"I must say, Prince Lux, I admire your phoenix. Name a price, and we'll negotiate."
Lux looked up at Tiego, his eyes gleaming. Was he really trying to steal Snow away?
"I'm not selling her."
"You won't have to pay us a thing for our efforts." He could see the daring within the man's eyes, as though Tiego was almost threatening him.
"I don't care. I won't sell her."
"Yes," Lux replied coldly. "I am."
From the corner of his eye, Lux could see Aleron sauntering towards them, tankard of ale in hand. Did they really have to drag the feast on for so long? He had things to do. He had Rubin to worry about, as well.
"Let me guess," Aleron grinned. "You're trying to buy the phoenix."
"If you're here for the same reason, I'm afraid you're out of luck."
"I'm not," Aleron shrugged. "Tiego's an idiot for even trying. A monster like that's invaluable."
Narrowing his eyes, Lux rose from his throne, bringing himself closer to Aleron. "She isn't a monster."
"Sure," the mercenary shrugged. "Whatever. Either way, my brother's an idiot."
"Brother?" He raised an eyebrow.
Tiego snorted. Apparently, he was still irritated - both by Aleron's appearance and Lux's declination. "You didn't know? I thought you'd hired us because of that."
"I hired you because you were the closest to the Golden Flame," he replied sharply. Guard your tongue around mercenaries, Rubin had told him. They're almost as amazing as me, when it comes to selling secrets.
"Really? We're famed for being the legendary mercenary brothers. I'm the better of the two, naturally," he added smugly. Lux decided not to disagree with him, instead listening to Tiego.
"Did the informer in the Shade not tell you?"
"He told me not to hire two groups. Said you wouldn't get along. That's why I had to pay more to hire the both of you."
Tiego growled, and Lux resisted the urge to flinch. "I'll have to replace the informer again. Lying scum always tries to get more money out of things."
Deciding not to ask what had happened to the last informer, he nodded dismissively, and stepped from the dais.
"Please," he called out, "continue to feast without me. My presence will be of greater value in the infirmary."
It was almost a relief when he passed from the dizzyingly raucous room, and into the almost eerily quiet corridor.
For the first time in his life, Rubin actually wanted to speak with Axel. Maybe the mage could yell at him, threaten him, curse his very existence. The fact that he'd mean it would be more of a comfort than Lux promising him that he didn't blame him. Trusting a spy? How stupid could he be? If Krig wanted, he could spill every single secret Rubin had ever told him. He probably already had, and Vipera would have yet more leverage against him.
You left Disan without your family? You left them to fend off against the shadows alone? How utterly pathetic.
Her words would come, and he'd be cast into the pit of misery once again. Lux, Axel. They were both so lucky - so unbelievably lucky - to have been so young before the shadows came. They couldn't remember it all so well: the blood; the corpses of his own; the screams and the tears and everything else.
It was at times like this that he wondered if he should have just gone back for his brother. He'd never be able to kill a single shadow, but that wouldn't have mattered. He could have gone down a hero. An unspoken, forgotten hero, crushed beneath the wave of darkness, but a hero nonetheless. It was probably better than living a coward, anyway.
Bravery got you killed. Cowardice would render you ridden with guilt, but it would save you. And to trust? That was even worse.
He should have just followed the rules of secrets. Tell nobody. Imply nothing. Hide everything away.
But it had been something about Krig - his silent calm, his quiet strength. He'd seemed like a keeper of secrets, like somebody Rubin could finally talk to without the false pity or the disgust, and now, this.
Broken. Was that how he felt? Smashed, shattered, completely destroyed. It was the feeling of betrayal, and it hurt like hell. And it was all because he'd been stupid enough to trust.
The hell he was ever going to do that again.
Up ahead, the castle stood, a towering collection of stone to block the light of the moon. Axel had better be back by now. Rubin needed somebody to yell at him, to scream that he was stupid, idiotic, somebody else who knew: there was nobody to blame but him.
He stopped before the castle gates, slamming his fists against them. Slowly, almost cautiously, they opened, and he stormed in. The guards backed rapidly against the walls as he swept through the entrance hall. They could retreat all they liked. He was just as monstrous as Axel or Skala - only they weren't foolish cowards.
He spun around, his eyes already boring into the prince's.
"Go find yourself an escort, and leave me alone," he growled. Even Lux flinched at the brutality of his words, and Rubin realised with a cold sensation that the knowledge didn't even prick him with guilt.
"You just need rest or something, Rubin. I can-"
"Skala took him back to the infirmary. I was heading there now, but I'm not sure if he's awake or-"
Rubin shoved past him, storming down the corridor. If the stupid mage was asleep, then he'd just have to wake him up. Besides, it wasn't like he had anything important to do, other than rest, other than have somebody take care of him, other than have his wounds treated.
Wounds of the mind were harder to heal.