"Who are you?" His voice was shaky. He wanted to run, but he couldn't. He couldn't keep running, and facing this man was better than the shadows. Anything would be better than them.
"Me?" The man laughed, his obscurely perfect white teeth gleaming in the light of the glowstones. "Why, I'm Vipera's best experiment, Prince Damon Tarn of Haven. Its real prince, I should say."
"If you're a prince," Lux demanded, hardening his expression and trying to quell his trembling, "then why are you here?"
The so-called prince stepped closer, his eyes dancing with amusement.
"I'm here because I want to be. The castle is dull, really," he purred.
Lux took another shaky breath. "It's better than here," he replied. "Anywhere is better than here."
Smirking, Damon merely shrugged. "To each his own. I suppose a weak-stomached coward like yourself wouldn't like the dark, or the blood of Vipera's failures. Or perhaps you saw the shadows."
Lux clenched his teeth. "How could you like seeing all of those bodies? Or... Or the shadows?"
Damon flashed another of his smirks at Lux. "It's simple, really. The shadows are the source of our power. Any increase in magic, we get from them. The only reason Vipera could give either of us our powers was because she discovered how to extract magic from the shadows. The bodies are of the weaklings. The ones who didn't have strong enough magic to survive the transition of the magic. They didn't deserve to make it."
For a moment, Lux could not formulate a reply. How could he, when the disgust had knocked them out of him? Damon laughed again, the repulsively heartless sound echoing across the stone of the walls.
"You're disgusting," Lux managed.
"Oh?" Damon raised an eyebrow. "I hardly think I'm disgusting. That would be you, insect." Lux flinched at his words. "But enough of the pleasantries. I suppose I'd better kill you now, shouldn't I?"
"You're going to be the only one dying here," Lux hissed.
"I doubt it," Damon shrugged, holding both hands out before him. "Vipera experimented on you first. Whatever power you have, she made it better for me."
Lightning sparked within Damon's hands, and Lux felt a glimmer of hope rise within his stomach. Electricity could do nothing to harm him - was Damon really oblivious to his own element's strengths?
He unsheathed his his two swords, willing the electricity to flow into the metal. Lull Damon into thinking he was able to hurt him with lightning alone, and then, he'd strike.
The two surged forwards.
For a moment, it seemed as though Damon would be an easy target. He didn't even seem scared as he charged at Lux, with only his lightning. And then he was ducking, every movement smooth and fluid as he ducked beneath Lux's strike. Sweeping down, Lux tried to wound him for the second time, but Damon managed to evade again, leaping back and sending a blast of electricity at Lux.
There was a small jolt of energy. Nothing else.
Damon backed away in momentary surprise. "Are you immune?"
Using his opponent's shock to his advantage, Lux darted towards him again, blades flashing. Before he could inflict a wound, Damon had two knives in his hands, raising them to block the attack.
He was a quick learner, then.
Damon was the first to withdraw from the clash of blades, feigning an attack to Lux's right before kicking out. Years of training kicked in, and Lux swept one blade down, slicing a deep cut into the other prince's shin before leaping back in brief retreat.
He was still breathing heavily, and Damon was almost too quick to hit. Axel might have been able to do it, but he'd promised him that he could look after himself. Now that Damon was injured, however...
Inhaling deeply, he regained his composure.
"A weapons fight, then?" Damon growled, limping closer. The muscles in his arms flexed as he lunged.
Lux darted backwards, noticing the way Damon faltered with every step. He could do this. He simply needed to use Damon's wound against him, and then he stood a better chance. Besides, his lightning could be a useful asset.
Creating yet more of the lightning energy within his two swords, Lux prepared to attack. The light radiated from the blades, and even he could hardly see through it. But he knew where Damon was, and that was good enough.
Dashing at the other mage, Lux struck.
A cry of pain reverberated through the room.
He staggered away from Damon as he crumpled to the floor. Already, the scent of blood was filling his nose - all too familiar to the hateful odour of the room of bodies.
Lux glanced around. This was it. A simply hall, at the end of the tunnel - nothing else for him to destroy. Now, he could return to Axel.
Lux turned around, glad to be free of Damon's callous words and his hateful laughter. Back with Axel, he had somebody to watch his back, somebody to distract him from the image of the shadows-
A convulsion undulated through his body as the memory tore through his mind again. Suppressing the gasp of terror, Lux forced himself onwards, his steps quickening to a jog, then a run.
When he reached the splitting of corridors, he made sure not to keep going. If he went back to the remains of those people, he didn't know if he could drag himself out again.
And suddenly, noises.
Lux flattened himself to a wall. Axel was in that direction? Had they hurt him? Captured him? The footsteps were getting closer. Closer. He let a sliver of lightning crackle into existence between his fingers.
Now! He threw himself towards the approaching stranger, the lightning growing. Instantly, the black-robed figure rolled aside, leaping to their feet and holding unarmed hands out before them.
"Lux, hold fire!"
"Skala?" he managed. His face reddened. "I'm sorry, I couldn't see you there. I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"I'm fine," she said. "But you need to leave - now. I saw the royal army soldiers coming towards the base, and when they arrive, I'll be releasing hell upon them. Axel's still in that room."
He nodded, following her back through the corridor. If the royal army were here, then their plan had worked! All they needed to do now was to back up the others in the city, while Skala remained here to destroy the soldiers.
They entered the hall, and Lux's eyes instantly went to Axel. He seemed at least a little stronger than before; his expression was steely with determination. The bandage seemed to have stopped the flow of blood.
"How are you?" he asked instantly, reaching Axel's side as he pushed himself to his feet.
"Better," Axel replied. "Ready?"
Lux nodded, and Axel turned briefly to Skala.
"Good luck. Not that you'll need it," he grinned at her. She replied with the hint of a smile.
"The very same to you. Try not to destroy the entire city, won't you?"
"No promises," Axel shrugged, stepping towards her and clasping her shoulder. "See you later, Skala."
She nodded. "Don't get hurt again."
Axel laughed, shrugging loosely. "I'll try."
Lux watched as they stepped away from each other. Skala turned around, shooting one last look over her shoulder and pausing by the stairs.
"In a minute, I'll transform. Long enough to enter the shadow-voyage?"
Axel nodded. "That's long enough."
With that, she shot them one last smile of farewell, before starting her ascent of the stairs.
Lux turned back to Axel, and the two of them shared an awkward look.
"So, um... Do I just..." He faltered, trying to form the words. "Hold on to you?" he finished awkwardly. Axel's face was equally red as he nodded.
"I-I guess so. Make sure you won't be able to let go."
They stepped closer together, and Axel carefully wrapped his arm around Lux's waist, gently pulling him closer. Lux was rendered frozen.
"You do the same," Axel muttered, face flushed. Lux obeyed quickly, realising just how cold Axel's body was. "Ready?"
"Don't let go," Axel told him. "We're going in."
The moment they entered the shadow-voyage, Lux found himself clinging to Axel, pressing himself against his side in attempts to fight off the cold, trying to keep himself above the flow of darkness. He'd been through this four times, now. He had to be strong.
Forcing himself to move forwards, Lux took another deep breath, almost choking on the cold air that filled his chest. In the emptiness, there was only Axel, half-dragging him onwards, pulling him close to stop him drowning in the dark.
"Keep going!" Axel's voice, distorted but still distinctly there beside him, cut through the darkness, a single lifeline of clarity to hold him. "Don't let go!"
He clung to anything, anything that could make this easier. Memories. Lux found them quickly, grasping each one and running it through his mind as he pushed through the shadows. The first time, he hadn't even been capable of a single step. Axel had carried him, and he'd been pleading for help.
"We're halfway there!"
Words that were of encouragement now, had been snarled and irritable, but still they had dragged him through.
He jerked his head sideways, breathing into Axel's shoulder. One familiar scent. One familiar scent in an ocean of cold, and it kept him going, somehow, as they moved slowly through the dark.
"We've almost made it," Axel breathed into Lux's ear, and he suppressed a sob of relief. He could no longer feel his own shivering, just that Axel was there, and saving him.
Axel was always there to save him.
There was a sudden dagger of light piercing his vision, and Lux felt a sudden wave of overwhelming heat crashing into him. His knees buckled under the strangeness of the normal gravity, and he fell against Axel.
"Thank you," he whispered, trying to fight the urge to simply slip into unconsciousness. Summoning his voice again, he managed to croak the words, "Get Snow. We're attacking the city."