain each time he failed to recollect the magic within his body, like he was trying to disguise the pain.
The darkness faded, and the queen seemed to be radiating joy. Axel grit his teeth. "Lux. How badly did I hurt you?" he asked quietly, so that neither of the royals could hear him.
"Just a few scratches," Lux replied. "Nothing more."
He nodded slowly, trying to figure it out. Everything had to have a weakness - had to. Nothing was without flaw.
He straightened himself and faced the king.
"Too cowardly to fight?"
With the slow, lazy movements of a hunter, the king raised his arm, and it was only at the last minute did Axel realise what was gathering in his hand.
Too late, Lux's warning came, too late, he tried to move, and too quick, the magic seared his left arm. Pain lanced instantly through his entire body, the burning sensation sending knives of pain through him. He bit his tongue to suppress the cry of agony, but he couldn't stop the tears of pain springing to his arm. Any material on his arm, was gone, replaced by blistered, blackened flesh.
"The light devours the dark," the king said smoothly. Axel raised his head, trying to shut away the pain as Lux arrived by his side. What the hell were they supposed to do against this? They had no way in - and the king could destroy him in an instant if he was too slow.
"Axel, if he tries to attack you again, let me take it," Lux begged.
"It's burning light, not electricity," he growled in return, eyes not leaving the king's. "I'll dodge, next time."
He had to fight the pain, had to think clearly. Strategies could determine the course of a battle, and he needed a good one. That meant just cutting out the burning - because oh Gods, it burned - and trying to think straight.
Behind them, the doors swung open once again. Rubin?
A spark of shock ran through his mind. Had Rubin really won his fight so quickly?
"My turn," the queen laughed, jumping from her throne. Silver jewellery rattled as she raised her hand, eyes gleaming. Flames flicked from her hands, straight towards Rubin, and for a moment, Axel honestly thought that he was going to simply take them. At the last moment, he changed his course, movements almost too quick for even Axel to follow.
The flames darted after Rubin, but he seemed impossible to catch, every step changing direction, every split-second another stride down the hall.
"Let's help him," Axel urged Lux, darting out to join him. The woman's maniacal laughter filled the hall as the two of them preoccupied her.
"Light!" Lux warned, and Axel threw himself aside. Rubin ran past them the second later, and Axel barely had time to call out before he charged into the barrier. Rubin ignored him, and the blue light shone out again.
When it dimmed down, Rubin was raising his blade above the crystal embedded within the pedestal, and bringing it down upon the gem.
A shock wave ran through the throne room, rendering him frozen for a mere second.
"Your fight, now!" Rubin called out. "Barrier's broken!"
How? How had he managed to break it?
Ignoring the burning pain, and pushing down the questions, Axel charged at the queen. He'd stand no chance against the king - Lux could fight him much more efficiently.
The queen's skirts flowed about her as she darted down the steps of the throne room dais, sweeping her arm outwards and conjuring a wall of flames to stop him. Gambling on a shield of darkness, Axel pushed through, feeling only a slight attack of heat.
He made it through the flames, springing towards the woman with a black magic blade already extending from his wrist.
At the last moment, the queen managed to scramble backwards, but there was too much fear within her eyes. She might have the power of a monster, but she didn't have the soul of one - not quite.
Axel felt no guilt as he thrust the blade of darkness down into her heart.
She screamed one last time, her body jerking before becoming still, motionless.
"See?" he hissed. "We're not just animals."
His attention turned instantly to Lux. A vicious battle of light and lightning had started, flashes of magic illuminating the hall and forcing him to look away. Lux's body glowed with the golden power of his electricity, every strike of energy a gleaming outburst of strength. Somehow, he fought back the urge to try and help. He would only hinder Lux in his fight.
A sudden stumble, and Lux was distracted for a second. It seemed long enough for the king to gather his power into one palm, raising it above Lux. Axel was already running forwards, but his magic wouldn't make it in time.
There was only terror, as the king slammed the light magic down.
A crackle. Relief.
Lux rolled to one side, somehow recovering swiftly enough to strike the king's side with electricity. It coursed through the metal of his armour, sparking and crackling and forcing jolts of pain through the man's body.
The king dropped to his knees, the armour clattering against the floor as he fell forwards.
The three of them glanced at one another. Rubin's mask had been lost somewhere, and Lux's eye was bruised, his face bloodied and his body swaying. Axel started forwards, trying to reach him in order to steady him.
Lux knelt to pick up the crown in trembling hands. "Guess we win," he said numbly, and promptly collapsed to the floor.